An Ecology of the Inhuman
René Wellek Prize for best book in comparative literature from the American Comparative Literature Association
A beautifully written account of stone’s intimacy to what it means to be human
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen reminds us in Stone, that what is often assumed to be the most lifeless of substances is, in its own time, restless and forever in motion. Cohen seamlessly brings together a wide range of topics and invites us to apprehend the world both in geological time and in other than human terms.
"If our historic engagement with stone is the story of cave painting, toolmaking, and home building, Cohen wants to recover a secret history that moves beyond such utilitarian domination. His version is about collaboration and gregarious commingling between humans and stones."
—Los Angeles Review of Books
Stone maps the force, vivacity, and stories within our most mundane matter, stone. For too long stone has served as an unexamined metaphor for the “really real”: blunt factuality, nature’s curt rebuke. Yet medieval writers knew that stones drop with fire from the sky, emerge through the subterranean lovemaking of the elements, tumble along riverbeds from Eden, partner with the masons who build worlds with them. Such motion suggests an ecological intertwining and an almost creaturely mineral life.
Although geological time can leave us reeling, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen argues that stone’s endurance is also an invitation to apprehend the world in other than human terms. Never truly inert, stone poses a profound challenge to modernity’s disenchantments. Its agency undermines the human desire to be separate from the environment, a bifurcation that renders nature “out there,” a mere resource for recreation, consumption, and exploitation.
Written with great verve and elegance, this pioneering work is notable not only for interweaving the medieval and the modern but also as a major contribution to ecotheory. Comprising chapters organized by concept (“Geophilia,” “Time,” “Force,” and “Soul”), Cohen seamlessly brings together a wide range of topics, including stone’s potential to transport humans into nonanthropocentric scales of place and time, the “petrification” of certain cultures, the messages fossils bear, the architecture of Bordeaux and Montparnasse, Yucca Mountain and nuclear waste disposal, the ability of stone to communicate across millennia in structures like Stonehenge, and debates over whether stones reproduce and have souls.
Showing that what is often assumed to be the most lifeless of substances is, in its own time, restless and forever in motion, Stone fittingly concludes by taking us to Iceland—a land that, writes the author, “reminds us that stone like water is alive, that stone like water is transient.”
Winner: René Wellek Prize for best book in comparative literature from the American Comparative Literature Association
A poignant and poetic book, Stone is a provocative contribution to Anthropocene studies. Rather than naming humans as agents endowed with geologic force, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen contemplates our anxious collaboration with lithic matter that outlasts and eludes us. Stone is a must-read for anyone interested in rethinking the Anthropocene within the geologic turn in literary and cultural studies.
Stephanie LeMenager, University of Oregon
If our historic engagement with stone is the story of cave painting, toolmaking, and home building, Cohen wants to recover a secret history that moves beyond such utilitarian domination. His version is about collaboration and gregarious commingling between humans and stones.
Los Angeles Review of Books
A gorgeous lovesong to lithic form, narrative endurance, and the urgent need to connect.
The Bookfish:Thalassology, Shakespeare, and Swimming
Rendered eloquently, Cohen’s text is a useful attempt at crafting a unique theoretical framework for challenging assumptions about the differences between humans and nature.
Ranging between the poetic and the pedantic, heroically imagining beyond its academic constraints, Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman presents a unique history that is central to some of our most urgent ecological concerns.
The Goose: A Journal of Arts, Environment, and Culture in Canada
An elegantly structured, stylistically-rich study in theory and criticism.
Stone is a beautifully written book that moves from scholarly engagement with medieval texts to more contemporary issues and ideas, as well as a deal of personal material, and etymological musings.
The Year’s Work in Critical and Cultural Theory
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen offers a poetically charged account of stone as uncannily lively substance, the necessary ground for any articulation of ecological (and ethical) figures.
Introduction: Stories of Stone
Geophilia: The Love of Stone
Excursus: The Weight of the Past
Time: The Insistence of Stone
Excursus: A Heart Unknown
Force: The Adventure of Stone
Soul: The Life of Stone