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Prismatic Ecology

Ecotheory beyond Green

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen

Publication Year: 2013

Emphasizing sustainability, balance, and the natural, green dominates our thinking about ecology like no other color. What about the catastrophic, the disruptive, the inaccessible, and the excessive? What of the ocean’s turbulence, the fecundity of excrement, the solitude of an iceberg, multihued contaminations? Prismatic Ecology moves beyond the accustomed green readings of ecotheory and maps a colorful world of ecological possibility.

In a series of linked essays that span place, time, and discipline, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen brings together writers who illustrate the vibrant worlds formed by colors. Organized by the structure of a prism, each chapter explores the coming into existence of nonanthropocentric ecologies. “Red” engages sites of animal violence, apocalyptic emergence, and activism; “Maroon” follows the aurora borealis to the far North and beholds in its shimmering alternative modes of world composition; “Chartreuse” is a meditation on postsustainability and possibility within sublime excess; “Grey” is the color of the undead; “Ultraviolet” is a potentially lethal force that opens vistas beyond humanly known nature.

Featuring established and emerging scholars from varying disciplines, this volume presents a collaborative imagining of what a more-than-green ecology offers. While highlighting critical approaches not yet common within ecotheory, the contributions remain diverse and cover a range of topics including materiality, the inhuman, and the agency of objects. By way of color, Cohen guides readers through a reflection of an essentially complex and disordered universe and demonstrates the spectrum as an unfinishable totality, always in excess of what a human perceives.

Contributors: Stacy Alaimo, U of Texas at Arlington; Levi R. Bryant, Collin College; Lowell Duckert, West Virginia U; Graham Harman, American U in Cairo; Bernd Herzogenrath, Goethe U of Frankfurt; Serenella Iovino, U of Turin, Italy; Eileen Joy; Robert McRuer, George Washington U; Tobias Menely, Miami U; Steve Mentz, St. John’s U, New York City; Timothy Morton, Rice U; Vin Nardizzi, U of British Columbia; Serpil Opperman, Hacettepe U, Ankara; Margaret Ronda, Rutgers U; Will Stockton, Clemson U; Allan Stoekl, Penn State U; Ben Woodard; Julian Yates, U of Delaware.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Lawrence Buell

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pp. ix-xii

Just as you were perhaps starting to wonder if significant further breakthroughs might still be possible after two decades of rapid ecocritical advance from Anglo-American cottage industry to worldwide movement, along comes this new book whose collective accomplishment any author would envy: to develop an insight of the most elementary yet far-reaching...

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pp. xiii-xiv

That color might do more than describe an inert property held by various things—that it might designate an environmental actant, with material effects—is an insight that has long been imaginable within ecotheory, but that possibility has often been circumscribed by an intense focus on the shade of green. Roam a wide terrain like the lithic reds near Sedona, the...

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Introduction: Ecology’s Rainbow

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen

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pp. xv-xxxvi

An artist has painted an artist preparing to paint.1 He sits at his desk, blankness of a white page attending. A world awaits composition—but not ex nihilo. The artist is surrounded by floating bowls of color, each evocative of materialities to come: two shades of yellow (one for hair, one for furniture); a brown and verdant mélange for backgrounds and shadows; forest...

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Bernd Herzogenrath

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pp. 1-21

What is a white ecology? What does it look like, what does it contain? What is covered, what is left out? In a way, is not a white ecology—at least in the political, racial sense—what has been there, always, what is silently (or not so silently) practiced as the default mode of ecology? Is not green the new white, in such a way that ecology as we know it...

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Tobias Menely, Margaret Ronda

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pp. 22-41

During its years of operation, the Cavel West slaughterhouse in Redmond, Oregon, killed up to five hundred horses a week and shipped the meat to European and Japanese markets. Cavel West was owned by a Belgian company, Velda Group, which ran several horse-slaughtering facilities in the United States and Canada. Its manager, Pascal Derde, described the speed...

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Lowell Duckert

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pp. 42-62

From Aurora, the Roman goddess of the dawn, comes aurora borealis and aurora australis, winds of the north and south that speak of beginnings. I have never felt more attracted to a subject I have never seen. From a scientific standpoint, my desire makes sense: auroras are places where light and magnetism meet. Their colors are restless waves of charged...

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Robert McRuer

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pp. 63-82

In early 2012 a number of journalists and bloggers reported, with varying levels of jocularity, that pink no longer existed. The spectrum of color that appears in the sky when the sun shines onto moisture exists, but pink (these stories suggested) does not, since it could be produced only through a combination of red and violet, which are on opposite sides of...

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Julian Yates

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pp. 83-105

Waxing lyrical on the figure of the rainbow, bringing us back from the brink of an abstracting adulthood to a childhood in which color manifests as substance, Walter Benjamin posits something on the order of a prismatic materialism in these lines. Color morphs and moves. Insect- or angel-like, it “flits from one form to the next,” rendering each lively if...

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Graham Harman

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pp. 106-123

In the late 1990s I coined the phrase “object-oriented philosophy.”1 By the time of this writing (May 2012), the term had gained widespread international usage.2 The two basic principles of my object-oriented approach are as follows: (1) objects have genuine reality at many different scales, not just the smallest, and (2) objects withdraw from all types of...

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Allan Stoekl

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pp. 124-146

The Carthusian monks are an ancient and venerable order, founded by St. Bruno in 1084, at what is still today their main abbey, the Grande Chartreuse in the Chartreuse Mountains, Jura, France—just to the north of Voiron. The site was chosen for its (at the time) profound isolation: it was known as the “desert of the mountains” because of its utter...

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Vin Nardizzi

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pp. 147-169

The linguistic stem of my title is now a vital “keyword on the order of ‘gender,’ ‘sexuality,’ ‘nation,’ ‘race,’ and ‘ethnicity’—words that dominated looking, listening, reading, and critical thinking during the last third of the twentieth century.”1 Green has reached this status in the twenty-first century because it is a “totemic color for popular environmentalism as well...

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Will Stockton

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pp. 170-192

Beige is the average color. If all the light in the universe, from all its known galaxy systems, were mixed together, what results would look like a latte.1 The universe used to be bluer, but stars turn red as they age. As the age of star production moves toward its end, which is also perhaps a new beginning for the matter utilized in that production, the universe...

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Steve Mentz

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pp. 193-212

Smelly, rancid, and impure, it is no one’s favorite color. We need brown but do not like looking at it. It is a color you cannot cover up, that will not go away. At the end of a long afternoon finger-painting with the kids, it is what is left, sprawling across the page. A color you cannot see through, brown captures a connecting opacity at the heart of ecological thinking. It...

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Eileen A. Joy

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pp. 213-232

This chapter is an attempt, and perhaps a failed one, to think about depression as a shared creative endeavor, as a transcorporeal blue (and blues) ecology1 that would bind humans, nonhumans, and stormy weather together in what Tim Ingold has called a meshwork, where “beings do not propel themselves across a ready-made world but rather issue forth through...

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Stacy Alaimo

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pp. 233-251

A violet-black ecology hovers in the bathypelagic, abyssopelagic, and hadal zones, the three regions of the deep seas, one thousand meters down and much deeper, where sunlight cannot descend. The violet-black depths—cold, dark regions under the crushing weight of the water column—were long thought to be “azoic,” or devoid of life. It is not surprising...

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Ben Woodard

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pp. 252-269

Nature is often taken to be a visible entity or set of easily identifiable entities: a forest populated with squirrels, deer, birds, worms, small plants. The very title of this collection testifies to the purported visibility of nature and the connection of that visibility to ecology and subsequently to ecological politics. This is not an original or spectacular thought: we...

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Jeffrey Jerome Cohen

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pp. 270-289

Grey is the fate of color at twilight. As the sun’s radiance dwindles, objects receive less light to scatter and absorb. They yield to the world a diminishing energy, so that the vibrancy of orange, indigo, and red dull to dusky hues. A grey ecology might therefore seem a moribund realm, an expanse of slow loss, wanness, and withdrawal, a graveyard space...

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Levi R. Bryant

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pp. 290-310

Like the story of Adam and Eve where hominids once lived in paradise and were then exiled for disobeying God’s commandment not to eat from the tree of knowledge, the story of contemporary green ecology either seems to be that once there was an idyllic and harmonious nature that was then destroyed through the advent of humans, or that once nature and hominids...

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Timothy Morton

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pp. 311-327

Going “beyond green” means going beyond nature, which is only an anthropocentric construct, even and especially to the extent that it appears to lie entirely outside the human domain. Nature is the reduction of nonhuman beings to their aesthetic appearance for humans. What is required, contrary to mainstream environmentalism—a term that is curiously...

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Onword. After Green Ecologies: Prismatic Visions

Serenella Iovino, Serpil Oppermann

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pp. 328-336

Take a dog, for example. A black-white-and-brown furry little dog. On a shining blue summer day, you take her to a bright green spot and throw her a brand-new yellow tennis ball to retrieve. Over and over again, she will catch the ball and run back to you, her chestnut-haired and purple-and-orange-dressed interspecies playmate. Kneeling down in the terracotta...

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pp. 337-340

Stacy Alaimo is professor of English and distinguished teaching professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. Her publications include Undomesticated Ground: Recasting Nature as Feminist Space, Material Feminisms (edited with Susan J. Hekman), and Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and the Material Self. She is working on a book tentatively titled “Sea...


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pp. 341-349

E-ISBN-13: 9781452940007
E-ISBN-10: 1452940002
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816679980

Page Count: 384
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Colors -- Miscellanea.
  • Ecology -- Philosophy.
  • Philosophy of nature.
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