Waste and the Wasters: Poetry and Ecosystemic Thought in Medieval England (Paperback)

Waste and the Wasters: Poetry and Ecosystemic Thought in Medieval England By Eleanor Johnson Cover Image
On Our Shelves Now
Book Culture (112th St)
2 on hand, as of May 20 9:35pm


A groundbreaking examination of ecological thought in medieval England.

While the scale of today’s crisis is unprecedented, environmental catastrophe is nothing new. Waste and the Wasters studies the late Middle Ages, when a convergence of land contraction, soil depletion, climate change, pollution, and plague subsumed Western Europe. In a culture lacking formal scientific methods, the task of explaining and coming to grips with what was happening fell to medieval poets. The poems they wrote used the terms “waste” or “wasters” to anchor trenchant critiques of people’s unsustainable relationships with the world around them and with each other. In this book, Eleanor Johnson shows how poetry helped medieval people understand and navigate the ecosystemic crises—both material and spiritual—of their time.

About the Author

Eleanor Johnson is associate professor of English and comparative literature and director of the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life at Columbia University. She is the author of several books, most recently, Waste and the Wasters: Poetry and Ecosystemic Thought in Medieval England, published by the University of Chicago Press.

Praise For…

"One of those rare academic books that remixes a collection of ideas—medieval poetry, land management, weather, bees, God’s vengeance, and climate change—in a style that’s eminently readable, bringing the past to life and connecting it to the present in one engaging sentence after another."
— The Christian Century

Waste and the Wasters deftly maps the contours of ecosystemic imagination in medieval England through close engagement with one of its major vehicles: poetry. Johnson’s compelling study shows the importance of dealing with premodern sources in all their complexity as they work to make sense of the dense relational landscape that they inhabit and their responsibilities within it."
— Brooke Holmes, Princeton University

“Literary scholars in the Anthropocene can’t help but notice precarity, both precarity of time (there may not be much left!) and discursive precarity (does our discipline have much to offer?). Enter Eleanor Johnson. When we finish reading this vigorously conversational book, the ecosystem of our discipline will find refreshing new networks within which to work.”
— James Simpson, Harvard University

“A beautiful and urgent essay on ecosystemic thought in late medieval England that is also a call to action on the climate catastrophe now unfolding. Look to art, says Johnson, when there’s no organized vocabulary for expressions of ecosystemic peril. Look to medieval poetry to find complex and ethical ruminations on what it is to waste and to be a waster, both critical communal problems tying individuals to larger concepts of social justice. In our current eco-meltdown, this book will emphatically not waste anyone’s time.”
— Carolyn Dinshaw, New York University
Product Details
ISBN: 9780226830179
ISBN-10: 0226830179
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: November 27th, 2023
Pages: 224
Language: English