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Erosion: American Literature & the Anxiety of Disappearance

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Wednesday, February 24, 2021, 11:00 am – 1:00 pm

As a geological phenomenon, erosion is both mapped and lived — a geological process with a narrative footprint. It is limited neither to ocean-front towns nor to shores at all, and as a process bound up with conceptions of place, it has consistently reappeared as a backdrop in U.S. literature. As this project demonstrates, stories of land loss and the anxiety they produce are rarely, if ever, politically neutral tales. For example, the visual and literary erosion narratives of spaces such as California read not so much as about the loss of the land as about the loss of a particular Anglo settler colonial prosperity. Even though the erosive mudslides of California are a continent away from the massive human-induced gullies of Georgia or the vanishing fishing camps of Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay, and even though these regionalized communities have vast differences in wealth and political ideology, how each space engages narratives of erosion reveals not simply vague “ecological” concerns, but rather a consistent and troubling anxiety of disappearance for an assumed white American nation. This project seeks to illuminate the links between the lived concerns about erosion as a geological phenomenon and narrative investments in an erosive America, as it shifts from pre-colonial to post-climate-apocalypse contexts.