I am a fifth year PhD student in contemporary Anglophone literature at UNC Chapel Hill. My dissertation, “Everything and Nothing: Myth and Planetarity in the Chthulucene” focuses on six novels from the West, Africa and Pacific Islands that engage with traditional myths in response to the apocalyptic threat of human induced climate change.
Climate change is the final crisis in the series of crises enabled by the Enlightenment order of knowledge which has pursued the amelioration of the human condition through rationalism since the beginning of modernity in the west. Despite the magnitude of this crisis, which unchecked will eliminate the possibility of human life on earth, there are few contemporary novels that address climate change and even fewer that seek to imagine an end to climate change that is not the end. The novel has ordered and been ordered by the Enlightenment and the novel’s failure to address climate change is Enlightenment rationalism’s failure to comprehend the reality of climate change. Franco Moretti observes, “the logic of rationalization pervades the very rhythm of the novel” (Moretti 82). The Enlightenment labels knowledge that challenges rationalism “myths” and asserts their fundamental falsity in opposition to its own claims of meaning. Myth is everything the Enlightenment order of knowledge discards, the lives of animals, value that cannot be quantified, those orders of knowledge that predate it, the lives of people who fail to conform to its standards and alternative orders of knowledge that challenge its claims of truth. Myth is the term Enlightenment uses to dismiss and therefore, myth becomes the site of recoupment for many contemporary Anglophone novelists.
My dissertation looks at novels that use myths—both the traditional and sometimes religious stories, as well as alternate philosophical systems, that the Enlightenment demeaned as less than true—in order to tell stories about climate change that offer endings that are not simply the end of all life. The MaddAddam trilogy by Margaret Atwood uses the Flood myth—found in the Abrahamic religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam—as well as the Garden of Eden, Revelation and the “spectral white mythology of postrational science”—as Spivak terms it—to challenge techno-fixes as a solution to environmental destruction. Lagoon, by Nnedi Okorafor, uses Yoruba and Igbo myths in a sci-fi tale of alien landing to imagine a future for Nigeria that is not economically dependent on oil. Carpentaria, by Alexis Wright, uses Aboriginal philosophy of Dreaming to offer a way to subvert the mineral extraction and environmental contamination on Aboriginal lands. All these put into practice Donna Haraway’s insight that “it matters what stories tell stories” (35). These stories the Enlightenment discarded can offer people a new way to understand themselves and the world. They can recoup ways of being that defy instrumentalization. These novels narrate these subjugated knowledges from within a genre that formerly helped to discredit them.
I teach composition to UNC Chapel Hill and High Point University freshman. As well as Literature at UNC Chapel Hill. Previously, I taught sophomore composition at Western Carolina University and English and history in seconday schools. I have been an educator for over ten years and wrote the North Carolina Essential Standards curriculum for American and World Humanities courses, used in high schools throughout North Carolina. I am National Board Certified in Young Adult/ Adolescent Literacy through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. I was the Editor in Chief of the Carolina Quarterly, a flagship literary journal of UNC since 1948, from 2015-2017. For the past ten years I have worked for the education of inmates in the South, first with the Asheville Prison Books Program and most recently as a literacy tutor at Orange County Correctional through the Orange County Literacy Council.
RESEARCH AND TEACHING GROUP
2016 Erika Lindemann Teaching Award in Composition and Literature