Life in Plastic

Artistic Responses to Petromodernity

2021

Caren Irr, Editor

A vital contribution to environmental humanities that explores artistic responses to the plastic age

With impressive breadth and compelling urgency, the essays in Life in Plastic examine the arts and literature of the plastic age. Focusing on post-1960s North America, the collection spans a wide variety of genres, revealing the place of plastic in reshaping how we perceive, relate to, represent, and reimagine bodies, senses, environment, scale, mortality, and collective well-being.


Since at least the 1960s, plastics have been a defining feature of contemporary life. They are undeniably utopian—wondrously innovative, cheap, malleable, durable, and convenient. Yet our proliferating use of plastics has also triggered catastrophic environmental consequences. Plastics are piling up in landfills, floating in oceans, and contributing to climate change and cancer clusters. They are derived from petrochemicals and enmeshed with the global oil economy, and they permeate our consumer goods and their packaging, our clothing and buildings, our bodies and minds. Plastic reshapes our cultural and social imaginaries.

With impressive breadth and compelling urgency, the essays in Life in Plastic examine the arts and literature of the plastic age. Focusing on post-1960s North America, the collection spans a wide variety of genres, including graphic novels, superhero comics, utopic and dystopic science fiction, poetry, and satirical prose, as well as vinyl records and visual arts. Essays by a remarkable lineup of cultural theorists interrogate how plastic—as material and concept—has affected human sensibilities and expression. The collection reveals the place of plastic in reshaping how we perceive, relate to, represent, and reimagine bodies, senses, environment, scale, mortality, and collective well-being.

Ultimately, the contributors to Life in Plastic think through plastic with an eye to imagining our way out of plastic, moving toward a postplastic future.

Contributors: Crystal Bartolovich, Syracuse U; Maurizia Boscagli, U of California, Santa Barbara; Christopher Breu, Illinois State U; Loren Glass, U of Iowa; Sean Grattan, U of Kent; Nayoung Kim, Brandeis U; Jane Kuenz, U of Southern Maine; Paul Morrison, Brandeis U; W. Dana Phillips, Towson U in Maryland and Rhodes U in Grahamstown, South Africa; Margaret Ronda, UC-Davis; Lisa Swanstrom, U of Utah; Jennifer Wagner-Lawlor, Pennsylvania State U; Phillip E. Wegner, U of Florida; Daniel Worden, Rochester Institute of Technology.

Caren Irr is professor of English at Brandeis University. She is author or editor of five previous books, among them Toward the Geopolitical Novel: US Fiction in the 21st Century and The Suburbs of Dissent: Cultural Politics in the United States and Canada during the 1930s.


Contents


Acknowledgments


Introduction: Concepts and Consequences of Plastic


Caren Irr and Nayoung Kim


I. The Plastic Sensorium


1. “Paper or Plastic?” and Other Conundrums of Environmental Change


W. Dana Phillips


2. Smelling Polyester


Paul Morrison


3. The Album Era


Loren Glass


4. The Plastic You: Plastination and the Post-Mortal Self


Jane Kuenz


II. The Plasticity of Genre


5. Plastic Man and Other Petrochemical Fantasies


Daniel Worden


6. Organic Form, Plastic Forms: The Nature of Plastic in Contemporary Ecopoetics


Margaret Ronda


7. On the Beach: Porous Plasticity, Migration Art, and the Objet Trouvé of the Wasteocene


Maurizia Boscagli


III. Plastic’s Capitalism


8. “Refuge of Ignorance”: A Pre-History of “Plastic”


Crystal Bartolovich


9. The Petrochemical Unconscious: Destructive Plasticities in Richard Powers’ Gain


Christopher Breu


10. The Impossible Figure of Oceanic Plastic


Sean Grattan


IV. Post-Plastic Futures?


11. From Proto-plastics to the Plastiglomerate: Science Fiction’s Shifting Synthetic Sensibilities


Lisa Swanstrom


12. Futures in Plastic: Science Fiction, Climate Change, and the New North


Phillip E. Wegner


13. Plastic’s “Untiring Solicitation”: Geographies of Myth, Corporate Alibis, and the Plaesthetics of the Matacão


Jennifer Wagner-Lawlor


Contributors


Index