Journal Articles

June 2017 - Vol.47 / No.2
Pollution, Sci-fi, and the Sublime
Author : Simon C. Estok
Keywords : dirt, sublime objects, sci-fi, Patricia Yaeger, affect of detachment, Anthropocene
Dirt is taking on a new character in the twenty-first century. It is becoming a thing of art, a thing represented by and representative of humanity. This article reviews some of the important theories in the growing body of work on garbage to discuss the implications of Patricia Yaeger’s argument in PMLA that “postmodern detritus has unexpectedly taken on the sublimity that was once associated with nature.” The article begins by offering a distinction between cli-fi and sci-cli-fi and argues throughout that the latter produces an affect of detachment that runs very much counter to any sense of activist engagement and that it does so primarily through its production of sublime objects. The waste that has become such an integral component of the Anthropocene is sublime and incomprehensible in its enormity, and the result is paralyzing.
Spaceship Earth and Technological Utopianism: Liu Cixin’s Ecological Science Fiction
Author : Hua Li
Keywords : Liu Cixin, SF writing, cruel optimism, Spaceship Earth, energy crisis
With the occurrence of energy crises and ecological degradation since the 1960s, many ecologists, philosophers, economists, and sf writers have begun to adopt the intergenerational spaceship as a metaphor and a model of human life in a finite environment. This article explores how the idea of Spaceship Earth is reflected in the Chinese sf writer Liu Cixin’s (b. 1963) four novellas. These narratives deal with various key issues in environmental discourse: clean energy, water shortages, resource depletion, and the possible solution of minimizing production and consumption. They depict the disastrous consequences of exploitive relationships between humans and natural resources, and the paradoxical relationship between the tapping of new energy sources and the devastating ecological consequences that are likely to ensue. Aside from these serious environmental and energy issues, I also inquire further into the technological supremacy the narratives put forward. I argue that these narratives’ optimistic and triumphalist finales are problematic, and remind the reader of what Lauren Berland has called the “cruel optimism” in contemporary life. People become attached to technological fixes because technology provides a cluster of promises: advances in science and technology perfectly generate all desired improvements in ecology and environment, solve energy problems, and bring people a better life in general. This naïvely optimistic view enables people to keep on consuming resources at a high rate and go on living their lives the same old way. However, what is cruel about this attachment to technology is that the presence of technology is actually threatening people’s well-being by bringing about more damage to the environment and the ecological system. Technology might offer various partial solutions to ecological crises, but it alone cannot provide a path to a more sustainable future for humanity.
Local and Presentist Ecocritical Shakespeare in East Asia
Author : Iris Ralph
Keywords : Akira Kurosawa, Ming-chin Tsai, Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, butterflies, deforestation, ecocriticism, localism, presentism
In studies that focus on the phenomenon of Shakespeare in Asia, scholars argue that a great deal of it has little to do with promoting serious intellectual discourse and pressing cultural commentary and much to do with showing off knowledge of the English language and one of its greatest purveyors. Shen Lin voices that argument in an essay that focuses on Shakespeare in China, where lavish and expensive mainstream productions of Shakespeare are catering to a socio-political class, “the new patricians of the People’s Republic,” who are eager to acquire and display knowledge of a “Shashibiya” that is “thematically” out of tune “with contemporary Chinese reality.” Similarly, Rustom Bharucha characterizes the phenomenon of Shakespeare in Asia as the desperate attempt by “Old England . . . to cover its colonial past by seeking . . . new reclamations of Shakespeare in Asian performance traditions, both traditional and contemporary.” Although other scholars, notable among them Bi-Qi Beatrice Lei, hold that Shakespeare in the East has pushed Shakespeare into territory that is very different from older terrain marked by overtures to the West, Lin and Bharucha make clear that more politically and culturally relevant work needs to be done in “doing” Shakespeare in Asia. Taking them at their word, I do that in this essay by ecocritically reading a film adaptation of Macbeth, Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood, and a film adaptation of the classical Chinese legend of “the Butterfly lovers,” directed by Taiwanese director Ming-chin Tsai and commonly known as the Chinese version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Ecocritic Robert Pogue Harrison’s reading of “deforestation” in Macbeth is the main source of inspiration for my discussion of Kurosawa’s film and the history of ecocide of East Asian forests by local governments and later by multi-national companies in the time between Japan’s Middle Ages, the time period in which Kurosawa’s Macbeth is set, and the present century. Tsai’s film carries a haunting ecocidal reference, one that the director may not have consciously intended but is powerful no less, to the history of butterflies in Taiwan.
Miyazawa Kenji’s Anthropomorphism and Landscapes
Author : Kota Inoue
Keywords : Anthropomorphism, Ecocentrism, marginality, agential landscapes, Miyazawa Kenji
Poet and author Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933) is widely known for his richly imaginative fictionalization of his native Iwate in northeastern Japan, in which Gary Snyder found much inspiration for his nature writings. Reflecting his strong interest in wide-ranging fields of natural science such as zoology, botany, geology, and meteorology, Miyazawa’s works prominently feature various non-human actors—snow storms, winds, volcanic rocks, forests, birch trees, frogs, deer, birds, wildcats, bears, and even elephants—in largely rural settings. Some other works have no human characters at all. Miyazawa’s determined employment of a variety of non-human actors generates agential landscapes that actively interact with characters. Considering the non-human protagonists in his stories as expressions of landscape in a broad sense, this paper takes a close look at Miyazawa’s frequent use of anthropomorphism and asks how it enables—and limits—his creation of agential landscapes. In order to examine Miyazawa’s anthropomorphized landscape outside the tradition of nature writing studies, the paper will focus on geopolitical contextualization. For instance, recent studies indicate that Miyazawa was keenly aware of his marginalized existence away from the lit- erary circles in 1920s Tokyo. What did it mean to create agential landscapes which were still confined in marginalized space? And how does such marginality of his agential landscapes relate to the peripheral nature of Iwate within the Japanese empire of the 1920s? The dynamics between agency and marginality will also be examined for its implications on the ecocentric impulse in Miyazawa’s writings.
After the Japan 3/11 Disaster: Slow Violence and Slow Living in The Land of Hope and Homeland
Author : Kathryn Yalan Chang
Keywords : Fukushima, tsunami, radiation, slow violence, post-traumatic landscape
Drawing from Sino Sono’s 2013 film The Land of Hope and Kubota Nao’s 2014 film Homeland, this paper points to the psychological traumatic problems that have afflicted the victims of nuclear explosion and radiation in Fukushima, Japan, since March 11, 2011. The tsunami and radiation leaks have transformed the Fukushima area (towns) into what CNN news has called a “ghost town.” In the Pacific side of the Tōhoku regions, “the end of nature” (Bruno Latour) has been highlighted and many living in the affected areas become “the dispossessed.” Based on the films, in which both directors spent time filming in the affected area and interviewing the residents, this paper explores how objects have an impact on people’s living before/after the radiation leaks and whether narratives of recovery from elemental ecocriticism are workable in both films. My question is when calamities or toxicities become irretrievable, what does “home,” “sense of place,” “native-soil,” mean to those living in of “the land of hope (lessness),” especially when craving to return back “home” is shown in Kubota Nao’s Homeland. How credible and trustworthy is the information from the public media and government when something jeopardizes authoritarian patronages? By examining the narratives of recovery in both films, the paper will see how the “pastoral” landscape has been transformed to the (post-)traumatic landscape (The Land of Hope) and how the post-traumatic landscape can presumably be traced back to a “therapeutic landscape” (Homeland).
Nostalgia for the Future: Home Landscape in the Films of Jia Zhangke
Author : Sijia Yao
Keywords : Chinese ecocinema, anticipatory nostalgia, landscape, home, Jia Zhangke
This paper proposes an alternative strategy of therapeutic healing and recovery of planetary existence in China by examining the structure of nostalgic feeling in two films by Jia Zhangke, a Chinese filmmaker who is noted for his distinct filmic narratives that unsettle and dislodge the authority of official, ideological accounts. His film, Still Life (Sanxia haoren 三峽好人), exposes the audience to powerful cinematic images of ruined homes, painful displacement, and cultural loss, which enable them to develop a strong nostalgia for the lost affinity with nature as well as Chinese cultural roots, so as to foresee the devastating consequences of the Three Gorges Dam project. Jia’s latest short film Smog Journeys (Ren zai maitu 人在霾途) interweaves the realistic, nostalgic, and speculative fictional insights into the serious issue of smog in today’s China. Since China embraced modernism at the turn of the twentieth century, the traditional belief in the harmony between humans and nature (天人合一) has been dissolved and abandoned. Taking cues from Svetlana Boym’s term “reflective nostalgia,” I argue that nostalgia, rather than a passive escapism or naïve utopian pursuit, can serve as an effective means to resist the current money-driven progress and help Planet Earth recover and revitalize its future prospects by looking back.
Distortions of Space and Problems of Interpretation in Decameron II.5
Author : John Lance Griffith
Keywords : Boccaccio, The Decameron, Andreuccio da Perugia (2.5), transformation of space, the sacred and the profane
This essay examines images of distorted, confused, managed, and created space which run throughout the prologue and the tales of the Decameron, in particular the story of Andreuccio da Perugia (2.5). Observing how, with the freedom that comes from living in depopulated spaces, Boccaccio’s narrators tell stories that testify to the simultaneous pleasure and anxiety such freedom brings, I argue that for Boccaccio the disruption of sacred space results in a boundless and potentially terrifying freedom to interpret space as one wishes.
It’s All for Sale: Market, Theater, and Flesh Trade in Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair
Author : Elyssa Y. Cheng
Keywords : Ben Jonson, Bartholomew Fair, commercial sex, marital transactions, anti-theatrical discourses
The main characters in Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair go to the fair to taste freshly-roasted pigs. This essay begins with the query of why this is so, investigating the relationships between the sale of festive roast pork, commodified sex, and commercial theater in the emerging capitalist economy. Jonson makes close connections between the Puritan admonition against roast pig eating, the Puritans’ anti-theatrical discourses, and male surveillance of women and their chastity in Renaissance England. Past researches of Puritan anti-theatrical discourses reveal that what worried the Puritan elders most was the theater’s potential to lure through sexual fantasies and whet erotic desires. They suspected that theater provided a resort for men and women to meet and commit fornication. In Jonson’s satire, the Puritan husbands are so occupied with their own businesses that they neglect their wives, who are tempted by elaborate costumes and material delights and even become whores. Moreover, in both the upper-class heiress’s and the middle-class widow’s choice of husbands, the men’s inability to control women’s virginity and chastity is displayed. All in all, Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair presents a world of emerging capitalism where everything—including art, women, and even marriage—can be traded. In this world, theatrical productions are harshly attacked and strictly censored due to its possible connections with prostitution, but religious and juridical institutions fail to discipline debauched wives; and most importantly, capitalist values starkly subvert conventional moral boundaries.