Carson’s work is often praised (and sometimes condemned) for its simplicity and lyricism, its “sensitive literary style.” My engagement with Silent Spring explores this idea of literariness, tracing the formal qualities and rhetorical strategies of her oeuvre: the ecology of allusion and quotation that it generates, the metaphors and genres that it draws on. In doing so, it argues that the celebrated accessibility of her writing is in fact a carefully worked-for effect. The simplicity of Silent Spring, in other words, is more complex than it first appears: a quality that lent the book much of its power yet also rendered it vulnerable in other ways. At the same time, I hope to read Carson’s public science writing alongside the anti-globalisation protest of Arundhati Roy, probing the relation between the simple and the complex in contemporary environmentalism. Both turned their attention to explicitly instrumental writing after winning fame for more “literary” texts, both questioned the credibility of the male expert, and both deployed the intimate address of the essay form for polemical effect. Roy’s work also allows us to see how Carson’s version of environmentalism looks from the developing world: how the ideas of ecology, toxicity, and “slow violence” that Silent Spring did much to introduce into public culture might play out in a postcolony like South Africa.


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pp. 49-88
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