One might easily ask, ‘Who is Amitav Ghosh?’ Is he a novelist or historian? Is he the travel writer with whom we rode pillion in Cambodia? Is he the anthropologist scoping out ancient documents in the Nile delta? Is he a historian and cinematographer who re-creates the ancient opium trade? Or is he an environmentalist urging us to realise that confronting the climate crisis is the most urgent task of our time? The Great Derangement underscores this simple truth: writers are the intellectuals of the public sphere. While policy wonks and politicians chatter, it can take a book like The Great Derangement to get newsrooms talking, leaders concerned and individuals thinking. It can lead to (dare we say) change.
When what’s happening to us is as real as a tree falling on us, why are we pretending that it is in some other realm of possibility? One of the profoundest reasons why it is so hard to write a story on climate change is that there is no redemption, there is no happy ending. And no possibility of one
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Ghosh argues that we’ve been conditioned to characterise catastrophism as unmodern; hence the age of global warming has come to defy both literary fiction and contemporary common sense. While much has been written on climate change, The Great Derangement stands apart as it studies it through three lenses: fiction, history and politics. We need the voice and sense of Ghosh to make us pause and realise just how crazy we are.
(For the complete list of power of argument in 50 portraits click here)