The 1970s brought a new understanding of the biological and intellectual impact of environmental crises on human beings, and as efforts to prevent ecological and human degradation aligned, a new literature of sickness emerged. "Ecosickness fiction" imaginatively rethinks the link between ecological and bodily endangerment and uses affect and the sick body to bring readers to environmental consciousness.
Tracing the development of ecosickness through a compelling archive of modern U.S. novels and memoirs, this study demonstrates the mode's crucial role in shaping thematic content and formal and affective literary strategies. Examining works by David Foster Wallace, Richard Powers, Leslie Marmon Silko, Marge Piercy, Jan Zita Grover, and David Wojnarowicz, Heather Houser shows how these authors unite experiences of environmental and somatic damage through narrative affects that draw attention to ecological phenomena, organize perception, and convert knowledge into ethics. Traversing contemporary cultural studies, ecocriticism, affect studies, and literature and medicine, Houser juxtaposes ecosickness fiction against new forms of environmentalism and technoscientific innovations such as regenerative medicine and alternative ecosystems. Ecosickness in Contemporary U.S. Fiction recasts recent narrative as a laboratory in which affective and perceptual changes both support and challenge political projects.
"This sophisticated reconnaissance of an impressive range of turn-of-the-twenty-first century works both adroitly builds upon and convincingly takes issue with the new "materialist" ecocriticism by offering a subtly compelling assessment of the place of affect in works of environmental imagination and in environmental intervention generally. Not contemporary U. S. fiction specialists alone, but ecocritics in all bailiwicks are sure to profit from Professor Houser's insights."
– Lawrence Buell, Harvard University
"The "ecosickness" that Heather Houser explores in Ecosickness in Contemporary U.S. Fiction offers yet another example of the dangers of humanity's efforts to "master" nature. The novels and memoirs she studies demonstrate the intricate connections between somatic and ecological damage. But it is the literary critical argument that most distinguishes this work. Houser elegantly shows how these novels and memoirs produce narratives with unpredictable affects and how that unpredictability in turn generates an ethics that, she argues, might lead to new ways of addressing ecological damage. This timely book is crucial not only for its ecocritical insights, but for its depiction of the importance of humanistic inquiry to planetary ethics."
– Priscilla Wald, Duke University, author of Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative
"A thoughtful, original, and beautifully written study that will have a major impact on the studies of contemporary US fiction, environmental literature, and the relationship between affect and literature."
– Andrew Hoberek, University of Missouri
2. AIDS Out of the City: Discordant Natures
3. Richard Powers’s Strange Wonder
4. Infinite Jest’s Environmental Case for Disgust
5. The Anxiety of Intervention in Leslie Marmon Silko and Marge Piercy
Conclusion: How Does It Feel?
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Heather Houser is assistant professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin. Her essays have appeared in American Literature, Public Culture, Contemporary Literature, American Book Review, and The Legacy of David Foster Wallace.