Imagining Endings

Reviewed by Olivia Pellegrino

With climate change currently at the forefront of global concern, Ashlee Cunsolo and Karen Landman’s Mourning Nature and Carl J. Tracie’s Shaping a World Already Made both contribute timely discussions of how the humanities and social sciences might engage with a myriad of environmental issues. Despite varied perspectives and disciplinary approaches, both texts are focused primarily on exploring and expanding the connection between humans and more-than-human nature. Tracie, a geographer engaging in interdisciplinary work with literary criticism and poetry, focuses on landscape, on the physical and cultural characteristics of the Canadian Prairies, while Cunsolo and Landsman’s anthology takes a more holistic approach to the more-than-human, featuring essays that demonstrate an investment in the agency of animals, plants, geological matter, and more.

Tracie seeks to unite scientific and imaginative perspectives in a consideration of the geographical constitution of the Prairies. Through a comprehensive survey of “literary” prairie poetry, he convincingly asserts that the two epistemologies complement one another in their efforts to understand the essence of a region. It is an ambitious project, one that raises many questions about how regions are created and defined, and one that, as Tracie himself concludes, provides “appeal” rather than “argument.” In his survey of several prairie poets, Tracie is thorough, highlighting issues of race, gender, and locale to demonstrate ways in which geography (whether physical or cultural) can inform the poetic imagination and vice versa. Tracie masterfully merges his evident expertise in the diverse geography of the prairie region with an enjoyable reading of the poetry that has emerged from prairie places, demonstrating how nuance can counter reductionist or stereotypical conceptualizations of prairie landscapes.

Mourning Nature is a multidisciplinary collection that considers the cultural, artistic, and digital ways that humans engage with and perform mourning for ecological loss. In a selection of equally poignant and engaging essays, contributors outline ways in which ecological mourning can extend agency to more-than-human nature, and more crucially, how sustained personal and collective mourning engenders the possibility of shifting political responses to climate change and environmental degradation. Cunsolo and Landman have astutely compiled a book that is both a comprehensive introduction to and a sustained evaluation of ecological mourning. Together, the essays elucidate the complex and affective labour that is necessary to grieving one’s environment; they work from an often common set of theoretical texts to examine the function of different mourning practices, from “resistant mourning” that “refuses consolation” to “anticipatory grieving” for species, cultures, practices, and landscapes on the verge of disappearance. Now, when environmental activism can seem overwhelming on a day-to-day basis, the essays in Mourning Nature provide both deeply personal and perceptive critical approaches to environmental loss, offering a balance between emotion and theory. It is this emphasis on critical affect and the possibilities of the process of collective, political grieving that makes the anthology so remarkably optimistic and successful.

Shaping a World Already Made and Mourning Nature share more than an interest in the connection between humans and their environments. They also share an immense power to engage readers regardless of disciplinary background, and they appeal for the necessity of widespread environmental thought, imagination, and care. As both texts conclude, environmental degradation—like our cultural, political, and emotional responses to it—is a story that is both individual and collective. It is a story that these critical and personal works invite their readers to respond to and, more pressingly, to complete.

This review “Imagining Endings” originally appeared in Lost and Found Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 236 (2018): 138-139.

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