As an environmental term, “remediation” converges with “sustainability,” “resilience,” and “greening” to evoke an ethically positive resolution to ecological crisis and suggest the restoration of some nearly lost vitality through the neutralization of its afflictions. Although this primary sense of “remediation” might seem unrelated to Jay Bolter and Richard Grusin's use of that word to describe certain paradigmatic representational strategies of new media, where the environment is concerned, these two etymologies ultimately converge: to remediate is to re-present the environment that once existed prior to the affliction so as to make that affliction appear curable. In the process, remediation completes a circuit of “afflicting” power. To the extent that the medical conception underlying “environmental remediation” approximates the Greek ϕἀρμακον, or Pharmikon, Derrida's underlying point in “Plato's Pharmacy” also applies: environmental remediation is itself a dissimulating text whose remedial promise both conceals and depends upon its constitutive other, its equal potency as an environmental poison.
I investigate these issues by first suggesting that the promise of remediation for environmental sites that receive extensive media coverage (the Gulf, for example) may help ensure the absence of remediation in environments largely invisible to the global “media” (the Niger Delta). I also suggest that a fully self-aware pharm-eco-criticism would take special pains to consider when and how the valorization of nature might have differential yet tightly related geopolitical effects, under certain circumstances even serving as a screen for postcolonial violence and corporate-driven damage. The essay concludes with an analysis of Halon Habil's Oil on Water in order to argue that, if there is to be a mode of ecocriticism whose critical sophistication might lead to a vision of meaningful remediation, it will need to maintain a vigilant wariness about elixirs whose promise to protect us from a brush with death actively serves to distract us from some fresh round of postcolonial toxicity.