Eco-Language and the Anthropocene

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In his blog post, "Grassland logic, Agrilogistics and Hanspace Cosmologies — Robin Visser’s Disruptive 'Questioning Borders'", Bruce Humes called this new book by Robin Visser to our attention:  Questioning Borders: Ecoliteratures of China and Taiwan (Columbia University Press, 2023).

Here's the book description from the press:

Indigenous knowledge of local ecosystems often challenges settler-colonial cosmologies that naturalize resource extraction and the relocation of nomadic, hunting, foraging, or fishing peoples. Questioning Borders explores recent ecoliterature by Han and non-Han Indigenous writers of China and Taiwan, analyzing relations among humans, animals, ecosystems, and the cosmos in search of alternative possibilities for creativity and consciousness.

Informed by extensive field research, Robin Visser compares literary works by Bai, Bunun, Kazakh, Mongol, Tao, Tibetan, Uyghur, Wa, Yi, and Han Chinese writers set in Xinjiang, Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Southwest China, and Taiwan, sites of extensive development, migration, and climate change impacts. Visser contrasts the dominant Han Chinese cosmology of center and periphery that informs what she calls “Beijing Westerns” with Indigenous and hybridized ways of relating to the world that challenge borders, binaries, and hierarchies.

By centering Indigenous cosmologies, this book aims to decolonize approaches to ecocriticism, comparative literature, and Chinese and Sinophone studies as well as to inspire new modes of sustainable flourishing in the Anthropocene.

Bruce provides a list of some terms in Visser’s book that he found "intriguing and edifying — tho’ a bit difficult to grasp at first":

  • socialist ecological civilization 
  • ethnospatial determinism 
  • reifying
  • grassland logic
  • ecofeminist critique
  • agrilogistics
  • Hanspace cosmologies
  • carbon imaginary

Seldom does one encounter such a spate of neologistic jargon in a single publication.  I did a doubletake on most of the other terms, but "reifying" was old hat to me, though I must admit that, when I first encountered it about half a century ago, I found it off-putting.  A similarly overused pretentious term that I learned around the same time was "essentialize", though it existed already by the end of the 19th century.

Another salient term associated with Visser's book, not mentioned specifically by Bruce, is "Anthropocene".  This highly tendentious term burst on the scene at the turn of the millennium, and it has become a lightning rod for many politically sensitive arguments.  I avoid them like the plague. 

Selected readings


1 Comment

  1. Philip Taylor said,

    November 13, 2023 @ 9:39 am

    "Reify" I have known for some decades, but I thought that I had known "anthropocene" for a similar period of time. Google "ngrams" proves me wrong — as Victor so correctly states, it "burst on the scene at the turn of the millennium".

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