Conjectures on Forest Literature

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These conjectures on two novels about woods or forests from different points and periods in the capitalist world-system, Thomas Hardy's The Woodlanders (1887) and Annie Proulx's Barkskins (2016), seek to demonstrate that forests are locations saturated with histories and rival ideologies. Forests are variously godless wastes, places of worship and spiritual renewal, as well as symbols of national, cultural and even racial identity. They are also portents of liberty, the liberty of nature from plantation monocultures, and the liberty of humans from conformity to the regimenting disciplines of capital. Timber is a ubiquitous and indispensable capitalist commodity much like coal or oil. But underground seams of coal and reservoirs of unprocessed crude oil obviously do not, as forests and forest literature often do, represent utopian visions of a post-capitalist future. Much recent work in the 'energy humanities' and on 'the aesthetics of commodity frontiers' neglects this capacity of literary texts to sketch alternatives to capital's destructive and instrumentalising logic. This article therefore uses Andreas Malm's important work on 'fossil capital' and his recent speculations on 'wilderness literature' to show how in two works of fiction the forest provides an image of a future beyond capital.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)253-271
Number of pages19
JournalForum for Modern Language Studies
Issue number2
Early online date2 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jun 2022


  • Capitalocene
  • Forests
  • commodity frontiers
  • timber
  • utopia


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