Representational Challenges: Literatures of Environmental Justice in the Anthropocene
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In this dissertation, I draw together an archive of twentieth and twenty-first century North American authors and artists who explore the settler colonial and racist ideologies of the Anthropocene, the proposed name for a contemporary moment in which anthropogenic forces have forever altered the Earth system. I hold that the “the Anthropocene” names a moment in which localized environmental injustices have become planetary. Addressing the representational challenges posed by the epoch requires engaging the underlying cultural assumptions that have long rationalized injustices as necessary to economic prosperity and narrowly conceived versions of national wellbeing. Works of literature and cultural representation can use literary and artistic form to this end. In this dissertation, I identify one such formal strategy, which I term insensible realism. As a form of realism committed to representing the real impacts of discursive and material practices, insensible realism refers to the rejection of rationality and Enlightenment ideals that have been used to justify the White supremacy, settler colonialism and environmental destruction that instantiates the Anthropocene. A realism of the insensible also refers to my archive’s concentration on what cannot be easily sensed: the epoch’s social and environmental interactions that are physically, temporally, geographically and/or socially imperceptible to dominant society. I argue that these works eschew accepted notions of rationality and empiricism in favor of using non-dominant cultural traditions and theories of environmental justice to address the problems the Anthropocene poses. Challenging the dominant logics that have been used to rationalize racist, settler colonial and environmental violence of the Anthropocene creates space for alternative environmental commitments and narratives. Throughout the dissertation, I draw on theories from women of color feminism, environmental justice scholars, settler colonial studies, theories of race, and new materialism. Through a critical environmental justice framework, I argue that the authors and artists that make up my archive develop a literary and artistic approach to environmental justice, using forms of representation to highlight—and challenge—the intersections of racism, settler colonialism and environmental destruction.