How new eco-literature points to ways to reshape our consciousness ‹ Literary Hub

A famous Zen story goes like this: One day, the Zen master Keizan said to his student Gazan: “Do you know that there are two moons? Gazan replied, “No, I didn’t know there were two moons.” Zen Master Keizan said, “If you don’t understand that there are two moons, you are not my successor.

As the good student that he is, Gazan immediately begins to try to understand what these two moons are by meditating at length. It takes him years. Likewise, the reader of this story wonders what the two moons in question are. There is only one moon, after all. This particular story points to the notion that we do not live fully in reality, but through our conceptualizations. A moon is the conceptualization of the moon in our mind, which we confuse with the real moon, and a is the real moon.

The story is not concerned with which moon is real, but with another question: how do we know when we encounter the real moon? The next question is: do we even know how? A burgeoning literary genre, eco-literature, addresses a similar question. With the climate crisis as the driving force, new books ask new questions about what it means to be a spirit confronting a world in crisis.

When I started my new novel, Our last year, I didn’t understand right away that I would write about nature. Even writing ‘nature’ seems inadequate, as does ‘environment’ and ‘climate change’. I ended up writing about these things, but not in the way I might have imagined. My intentions were much smaller: my marriage had nearly collapsed, then repaired, and now, after months and perhaps years of darkness, I was ready to write about this relationship so central to my life.

It’s here that Our last year essentially begins: a couple, in relationship, but no longer in relationship, distant from each other and distant from their lives. The prose, I understood, would be meandering, internal, blocks of text, labyrinthine and yet clear, accessible to a reader but with each character internally, half-consciously telling themselves why things were the way they were, without understanding Why.

With the climate crisis as the driving force, new books ask new questions about what it means to be a spirit confronting a world in crisis.

When I investigated this couple on the page – their distance from each other, their negativity towards each other – I began to understand that their attitude is the same as our society has towards “nature”. The idea that came to me was simple: the couple in the novel is unbalanced, unable to see each other for their own created stories; still connected, but negatively.

Likewise, our society, and most of us as individuals, are not in balance with what we might call “nature” or “nature” or “the cosmos” – however conceptualized. particular that you like. I came to the idea that I could write about the climate crisis, which I now see as a crisis of apprehension of reality, through a small inner crisis. After writing Our last yearI’ve found other novels that have a similar domestic facade, while actually dealing with our shared ecology.

In Time by Jenny Offill, the main character is Lizzie, an academic with a family, who answers emails for a podcast that covers many modern calamities, the main one being climate change. Lizzie is acerbic, wry, using her humor to seemingly deflect her fears about what she increasingly sees as the coming apocalypse. She’s a low-level catastrophic, determined to think through various survival scenarios should a devastating event occur (weather-related or not). In an email response on ways to prepare children for the chaos to come, she suggests teaching them “to sew, to farm, to build.”

Ironically, she is more of a thinker than an actor. She doesn’t do much Time, and that, I think, is like all of us – she think about the coming catastrophe. His thinking, of course, is very much like Gazan’s confusion about the two moons – he’s thinking a lot after Keizan’s challenge. Conceptualizing doom is certainly useful, but insisting on it all the time, on the other hand, is neurotic, and this is where we find our narrator, in the grip of her neurosis. Lizzie notes, “There are fewer and fewer birds these days. This is the hole I fell into an hour ago. She told a friend that she was considering buying “land somewhere colder”. And then, “I keep wondering how we could turn all this fear into action.”

This is the problem: how to act? What action could we take? Lizzie never really takes action in Timeand that seems to be part of what Time try to say. At the end of the book, the narrator answers the question of her meditation teacher. What is the central illusion? The central illusion, says Lizzie, is that I am here and you are there. And yet, Lizzie never leaves the limits of her own preparation for misfortune. I read Time as a reminder not to fall into the trap of only thinking about the world in a doomed way, and that a certain way of thinking is the trap itself.

Whether Time by Jenny Offill talks about the danger of overthinking in times of danger, then Tao Lin Leave the company is the search to end this neurosis. I have written more extensively about Lin’s book here, but this review did not include what I consider to be a hidden message about the individual self and planetary body.

In Leave the company, Li tries to recover from the negative impacts of a confused society: he quits pharmaceuticals, detoxifies his body, learns to communicate and connect with his parents, and finds answers to why society is the way it is. : dominatrix, masculine. -oriented and destructive. Li, through extensive research in an effort to heal both her body and her state of mind, begins to see new ways of living.

The partnership company model, defended by Riane Eisler in The chalice and the bladeallows Li to see a more positive way of interacting with the world and an alternative to the destructive and patriarchal society in which we exist. This broad-based approach is balanced with inner change. Leave the company is a novel about climate change in which a major step in correcting the course of the planet is to redirect your own mind. Li categorically rejects neurosis:[two years ago] He was automatically talking shit – semi-consciously investing disapproving thoughts about himself, family, friends and acquaintances […] “Stop talking {person} shit and focus on {productive activity},” he would say aloud whenever he realized he was doing it.”

Here, Li takes the reins of her mind – in Zen, it’s mindfulness. It leads her away from negativity. Likewise, he trains his mind to deepen his life: “Fear seemed somewhat elusive in urban America […]”, but now, two years after his recovery, “he felt it thinking about how a fetus who predicts that nothing exists outside the womb would be wrong, how a character who believed that his world of eighty thousand words was all would be so terribly incorrect, how there could be places as unknowable to people as dreams were to electrons.

In apparent contradiction to our normal way of perceiving, the feeling that we misapprehend reality actually deepens the mysterious experience of it. While Ofill’s novel is a warning, Lin’s is a guide, a model, to the activity of a mind that is less neurotic and more connected to others and to the natural world.

It all starts in our consciousness, and these books point to ways to reshape that consciousness in order to truly meet the vast thing that we are changing.

Emergency by Daisy Hildyard deals with the real reality of our position: entangled in an interconnected reality, human, plant, animal and machine, in which everything has a boundary, but is also porous. Hildyard’s protagonist is eight or nine years old. She lives in a small village in the British countryside, exploring the surrounding farms, woodlands and nearby quarry. She’s in a specific place, but she’s connected to the rest of the world, Hildyard notes, through a web of commerce, industry, and the natural world: Bananas from South America appear in her village grocery store; a tab from a can of Fanta ends up in the stomach of a bird across the world; humans come and go from the village. Hildyard makes a critique from an ecological point of view that ignores the human:

I have noticed how expressions of concern for the environment are often outlets for hatred of other humans, both in the accusation that we are bad for other species, in which the accuser rarely seems to understanding as part of us, and also in protecting a privileged green experience over the voices and essential needs of the poorest indigenous and local people.

Our mind is also part of a village, a landscape, a planet. There is something energetic in EmergencySomething mystical about the actual meeting of the human and the non-human, as in this passage: to see that it was to witness a force with a different and uncomfortably familiar agency.

It is this different but familiar force that Emergency asks us to meet. EmergencyThe protagonist of constantly redirects her point of view, sometimes literally: “With my eyes level with the grass, I noticed that there was a small forest there. My shins went higher than the tops of his tallest trees. A bright red stem, two inches high, with a sycamore leaf growing out of the top[…] No conservationist could define this collection of small trees as a forest; it is easier to protect the past than the future.

Emergency reminds us, through its young protagonist, that we often miss so much of the world, so much of reality. Do we know that there are two moons? Can we meet the real one? Hildyard’s protagonist reminds us that there are other ways of being, seeing and thinking, and, like the novel’s gardener who creates the optimal conditions for the plants in a garden, there is something that creates the optimal conditions for us, an interconnected reality of which our minds are only a small part.

As Our last year progresses, the couple goes to therapy, they sort out their negative habits and ways of being, and in turn, they start seeing each other again. They begin to see the world around them. It’s not just nature they see, but a new body of which they are part. Eventually, what the couple lives in Our last year is a new way of being. Our last yearAs Time, Leave the companyand Emergencyis to redirect one’s mind.

In this way, the new ecological literature is not just about impending apocalypse, dystopia, or climate change. Rather, these books are about how we encounter the world, which means they are about our minds. It all starts in our consciousness, and these books point to ways to reshape that consciousness in order to truly meet the vast thing that we are changing.


by Alan Rossi Our last year is available now through Prototype Publishing.

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