As the scale of climate change, ocean acidification, mass species extinction, and other ongoing processes become increasingly undeniable and unavoidable, progress in the realms of policy, infrastructure, and technology must ultimately be matched by a cultural revolution. If another world is possible, as activists frequently claim, what might it look, taste, and feel like?
Through the concept of the loanword, a term that is adopted into one language without translation, An Ecotopian Lexicon presents a kaleidoscopic window into the ecological multiverse: not what is, but what could or even should be. Each of thirty suggested loanwords—from other languages, speculative fiction, and subcultures of resistance—helps us imagine how to adapt and even flourish in the face of the socio-ecological adversity that characterizes the present moment and the future that awaits.
From Apocalypso to Qi, ~*~ to Total Liberation, thirty authors from a range of disciplines and backgrounds assemble a grounded yet vertiginous lexicon that challenges and expands the limited and limiting European and North American conceptual map that so many activists, policymakers, scholars, and citizens have inherited.
As author Kim Stanley Robinson writes in his foreword, "So many new words gathered together like this, each bringing with it a new concept and system, creates a dizzying effect. This is good and right, because we live in a dizzying time. What we do now as a global civilization will create one future out of a vast array of possible futures, an array which ranges from utmost disaster to lasting peace and prosperity. But we can do things, if we can figure out what they are. Various good futures are achievable, even starting from our current moment of high danger. So some really comprehensive analysis, destranding, and remapping is now part of our necessary work. Inevitably new concepts and new words will emerge—lots of them. So this book’s profusion is an accurate foretelling of what will come. It’s a kind of science fiction story in the form of a lexicon, and it postulates and helps to create a future culture more articulate and wiser than we are now. Thus by definition it is a utopian science fiction story."
Language can only take us so far, of course. To add an additional imaginative layer, we challenged fourteen artists from eleven countries to respond to selected entries with original artwork. The result is a transmedia conversation between the originary author, culture, or subculture; a critical thinker; and an artist. These images can be found in full color in the book, and can be purchased as T-shirts, tote bags, and stickers.
An Ecotopian Lexicon is edited by Matthew Schneider-Mayerson and Brent Ryan Bellamy. It is available for purchase from the University of Minnesota Press as well as Amazon and other booksellers. All proceeds will go toward a fund to support creative political and cultural interventions focused on climate justice.
Hua Hsu, in The New Yorker, writes, "Perhaps, as Matthew Schneider-Mayerson and Brent Ryan Bellamy argue, our inability to imagine another path forward" in the face of climate change "reflects a limited vocabulary. Their modest contribution is the recently published An Ecotopian Lexicon, a collection of essays that seeks to expand the language we use to describe the present-day crisis and its possibilities... An Ecotopian Lexicon is part dream, part provocation... There’s a wonky yet infectious hopefulness to An Ecotopian Lexicon... Reading these entries, each so careful and thoughtful about their small terrain in a larger debate, one can’t help but slow down... An Ecotopian Lexicon, as [Kim Stanley] Robinson notes, is a story. But it’s one with a dozen different endings, bound by a collective push to rethink what we resign to inevitability."
Deborah Dixon, in Science, writes that "An Ecotopian Lexicon offers a fascinating collection of non-English or newly invented words that impart something of the complexities of everyday life in an era of warming skies and oceans, mass degradation, precarity, and insecurity, each of which also helps map a possible future. The stated work of words here is to clarify, diagnose, and stimulate action... This is a book that wants to stir passions, which in turn become a means of realizing desired futures... An Ecotopian Lexicon makes futures with words."
Katarzyna Boni, in Vogue Poland, writes, "I feel that words are starting to run out. I don't want to write only about despair. I can't believe it's the only thing we have left... We just need new tools, a new perspective, new ways of acting. New myths and new dreams... This is a lexicon of new words for new times. Schneider-Mayerson and Bellamy invited a group of writers, scientists and artists to collaborate, asking them to create new words or adapt existing ones from non-English languages to help us think about the future and describe it in a new way. By creating words based on all languages (Norwegian, Arabic, Thai, Bengali and Dolphins appear), they want to point us in a direction - the crisis is global: supranational, supranational, supra-species. The same must be the solution."
If you're interested in reviewing An Ecotopian Lexicon, please email the University of Minnesota Press to request a review copy.
"Ecotopian Art amidst Climate Crisis: An Interview with Matthew Schneider-Mayerson and Nikki Lindt" by science writer Jena Pincott, for Artists & Climate Change.
Listen to historian Lance Thurner interview Brent Ryan Bellamy and Matthew Schneider-Mayerson in a podcast in the New Books Network. (You can find it in the New Books in Environmental Studies, New Books in Literary Studies, New Books in Politics, New Books in Science, Technology, and Society, and New Books in Critical Theory feeds.)
An Ecotopian Lexicon featured in an article in the Straits Times, "Take a Page Out of these Green Books."
Table of Contents
Kim Stanley Robinson
Introduction: Loanwords to Live With
and Brent Ryan Bellamy
Allison Ford and
Kari Marie Norgaard
Jennifer L. Johnson
Karen O’Brien and
Ann Kristin Schorre
In Lak’ech—a la K’in
Blockadia (Ya Basta!)
Nicolás de Jesús
Untitled 2018 (Dàtóng)
Michelle Kuen Suet Fung
Sehnsucht, in the Midst
Kira Bre Clingen
Andrew Alan Johnson
Shikata Ga Nai
Brent Ryan Bellamy
and Sheena Wilson
Janet Tamalik McGrath
Kimberly Skye Richards
Robert Savino Oventile