Weak Planet: Literature and Assisted Survival

Vulnerability. We see it everywhere. In once permanent institutions. In runaway pandemics. In democracy itself. And most frighteningly, in ecosystems with no sustainable future. Against these large-scale hazards of climate change, what can literature teach us? This is the question Wai Chee Dimock asks in Weak Planet, proposing a way forward, inspired by works that survive through kinship with strangers and with the nonhuman world.

Drawing on Native American studies, disability studies, and environmental humanities, Dimock shows how hope can be found not in heroic statements but in incremental and unspectacular teamwork. Reversing the usual focus on hegemonic institutions, she highlights instead incomplete gestures given an afterlife with the help of others. She looks at Louise Erdrich’s and Sherman Alexie’s user-amended captivity narratives; nontragic sequels to Moby-Dick by C. L. R. James, Frank Stella, and Amitav Ghosh; induced forms of Irishness in Henry James, Colm Tóibín, W. B. Yeats, and Gish Jen; and the experimentations afforded by a blurry Islam in works by Henri Matisse, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and Langston Hughes. Celebrating literature’s durability as an assisted outcome, Weak Planet gives us new ways to think about our collective future.