Tuesday, August 20, 2013

ISLE Journal issues a "call to writers" on behalf of climate change

Saw this call for entries on the Facebook page of author and environmental activist Terry Tempest Williams. Terry divides her time among Utah, Wyoming and assorted worldwide destinations. She will be the closing keynote speaker at the Wyoming Arts Conference in Jackson Oct. 12-14. I'm really looking forward to her talk, as are many others. Register for the conference here
This "Call to Writers" on behalf of climate change by Kathleen Moore and Scott Slovic for the ISLE (Interdisciplinary Studies of Literature and the Environment) Journal.

A Call to Writers

As the true fury of global warming begins to kick in — forests flash to ashes, storms tear away coastal villages, cities swelter in record-breaking heat, drought singes the Southwest, the Arctic melts — we come face to face with the full meaning of the environmental emergency: If climate change continues unchecked, scientists tell us, the world’s life-support systems will be irretrievably damaged by the time our children reach middle-age. The need for action is urgent and unprecedented.

We here issue a call to writers, who have been given the gift of powerful voices that can change the world. For the sake of all the plants and animals on the planet, for the sake of intergenerational justice, for the sake of the children, we call on writers to set aside their ordinary work and step up to do the work of the moment, which is to stop the reckless and profligate fossil fuel economy that is causing climate chaos.

That work may be outside the academy, in the streets, in the halls of politics and power, in the new street theaters of creative disruption, all aimed at stopping industry from continuing to make huge profits by bringing down the systems that sustain life on Earth. These activist efforts need the voices of writers, the genius of thought-leaders, the energy of words.

But there is essential work to be done also in our roles as academics and writers, empowered by creative imagination, moral clarity, and the strength of true witness. Write as if your reader were dying, Annie Dillard advised. “What would you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?” Now we must write as if the planet were dying. What would you say to a planet in a spasm of extinction?[2] What would you say to those who are paying the costs of climate change in the currency of death? Surely in a world dangerously slipping away, we need courageously and honestly to ask again the questions every author asks, Who is my audience—now, today, in this world? What is my purpose? 

Some kinds of writing are morally impossible in a state of emergency: Anything written solely for tenure. Anything written solely for promotion. Any shamelessly solipsistic project. Anything, in short, that isn’t the most significant use of a writer’s life and talents. Otherwise, how could it ever be forgiven by the ones who follow us, who will expect us finally to have escaped the narrow self-interest of our economy and our age?

Some kinds of writing will be essential. We here invite creative thought about new or renewed forms our writing can take. Perhaps some of these:

The drum-head pamphlet. Like Thomas Paine, writing on the head of a Revolutionary War drum, lay it out. Lay out the reasons why extractive cultures must change their ways. Lay out the reasons that inspire the activists. Lay out the reasons that shame the politicians. Lay out the reasons that are a template for decision-makers.

The “broken-hearted hallelujah.” Like Leonard Cohen, singing of loss and love, make clear the beauty of what we stand to lose or what we have already destroyed. Celebrate the microscopic sea-angels. Celebrate the children who live in the cold doorways and shanty camps. Celebrate the swamp at the end of the road. Leave no doubt of the magnitude of their value and the enormity of the crime, to let them pass away unnoticed. These are elegies, these are praise songs, these are love stories.

The witness. Like Cassandra howling at the gates of Troy, bear witness to what you know to be true. Tell the truths that have been bent by skilled advertising. Tell the truths that have been concealed by adroit regulations. Tell the truths that have been denied by fear or complacency. Go to the tarfields, go to the broken pipelines. Tell that story. Be the noisy gong and clanging cymbals, and be the love.

The narrative of the moral imagination. With stories and novels and poems, take the reader inside the minds and hearts of those who live the consequences of global warming. Who are they? How do they live? What consoles them? Powerful stories teach empathy, build the power to imagine oneself into another’s place, to feel others’ sorrow, and so take readers outside the self-absorption that allows the destruction to continue.

The radical imaginary. Re-imagine the world. Push out the boundaries of the human imagination, too long hog-tied by mass media, to create the open space where new ideas can flourish. Maybe it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism or fossil fuels or terminal selfishness. But this is the work that calls us—to imagine new life-ways into existence. Writers may not be able to save the old world, but they can help create the new one.

The indictment. Like Jefferson listing the repeated injuries and usurpations, let facts be submitted to a candid world. This is the literature of outrage. How did we come to embrace an economic system that would wreck the world? What iniquity allows it to continue?

The apologia. Finally this: Write to the future. Try to explain how we could allow the devastation of the world, how we could leave those who follow us only an impoverished, stripped, and dangerously unstable time. Ask their forgiveness. This is the literature of prayer. Is it possible to write on your knees, weeping?

And a Specific Invitation

In the case of global climate change—or, to put it directly, global warming—the importance of this call to the world’s most eloquent voices and most powerful imaginations cannot be overstated. The virtue of applying literary—and more broadly humanistic—voices to this issue is, in part, the fundamental pluralism of such voices. Our goal is not to ask for a single, unified perspective, but to draw forth a chorus of diverse responses to global warming. At this time, we urge our colleagues to apply their talents and their wisdom to the phenomenon that is altering the inhabitability of this planet more profoundly than any other anthropogenic impact. What do you have to say on the subject of global warming? How might your poetic, narrative, philosophical, teacherly, or scholarly voice make a difference?

Are you a poet or a storyteller? A philosopher or an ecocritic? A journalist or a script writer for film? Perhaps a literary essayist who weaves together many different modes of expression? Or is your medium the letter to the editor or the course syllabus? Recognizing the diverse forms of writing employed by writers throughout the world—and perhaps the need to invent or reinvent forms of writing equal to the emergency of global warming—we call upon you not only to feel the heat we all feel in this warming world, but to think about the heat and to find find le mot juste to match this unparalleled environmental and social challenge.

We have previously published climate-related articles and literary work in the pages of ISLE, but there has never been a focused cluster devoted to this essential topic. Now, with a short turn-round time that reflects the unprecedented urgency of this challenge, we invite readers of ISLE to send us scholarly and creative work for a global-warming cluster that will appear in the Winter 2014 issue of the journal. We can consider work received by September 30. Please contact us if you have any questions (kmoore@oregonstate.edu and slovic@uidaho.edu).

We also wish to encourage our students and colleagues throughout the world to devote their efforts to this pressing issue with an eye toward publishing in future issues of ISLE; in other scholarly, creative, or popular forums; and through untraditional and even non-public media, such as behind-the-scenes letters to elected officials or corporate leaders.

Your voice is needed. We call upon you to put your mind to the meaning of climate change. Do you have something better to do?
Kathleen Dean Moore and Scott Slovic

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