I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized An Ornery Beast

An Ornery Beast

Byron Williston
Gun Island, by Amitav Ghosh, John Murray Press, 320 pp, £20, ISBN: 978-1473686670 Our world is organised by boundaries. This sort of thing over here, that one over there. But what if many of these boundaries ‑ the geographic distribution of species, nation-state borders, academia’s carefully curated silos, etc ‑ were to suddenly and irreversibly dissolve? What if our age were one of uncontrollable meltings and meldings, unexpected meetings and mixings, weird couplings and erasures? Would this occasion terror and disorientation in us? Or might it open up new political possibilities, new avenues for solidarity across species, ethnicities, economic classes, academic disciplines and more? Climate disruption ‑ as well as the Anthropocene, the new geological epoch in which it is set ‑ is proving to be just this sort of uncanny solvent. We had better come to grips with this aspect of it. Amitav Ghosh’s new novel, Gun Island, does just that. It is a profoundly dislocating and urgent exploration of what it means to be human in the age of climate change. One of the biggest challenges presented by the Anthropocene is representing its scale. This is not simply about depicting events over unusually long time periods. A recent spate of books offers to explain the history of “everything” from the Big Bang to the rise of social media, often in under 300 pages. What they provide instead is a disconnected juxtaposition of elements, like a series of words on a page not yet fused into a sentence by the connective alchemy of syntax. The new epoch demands something different because we must now understand how all the small things of our lives have become entwined in the workings of the Earth system. How can we write or even think about this adequately? Ghosh, for one, is undaunted by the challenge. His 2016 nonfiction book The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable threw down a gauntlet to other novelists. Too many writers are fixated on the regularities of “bourgeois life” as though that doll’s house could never be made to collapse by something as self-evidently extraneous as the climate. But climate change’s most frightening manifestation is abrupt, non-linear change, so we’d better get used to understanding how this will restructure our lives and worlds in the most granular way. One way to do so, Ghosh claimed, is to treat nature neither as backdrop nor stage but as protagonist. Rather than waiting…

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