Disaster's Gift: Anthropocene and Capitalocene temporalities in Mahasweta Devi’s ‘Pterodactyl, Puran Sahay, and Pirtha’
Recent critical interventions on the Anthropocene have tended to highlight its implicit neo-imperialism (Crist) or its neglect of systematic critique (Malm and Hornborg; Moore). In particular, Jason Moore has criticized its dehistoricizing effect, proposing instead a systemic analysis of the Capitalocene to puncture the more grandiose forms of Anthropocene posturing (such as an equivalence between human and geological agencies). Yet Moore’s argument also elides the rich potential in more subtle understandings of the Anthropocene’s uncanny temporalities. In this paper I will approach the Anthropocene as a “provocation” (Yusoff) via an examination of the gothic ecologies of Mahasweta Devi’s ‘Pterodactyl, Puran Sahay, and Pirtha.’ The novella, rich in untimely moments, depicts a journalist who investigates the appearance of an impossible creature (the pterodactyl) in a drought-afflicted tribal region of Bengal. Devi’s text not only provides what Sharae Deckard calls “a praxis for reading the capitalist world-ecology in gothic literature,” but also a means of recuperating the implicitly uncanny in Moore’s world-ecology (in which, he says, “human agency is not purely human at all”). I propose that the titular creature in ‘Pterodactyl...’ is the emergence of the wirkwelt, the visible materialisation of ecological death in a particular time and place which is simultaneously radically open to other times and places. Thus, as it bears witness to both the “politics of uneven time” (Sharma) and the “double death” of extinction narratives (Rose), ‘Pterodactyl...’ modulates the different, but equally vital orders of thinking and feeling offered by Capitalocene and Anthropocene debates.
David Farrier is Senior Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Literature at the University of Edinburgh. He has published books on nineteenth-century Pacific travel (Unsettled Narrative, Routledge 2007) and political asylum in contemporary literature and film (Postcolonial Asylum, Liverpool UP 2011). His most recent publications include articles on water stress in Palestinian literature, ethical time in the work of Alice Oswald, and reading the work of Edward Thomas from the perspective of the Anthropocene. He also convenes the Edinburgh Environmental Humanities Network.
Please note that unfortunately this recording missed the first 30 seconds or so of David's presentation