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Based on the reading I gave, write a 300-word comment which related to the contents. The topic is climate dividesPostcolonial Studies and the Challenge of Climate Change

Dipesh Chakrabarty

New Literary History, Volume 43, Number 1, Winter 2012, pp. 1-18 (Article)

Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press
DOI: 10.1353/nlh.2012.0007

For additional information about this article

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New Literary History, 2012, 43: 1–18

Postcolonial Studies and the Challenge of
Climate Change

Dipesh Chakrabarty

For Homi K. Bhabha

However we come to the question of postcolonial studies at this historical juncture, there are two phenomena, both topics of public debate since the early 1990s, that none of us can quite
escape in our personal and collective lives at present: globalization and
global warming. All thinking about the present has to engage both. What
I do in this essay is to use some of the recent writings of Homi K. Bhabha
to illustrate how a leading contemporary postcolonial thinker imagines
the figure of the human in the era of what is often called “neoliberal”
capitalism, and then enter a brief discussion of the debate on climate
change to see how postcolonial thinking may need to be stretched to
adjust itself to the reality of global warming. My ultimate proposition in
this essay is simple: that the current conjuncture of globalization and
global warming leaves us with the challenge of having to think of human
agency over multiple and incommensurable scales at once.

The nineteenth century left us with some internationalist and univer-
sal ideologies, prominent among them Marxism and liberalism, both
progenies in different ways of the Enlightenment. Anticolonial thought
was born of that lineage. The waves of decolonization movements of the
1950s and 60s were followed by postcolonial criticism that was placed,
in the universities of the Anglo-American countries at least, as brother-
in-arms to cultural studies. Together, cultural studies and postcolonial
criticism fed into the literature on globalization, though globalization
studies, as such, also drew on developments in the cognate disciplines
of sociology, economics, and anthropology. Now we have a literature
on global warming and a general sense of an environmental crisis that
is no doubt mediated by the inequities of capitalist development, but
it is a crisis that faces humanity as a whole. In all these moves, we are
left with three images of the human: the universalist-Enlightenment
view of the human as potentially the same everywhere, the subject with

new literary history2

capacity to bear and exercise rights; the postcolonial-postmodern view
of the human as the same but endowed everywhere with what some
scholars call “anthropological difference”—differences of class, sexuality,
gender, history, and so on. ThiTHE


Sealed in a jar, Haus-Rucker-Co’s model A Piece of Nature (Ein Stuck Natur, 1971–1973)
implies an architecture of unrootedness (Figure 1). The miniature hut, covered in moss and
dirt and secured with twine like a laboratory sample, suggests an insulated, closed world,
disconnected from the exterior environment, an excerpt of Earth, neither receiving any
input nor discharging output. The contained microcosm is as much a sample of nature as
it is a representation of the earth in its totality. In the context of the alarming environmental
crisis in the early 1970s, the jar is an effort to preserve not only the fabricated sensation of
domestic safety in a natural setting but also the very idea of nature as something worthy
of conservation.

What is perhaps most enticing is how Haus-Rucker-Co’s encased domesticity
marks the end of nature as an unbounded field and the beginning of its reconstitution or
reengineering, as they advocate, in pieces. The jar is a powerful illustration of a period of
intense environmental anxiety, precisely because it is an excerpt of our lost idea of the
untamed land. It is like a fossil, marking the demise of nature as an indeterminate field of
its own and its subsequent translation in terms of recourses and their exploitation (see
Migayrou, 2003, p. 21). If one looks closer within this image of our vanished sense of
domesticity in the meadows, one may imagine other things lurking in the darker depths
of the jar. Pamela Popeson, of MoMA’s Department of Architecture and Design, imagines
a little beach, a cliff, some hidden buildings and people, or even some wild animals (see
Popeson, 2011). Though independent of what one may or may not find in the jar, the
contained primeval shelter, openly referencing Marc-Antoine Laugier’s primitive hut in his
Essai sur l’architecture (1753), becomes a critique of not only our endangered earth but also
of architecture as an endangered species (Forty, 2000, pp. 221–223), as a thing of the past.
If the primitive hut served for Laugier as an object to trace architecture’s origins in nature
and to argue for natural principles of construction and decoration as the closest analogy
to reason, the enclosed hut now stands as a preserved sample of a lost empire of reason.
Inside the sealed bubble, Walter Gropius’s Stunde Null (zero hour) had finally arrived and
architecture had become a different animal; it was no more than a transparent membrane,
following the famous “environmental bubble” of Reyner Banham (1965) and his call to
literally forgo the envelope. In most cases, a closed world replaces architecture, as the field
that shapes the use and form of the physical world, with a sensorial immersive environment
that copies and simulates the metabolism and experiential aptitudes of the natural world.
In many respects, it is like a death wish of the design object.

This closed world, and oth

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