Writing About Disaster
Metaphors in Crisis
This short chapter contextualizes my study of the Istanbul, San Francisco, and Tokyo earthquakes within the extensive literature that already exists and addresses natural disaster. The scholarly field of catastrophe studies has grown over the past decade, generating a number of methodological conventions that I both adopt and challenge throughout this book. The second section of this chapter describes many of these conventions and the points at which my work intersects with and diverges from them. However, writing about disaster is certainly not unique to the beginning of the twenty-first century. Disasters—and the various ways in which they might be endowed with meaning—have generated political and literary interest for a long time. As one scholar has pointed out, many European historians describe the 1755 Lisbon earthquake “as a watershed event dividing the premodern from the modern age.”1
I do not argue that any one disaster ought to serve as such a distinct historical signpost. I do, however, address much of the literature that does make these types of claims, and the first section of this chapter, “Historical Disaster Writing,” is thus a broadly conceived review of three centuries of writing on disaster. In it, I analyze the ways in which, historically, various earthquakes have been endowed with meaning, and I make the case that a disaster' s political meaning has been determined via the production and invocation of the subject in ecstasy. In the second section of the chapter, “Contemporary Disaster Writing,” I argue that despite
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Publication information: Book title: Law in Crisis: The Ecstatic Subject of Natural Disaster. Contributors: Ruth A. Miller - Author. Publisher: Stanford University Press. Place of publication: Stanford, CA. Publication year: 2009. Page number: 33.
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