Ecosickness in Contemporary U.S. Fiction

Environment and Affect

Heather Houser

Columbia University Press

Ecosickness in Contemporary U.S. Fiction

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Pub Date: July 2016

ISBN: 9780231165150

328 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $30.00£25.00

Pub Date: June 2014

ISBN: 9780231165143

328 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $65.00£54.00

Pub Date: June 2014

ISBN: 9780231537360

328 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $29.99£25.00

Ecosickness in Contemporary U.S. Fiction

Environment and Affect

Heather Houser

Columbia University Press

The 1970s brought a new understanding of the biological and intellectual impact of environmental crises on human beings. As efforts to prevent ecological and bodily injury aligned, a new literature of sickness emerged. "Ecosickness fiction" imaginatively rethinks the link between these forms of threat and the sick body to bring readers to environmental consciousness.

Tracing the development of ecosickness through a compelling archive of contemporary U.S. novels and memoirs, Ecosickness in Contemporary U.S. Fiction establishes that we cannot comprehend environmental and medical dilemmas through data alone and must call on the sometimes surprising emotions that literary metaphors, tropes, and narratives deploy. In chapters on David Foster Wallace, Richard Powers, Leslie Marmon Silko, Marge Piercy, Jan Zita Grover, and David Wojnarowicz, Heather Houser shows how narrative affects such as wonder and disgust organize perception of an endangered world and orient us ethically toward it.

The study builds the connective tissue between contemporary literature, ecocriticism, affect studies, and the medical humanities. It also positions ecosickness fiction relative to emergent forms of environmentalism and technoscientific innovations such as regenerative medicine and alternative ecosystems. Houser models an approach to contemporary fiction as a laboratory for affective changes that spark or squelch ethical projects.

A thoughtful, original, and beautifully written book that will have a major impact on studies of contemporary U.S. fiction, environmental literature, and the relationship between affect and literature.

Andrew Hoberek, University of Missouri

This sophisticated reconnaissance of an impressive range of turn-of-the-twenty-first-century works both adroitly builds upon and convincingly takes issue with the new 'materialist' ecocriticism by offering a subtly compelling assessment of the place of affect in works of environmental imagination and environmental intervention generally. Not contemporary U.S. fiction specialists alone, but ecocritics in all bailiwicks are sure to profit from Heather Houser's insights.

Lawrence Buell, Harvard University

The 'ecosickness' that Heather Houser explores offers yet another example of the dangers of humanity's efforts to 'master' nature. The novels and memoirs she studies demonstrate the intricate connections between somatic and ecological damage. Yet it is the literary critical argument that most distinguishes this work. Houser elegantly shows how these novels and memoirs produce narratives with unpredictable affects and how that unpredictability in turn generates an ethics that, she argues, might lead to new ways of addressing ecological damage. This timely book is crucial not only for its ecocritical insights, but for its depiction of the importance of humanistic inquiry to planetary ethics.

Priscilla Wald, Duke University, author of Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative

In its analytical poise and sharp close readings, Ecosickness in Contemporary US Fiction itself is a valuable addition to affect studies and ecocriticism.

49th Parallel

This well-researched argument draws on psychology, sociology, cognitive science, and other disciplines to illuminate the contributions artists make in conversations--typically dominated by scientists, environmentalists, and politicians--about environmental policy, and aims to encourage and enrich those conversations.

CHOICE

Houser engages with affect theory to push the boundaries of material ecocriticism in an innovative and necessary direction… she insightfully complicates the role of "writer-activist" and asks her audience to consider critically what shape this activism might take and what its future might entail.

Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment
Acknowledgments
1. Ecosickness
2. AIDS Out of the City: Discordant Natures
3. Richard Powers's Strange Wonder
4. Infinite Jest's Environmental Case for Disgust
5. The Anxiety of Intervention in Leslie Marmon Silko and Marge Piercy
Conclusion: How Does It Feel?
Notes
Works Cited
Index

Read an excerpt from the first chapter:

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Winner, 2015 A.S.A.P Book Award from the Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present

Shortlist, 2014 Book Prize, British Society for Literature and Science

About the Author

Heather Houser is associate professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin.