Death by Landscape (Paperback)
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From the acclaimed author of the novel Oval comes a book of “fan nonfiction” about living and writing in the age of extinction
In this constellation of essays, Elvia Wilk asks what kinds of narratives will help us rethink our human perspective toward Earth. The book begins as an exploration of the role of fiction today and becomes a deep interrogation of the writing process and the self.
Wilk examines creative works across time and genre in order to break down binaries between dystopia and utopia, real and imagined, self and world. She makes connections between works by such wide-ranging writers as Mark Fisher, Karen Russell, Han Kang, Doris Lessing, Anne Carson, Octavia E. Butler, Michelle Tea, Helen Phillips, Kathe Koja, Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, and Hildegard von Bingen.
What happens when research becomes personal, when the observer breaks through the glass? Through the eye of the fan, this collection delves into literal and literary world-building projects—medieval monasteries, solarpunk futures, vampire role plays, environments devoid of humans—bridging the micro and the macro and revealing how our relationship to narrative shapes our relationships to the natural world and to one another.
About the Author
Elvia Wilk is a writer living in New York. Her work has appeared in publications like Frieze, Artforum, Bookforum, Granta, The Atlantic, n+1, The White Review, BOMB, Mousse, Flash Art, and Art Agenda. She is currently a contributing editor at e-flux Journal. She is the recipient of a 2019 Andy Warhol Arts Writers Grant and a 2020 fellowship at the Berggruen Institute. Her first novel, Oval, was published by Soft Skull in 2019.
A Los Angeles Review of Books Radio Hour Best Book of the Year
An Other Magazine Most Anticipated Book
"A whirlwind tour of thought that develops into a philosophy of ecosystems fiction, and the notion that we might alter the centrality of the human in storytelling to find other, more profound conclusions." —Bijan Stephen, The New York Times Book Review
"As we live through the Anthropocene, our current epoch of human-made disaster, a new book, Elvia Wilk’s Death by Landscape, argues compellingly that giving more space to the weird can help us reconsider our relationships to nature—and, even in the face of institutional inertia, exercise greater responsibility to each other . . . Wilk suggests that living attentively is a continuous project. It might not revolutionize our world, but it can ignite new approaches to the everyday problems of our era, approaches that we can share." —Michael Friedrich, The Atlantic
"Catalogs an important, growing body of literature that would not traditionally appear under the banner of 'nature writing' or 'environmental literature' but that is fundamentally ecological in what it allows for in its fictional universes: the blurring, rotting, merging, and grafting that characterize life from an ecological perspective . . . In these essays, it is the lucidly observed idiosyncrasies of everyday life, so profoundly strange, that expand our sense of the beautiful and the possible." —Lynne Feeley, The Nation
"Elvia Wilk’s essays expose our relationship to the natural world—and possible extinction—with new urgency and maybe even hope." —Emma Alpern, Vulture
"Insightful (and accessible) deep dive into climate anxieties and ecological weirdness . . . Death by Landscape features highly readable, annotated essays that move at an exciting clip and dig into plant intelligence, virtual reality, science and climate fiction, trauma, toxic waste and queerness, black holes and much more . . . The book is a bewitching object, inviting anyone eco-curious into an intimate, verdant discourse by simple virtue of Wilk’s enthusiastic fandom. Suddenly, gardening, favorite hiking trails—even entertainment—feel uncanny in the best ways." —Sean J Patrick Carney, High Country News
"Elvia Wilk’s Death by Landscape offers readers a heady take on some of the novelists, thinkers, and artists whose work reflects the world outside our window—and what they can teach us as we venture into the future." —Tobias Carroll, InsideHook
"A restless, roving intellect categorizes this work . . . Dissatisfied with conventional ideas of utopia or dystopia, human and other, Wilk wrestles with our world’s binaries and hierarchies in order to imagine a different way of being." —C. Francis Fisher, BOMB
"Intellectually rigorous, unassumingly lyrical, obliquely intimate . . . I would like to go on and on about this very fertile book, but TLDR: You should read it. You will want to reread it. Maybe you will want to kiss, lick, and cry over it; to eat it, break it down and re-form it into new ideas, new writing." —Charis Caputo, LIBER
"Casts an eye at VanderMeer and other masters of the 'new weird' fiction—i.e., books that have an ecological awareness while exploring the uncanny." —Shane Anderson, Spike Art Magazine
"Wilk—a skilful observer of human behaviour attuned to the environmental catastrophes we face—always offers weird and refreshing frameworks for us to reconsider our place within the Anthropocene." —Claudia Kensani Saviotti, Frieze
"Passionate . . . Reading the collection, my perspective about my little place in the world shifted, and I began to feel like one small piece of a much larger schema in a way that has lasted for months. As a writer, the essays felt like permission toward boldness and making more space for my most genuine curiosities." —Claire Lobenfeld, CRAFT
"An intriguing read for anyone seeking an immersive trip into the boundaries of genres and subgenres alike." —Tobias Caroll, Tor.com
"Elvia Wilk is a wonderful (and strange) mind to spend time with, and Death by Landscape, an essay collection billed as 'fan nonfiction,' gives readers ample room to do just that . . .This is what a beach read really looks like." —Johnny Diamond, A Literary Hub Most Anticipated Book of the Year
"The world has been getting weird for a while, and in the process the distinctions between reality and fiction, utopia and dystopia, individual and environment have themselves come to feel strange. In her new essay collection, Death by Landscape, novelist and critic Elvia Wilk asks what we mean by 'weird' in the first place and considers how the notion might help us—in literature and in life—to think beyond such hard lines." —Olivia Parkes, Electric Literature
"Superb . . . Fiery . . . Elegant and powerful. This one packs a punch." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Eclectic . . . Wide-ranging . . . The author makes us look at the world and speculative creations in a new, defamiliarized way." —Kirkus Reviews
“Perhaps ‘essays’ is too slight a description for Death by Landscape, which strikes me as the stealth memoir of a supertaster of the present moment—a citizen of our suffering species who has chosen storytelling as her armor for survival. Whatever you call it, Wilk’s book strengthens me to go on with the essential work, and makes me awfully eager for her next.” —Jonathan Lethem
“Elvia Wilk is one of the most exciting essayists working today. I love this book.” —Catherine Lacey, author of Pew
"With evocative clarity and intuitive rigor, Elvia Wilk's Death by Landscape guides us through a troubled terrain criss-crossed by that most uncanny of entities, 'nature.' This is writing that uniquely extends the tradition of speculative nonfiction, delineating a new constellation of culture and climate that ultimately points to the nebulous horizon of human being itself." —Eugene Thacker, author of In the Dust of This Planet and Infinite Resignation
“Elvia Wilk has written a guidebook and a philosophy for living in a precarious world, in essays that are searching and funny, self-assured and unguarded all at once. With each chapter Wilk directs her telescopic focus on plants and rot, mysticism and black holes, female embodiment and trauma, weaving together seemingly disparate topics with an intelligence that recalls the best of Mark Fisher and Wayne Koestenbaum. Reading Death by Landscape, I feel terrified and exalted, expanded, in awe.” —Madeleine Watts, author of The Inland Sea