With origins dating back more than two thousand years, the Sanskrit epic, the Mahābhārata began as a collection of myths and stories that over the course of several centuries, came to be unified in a meandering and wildly digressive work.
Though Cormac McCarthy’s masterwork is neither a warning nor a statement of climate change, it is an imaginative and aesthetic example of how modern fiction can look beyond the confines of characters’ internal worlds to grapple with forces beyond our control.
If we cut through the soft, friendly Emerson, we find that for all its optimism and apparent naivety, Emerson’s work is immersed in a mature, tragic vision that asks us to confront the mean aspects of life, the inherent limitations and necessary failures we all must face.
Tragedy opens up aesthetic possibilities, allowing suprahuman forces to partake as literary subjects that overwhelm individual characters. It is a mode of expression that goes beyond what realistic fiction can provide.
In thinking about climate change, we can take a lesson from those masters of the absurd—Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, and Samuel Beckett—to conjure uncanny and grotesque situations that, more than a realistic or scientific view, may come closer to expressing the contradictions that make up our world.
The narrative surrounding climate change shares a number of surprising similarities to the Christian story. Developed in the shadow of an apocalypse, both present a set of ethical ideals that may be beyond human capacity to realize.
Last year Amitav Ghosh asked: where are the novels of climate change? Arguing that a limited sense of reality prevents us from accepting the truly uncanny threat that is climate change, Ghosh urges writers to be imaginatively bold and dynamic, and calls for a revival of Romanticism.