2018, Academic Paper

Rebirth?: The Rhetoric of Reproduction in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Juliana Spahr’s Poetry

CAROLINE LEBEL

This paper explores the rhetoric of human reproduction in a classic text of American environmentalism, Silent Spring, as well as two contemporary poems by Juliana Spahr. I argue that Rachel Carson adopts the problematic ideology of the baby boom in order to capitalize upon the public’s anxieties about the future of American society. By exploiting these concerns, she uses a strange cultural ideology of rigid gender roles, heteronormativity, and conformity to fuel environmental progress. In contrast to this action-oriented approach, Spahr laments the potentially tragic, destructive effects of human romance and reproduction. The first poem, “Gentle Now, Don’t Add to Heartache,” breaks down the reader’s assumed sense of human exceptionalism, glorifies non-human reproduction, and suggests that human-human interactions wreak havoc on the natural world. In the second poem discussed, “#Misanthropocene,” Spahr ironizes human reproduction itself by painting its related mechanisms as blatantly impossible courses of action against capitalism and other causes of environmental disaster. Therefore, while Carson uses the lure of fertility and reproduction for the power of good, Spahr emphasizes the seeming narcissism of human romance–all seems lost. Reproduction figures as an agent of change in Carson’s tract, while it renders action, or even admissions of guilt, impossible in Spahr’s works.

Honorable Mention – Academic Papers

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