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William Morris, extraction capitalism, and the aesthetics of surface

Abstract

William Morris’s literary and political writings offer a prescient eco-socialist analysis of extraction capitalism and coal combustion, suggesting a geocritical dimension to what I will call his aesthetics of surface. An early adopter of the position that capitalism is fundamentally incompatible with Earth’s ecological balance, Morris was attuned not only to the way that the idea of free exchange obscures the market’s remainder of surplus value, but also to the way that the idea of unregulated natural balance denies environmental remainders such as pollution and waste. Morris’s aesthetics favor surface and exteriority over depth, registering a value shift away from excavated underground commodities and toward surface resources such as sunlight and air.

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