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Environmental Crises and East Asian Literatures

Karen Thornber

Publication Year: 2012

East Asian literatures are famous for celebrating the beauties of nature and depicting people as intimately connected with the natural world. But in fact, because the region has a long history of transforming and exploiting nature, much of the fiction and poetry in the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean languages portrays people as damaging everything from small woodlands to the entire planet. These texts seldom talk about environmental crises straightforwardly. Instead, like much creative writing on degraded ecosystems, they highlight what Karen Laura Thornber calls ecoambiguity—the complex, contradictory interactions between people and the nonhuman environment. Ecoambiguity is the first book in any language to analyze Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Taiwanese literary treatments of damaged ecosystems. Thornber closely examines East Asian creative portrayals of inconsistent human attitudes, behaviors, and information concerning the environment and takes up texts by East Asians who have been translated and celebrated around the world, including Gao Xingjian, Ishimure Michiko, Jiang Rong, and Ko Un, as well as fiction and poetry by authors little known even in their homelands. Ecoambiguity addresses such environmental crises as deforesting, damming, pollution, overpopulation, species eradication, climate change, and nuclear apocalypse. This book opens new portals of inquiry in both East Asian literatures and ecocriticism (literature and environment studies), as well as in comparative and world literature.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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p. xiii-xiii

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introduction: Environments, Environmental Ambiguities, and Literatures

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pp. 1-31

“We’d like to cut down the trees with nature in mind.” So declared Suzuki Takehiko, director of the Shōsenkyō Kankō Kyōkai (Shōsen Gorge Tourism Association), in August 2008. Part of Japan’s Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park, Shōsen Gorge has for decades been labeled the country’s “most . . .

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One / Environmental Degradation and Literature in East Asia

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pp. 32-95

More so than their counterparts in other areas of the world, premodern East Asian literatures, fine arts, religions, and philosophies frequently idealized abstract visions of the natural world and of human interactions with . . .

Part I

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Two / Accentuating Ambivalence

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pp. 99-155

At once amusingly flippant and disturbingly serious, “Let’s Eat Stars” parodies religious and other forms of anthropocentrism; it mocks the belief—articulated in Genesis 1:1 and elsewhere—that a heavenly being created . . .

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Three / Underlining Uncertainty

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pp. 156-213

Ours is not the first age to feel flooded by information. Ecclesiastes 12:12 (dating to the fourth or third century B.C.E.) laments, “Of making books there is no end,” while in the first century, Seneca declared “the abundance of books is distraction” . . .

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Four / Capitalizing on Contradiction

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pp. 214-278

Although increasingly conscious of environmental degradation, we remain remarkably unaware of how our behaviors affect ecosystems near and far. We know surprisingly little about the effect of human actions on the etiologies, the patterns . . .

Part II

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Five / Acquiescing

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pp. 281-327

The lights [on the river from nearby buildings] were only surface reflections and had no connection with the river itself. Still, reflecting the lights, the river was beautiful. Likewise, the lights reflected on the surface of the river were beautiful. The filth at the bottom of the river was hidden from sight. . . .

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Six / Illusions and Delusions

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pp. 328-379

Some of literature’s most incisive commentaries on human abuse of the nonhuman arise in texts that appear to have very little to do with ecodegradation. Writings such as Bai Xianyong’s “Anlexiang de yi ri” (A Day in Pleasantville, 1964), for instance, would not seem to hold much of interest to the ecocritic. . . .

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Seven / Green Paradoxes

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pp. 380-435

One of the oddities of people’s interactions with their surroundings is that individuals who love, respect, or show fascination with nature often contribute, deliberately or inadvertently, to damaging or destroying it. Navajo spiritual guides have claimed that “digging up the earth to retrieve resources . . .


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pp. 437-568

Works Cited

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pp. 569-643


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pp. 645-688

E-ISBN-13: 9780472028146
E-ISBN-10: 0472028146
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472118069
Print-ISBN-10: 0472118064

Page Count: 688
Publication Year: 2012