Littered with Meaning: Environmental Pollution and Waste in Literature and Other Arts
- Jill Gatlin (New England Conservatory), Nicole Merola (Rhode Island School of Design)
Contemporary literary, filmic, and artistic media are littered with representations of environmental pollution and waste. From e-waste shipped to China and Africa, to nuclear and oil spill contamination spread across the globe, to trash accumulated in space, waste increasingly appears in literature and other arts not simply as a symbol of the abject but as a material force central to contemporary life and the environmental catastrophes and crises that threaten it.
This seminar will explore how representations of environmental pollution and waste are integrated with pre-existing or emergent discourses on crisis, catastrophe, collapse, and change. We seek to facilitate a transnational, transhistorical, and interdisciplinary conversation, with a particular interest in exploring these themes as they relate to environmental justice. Attending to literature, film, visual arts, and/or music from any historical period, participants might address questions such as:
- What varied cultural, historical, and environmental contexts have shaped understandings of and affective responses to waste-related crisis, catastrophe, or collapse? How do these terms differ, and what are the implications of their association with pollution and waste?
- (How) does waste become central, rather than abject, in the imagination of crisis? In addition to the sublime, what other kinds of aesthetic responses or innovations do pollution and waste invite or facilitate?
- How do environmental pollution and waste direct attention to social forms, or vice versa?
- How do writers or artists imagine change in the context of waste-related catastrophe, crisis, or collapse?