Houser’s essay argues for the centrality of sickness and affect to twenty-first-century environmental consciousness and therefore to ecocriticism, through an analysis of Richard Powers’s novel, The Echo Maker. The essay focuses on wonder, an essential affect for promoting environmental investment and scientific interest. In line with much environmental writing, the novel aspires to increase readers’ awareness of their surroundings as a way to promote ecological protection. However, it also rethinks the trajectories of wonder under the pressures of neurological injury. The novel presents the oscillation between familiarity and strangeness as the mechanism of wonder, both in the brain and in narrative, and performs wonder by taking readers through a series of dialectics that aim to defamiliarize the everyday. The Echo Maker’s narrative complexity uncovers the obverse of wonder—projection and paranoia—and demonstrates how affect can derail ethical energies. Houser’s essay builds a multidisciplinary account of wonder and its stakes for environmental thought by analyzing the novel’s doubled narration, key texts of environmentalism, neuroscientific studies, and affect theory. It argues that Powers’s novel of eco-sickness is a rejoinder to platitudes about connection, awareness, and care that poses the question: Can ethical concern and care for human and nonhuman others take hold without connection?
1 June 2012