Karen Pinkus, Professor of Italian and Comparative Literature at Cornell University (USA), discussed her book Subsurface (University of Minnesota Press, 2023) in the Greenhouse environmental humanities book talk series on Monday, 2 October 2023, at 16:00 in Norway (10am Eastern).

Long seen as a realm of mystery and possibility, the subsurface beneath our feet has taken on all-too-real import in the era of climate change. Can reading narratives of the past that take imaginative leaps under the surface better attune us to our present knowledge of a warming planet?

In Subsurface, Karen Pinkus looks below the surface of texts by Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, George Sand, E. T. A. Hoffmann, and Jules Verne to find the buried origins of capitalist fantasies in which humans take what they want from the earth. Putting such texts into conversation with narrative theory, critical theory, geology, and climate policy, she shows that the subsurface has been, in our past, a place of myth and stories of male voyages down to gain knowledge—but it is also now the realm of fossil fuels. How do these two modes intertwine?

A highly original take on evocative terms such as extraction, burial, fossils, deep time, and speculative futurity, Subsurface questions the certainty of comfortable narrative arcs. It asks us to read literature with and against the figure of the geological column, with and against fossil fuels and the emissions warming our planet. As we see our former selves move into the distance, what new modes of imagination might we summon?

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