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Environmental Justice, Transnationalism, and the Politics of the Local in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead


This article analyzes Leslie Marmon Silko’s 1991 novel, Almanac of the Dead, drawing on insights from environmental justice ecocriticism and geographical theory. Ray argues that the novel offers an ethic of place that creates conditions for environmental justice. Her analysis focuses on a question that is fundamentally geographical: what kind of ethic of place is most likely to create the conditions for both environmental and social justice? Almanac offers a way of imagining place that moves beyond the tendency in environmental literary criticism to think in either global or local terms, and insists that the global and the local are dialectically related vis-à-vis colonialism. Thus Almanac offers what Rob Nixon calls a “transnational ethics of place,” what Ursula Heise calls “eco-cosmopolitanism,” or what geographer Doreen Massey calls a “global sense of place,” theories that account for global colonialism and planetary environmental justice while also promoting a strong sense of place rooted in responsibility to the land. Through its treatment of spatiality, the novel reveals the power and politics of unique places within broader global forces, while neither sentimentalizing nor rejecting the distinctiveness of place even as it recognizes the relationship between place and the networks and flows of colonialism and global capitalism. Ultimately, the novel eschews the “nation” as a basis by which to create sustainable human-nature relations, and recognizes that the histories and forces of diaspora, colonialism, and globalization—not overpopulation or resource scarcity, as conventional environmental thinking would have it—have produced the ecological problems we face today.

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