Ella Tobin Mershon
From Immanuel Kant’s conception of the earth as the “original mother” to James Lovelock’s theory of the planet as Gaia, the idea of the earth as a self-reproducing, holistic system has a long and rich history. Turning to representations of fissures in holistic earth theories of the nineteenth century, Mershon explores how accounts of the lived experiences of geological catastrophes undermine the connection between the earth’s capacity for homeostatic self-regulation and its human habitability. Moving from Lyell’s ruptured perspective in Principles of Geology to the fractured narrative structure of Dickens’s Bleak House, Mershon argues that fissure comes to name an ironic divide in the structure of experience, revealing the disjuncture between the meager scope of human life and the vast scale of nonhuman worlds. In this way, fissured form speaks to the ironic structure of the Anthropocene – namely that the advent of the age of human-driven geological change coincides with the disempowerment of the individual human.
Ella Mershon is an A.W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the English Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is currently at work on a book project called Inorganicism: The Forms of Decay in the Age of Coal, which situates the emergence of the Romantic concept of organic form in the economies and ecologies of inorganic decay. Tracing the development of organicism across the nineteenth century,Inorganicism argues that the bounded whole of organic form became increasingly fluid, fragmentary, and unfinished, as the slow, small processes of geological, chemical, and physical decomposition were seen as shaping the organism from within and without. An article drawn from this project on "Ruskin's Dust" was recently published in Victorian Studies and was named Editor's Choice for the issue.