- From The Editor:Climate Change Criticism
Thirty years ago diacritics published one of its most widely read issues, on nuclear criticism (vol. 14, no. 2, 1984). The editor—Richard Klein, also a contributor to the present issue—envisioned a book and Jacques Derrida predicted a series of university programs dedicated to the topic. Yet nuclear criticism did not take on steam and nuclear fear has faded to a barely audible hum in the noise of the current infosphere. The nuclear criticism issue—already we have in its title a destructive form of technology and simultaneously a nodal point around which criticism might revolve—looked toward possibilities of political engagement. Something “unforeseen” and positive might come about from “the application of literary critical procedures to the logic and rhetoric of nuclear war, but also from the interpretation of canonical texts through the perspective of nuclear criticism,” as Klein wrote.1 The dominant figure for nuclear criticism was allegory (of survival), and the dominant literary form a fable. Frances Ferguson, another contributor to the present issue, insisted on the sublime as the proper mode for facing the threat of total annihilation. The nuclear was above all textual, tied to communication, since, as Derrida noted, “a nuclear war has not taken place: one can only talk and write about it.”2
By contrast, climate change has always taken place. And it is not at all clear what forms of talking and writing might be commensurate with climate change. The Anthropocene—or, better, our very recent collective consciousness of it—has ushered in strange and chaotic temporalities. Fossil fuels, primarily from the Devonian and Carboniferous periods some four hundred and twenty million years ago, are somehow inextricably linked with Being, with a certain idea of human freedom.
Over the past several years, humanists have begun to turn their critical attention to climate-related issues ranging from theories of deep time to environmental justice and international negotiation practices. Within a growing field of study, what distinguishes the essays here is an engagement with the nuclear moment along with an interrogation of what has happened (what will happen, what will have happened) to the traditions associated with diacritics—traditions that the contributors and readers of this journal have embraced and rejected; difficult traditions that have sustained us in difficult times and brought us to moments of immense joy—in the Anthropocene.
We might go to an extreme and suggest that whether or not we explicitly take up climate change in our writing (critical, creative, institutional-bureaucratic, or otherwise), climate change takes us up. Writing in the time of climate change—even critical writing engaged with texts from before the widespread extraction of fossil fuels—is necessarily untimely, out of joint with familiar modes of thinking and being, no matter how heterogeneous these may be. As universal subjects under the globalized umbrella of heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions, we have come to the threshold of a radical geo-epistemological break, but one that we may have to suppress in order to go on writing. As Ian Baucom has written in an essay as subtle as it is devastating, we are forced to [End Page 3] search for a new method that might—remotely—respect the chaotic multidimensionality of being-as-geology, of a radically changed earth.3 If we are to write “in good faith” (yet, paradoxically, we cannot do so) we cannot allow ourselves to reflect back on this time from a future as post-catastrophic or post-apocalyptic since anthropogenic climate change is ongoing rather than eventual or unilinear. Our time is increasingly characterized by brief periods that allow us to write (in denial), punctuated by extreme weather, violent disruptions, panic. And yet, we do write and we do think, with all the critical acumen we can muster. This is the paradox under which the present issue labors.
The photographs in this issue were taken/curated by Bernard Yenelouis, of his native Detroit. Cars are a potent symbol of climate change although a relatively minor contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. Detroit’s recent bankruptcy is another sign of the times. Many of the images point—allusively—toward a culture of...