Climate and the Making of Worlds: Toward a Geohistorical Poetics (Paperback)

Climate and the Making of Worlds: Toward a Geohistorical Poetics By Tobias Menely Cover Image
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Winner of the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts Michelle Kendrick Memorial Book Prize and the Center for Robert Penn Warren Studies Warren-Brooks Award. 

In this book, Tobias Menely develops a materialist ecocriticism, tracking the imprint of the planetary across a long literary history of poetic rewritings and critical readings which continually engage with the climate as a condition of human world making. Menely’s central archive is English poetry written between John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) and Charlotte Smith’s “Beachy Head” (1807)—a momentous century and a half during which Britain, emerging from a crisis intensified by the Little Ice Age, established the largest empire in world history and instigated the Industrial Revolution. Incorporating new sciences into ancient literary genres, these ambitious poems aspired to encompass what the eighteenth-century author James Thomson called the “system . . . entire.” Thus they offer a unique record of geohistory, Britain’s epochal transition from an agrarian society, buffeted by climate shocks, to a modern coal-powered nation. Climate and the Making of Worlds is a bracing and sophisticated contribution to ecocriticism, the energy humanities, and the prehistory of the Anthropocene.

About the Author

Tobias Menely is professor of English at the University of California, Davis.

Praise For…

"Climate and the Making of Worlds is a stunning book. . . . an ambitious and important intervention into literary studies [which] decisively shows that the sociopolitical analysis of texts is more powerful and more comprehensive when critics acknowledge the Earth system that underlies all human activity."
— Modern Philology

“If the first two transformational contributions of this book are a reading of the mutual imbrication of climate and human world-making in eighteenth-century British poetry and the unearthing of a critical climate unconscious that allowed this reading to remain invisible, then the third major contribution is proposing a new way of reading in our own time of climate crisis. . . . Climate and the Making of Worlds is clearly of interest to literary scholars and researchers in the environmental humanities, but in its deeply researched historical context and careful poetic readings it also offers a primer for anyone living at the mercy of climate vicissitude.”
— Environmental History

“Menely succeeds in making literary history speak to Earth history, and vice versa, without reducing the one to the other; his strong grasp of allegory as a form shows in his attention to the complexity of relationships between levels of meaning and reference, a sensitivity required for the correlation of these two deep histories.”
— Modern Language Quarterly

“Ranging over ecological and economic systems, scrutinizing these as pressures on poetic subject and mode as well as on interpretative methods, Menely’s book also spans and scans a period of intense climatic tumult and political, socio-economic expansion. . . . The depths of stratigraphic analysis in Menely’s book demand equally profound attention and concentration from the reader. This is a book that will reward careful and multiple readings with layer upon layer of insight.”
— Green Letters

“Menely’s extensive research and ability to synthesize climatic, social, and economic factors into a coherent environmental history, and then to trace this history through literature, makes this book an exemplary case of [eco-historicist literary criticism]. . . Menely demonstrates that both literary texts and literary criticism are archives of environmental thought as well as environmental history.”
— Studies in Romanticism

“Contra the post-critical tendencies of some ecocritics, Menely insists on the continued need for symptomatic reading practices, rehabilitating a complex Jamesonian hermeneutic for the needs of the Anthropocene.”
— Eighteenth-Century Fiction

"Climate and the Making of Worlds astutely locates the misty gradations of the ‘climatological unconscious’ in a sample of poems scattered across 140 years of fluctuating atmospheric conditions. . . .Triumphantly illustrating that poetry is not laid in amber, Menely suggests that the changing climatological conditions of successive readers will significantly influence the ways in which they interact with these past poetic projects. The implication here is that currently unthinkable ways of reading, as well as writing, will emerge as (or if) our earth system evolves out of its current reliance on fossil energy."
— Modern Language Review

Climate and the Making of Worlds is a bracing, fully-realized example of what it means to reconceptualize literary history—and indeed, critical theory—in terms that finally avow the Earth as the active condition of every form of cultural production. Menely illuminates the power of verse to disclose its dependency upon the energetic vicissitudes of a planet that both enables and exceeds human economic and imaginative ends. As careful as it is courageous, Climate and the Making of Worlds will constitute an indispensable treatise on method for materialist ecocriticism and the energy humanities for years to come.”
— Amanda Jo Goldstein, University of California, Berkeley

Climate and the Making of Worlds is a well-researched, cogently argued, and unusually perceptive analysis of the poetic transformations that registered an epochal rift: the shift in the eighteenth-century from an advanced organic economy based on solar energy to an energy economy dependent on fossil fuels. Drawing on a wide range of scholarship in economics, ecological thought, the history of science, and ecocriticism, Menely brilliantly explores how the transformation of Britain’s energy economy shaped georgic and locodescriptive verse from John Milton to Charlotte Smith.”
— Robert Markley, University of Illinois

“Menely’s book addresses an extraordinarily taxing interpretive problem. How has the turbulence of the Earth itself intervened in the history of poetic form? His answer is revelatory. With erudition, subtlety, and literary éclat, Menely sets out a geohistorical criticism whereby poetry from Milton to the Romantics is rendered new. Climate and the Making of Worlds will have a profound and immediate influence on environmental criticism of the long eighteenth century. All subsequent scholarship in the field will have to reckon with its radiant insights.”
— Jeremy Davies, University of Leeds

"Contra the post-critical tendencies of some ecocritics, Menely insists on the continued need for symptomatic reading practices, rehabilitating a complex Jamesonian hermeneutic for the needs of the Anthropocene."
— Eighteenth-Century Scholarship in the Web of Life
Product Details
ISBN: 9780226776286
ISBN-10: 022677628X
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: June 25th, 2021
Pages: 272