Positive Pollutions and Cultural Toxins


Positive Pollutions and Cultural Toxins

Waste and Contamination in Contemporary U.S. Ethnic Literatures

John Blair Gamber

Postwestern Horizons Series

248 pages


October 2012


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eBook (PDF)
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October 2012


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About the Book

In this innovative study, Positive Pollutions and Cultural Toxins, John Blair Gamber examines urbanity and the results of urban living—traffic, garbage, sewage, waste, and pollution—arguing for a new recognition of all forms of human detritus as part of the natural world and thus for a broadening of our understanding of environmental literature.
While much of the discourse surrounding the United States’ idealistic and nostalgic views of itself privileges “clean” living (primarily in rural, small-town, and suburban settings), representations of rurality and urbanity by Chicanas/Chicanos, African Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans, on the other hand, complicate such generalization. Gamber widens our understanding of current ecocritical debates by examining texts by such authors as Octavia Butler, Louise Erdrich, Alejandro Morales, Gerald Vizenor, and Karen Tei Yamashita that draw on the physical signs of human corporeality to refigure cities and urbanity as natural. He demonstrates how ethnic American literature reclaims waste objects and waste spaces—likening pollution to miscegenation—as a method to revalue cast-off and marginalized individuals and communities. Positive Pollutions and Cultural Toxins explores the conjunction of, and the frictions between, twentieth-century U.S. postcolonial studies, race studies, urban studies, and ecocriticism, and works to refigure this portrayal of urban spaces.

Author Bio

John Blair Gamber is an assistant professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University and the coeditor of Transnational Asian American Literature: Sites and Transits.


"[Positive Pollutions and Cultural Toxins] should prove very useful to literature scholars who are looking for a way to think about two disciplines—ethnic literature and environmental criticism—that too often seem as though they are, as Gamber points out, inimical to one another's interests."—Stephanie Foote, ISLE

"Positive Pollutions and Cultural Toxins advances the field of ecocriticismby offering detailed close readings of important novels that address the topics of race and toxicity in urban contexts. Gamber's informative discussions of these texts will support researchers and teachers seeking to move beyond more conventional ecocritical topics such as conservation and nature writing."—Hsuan L. Hsu, MELUS

"Gamber fills a gap analytically and narratively in American ecocriticism as he examines deeply how toxins influence a broad environmental spectrum from real chemical damage to understanding the distance humans maintain from their own actions and bodies."—Kristin Ladd, Western American Literature

"Positive Pollutions and Cultural Toxins stands as a valuable contribution to the understudied but growing fields of urban ecocriticism and waste culture."—Emily Johnston, College Literature

Table of Contents

1. "Failing Economies and Tortured Ecologies": Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents 
2. Toxic Metropolis: Alejandro Morales's The Rag Doll Plagues 
3. Ridding the World of Waste: Louise Erdich's The Antelope Wife 
4. "An Eerie Liquid Elasticity": Karen Tei Yamashita's Tropic of Orange 
5. "Outcasts and Dreamers in the Cities": Gerald Vizenor's Dead Voices 
Works Cited 

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