The Environmental Unconscious

Steven Swarbrick talks about poetic engagement with nature in the work of early modern poets ​​Edmund Spenser, Walter Ralegh, Andrew Marvell, and John Milton. Here language is influenced not by the manifest and the conscious, but the unconscious or void, as understood in Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalytic theory. This work is the basis for his hope for a reorganization of thought in contemporary ecocriticism around a politics of degrowth instead of additive policies that serve to greenwash capitalist economies.

Steven Swarbrick is an assistant professor of English at Baruch College, City University of New York. His research interests include early modern literature, contemporary continental philosophy, psychoanalysis, the environmental humanities, and sexuality and film studies. He is the author of The Environmental Unconscious: Ecological Poetics from Spenser to Milton (University of Minnesota Press, 2023) and co-author, with Jean-Thomas Tremblay, of Negative Life: The Cinema of Extinction (Northwestern University Press, under contract). He is currently working on two books: Unknowing Sex: Shakespeare against the Historicists and Destituent Ecology: Libidinal Politics for the Environmental Left.

Image: © 2023 Saronik Bosu

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Farah Bakaari talks about Trace, a core concept in deconstruction, that denotes an absent presence, a mark of something that is no longer there. She talks about how in her own work she has used the concept of trace to write about legacies of colonialism and slave trade in the Atlantic and Indian oceans, for which there is no archive that is conventionally legible.

In the episode Farah mentions the work of Parisa Vaziri on Iranian cinema and music as an example of work that interrogates an historical trace. You can listen to Parisa discuss forthcoming book here.

Farah Bakaari is a doctoral student in the Department of Literatures in English at Cornell University. Her research focuses on twentieth-century African literature, in particular the politics of time in anti-colonial and postcolonial works of art. She also works in memory studies and trauma theory. She holds a BA in English and Political Science from Grinnell College.

Image: © 2021 Saronik Bosu

Music used in promotional material: ‘The Lost and Forgotten’ by Hellenica

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Manan Kapoor talks about the Ghazal, the medieval Arabic poetic form which travelled to the Indian subcontinent in the 12th century and flourished there ever since. He focuses on the work of Agha Shahid Ali, the Kashmiri-American poet who perfected the art of the ghazal in the English language. Kapoor’s biography of Shahid, A Map of Longings, was published earlier this year. Particular references are made to the poem “In Arabic” from Shahid’s collection Call me Ishmael Tonight, the ghazals sung by Begum Akhtar which greatly influenced Shahid’s work, and English ghazals written by poets like Adrienne Rich which he critiqued.

Manan Kapoor is an Indian writer and translator. A Map of Longings: The Life and Works of Agha Shahid Ali (Vintage, Penguin Random House India) is his latest work. His debut novel The Lamentations of a Sombre Sky was shortlisted for Sahitya Akademi’s Yuva Puruskar 2017. In 2019, he was a writer-in-residence at Sangam House Writers’ Residency. His writings have appeared in The Caravan Magazine, Boston Review, The Hindu, Stockholm Review of Literature, Scroll, The Wire, and Firstpost among others. He lives in Chandigarh.

Image: “Gazelle” © 2021 Saronik Bosu (The word ‘ghazal’ and ‘gazelle’ share a root in Arabic, the poetic form compared originally to the lament of a wounded gazelle).

Music used for promotional material: “Raga Kirwani” on the Sarod by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan

High Theory is one-year old today! This is our 56th episode. We are deeply grateful to our guests, our audience all over the world, and our loyal supporters who spread the word everyday on social media. Thank you!

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