Books

Bad Environmentalism book cover Bad Environmentalism: Irony and Irreverence in the Ecological Age (2018)

(University of Minnesota Press)

Activists and scientists today strive to educate the public about climate change, but sociologists have found that the more we know about alarming issues, the less likely we are to act. Meanwhile, environmentalists have acquired a reputation as gloom-and-doom killjoys. Bad Environmentalism identifies contemporary texts that respond to these absurdities and ironies through absurdity and irony—as well as camp, frivolity, irreverence, perversity, and playfulness.

Nicole Seymour develops the concept of “bad environmentalism”: cultural thought that employs dissident affects and sensibilities to reflect critically on our current moment and on mainstream environmental activism. Discussing works such as the television show Wildboyz and the short film series Green Porno, Seymour shows that this tradition of thought is widespread—spanning animation, documentary, fiction film, performance art, poetry, prose fiction, social media, and stand-up comedy since at least 1975. Seymour argues that these texts reject self-righteousness and sentimentality, undercutting public negativity toward activism and questioning basic environmentalist assumptions: that love and reverence are required for ethical relationships with the nonhuman and that knowledge is key to addressing problems like climate change.

Funny and original, Bad Environmentalism champions the practice of alternative green politics. From drag performance to Indigenous comedy, Seymour expands our understanding of how environmental art and activism can be pleasurable, even in a time of undeniable crisis.

Bad Environmentalism confronts serious environmental problems by way of ‘unserious’ texts. … Against the familiar affects that tend to characterize both environmentalism and environmental studies—such as awe, love, guilt, reverence, and earnestness—Bad Environmentalism pits less solemn alternatives, including playfulness, impropriety, irreverence, irony, frivolity, and glee. I am a convert. Bad environmentalists, unite!” —Jennifer K. Ladino, author of Reclaiming Nostalgia: Longing for Nature in American Literature

Bad Environmentalism offers stunningly original, creative, and playful readings of a diverse range of cultural forms; refuses the binaries of eco-purity politics; and advances a hearty support of ambiguity, irreverence, contradiction, humor, and pleasure while holding firm against the racism and homophobia that often undergird mainstream environmentalist campaigns and logics. This is a challenging, often hilarious, and game-changing book.” —David Naguib Pellow, author of What Is Critical Environmental Justice?

Kelly Reichardt book cover Kelly Reichardt: Emergency and the Everyday (2017)

(University of Illinois Press, Contemporary Film Directors series)

Kelly Reichardt’s 1994 debut River of Grass established her gift for a slow-paced realism that emphasizes the ongoing, everyday nature of emergency. Her work since then has communed with—yet remained apart from—postwar European realisms, the American avant-garde, independent film, and the emerging slow cinema movement.

Katherine Fusco and Nicole Seymour read such Reichardt films as Wendy and Lucy and Night Moves to consider the root that emergency shares with emergence—the slowly unfolding or the barely perceptible. They see Reichardt as a filmmaker preoccupied with how environmental and economic crises affect those living on society’s fringes. Her spare plots and slow editing reveal an artist who recognizes that disasters are gradual, with effects experienced through duration rather than sudden shock.
Insightful and boldly argued, Kelly Reichardt is a long overdue portrait of a filmmaker who sees emergency not as a break from the everyday, but as a version of it.


“The organizational structure is superb, as the concepts they’ve isolated seem excitingly to cut to the heart of Reichardt’s motifs. … These pages dazzlingly force their readers—as Reichardt’s films force their viewers their viewers—to reflect on the political implications of our empathy, or lack thereof, to imagine other kinds of relationships beyond empathy and judgment.” —Kristi McKim, Cineaste

“An engaging and thoughtful book. Fusco and Seymour persuasively use political theory and affect studies to analyze Reichardt’s unique deployment of realist traditions and the politics of temporality in her films. The authors’ striking insights illuminate the filmmaker’s style and her importance not only in contemporary art and indie cinema spheres but for American cinema more broadly.” —Elena Gorfinkel, coeditor of Taking Place: Location and the Moving Image

Strange Natures book cover Strange Natures: Futurity, Empathy, and the Queer Ecological Imagination (2013)

(University of Illinois Press)

    Winner, Ecocriticism Book Award, Association for the Study of Literature and Environment, 2015

Strange Natures reveals a tradition of queer environmentalism in contemporary literature and film from the Americas. In the process, it challenges the historical disconnect between queer theory and ecocriticism—a disconnect that, as Nicole Seymour shows, emerges from those disciplines’ divergent attitudes toward “nature.”

Seymour investigates the ways in which contemporary queer fictions offer insight on environmental issues through their performance of a specifically queer understanding of nature, the nonhuman, and environmental degradation. By drawing upon queer theory and ecocriticism, Seymour examines how contemporary queer fictions extend their critique of “natural” categories of gender and sexuality to the nonhuman natural world, thus constructing a queer environmentalism. Seymour’s thoughtful analyses of works such as Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues, Todd Haynes’s Safe, and Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain illustrate how homophobia, classism, racism, sexism, and xenophobia inform dominant views of the environment and help to justify its exploitation.

Calling for a queer environmental ethics, Strange Natures delineates the discourses that have worked to prevent such an ethics and argues for a concept of queerness that is attuned to environmentalism’s urgent futurity, and an environmentalism that is attuned to queer sensibilities.

Strange Natures demonstrates the ongoing vitality of queer ecology. … Inspiring criticism.” – Kyle Bladow, Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment

“The compelling case studies extend ‘new queer cinema’ aesthetics toward environmental politics and consider queer theory’s links to nonhuman life and the problematic term ‘nature.’ Highly recommended.” —R.P. Kinsman, Choice

“Seymour’s text limns the contours of the possible, demonstrating how a queer ecological politics intersects with, emerges from, and necessitates engagement with other pressing projects of our time.” —Sarah Ensor, American Studies