Are we deranged? The acclaimed Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh argues that future generations may well think so. How else to explain our imaginative failure in the face of global warming? In his first major book of nonfiction since In an Antique Land, Ghosh examines our inability—at the level of literature, history, and politics—to grasp the scale and violence of climate change.
The extreme nature of today’s climate events, Ghosh asserts, make them peculiarly resistant to contemporary modes of thinking and imagining. This is particularly true of serious literary fiction: hundred-year storms and freakish tornadoes simply feel too improbable for the novel; they are automatically consigned to other genres. In the writing of history, too, the climate crisis has sometimes led to gross simplifications; Ghosh shows that the history of the carbon economy is a tangled global story with many contradictory and counterintuitive elements.
Ghosh ends by suggesting that politics, much like literature, has become a matter of personal moral reckoning rather than an arena of collective action. But to limit fiction and politics to individual moral adventure comes at a great cost. The climate crisis asks us to imagine other forms of human existence—a task to which fiction, Ghosh argues, is the best suited of all cultural forms. His book serves as a great writer’s summons to confront the most urgent task of our time.
In his first work of long-form nonfiction in over 20 years, celebrated novelist Ghosh (Flood of Fire) addresses "perhaps the most important question ever to confront culture": how can writers, scholars, and policy makers combat the collective inability to grasp the dangers of today's climate crisis? Ghosh's choice of genre is hardly incidental; among the chief sources of the "imaginative and cultural failure that lies at the heart of the climate crisis," he argues, is the resistance of modern linguistic and narrative traditions particularly the 20th-century novel to events so cataclysmic and heretofore improbable that they exceed the purview of serious literary fiction. Ghosh ascribes this "Great Derangement" not only to modernity's emphasis on this "calculus of probability" but also to notions of empire, capitalism, and democratic freedom. Asia in particular is "conceptually critical to every aspect of global warming," Ghosh attests, outlining the continent's role in engendering, conceptualizing, and mitigating ecological disasters in language that both thoroughly convinces the reader and runs refreshingly counter to prevailing Eurocentric climate discourse. In this concise and utterly enlightening volume, Ghosh urges the public to find new artistic and political frameworks to understand and reduce the effects of human-caused climate change, sharing his own visionary perspective as a novelist, scholar, and citizen of our imperiled world.