chapter  6
18 Pages

Seaweed, soul-ar panels and other entanglements


Storytelling in the elds of Environmental Studies and Environmental Humanities under the sign of the ‘Anthropocene’ resounds with litanies of trauma, disaster and extirpation; it is at once doleful and apocalyptic. The typical Environmental Studies syllabus rehearses these familiar tropes of ruination and decline, and despite my best efforts to avert the collective numbness and the disabling environment associated with ‘well-informed futility syndrome,’ in my own classroom I am regularly accused of triggering despair and hopelessness. Endeavouring to address this ongoing pedagogical dilemma, in 2014 I developed a course at Swarthmore College focusing on the literary genre of life-narrative. I assigned texts comprised primarily of activist memoirs, autobiographies and memoir-esque novels. I reasoned that having students read life-writing produced by diverse scholars and activists who tell stories about living and acting in and through trauma would inspire ‘hope’. The kind of hope I was aiming for, the hope one must embrace when the world is falling apart – ‘hope in the dark,’ as Rebecca Solnit puts it – is not about denial, delusion and crossing one’s ngers while hoping for the best. Solnit explains:

[Hope] is not the belief that everything was, is, or will be ne. The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and tremendous destruction. The hope I’m interested in is about broad perspectives with specic possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act … You could call it an account of complexities and uncertainties, with openings.