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Contemporary fiction vs. the challenge of imagining the timescale of climate change

Mahlu Mertens (UGent) and Stef Craps (UGent)
(2018) STUDIES IN THE NOVEL. 50(1). p.134-153
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Abstract
Fiction writers who try to do justice to the vast temporal and spatial scales and the enormous complexity of climate change are faced with the problem that the phenomenon exceeds human perception and that it is not dramatic in the traditional sense. In this article we explore the formal challenges that arise when fiction takes on the temporality of climate change by examining three very different novels that seek to capture the geological timescale. We analyze Richard McGuire’s time-bending graphic novel Here (2014), Dale Pendell’s fictional future history The Great Bay (2010), and Jeanette Winterson’s cautionary science-fiction tale The Stone Gods (2007) through the lens of Barbara Adam’s concept of the timescape, Rob Nixon’s idea of slow violence, and Timothy Clark’s notion of destructive doubles to see what kinds of literary innovations and translations the timescale of climate change has provoked. In doing so, we ponder Clark’s question, posed in his recent book Ecocriticism on the Edge: The Anthropocene as a Threshold Concept (2015), whether humans are constitutionally incapable of imagining the Anthropocene—the new geological epoch defined by the action of humans of which climate change is the most salient manifestation—or whether authors can adequately depict and convey it by disrupting conventional modes of representation. We conclude that while each of the three novels ultimately falls short in this regard, collectively they do chart possible pathways for successful literary treatment of the most pressing ecological threat of our time.
Keywords
contemporary fiction, climate change, timescale

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Chicago
Mertens, Mahlu, and Stef Craps. 2018. “Contemporary Fiction Vs. the Challenge of Imagining the Timescale of Climate Change.” Studies in the Novel 50 (1): 134–153.
APA
Mertens, Mahlu, & Craps, S. (2018). Contemporary fiction vs. the challenge of imagining the timescale of climate change. STUDIES IN THE NOVEL, 50(1), 134–153.
Vancouver
1.
Mertens M, Craps S. Contemporary fiction vs. the challenge of imagining the timescale of climate change. STUDIES IN THE NOVEL. 2018;50(1):134–53.
MLA
Mertens, Mahlu, and Stef Craps. “Contemporary Fiction Vs. the Challenge of Imagining the Timescale of Climate Change.” STUDIES IN THE NOVEL 50.1 (2018): 134–153. Print.
@article{8548225,
  abstract     = {Fiction writers who try to do justice to the vast temporal and spatial scales and the enormous complexity of climate change are faced with the problem that the phenomenon exceeds human perception and that it is not dramatic in the traditional sense. In this article we explore the formal challenges that arise when fiction takes on the temporality of climate change by examining three very different novels that seek to capture the geological timescale. We analyze Richard McGuire{\textquoteright}s time-bending graphic novel Here (2014), Dale Pendell{\textquoteright}s fictional future history The Great Bay (2010), and Jeanette Winterson{\textquoteright}s cautionary science-fiction tale The Stone Gods (2007) through the lens of Barbara Adam{\textquoteright}s concept of the timescape, Rob Nixon{\textquoteright}s idea of slow violence, and Timothy Clark{\textquoteright}s notion of destructive doubles to see what kinds of literary innovations and translations the timescale of climate change has provoked. In doing so, we ponder Clark{\textquoteright}s question, posed in his recent book Ecocriticism on the Edge: The Anthropocene as a Threshold Concept (2015), whether humans are constitutionally incapable of imagining the Anthropocene---the new geological epoch defined by the action of humans of which climate change is the most salient manifestation---or whether authors can adequately depict and convey it by disrupting conventional modes of representation. We conclude that while each of the three novels ultimately falls short in this regard, collectively they do chart possible pathways for successful literary treatment of the most pressing ecological threat of our time.},
  author       = {Mertens, Mahlu and Craps, Stef},
  issn         = {0039-3827},
  journal      = {STUDIES IN THE NOVEL},
  keyword      = {contemporary fiction,climate change,timescale},
  language     = {eng},
  number       = {1},
  pages        = {134--153},
  title        = {Contemporary fiction vs. the challenge of imagining the timescale of climate change},
  volume       = {50},
  year         = {2018},
}