Tag Archives: The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable

Book Review: The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable by Amitav Ghosh

By Rajat Chaudhuri

great-amitav

What did the Celt tell Alexander when Alexander asked him what it was that his people feared the most? The Celt had replied that they feared nothing, so long as the sky did not fall or the sea burst its limits. I remembered this anecdote from a book on druidry while reading The Great Derangement, a path-breaking work on climate change that sweeps across a vast landscape of scholarship, finally reaching out to chart new maps for understanding the greatest crisis that humanity faces today.

But we will return to our druid later. To structure this review, we will attempt to discuss the book in the same way that the author has organised his material in three sections: Stories, History and Politics.

The thrust of the first section is on the interface between culture (with a focus on literature) and climate change and how the former is ill-prepared to imaginatively engage with the improbabilities inherent in the latter. The scaffolding of the section on history is erected around the paradoxical relationship between colonialism and climate. Finally, the section on politics is essentially about presumptions in the philosophical concept of freedom and the rise of the “deep state”, which between them have impoverished the political and imaginative spheres, leading to their failure to grapple with the climate crisis.

Each section surveys existing scholarship and employs material and tools from various disciplines in advancing its theses, sharpening its insights, or lighting up facets of the problem, presenting us with a book which, because of this interdisciplinary approach, the clean, jargon-free language and the unwavering gaze of a master of the art of non-fiction (as much as he is of the novel), stands out in an ever-growing library of works on climate change.

“Stories”, the longest, and arguably the most fecund among the three sections, narrates the author’s experience of being caught in a freak storm in Delhi which sets him thinking about the improbability of the encounter and then about the difficulties that the imagination faces in engaging with unusual weather events and unthinkable occurrences that would become increasingly common with growing carbon emissions, global warming and climate change. From there he directs his attention to this failure of the artistic and literary imagination, this evasion which characterises the Great Derangement that he is talking about throughout this book. In his words:

What is it about climate change that the mention of it should lead to banishment from the preserves of serious fiction? And what does this tell us about culture writ large and its patterns of evasion?

In a substantially altered world, when sea-level rise has swallowed the Sundarbans and made cities such as Kolkata, New York and Bangkok uninhabitable, when readers and museum-goers turn to the art and literature of our time, will they not look, first and most urgently, for traces and portents of the altered world of their inheritance? And when they fail to find them, what can they do other than to conclude that ours was a time when most forms of art and literature were drawn into the modes of concealment that prevented people from recognising the realities of their plight? Quite possibly, then, this era, which so congratulates itself on its self-awareness, will come to be known as the time of the Great Derangement.”

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India: Amitav Ghosh to get Lifetime Achievement Award 2016, in Tata Literature Live!

Amitav Ghosh

Amitav Ghosh

Acclaimed Indian-American fiction author Amitav Ghosh has been named for this year’s Tata Literature Live! Lifetime Achievement Award, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the Indian literary space, an official said on Tuesday. The award will be presented to him at the upcoming four-day Tata Literature Live! annual awards ceremony scheduled for November 20 in Mumbai. “I am deeply honoured to be receiving this award… It’s a privilege to be included in a list of such distinguished honorees,” the 60-year-old Ghosh reacted. Some of the past recipients have been Kiran Nagarkar, M.T. Vasudevan Nair, Khushwant Singh, V.S. Naipaul and Mahasweta Devi.

Among the most celebrated writers in India, Ghosh has a universal following and is famed for the meticulous historical research that is woven into his writings. Honoured with Padma Shri in 2007, Ghosh’s some best known books, many of them award-winners, are ‘Ibis Trilogy – Sea of Poppies’, ‘River of Smoke’ and ‘Flood of Fire’, preceded by ‘The Circle of Reason’ and ‘The Shadow Lines’, which won the Sahitya Akademi Award. Other books penned by him include ‘The Calcutta Chromosome’, ‘The Glass Place’, ‘The Hungry Tide’, ‘In An Antique Land’, ‘Dancing in Cambodia’, ‘At Large in Burma’, ‘The Imam and The Indian’, and the latest ‘The Great Derangement: Climate Change and The Unthinkable’. Read more

Tata Lit Fest: Writers, thinkers and the spirit of debate in Mumbai

Come November, over 130 celebrated writers and thinkers from some 30 countries will converge at Mumbai’s biggest international literary festival, Tata Literature Live!

The illustrious first line-up for the seventh edition of the festival includes names like Amitav Ghosh, the Indian novelist who has examined the perils of ignoring climate change in his new book, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable; Nicholas Shakespeare, literary critic and descendant of William Shakespeare; John Gray, political philosopher and author of False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism; Ramachandra Guha, Indian historian and Padma Bhushan recipient; and Simon Armitage, the sardonically witty British poet, famous for the dramatisation of the Greek epic, The Odyssey.

“A literary festival in what is probably the world’s most vibrant city is sure to be hugely exciting. I very much look forward to it. I’ve had some memorable conversations in Mumbai. I’m looking forward to more,” said Amitav Ghosh about the festival which is set to sweep the city of Mumbai from 17-20 November. Read more

Review of Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement: Climate change and the Unthinkable

By Imteyaz Alam

amitav-ghosh

The Great Derangement: Climate change and the Unthinkable (Penguin Books, India) by Amitav Ghosh encompasses the stories, history and politics of climate change in a single volume. The deftness of storytelling employed by one of the giants of fiction writing of our time is on full display in this remarkable book on the imminent crisis that Planet Earth is facing today. Amitav Ghosh, the celebrated author expiates or in other word introspects on behalf of fellow writers by writing this extraordinary piece of non-fiction. Why does the master storyteller resort to non-fiction? The answer comes from the author himself: “Yet, it is a striking fact that when novelists do chose to write about climate change it is always outside of fiction.”

The author rues elsewhere in the book: “If certain literary forms are unable to negotiate these torrents, then they will have failed—and their failure will have to be counted as an aspect of broader imaginative and cultural failure that lies at the heart of climate crisis.”

This era of collective failure of art and literature in negotiating with this existential threat will then come to be known by the future generation as the time of The Great Derangement, the author imagines. The book highlights the failure of collective imagination and lack of sense of urgency though the impact of climate change impact is visible all around us: “That climate change casts a much smaller shadow within the landscape of literary fiction than it does even in the public arena is not hard to establish.” Read more

Amitav Ghosh: Addressing consumption question key to solving climate change issue

Ghosh said efforts to improve energy efficiency or substituting dirty fuels by solar or wind energy would bring about only incremental benefits: IE

Amitav Ghosh

Amitav Ghosh

The consumption patterns of the western countries and their lifestyles are completely at odds with the fight against climate change, author Amitav Ghosh has argued. Neither technology nor alternative sources of energy like solar or wind can ensure similar lifestyles to other people without completely jeopardising the earth’s future.

Ghosh’s latest book, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, deals with, what he says is, the “most difficult issue that this world has ever faced”. Read more