The Heyman Center for the Humanities (Second Floor Common Room), Columbia University
How do literature and other cultural forms shape how we imagine the planet, for better or worse? In The Disposition of Nature: Environmental Crisis and World Literature, Jennifer Wenzel tackles the formal innovations, rhetorical appeals, and sociological imbrications of world literature that might help us confront unevenly distributed environmental crises, including global warming. The Disposition of Nature argues that assumptions about what nature is are at stake in conflicts over how it is inhabited or used. Both environmental discourse and world literature scholarship tend to confuse parts and wholes. Working with writing and film from Africa, South Asia, and beyond, Wenzel takes a contrapuntal approach to sites and subjects dispersed across space and time. Reading for the planet, Wenzel shows, means reading from near to there: across experiential divides, between specific sites, at more than one scale.
Impressive in its disciplinary breadth, Wenzel’s book fuses insights from political ecology, geography, anthropology, history, and law, while drawing on active debates between postcolonial theory and world literature, as well as scholarship on the Anthropocene and the material turn. In doing so, the book shows the importance of the literary to environmental thought and practice, elaborating how a supple understanding of cultural imagination and narrative logics can foster more robust accounts of global inequality and energize movements for justice and livable futures.
Jennifer Wenzel, Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature and Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University