Monday, September 26, 2016

The Great Derangement - The History and Politics of the near Absent Focus on Cli-Fi in Literature

Photo credit HERE
Reader Beware! This is not a review, but my thoughts on Amitav Ghosh’s latest book launched only recently, The Great Derangement: Climate Change And The Unthinkable,  which ends the drought, as Tabish Khair says in his review, after Ghosh’s extraordinary non-fiction, ‘In an Antique Land’

“On the afternoon of 17 March, 1978, the weather took an odd turn. I was studying MA at Delhi University while working part-time journalist…Glancing above my shoulder I saw a grey, tube – like extension forming on the underside of a dark cloud; it grew rapidly as I watched, and then all of a sudden it turned and came whiplashing down to earth…The noise quickly rose to a frenzied pitch, and the wind began to tug fiercely at my clothes…I saw to my astonishment that my surroundings had been darkened by churning cloud of dust…I saw an extraordinary panoply of objects flying past – bicycles, scooters, lampposts, sheets of corrugated iron, even tea stalls…Buses lay overturned, scooters sat on treetops, walls had been ripped out of buildings…” Amitav Ghosh in The Great Derangement: Climate Change And The Unthinkable

The passage cited above, experienced by him in 1978, could have made Amitav Ghosh, write a novel, where the main protagonist was going through what he experienced, which undoubtedly can be quoted as a tornado, as a result of climate change. But, in The Great Derangement, Amitav Ghosh, laments the sheer dearth of fiction in the genre of what we call Cli-Fi, meaning fiction on Climate Change. While there is non-fiction material available on the subject, and discussions across nations on this subject, there is very little among fiction writers, including himself who have been able to situate their stories in the midst of extreme devastation that is the nature of storms, tornadoes, tsunami, floods, excessive rains, absolute drought, etc etc, all arising out of climate change. His one serious engagement was in The Hungry Tide, the excerpt being available HERE. 

In the recently launched and latest book by Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement: Climate Change And The Unthinkable, Ghosh, mines deeply into literature from the present and the past to establish that not only is there very little literature in fiction on this subject, but also, how climate change cannot be looked at honestly without looking in depth on ‘empire and imperialism’ and of course politics.

It is the thirst for wealth that made European countries like England, France, Portugal expand their empire across the globe. They built harbours and cities close to the sea in order to continue their trade across nations. The wealthy businessman affected the politics of the land and indeed imperialism is key to climate change, as cities were built too close to rivers thus making them, open to the ‘uncanny, improbable’ weather, we now experience as climate change. As wealthy sections of people formed the government, we know that politics and policies are so made that they continue to protect industry even in the face of hugely catastrophic affects on people and ecosystems. It is this ‘unholy nexus’ that is for centuries engaged and involved in keeping the status quo even though in global conferences, the catch word is to arrest climate change. However, this responsibility is always on ‘the other’.

The book is an excellent read for academics and people interested in Climate Change and environment. To me it read more like a paper on Climate Change citing history and politics of it all. The beginning might have been an addition at a later stage, which brings focus on the dire need for more fiction on Cli-Fi.

The book however does not put light on the fast vanishing keystonespecies like wolves, beavers and the like, who help to preserve the environment.

Read also: Tabish Khair’s Review: Outside Imagination HERE