Apocalypse: What are all the end-time visions of ‘climate fiction’

KIf you could stick a thermometer in a book as in roast meat, you would measure: It gets warmer in contemporary literature, almost as hot as possible. In “Morgenstern,” Karl of Knausgaard’s new novel, for example, which takes place in Bergen, which is usually rainy, the constantly sweaty characters groan from the terrible heat. Sure, even Norway is hot in the middle of summer, but in a book geared towards the approaching apocalypse, it’s no coincidence that there’s a drought of frankly biblical proportions.

Constant heat also reigns in Judith Hermann’s latest novel “Daheim,” which tells of a woman’s retreat to a coastal town on the North Sea. “Since I was here, it didn’t rain once, it didn’t really rain anymore,” says the narrator, who falls in love with a farmer and has to fear for the fate of nearly 1,000 animals with him. Due to the burning of the meadows and the neglect of the fields, the old father could no longer remember “how the rains made little holes in the sand. How does a field smell when it rains.”

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Elsewhere in “Daheim” she says, “I’d say it’s already too late to travel around the world.” The novel’s title can also be understood as a rejection of the constantly and carelessly mobile characters from Judith Hermann’s classic stories.

Arnold Stadler, who talks about a trip to Kilimanjaro in “On the Seventh Day I Flew Back,” pulls the rug out from under his feet by constantly reflecting on his environmental budget: “In the future it would be better if people took the world and no longer explored yourself at all, than In order to save them or save yourself…” Thus, travel literature becomes one’s own swan song.

weather and reality

The novel does not serve as a weather station, nor should it depict what changes in reality and what defines social debates. Activism in the sense of the “Fridays for Future” or “Last Generation” movement would in any case be more detrimental to literature than any political mobilization.

However, it would be even stranger if literature did not reflect on one of the greatest threats facing humanity. Because our terrifying fantasies and nightmares have always been important drivers of storytelling, as well as hopes of redemption and idealized visions of a better world. So speculative fiction does not necessarily have a field advantage over narrative realism: fears, fantasies, and dreams are also part of reality.

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However, the new field of “climate fiction”, predictably, first established itself in science fiction: what had been a world devastated by nuclear war recently became more and more through Global Warming Earth turned into hell.

The dystopia of TC Boyle’s Friend of the Earth (2000) or Cormac McCarthy’s End-of-Time novel The Road (2006) are two notable examples of several post-apocalyptic scenarios that refer directly or indirectly to climate change. With the Torn Earth trilogy (the first volume was published in German in 2018), American author NK Jemisin has created a high point of climate fiction in the realm of high fiction.

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TC Boyle tells a dark and funny story at the same time

Classic fantasy atmosphere

German-speaking literature has long attracted attention due to its trend towards the end of time, with examples ranging from Leif Randt and Matthias Nawrat to Dorothee Elmiger. Climate isn’t always a dominant element as in Helen Bukowski’s debut novel “Milchzahn” from 2019, which tells the story of a mother and daughter in a surviving civilization that goes back to antiquity. People here only know the cold, rainy weather from the videos and defiantly talk to themselves with hope: “You have to be patient. Summer can’t last forever.”

In Germany In the climate fiction, climate changes lead to social and political impulses. Their scenarios are often, as in the case of Helen Bukowski, social experiments that narratively simulate a return to a state of nature where the values ​​and structures underlying coexistence must be negotiated again. For this reason, climate change does not appear primarily as a scientific and technical problem, nor as an ethical issue of individual life. It’s about overcoming the consequences, around zero hour, pressing the Evolution Reset button – like after the biblical story of the Flood, Noah’s Ark encountered solid ground again at some point.

Dystopia in the Maldives

Another example is Roman Ehrlich’s 2020 film Malé, which is set in the near future in the Maldives. In a tourist paradise devastated by rising sea levels, a group of dropouts from all over the world resides among prolific drug militias, who seek happiness spread by their own rules. Storytelling becomes a survival strategy here, while bartering, drug smuggling and naked violence reign supreme.

Such plots fit the flourishing of human stories such as those of Yuval Noah Harari, in which landmarks such as urbanization, urbanization, and the emergence of hierarchies and empires are subject to critical retrospective review. If world history had led us politically, artistically, and economically into the abyss of self-destruction, where would saving branches have been possible?

Austrian Christoph Ransmayr has always asked such fundamental questions in his novels. In “The Casemaster. A short story about murder” from 2021, he sends a water scientist across a flooded world in search of his father. Europe is dominated by a network of water unions divided into small states. The war on drinking water has become global. Despite the sinking of the coasts and the disappearance of entire archipelagos, “the pollution caused by the toxins of industrial and cultural seepage … of groundwater, despite all its abundance, has led to a great shortage.”

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Christophe Ranzier asks:

Similar to Ehrlich or Bukowski, Runsmayr’s return to the Hobbesian normality of the struggle of all against all provides a backdrop for a pessimistic meditation on humanity: How does violence arise and how does it spread? Violence against nature, which is often invisible, is just another form of violent relations between people.

Such connections are difficult to elicit in theoretical theses or confirm in political statements. But the narratives do not have to provide evidence, following the mantra that climate change is the fault of capitalism or patriarchy. The stories have their own evidence, and this does not necessarily require a bleak future scenario.

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Later it was: Judith Hermann, born in 1970 in Berlin

“The House” of Judith Hermann

In “Daheim” by Judith Hermann, violence against women and children and the environmental threat is linked to the legend of a mermaid who came down from the sea, was raped by fishermen and took revenge on a storm.

And the same woman who tells this terrible legend becomes a guide to the narrator unfamiliar with the area: “She explained to me the tides, the words tidal, spring ebb, and the edge of the water. She took me to the harbor flood indicator and explained to me how high the water would have been if we had been here in 1967.” She said she pointed around us, In fifty years, this will no longer be the case. All this will be gone.”

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Climatic apocalypse or normal German summer?  Deployment of firefighting teams in a field fire in the Borde area

Is this the last word in literature? The promise of books has traditionally been that they would stand the test of time. What is written above insult. It would seem ironic to resort to this particular kind of poetic perseverance in the face of a global threat.

In Roman Ehrlich’s peculiar emergency community of poets and thinkers in the face of mounting floods in the Maldives, storytelling is the last feeble solace. Stories of the collapse must also be recorded, even if it is for the new beginning of humanity, as in the ancient Flood stories.

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