In this essay, Ensor suggests that the figure of the spinster can help resolve the problems of futurity that confront queer ecocriticism insofar as the spinster practices an avuncular form of stewardship, tending the future without contributing directly to it. By looking at a series of texts that take up this mode of invested indirection in their content and form alike, she argues for a spinster ecology that alters our notion not only of where the future lies but also of how (or if) it arrives. Ensor turns first to Silent Spring to argue that Rachel Carson’s intransitive understanding of ecological consequence confounds the gestures of refusal and negation that have dominated recent queer theoretical treatments of the future. She then looks to Sarah Orne Jewett to suggest that the complex futurity of Silent Spring has a literary correlate in the indirect unfolding and muted tonality of The Country of the Pointed Firs. Ultimately, Ensor contends that paying heed to figures like the spinster might inspire a queer ecocritical practice attentive to affects customarily considered too weak to be socially efficacious. By redefining where and how we see the future, the spinster alters our sense of how we might best move toward it, no longer permitting us to understand the present and future as mutually delimiting terms. The result is a model of care that allows distance, indirection, and aloofness to persist, and that transforms the vexed concept of “enoughness” from a chastening limitation to a quietly affirmative state.
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June 1, 2012
Sarah Ensor; Spinster Ecology: Rachel Carson, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Nonreproductive Futurity. American Literature 1 June 2012; 84 (2): 409–435. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-1587395
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