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Positive Pollutions and Cultural Toxins

Waste and Contamination in Contemporary U.S. Ethnic Literatures

John Blair Gamber

Publication Year: 2012

In this innovative study, Positive Pollutions and Cultural Toxins, John Blair Gamber examines urbanity and the results of urban living—traffic, garbage, sewage, waste, and pollution—arguing for a new recognition of all forms of human detritus as part of the natural world and thus for a broadening of our understanding of environmental literature.
While much of the discourse surrounding the United States’ idealistic and nostalgic views of itself privileges “clean” living (primarily in rural, small-town, and suburban settings), representations of rurality and urbanity by Chicanas/Chicanos, African Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans, on the other hand, complicate such generalization. Gamber widens our understanding of current ecocritical debates by examining texts by such authors as Octavia Butler, Louise Erdrich, Alejandro Morales, Gerald Vizenor, and Karen Tei Yamashita that draw on the physical signs of human corporeality to refigure cities and urbanity as natural. He demonstrates how ethnic American literature reclaims waste objects and waste spaces—likening pollution to miscegenation—as a method to revalue cast-off and marginalized individuals and communities. Positive Pollutions and Cultural Toxins explores the conjunction of, and the frictions between, twentieth-century U.S. postcolonial studies, race studies, urban studies, and ecocriticism, and works to refigure this portrayal of urban spaces.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Pages

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pp. i-iii

Copyright Page

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pp. iv


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pp. v


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pp. vii

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pp. 1-24

Positive Pollutions and Cultural Toxins begins with the simple assumption that people are natural. I’m not the first person to suggest such a thing, as the Love and Rockets quote I use here as an epigraph indicates; but I hope this book will push some people’s ideas about what is...

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pp. 25-56

This chapter studies the dystopian, near-future sf worlds of Octavia Butler’s novels Parable of the Sower (1993) and its sequel Parable of the Talents (1998).1 In the epigraphs above, Butler and Shakur each assert the impossibility of social improvements within the framework...

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pp. 57-90

This chapter moves from the dystopian sf future of Butler’s parable novels to the temporally diverse sf depictions of Mexicana/o and Chicana/o communities in Alejandro Morales’s The Rag Doll Plagues.1 Whereas Butler’s novels focus on multiethnic communities from an African...

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pp. 91-119

Ojibwa sanitation engineer Klaus Shawano, one of the many narrators of Louise Erdrich’s 1998 novel The Antelope Wife, embraces his role in the business that he and his on-again, off-again friend Richard Whiteheart Beads have founded.1 Within this novel, the focus on garbage rests primarily...

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pp. 120-154

In “Kenji,” Fort Minor describes an Issei shop owner in Los Angeles whose family is relocated to the Manzanar internment camp during World War II. Based on the history of Fort Minor front man Mike Shinoda’s family and the sampled interviews with his father and aunt...

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pp. 155-182

In this passage from his 1992 novel Dead Voices: Natural Agonies in the New World, Gerald Vizenor laments the difficulties in discussing urban Indian experiences.1 His novel attempts to find a place for Native people in the cities and a place for the cities in Native American stories and traditions...

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pp. 183-186

In an interview conducted immediately prior to his acceptance of the Nobel Prize, Al Gore said, “It’s hard to celebrate recognition of an effort that has thus far failed.” While it is undeniable that his work—and particularly his film, PowerPoint presentation, and lecture...


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pp. 187-212

Works Cited

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pp. 213-230


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pp. 231-236

E-ISBN-13: 9780803244887
E-ISBN-10: 0803244886
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803230460

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2012