Episode 120: The Nutmeg's Curse (Parables For a Planet in Crisis) with Amitav Ghosh
This episode of Across The Margin: The Podcast presents an interview with Amitav Ghosh, a novelist and essayist whose many books include the acclaimed Ibis Trilogy (Sea of Poppies, River of Smoke, and Flood of Fire), Gun Island, Jungle Nama: A Story of the Sundarban, and The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable. His latest book, The Nutmeg’s Curse (Parables For a Planet in Crisis), is a powerful work that traces our contemporary planetary crisis back to the discovery of the New World and the sea route to the Indian Ocean. The Nutmeg’s Curse argues that the dynamics of Climate Change today are rooted in a centuries-old geopolitical order constructed by Western colonialism. At the center of Ghosh’s narrative is the now-ubiquitous spice nutmeg. The history of the nutmeg is one of conquest and exploitation — of both human life and the natural environment. In Ghosh’s hands, the story of the nutmeg becomes a parable for our environmental crisis, revealing the ways human history has always been entangled with earthly materials such as spices, tea, sugarcane, opium, and fossil fuels. Our crisis, he shows, is ultimately the result of a mechanistic view of the earth, where nature exists only as a resource for humans to use for our own ends, rather than a force of its own, full of agency and meaning. Writing against the backdrop of the global pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests, Ghosh frames these historical stories in a way that connects our shared colonial histories with the deep inequality we see around us today. By interweaving discussions on everything from the global history of the oil trade to the migrant crisis and the animist spirituality of Indigenous communities around the world, The Nutmeg’s Curse offers a sharp critique of Western society and speaks to the profoundly remarkable ways in which human history is shaped by non-human forces. In this episode host Michael Shields and Amitav Ghosh discuss the history of the nutmeg, a spice whose narrative is tied to colonialism in ways that relate to today’s Climate Crisis and particularly fossil fuels. They discuss terraforming, a term known in science-fiction writing that relates to the ways in which colonizers, both in days of yore and today, reshape landscapes to meet their covetous ways. They converse on the power of storytelling in fighting Climate Change, those who see the Earth as an inert body, the future of vitalist politics, and much, much more.
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