Readings in Colonial + Postcolonial Literatures

L643 — Fall 2021

Byron Santangelo
Days and Times
4:15p - 7:00p M (4 CR.)
Course Description

Topic: Imagining Environmental Justice

Since the Industrial Revolution, authors as diverse as the romantic poet John Clare, the conservationist Aldo Leopold, and the writer-activist Ken Saro-Wiwa have encouraged readers to consider the damage done to human and ecological communities in the name of economic growth, as well as to weigh the justice of processes by which some places and peoples are sacrificed for the benefit of others. They ask us to reevaluate the costs of “progress” (what they are, how they are measured, who bears them, who benefits from them) and to interrogate the forms of representation which obscure or justify those costs.  These authors use their creativity to reimagine “development” in ways that challenge standard conceptions of the term and that help readers conceive of alternative paths to the future.

This course will have two theoretical foci. On the one hand, it will put into dialogue different conceptions of environmentalism and the notions of “nature” they entail. In particular, we will consider how the work of artists and activists focused on justice deviates from privileged, often colonial, ecologically oriented art and action. On the other hand, we will be considering the role of the imagination in efforts both to bear witness to the slow violence – the long-term, often invisible ecological and social damage – that has been set in motion by oil extraction, chemical production, hydropower, resort tourism, and agri-business and to formulate alternative models of development and of socio-ecological relationships.

Texts include a wide range of fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and video by artist-activists such as Zina Saro-Wiwa, Wangari Maathai, Helon Habila, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Jamaica Kincaid, Indra Sinha, Arundhati Roy, Amitav Ghosh, Octavia Butler, and Rob Nixon. Requirements include: reading responses, a presentation, an annotated bibliography, and a final paper (on a topic relevant to the course and of interest to the student).