A Martial Meteorology: Carceral Ecology in the US South of Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing
During a discussion of her novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward recalls her experience of Hurricane Katrina: “I sat on the porch, barefoot and shaking. The sky turned orange and the wind sounded like fighter jets” (Ward 262). The “weight of history in the South of slavery and Jim Crow makes it hard to bear up,” she continues. The future is full of worry, “about climate change and more devastating storms like Katrina and Harvey” (Block). In her depiction of the wind as fighter jets, Ward imbues the violent elements of the hurricane with a martial quality that demonstrates how weather and, in particular, storms, hold the capacity to unmake the world. Yet it is the history of the US South, of slavery and Jim Crow, that Ward uses to preface her concern about a turbulent future. In doing so, she foregrounds the racial dimensions of the Anthropocene by placing the carceral in conversation with the environment. Sing, Unburied, Sing also explores this much over-looked connection. By examining the novel’s twinning of racial and ecological violence, this essay traces what I call carceral ecology. Crafted from Ward’s imagining of a martial meteorology, carceral ecology transforms climatic phenomena like heat, rain, and storms into tools of western power. The novel thus unearths a southern history in which environmental design and manipulation have been used maintain a carceral state of control. In the end, Ward offers a counternarrative to a white Anthropocene, one that is attuned to the epoch’s entanglement with race.