Disaster Distortion: Climate Crisis Representation in Contemporary Transpacific Literature

13 January 2025 → 12 January 2027
European funding: framework programme
Research disciplines
  • Humanities
    • Comparative literature studies
    • Literatures in English
    • Literatures in Japanese
    • Literatures in Spanish
    • Narratology
Environmental risk management Cultural diversity
Other information
Project description

I explore how the representation of disasters in contemporary fiction warps our understanding of the threat posed by the climate emergency. To do so, I coin the term disaster distortion. Disaster distortion refers to how catastrophes monopolize the imagination when representing the consequences of climate alterations in ways that restrain or omit other forms of violence associated with human involvement and which are systemic, stretch over longer periods of time, and affect the most disenfranchised. I focus on two ways for fictional disasters to produce this distortion: first, disaster dystopias promotes the idea that the climate emergency is a hypothetical concern and not a pressing issue; second, disasters estranges and alienates human agency and responsibility and exclude acts of interpersonal or environmental care.

In this project, I propose to study the challenges of climate crisis representation by fashioning an exercise of comparative literature that explores the deployment of the trope of disasters in fiction produced across the Pacific from the second decade of the twenty-first century onward. I choose to focus on three literary hubs distributed across this space: Japan, Australia, and Mexico. I will select a corpus of up to 12 contemporary novels or anthologies of short stories, 4 for each of the literary ecosystems. The texts will be first analyzed using an interdisciplinary methodology that combines close-reading with qualitative data analysis to examine the mechanisms through which we are imagining the climate emergency.

My goals are to devise a theoretical framework that can question the usefulness of the trope of disasters, assess to what extent climate dystopias are rising to the challenge of representing the climate crisis effectively, examine whether representations of interpersonal and environmental care foster a sense of agency and responsibility, and implement a functional methodological model of multipolar transpacific comparative literature.

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Research Executive Agency (REA). Neither the European Union nor the authority can be held responsible for them.