Traffic, the Environment, and the Individual

Transtopia is a place with transit itself as its destination.

–Dung Kai-Cheung, Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City, Translated by Dung Kai-Cheung, Anders Hansson, and Bonnie S. MacDougall, New York: Columbia UP, 2012, 33.

In 2017, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Lowell Duckert edited Veer Ecology, an anthology that tasked their contributors to use a single verb to encompass their ecological and environmental theory. Some of these verbs include “Love,” “Rain,” “Drown,” “Play,” “Coalesce,” and “Globalize.” If I were submitting to a sequel anthology, my verb of choice would be “Traffic,” a “natural” choice for one living in Metro Atlanta. Traffic congestion is one of the most common images of how American excess negatively impacts environments. Traffic systems indicate how humans attempt, and often fail, to regulate the individualized agencies of their subjects and environments. Traffic offers a helpful model of Karen Barad’s intra-action: within a backed-up freeway or a busy street, each car has its own passengers, with their own separate destinations. Certain material, no-human, factors influence these agencies: the level of gasoline in a particular car, the terrain of the road, blockages or closures, the hunger, tiredness, or drunkenness of the driver, and the appearance of stray animals by the roadside.

Traffic, however, is not limited to discussions of automobiles, resource conservation, and air pollution. To “traffic” in something is to move, to trade, to smuggle.  Traffic denotes the multiple agencies of humans, non-humans, and objects: fruits, flowers, animals, coffee beans, gasoline, computers, weapons, information, and yes, people are illegally trafficked between communities at any given time.  In my dissertation, I offer up “traffic” as a literal and metaphorical framework for the meshing of human subalternity within the material biomes of the Asia-Pacific, as captured in literature. Examining texts from India, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the United States reveals multiple traffics within neoliberal globalization.

My research has the following aims:

  1. to carve out a reciprocal relationship between postcolonial theory and material ecocriticism, seeing the fields as cognates rather than polar opposites.
  2. to contribute to a developing subset of ecocriticism that enables individual animals, plants, objects, and persons to have their own vibrancy and directionality.
  3. to anticipate the ways in which climate change and the Anthropocene will stretch existing models of literary criticism to accommodate for the inequitable impact suffered by developing nations and former colonies.
  4. to utilize cross-disciplinary approaches in order to bridge the chiasmus between literature, culture, and ecology.