My research interests span Anglophone postcolonial and global South literature, the environmental humanities, climate change and the Anthropocene, new materialism and nonhuman agency, SF, politics and aesthetics, cultural studies, the novel, realism, and critical theory. 

States of Failure: Reading Promise, Provision, and Environmental Harm in the Global South

From drought to hazardous waste dumping, the global South has borne the brunt of environmental calamity. The archives of postcolonial and global Anglophone writing have been produced alongside such disasters and, I argue, bring enduring environmental harm into focus as an object of address and redress, rather than the speculations of a bad sublime. To this end, my research shows how perspectives from postcolonial and global Anglophone literature enrich our understandings of agency, politics, endurance, and futurity amidst environmental harm as well as how the environmental humanities can reshape key concerns in postcolonial literary studies.

 

My book project, “States of Failure: Reading Promise, Provision, and Environmental Harm in the Global South” considers the generativity of state failure in postcolonial modernity, and especially in the face of accretive, long-term environmental damage that global South states have failed to address. Across the humanities, such failures are often treated as an invitation to negative critique. In contrast, I consider how failure produces distinct political cultures of expectation and desire for the state despite, and indeed often because of, the ways it has failed. Through a comparative, South-South archive that includes the writing of global Anglophone novelists and poets such as Chinua Achebe, Keri Hulme, Helon Habila, and Amitav Ghosh among others, alongside popular declarations, juridical cases, and national policies from India, Nigeria, and the Pacific, I show that even when the state has failed to live up to its political duties, authors and activists turn to it to articulate ideas about environmental redress. Failed promises induce new ideas of statehood and offer opportunities for aesthetic and popular revisions to the state. In response to failure, new and better forms of the state emerge. In short, failure is a productive cultural force which both creates investments in state promises and prompts writers and activists to envision new forms of state provision that respond more adequately to harms like oil spills, toxicity, and sea level rise.

I am in the early stages of a second project on apocalyptic realism and apocalypse as world literature. 

© 2019 by Rebecca Oh
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