Tag Archives: English Studies

Stephanie Dabrowski On Nature and Connectedness in A Monster Calls

The Concept of Nature and Connectedness in Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls – Stephanie Dabrowski

The term “Nature” has famously been described by Raymond Williams as “one of the most complex words in the English language” (in “Post-Secular” 287). This is an observation enforced by Lorraine Datson and Fernando Vidal’s assertion that “nothing even approximating a full-dress account of the multiple meanings and histories of the word ‘nature’ and its cognates (or lack thereof) [is to be found] in other languages”, emphasising instead the significance of the term’s “varied and complex meanings” (5). The value of this term lies precisely in this complexity as it becomes emulative of the character of humankind’s relationship with the natural world it occupies, a relationship more than ever in need of interrogation since the onset of modernity and particularly in consequence of the current ecocrisis. Significantly, the word ‘environment’ which has come to supersede ‘nature’ as the term of choice since the onset of this crisis obscures much of the meaning that was once inherent in the conception of the natural world. Various literary critics have focused on the significance of the loss of the word nature, citing in particular its coincidence with the disenchantment of the natural and the consequent exploitative practices that have led to the plight of the environment (see Marx). Within this context literature emerges as an important tool not only for drawing attention to specific environmental concerns and powerful imaginings of the future consequences of such practices but, moreover, as a forum for reconnecting with some of the lost meaning previously intrinsically connected to the concept of nature. One such literary example is Patrick Ness’s young adult novel A Monster Calls which, although not primarily concerned with environmental issues, evokes interesting thoughts on nature by embodying it as an ancient, shape-shifting monster which comes walking in the modern day world in the form of a yew tree. The monster, which comes to help an isolated thirteen-year-old boy, Conor O’Mally, confront his feelings about losing his mother from cancer in the absence of any other familial or social support, can be argued to represent a return to older mythic relations with nature as well as highlighting the disconnectedness which pervades modern society, a disconnectedness from nature which extends to a lack of connection between people.

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Louis Roux on Nine Inch Nails and the Politics of the Apocalypse

Living in the End Times: Year Zero and the Politics of the Apocalypse – Louis Roux


To say that Nine Inch Nails is a band is a bit of a misnomer: it is in fact the brainchild of one artist, Trent Reznor, who writes all of the lyrics, composes most of the music and plays most of the instruments. Coming mostly from a single artist, then, it is easy to see a unified vision in the albums that are for the most part concept albums, following direct story lines. The Downward Spiral (1995), for instance, tells the story of a man descending into madness and isolation, building an emotional wall between him and everything else. The Fragile (2005), released a decade later, follows on this album by exploring the consequences of tearing down this wall.

Year Zero (2007) takes place in the year 2022. After an unprovoked atomic attack by the USA on the Middle East, and the resultant conflicts and terrorist attacks on American soil, the world is in chaos. Global warming has reached crisis point and the weather has become more destructive than ever, especially after the nuclear holocaust. Resource scarcity is the biggest factor in international warfare. The American government has clamped down and renamed the year to year zero, the year America was ‘reborn’. Elections are no longer free, the draft has been instituted and there are tranquilizers called Parepin in the water supply to keep the populace calm. The most powerful authority is the U.S. Bureau of Morality, an NSA-like organization that keeps tabs on the people, apparently to combat terrorism, but also abducting, interrogating, torturing and executing dissenters, communists, homosexuals, Muslims, and any other ‘deviants’, under the auspices of an extreme version of the Patriot Act. Reports and rumours about ‘the Presence’, a ghostly hand reaching down from the sky, are beginning to circulate and no-one is sure whether it is God, aliens, a weather phenomenon or the hallucinatory effects of the medication in the water. The album shows, in my view, that ecological disaster can never be divorced from political, religious, class or gender concerns, and although much of the album focusses on technology, religion, violence and imperialism, it is always against the backdrop of a ruined earth.

Year Zero is the first Nine Inch Nails album to have an overt political message, and its story is also much looser, following several characters instead of the usual lone protagonist. What makes Year Zero truly special, though, is its use of an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) for promotion, allowing listeners to become directly involved in the story of Year Zero through websites, secret codes hidden in merchandise, USB flashdrives dropped at strategic locations at concerts and other interactive materials. This makes the story of the album highly personalized for every user, since no-one will follow the same chronology. Due to the fluid, transient nature of the ARG, I will not try to follow the plot, or to construct a specific storyline, I will rather isolate motifs, themes, phrases, characters and other aesthetic elements from the album and its associated media and subject them to a close reading. In short, I will not be analysing the work as one would a traditional novel, but rather as a rhizomatic,[1] open-ended artwork. It is difficult to grasp, to tame, but all the more valuable for that: if the rhizomatic creates confusion in the ‘normal’ homogenous order of things, it also creates the space for dissent and rebellion in the gaps left by that confusion – spaces that Year Zero makes full use of. I will enter the work through the songs and attempt to link them to some of the websites and other media found in Appendix A, Exhibit 24,[2] a collection of many of the websites and other media, collected as evidence against someone only known as [SUBJECT CLASSIFIED].

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Philip Aghoghovwia on Nnimmo Bassey’s We thought it was oil but it was blood

Poetry and Activism as (New) Modes of Eco/Environmental Inflections in Nnimmo Bassey’s We thought it was oil but it was blood – Philip Aghoghovwia

In We thought it was oil but it was blood Nnimmo Bassey walks through a thin line between poetic commitment and socioenvironmental activism in bringing into the public sphere issues of sociocultural and environmental justice. The poetry collection carries the tone of subversion and defiance and the mood of anger provoked by a deep sense of denial, a collective deprivation of the people from access to the commonwealth which the oil brings. And the environment too, which suffers pollution as a result of mindless drilling of pipes into what he calls “mother earth”. Bassey creates a text that is at best poetic activism and at worst an environmental rights manifesto. His call for environmental justice at this conjuncture of on-going conversations on climate change indicts the oil extractive industry. The anthology, which Vanessa Baird describes as “dedicated to campaigning for environmental justice” (39), is a creative effort to capitalise on Bassey’s already established stature as an environmental rights activist. He poetically draws attention to corporate lawlessness and environmental crimes inflicted on local landscapes that bear fossil fuel for the oil extraction industry. His account of these spaces of environmental scrubland in the oil industry is concrete, for he has travelled throughout these parts to see first-hand how oil and other big businesses have destroyed local landscapes.

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