Are we deranged? Amitav Ghosh argues that future generations may well think so. How else to explain our imaginative failure in the face of global warming? Ghoshexamines our inability—at the level of literature, history, and politics—to grasp the scale and violence of climate change.
The extreme nature of today’s climate events makes them peculiarly resistant to contemporary modes of thinking and imagining. This is particularly true of serious literary fiction: hundred-year storms and freakish tornadoes simply feel too improbable for the novel; they are automatically consigned to other genres. In the writing of history, too, the climate crisis has sometimes led to gross simplifications; the history of the carbon economy is a tangled global story with many contradictions and counterintuitive elements.
Amitav Ghosh is an acclaimed author whose novels include the Ibis Trilogy (Sea of Poppies, River of Smoke, and Flood of Fire), The Glass Palace, and The Shadow Lines. The Great Derangement is his first major work of nonfiction since In an Antique Land: History in the Guise of a Traveler’s Tale.
The Washington History Seminar is co-chaired by Eric Arnesen (George Washington University) and Christian Ostermann (Woodrow Wilson Center) and is sponsored jointly by the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Wilson Center’s History and Public Policy Program. It meets weekly during the academic year. The seminar thanks the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and the George Washington University History Department for their support.