Nature Industries: U.S. Environmental Fictions after Fordism, 1971-2011
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This dissertation recontextualizes literary, critical, and popular models of nature in contemporary American fiction, and argues that the transformations in the post-Fordist economy reframe environmental concepts and their uses in a new light. Scholars in the environmental humanities have long recognized that understanding changes in the political economy are a key way to understanding our ideas and representations of the natural world. These ideas serve as metaphysical models that relate individuals to society and to the broader world described by the sciences. However, much environmental criticism only goes so far as to historicize, either arguing that images of nature are wholly determined by structures and institutions of power, or, by privileging certain ideas of nature as absolute, critics lay claim to an imagined oppositional, but no less normative, space outside of society. Nature Industries intervenes in this dilemma by drawing on pragmatist and cultural studies methods to reconstruct the experience of American life in the aftermath of Fordism. Constructing this historical conjuncture enables interpretive practices which foreground the diverse political articulation of environmental figuration. The title is a play on Horkheimer and Adorno’s 1944 essay on “the culture industry,” which announced that cultural production had been subsumed into monopoly capitalism. Following culture, nature has undergone a similar loss of perceived autonomy. From the affective to the biogenetic, informational to the atmospheric, post-Fordist technologies and economies intervene in the world at scales that previous vocabularies struggle to describe without the help of fiction. Contemporary capitalism not only produces new natures—new combinations of nature and culture, or new “natural-history”—but, given the ecological consequences of industrialism, environmentalists too are forced to intervene in ways that would give pause to previous generations of conservationists. Rather than announcing the “death of Nature,” as the fictionalized Immanuel Kant does in the final moments of Mary McCarthy’s Birds of America (1971), we encounter a proliferation of natures, each with their own political valence, and each mobilizing a different set of social and natural referents in the public sphere.