Subsurface

2023
Author:

Karen Pinkus

A bold new consideration of climate change between narratives of the Earth’s layers and policy of the present

A highly original take on evocative terms such as extraction, burial, fossils, deep time, and speculative futurity, Subsurface questions the certainty of comfortable narrative arcs. It asks us to read literature with and against the figure of the geological column, with and against fossil fuels and the emissions warming our planet.

Long seen as a realm of mystery and possibility, the subsurface beneath our feet has taken on all-too-real import in the era of climate change. Can reading narratives of the past that take imaginative leaps under the surface better attune us to our present knowledge of a warming planet?

In Subsurface, Karen Pinkus looks below the surface of texts by Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, George Sand, E. T. A. Hoffmann, and Jules Verne to find the buried origins of capitalist fantasies in which humans take what they want from the earth. Putting such texts into conversation with narrative theory, critical theory, geology, and climate policy, she shows that the subsurface has been, in our past, a place of myth and stories of male voyages down to gain knowledge—but it is also now the realm of fossil fuels. How do these two modes intertwine?

A highly original take on evocative terms such as extraction, burial, fossils, deep time, and speculative futurity, Subsurface questions the certainty of comfortable narrative arcs. It asks us to read literature with and against the figure of the geological column, with and against fossil fuels and the emissions warming our planet. As we see our former selves move into the distance, what new modes of imagination might we summon?

Karen Pinkus is professor of Romance studies and comparative literature at Cornell University. She is author of several books, including Fuel: A Speculative Dictionary (Minnesota, 2016).

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction

1. Cracks

2. Extracting

3. Burial

4. Surface Depth

5. Subterranean Futures

Notes

Bibliography

Index