Part I — Stories

  • “I have come to recognize that the challenges that climate change poses for the contemporary writer, although specific in some respects, are also products of something broader and older; that they derive ultimately from the grid of literary forms and conventions that came to shape the narrative imagination in precisely that period when the accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere was rewriting the destiny of the earth.” (7)
  • “To identify how this happens is, I think, a task of the utmost urgency: it may well be the key to understanding why contemporary culture finds it so hard to deal with climate change. Indeed, this is perhaps the most important question to ever confront culture in the broadest sense—for let us make not mistake: the climate crisis is also a crisis of culture, and thus of the imagination.” (9)
  • “The vocabulary of the report is evidence of how unprecedented this disaster was. So unfamiliar was this phenomenon that the papers literally did not know what to call it: at a loss for words they resorted to ‘cyclone’ and ‘funnel-shaped whirlwind.’” (14) Derangement as a failure of terminology, experience, or imagination.
  • Linking together the development of the mathematical idea of probability and the form of the novel: the (realist) novel foregrounds the quotidian in an effort to capture “life”; the improbable moves to the background (16–18). Novels become about the rationality of modern life.
  • Gradualism (realism/rationality) vs. catastrophism (the unexpected and unlikely). Gradualism as regime of nineteenth-century rationalist / geological / literary thought (20–22).
  • “This, then, is the first of the many ways in which the age of global warming defies both literary fiction and contemporary common sense: the weather events of this time have a very high degree of improbability. . . . It is certain that these are not ordinary times: the events that mark them are not easily accommodated in the deliberately prosaic world of serious prose fiction.” (26)
  • Shared word across so much: uncanny (30). Cycles of human/nonhuman interactions producing uncanny events and terrains. The Anthropocene is inimically of Nature, and yet seems beyond Nature.
  • Imbrications of global capital and risk: “One consequence of the last two decades of globalization is that real estate interests have acquired enormous power . . . The reality is that ‘growth’ in many coastal cities around the world now depends on ensuring that a blind eye is turned toward risk.” (48)
  • “But the experience [of trying and then not asking my mother to move inland] did make me realize something that I would otherwise have been loathe [sic] to admit: contrary to what I might like to think, my life is not guided by reason; it is ruled, rather, by the inertia of habitual motion.” (53–54)
  • “What the settings of fiction have in common with sites measured by surveyors is that they too are constructed out of discontinuities” (59). Novels think within constraints and borders incommensurate with geologic deep time. “In this way, through a series of successive exclusions, Malabarman creates a space that will submit to the techniques of a modern novel: the rest of the landscape is pushed farther and farther into the background until at last we have a setting that can carry a narrative. The setting becomes, in a sense, a self-contained ecosystem, with the river as the sustainer both of life and of the narrative.” (60–61).
  • The cultural and political project of individuation and isolation, whether in encounters with raw material (coal vs. oil) or in the concerns of the novel itself (77–80).