"Cultivating an Ability to Imagine": Ryan Walsh's Reckonings and the Poetics of Toxicity


  • Scott Slovic University of Idaho




poetics of toxicity, toxic discourse, slow violence, transcorporeality, ecoprecarity


      For nearly two decades since Lawrence Buell defined and anatomized “toxic discourse” in Writing for an Endangered World: Literature, Culture, and Environment in the U.S. and Beyond (2001), the storying of toxic experience has received fruitful theoretical and literary attention. Throughout the world, citizens have come to terms with the reality that we live on a poisoned planet and the poisons in our environment are also in ourselves—the poisons our industrial activities spew into the air, water, soil, and food are almost imperceptibly (“slowly,” as Rob Nixon would put it) absorbed into all of our bodies (through the process Stacy Alaimo described as “transcorporeality”). Biologist and literary activist Sandra Steingraber stated in Living Downstream: A Scientist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment (1997) that we must “cultivat[e] an ability to imagine” in order to appreciate the meaning of our post-industrial lives. In this essay, I focus on Ryan Walsh’s new collection of poetry, Reckonings (2019), and on Pramod K. Nayar’s recent ecocritical study, Bhopal’s Ecological Gothic: Disaster, Precarity, and the Biopolitical Uncanny (2017), in order to propose and define an evolving “poetics of toxicity.”


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Author Biography

Scott Slovic, University of Idaho

Scott Slovic became professor of literature and environment at the University of Idaho in the United States in 2012 after teaching for seventeen years at the University of Nevada, Reno, where he helped to create the well-known Graduate Program in Literature and Environment. The founding president of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE) from 1992 to 1995, he has edited the journal ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment since 1995. His research covers many different aspects of American and international ecocriticism and environmental literature. At present he is working on such book projects as Fundamentals of Ecocriticism and Environmental Literature; Thinking Like Yucca Mountain: American Literature, Applied Ecocriticism, and the Practice of Sustainability; Numbers and Nerves: Information and Meaning in a World of Data; and Ecocriticism of the Global South.






Articles: Food, Plants, and Interspecies Relations