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Reading for the planet: Environmental crisis and world literature

Thursday 29 November 2018, 17.30 - 19.00
Alumni Room, School of English
Jennifer Wenzel (Columbia University)
2018 Institute for Colonial and Postcolonial Studies International Lecture

What role have literature and other forms of cultural imagining played in shaping understandings of the world and the planet, for better and for worse? How might the formal innovations, rhetorical appeals, and sociological imbrication of world literature help confront unevenly distributed environmental challenges, including global warming? What kind of remedy or redress can literature and other forms of counterfactual imagining offer in the face of environmental injustice? This talk will examine the rivalry between world literature and postcolonial theory from the perspective of environmental humanities, Anthropocene anxiety, and the material turn. Reading for the planet means reading from near to there: across experiential divides, between specific sites, at more than one scale.

Jennifer Wenzel is jointly appointed in English and Comparative Literature and Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University. Over the past decade, she has become a leading figure in the environmental and energy humanities, and she helped pioneer the study of literature and oil. A reconsideration of her concept of “petro-magic-realism” appears in Oil Culture (2014), and she is a co-editor (with Imre Szeman and Patricia Yaeger) of Fueling Culture: 101 Words for Energy and Environment (Fordham 2017). She is also the author of Bulletproof: Afterlives of Anticolonial Prophecy in South Africa and Beyond (Chicago and KwaZulu-Natal, 2009), which was awarded Honorable Mention for the Perkins Prize by the International Society for the Study of Narrative. Her current book project is called “The Fossil-Fueled Imagination: How (and Why) to Read for Energy.”

The lecture will be followed by a reception, which all are welcome to join. For any queries please email Rebecca Macklin (

This event is co-hosted by the Institute for Colonial and Postcolonial Studies, the Centre for World Literatures, and the Leeds Environmental Humanities Research Group.