An ethics of waste: Twentieth-century American literature and excremental culture
Foltz, Mary Catherine
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In our contemporary moment of environmental crisis, contemporary authors follow environmental activists in their focus on the effluent produced by our national body, calling our attention to the multiple wastes of so-called civilization. Although critics of contemporary literature, like Fredric Jameson and Linda Hutcheon, claim that the creative thinkers of our time refuse to engage with a radical ethic, my dissertation entitled "An Ethics of Waste: Twentieth-Century American Literature and Excremental Culture" argues that many current literary texts encourage the reader to avoid participation in the ecological disaster by finding value in the excreta of both the individual and national body. Instead of flushing waste to the margins, they show that by examining the detritus of our economic system and finding new uses for material previously deemed worthless, we will birth a sustainable nation and a less destructive world. Rather than imagine a utopian paradise, they create fictional communities and individuals who find pleasure in all that might appear worthless to the market. Their excremental ethics illustrate that the continuation of human life lies not in the discovery of a new Eden, but in allying ourselves with our excreta and refusing to imagine a separation between the organic world and ourselves.