Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

Martian Ecologies and the Future of Nature

Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

Martian Ecologies and the Future of Nature

Article excerpt

Postmodernism, then: The term no longer outlines the urgent horizon of the contemporary. It now tends to refer to a period or style just past, mildly dated in the way flip-top cell phones are: They still make them, we still use them, but they are not at the cutting edge of what is new Starting in the mid-1990s, analyses of contemporary society, culture, literature, and art in the humanities began to take the notion of "globalization" rather than that of postmodernism as their central organizing category, a shift that had already taken a place at least a decade earlier in the social sciences.

This may appear to be an odd shift between concepts that at first sight seem to share little in common. While questions of knowledge construction, discourse, and aesthetics loomed large in debates about postmodernism, economic and geopolitical constellations occupy center stage in discussions of globalization. Yet some of the underlying questions that the term "postmodernism" helped to articulate re-emerged in somewhat different form in analyses of the political, economic, social, and cultural consequences of globalization. What was modernity? Do postmodernism and globalization simply mean the spread of Western-style modernity to the entirety of the globe? Or does a fundamental break with the paradigms of modernist thought and society take place in the second half of the twentieth century? From a global perspective, are there divergent paths toward and through modernity? In what ways do premodern and modern social structures, institutions, and ways of life co-exist, and how do they blend or conflict with whatever comes after the modern? In analyses of culture and literature, these questions provide a connecting thread between what may seem like otherwise disparate discourses.

But such connections clearly do not mean that the shift in terminology does not matter, or that it indicates only superficial adjustments in an ongoing debate over the same concerns. The deep-seated linguistic skepticism in a good deal of postmodernist thought and its sustained preoccupation with how different forms of language generate divergent socio-cultural realities, its broader questioning of the extent to which cultural sign systems are able to convey any coherent sense of the real, and if so, how that "real" might be defined, do not figure as prominently in debates over globalization. Rather--in analyses focused on culture rather than on the economy--cultural and identity formations across and beyond local, regional, national, and hemispheric boundaries take center stage, along with the question of their dependence on the spread of capitalism, their relation to colonial and postcolonial configurations of power, and the emergence of new political, social, and cultural networks, often established and maintained with the help of new technologies. Awareness of global ecological connectedness and transnational risk scenarios forms part of this framework in a way it did not in postmodernist ways of thinking, in which the environment played at best a marginal role.

As a distinct field in literary and cultural studies, ecocriticism emerged in the early 1990s, at the moment when the shift from postmodernism to globalization as focal concept began. Its rise coincided with and was no doubt in part enabled by the waning of most varieties of poststructuralism, which had for decades approached "nature" only as an ideological cover for particular social groups' claim to power. Engagements with the state of the natural world outside its uses for social politics had, for this reason, been extremely difficult to undertake in the 1970s and '80s. At the same time, the emphasis, in the context of early '90s' identity politics, on existential connections to one's place of origin was easier to reconcile with a kind of eco-cultural awareness that postulated rootedness in place as a sine qua non condition of environmental ethics. (1) In its first decade, a good deal of ecocriticism remained virulently antitheoretical and anti-poststructuralist, and to the extent that poststructuralism became conflated with a broader postmodern habitus, ecocriticism defined itself in opposition to what it conceived as the dominant strain in literary and cultural studies. …

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