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Center for a Livable Future


February 9, 2012

'A Fable for Tomorrow': Imagining Ecological Crisis 50 Years After Silent Spring

Lecture by Jesse Taylor

  LivableFuture blogpost | Flyer


Fifty Years after Silent Spring

Eco-apocalyptics. Toxic Gothic. The end of the world as we know it.

Jesse Oak Taylor, PhD, visiting on behalf of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, addressed the challenges of communicating about ecological crisis. Using the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Rachel Carsons Silent Spring (1962), he examined the language, imagination, and literary traditions invoked in Silent Spring, as well as in earlier and later works of art and literature. The talk suggested ways in which the above-mentioned tropes (Toxic Gothic, for example) have advanced or hindered the discussions of issues such as climate change that are critical to the environmental movement.

In the talk he addressed the ongoing debate that springs up around the topic of ecological peril, and he examined the ways in which art, ranging from the high-brow to low-brow, provokes discussion. The approaches, he suggested, have ranged from scare tactics, such as  eco-apocalyptics, to nuanced considerations. Some of the art and artists he used to illustrate his points include Edward Burtynsky, Dr. Seuss, Robert Frost, The Addams Family, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Taylor is Visiting Assistant Professor of English, and American Council of Learned Societies New Faculty Fellow, at the University of Maryland College Park. He is the co-author, with Daniel C. and Carl E. Taylor, of Empowerment on an Unstable Planet: From Seeds of Human Energy to a Scale of Global Change (Oxford UP 2011).

jesse taylor

Jesse Taylor

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) is often considered the inaugural work of the modern environmental movement. Fifty years later, environmental catastrophe is the stuff of everyday life. What are Silent Spring’s lessons for an era in which the scope and complexity of issues such as climate change make even the wide-ranging chemical effects she described seem almost simple by comparison? This talk will address the explicitly imaginative and linguistic challenges of ecological crisis and their relation to political, scientific, and ethical debate. It will also place Carson’s work within a much longer tradition of environmental writing in order to suggest the ways in which the book remains, in her words, “a fable for tomorrow.”