The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the UnthinkableThe Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable by Amitav Ghosh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was my second read, and it did not eliminate the problems I had on the first. First, yes, we are, globally, deranged. Some more than others. I do not think that Ghosh’s solution to return to religion as a source for climate action, and an embodied understanding of the nonhuman world, however, is going to work out in the way he hopes (the pope’s Laudato si notwithstanding). Ghosh is far too sweeping in his conclusions about rational thinking versus religious (or extra-rational) thinking here.

My criticisms are shared by many other commentators, namely that while Ghosh is strong on the history of Asia and right to criticize mainstream (i.e., non-speculative fiction) for its neglect of climate change as a central theme, his indictment of the realist novel as totally absorbed in John Updike’s “individual moral adventure” as bourgeoisie self-indulgence (consider the source) is far too sweeping a generalization. This suggests that either Ghosh’s reading scope is quite limited, or that he fails to read carefully. Many “realist” novelists from the past two centuries engage with nature in ways that anticipate environmentalist and global warming concerns–the signs are there to see, and it is the failure to read signs that is the real issue. Mary Barton describes the pollution of the River Irk in industrial Manchester in Mary Barton; Moby Dick is famous for its cataloguing of cetaceans; Heart of Darkness is, implicitly, about the slaughter of millions of elephants. Countless novels detail the gloomy fog over London that was the result, it is now well-known, of particulate matter in the atmosphere due to burning fossil fuels. Scores of academic scholars have already written about these issues. The problem is not with the realist novel, but with the reader. Ghosh has walked back his argument since, and his new novel, Gun Island, attempts to rectify the situation by explicitly dealing with climate change as a theme. I’m currently reading that novel.

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