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Special Issue Articles

Vol. 5 No. 2 (2024): Narrative, Environment, Social Justice

"There's still a world": Salvaging Hope in Garbagetown

May 16, 2023


In Catherynne M. Valente's The Past Is Red, the world as we know it has already drowned. However, even after the apocalypse, traces of extractive capitalism – responsible for the destruction of the planet in the first place – are still lingering on as the novella is set in Garbagetown, a floating habitat of waste that emerged from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This article takes this rubbish as its starting point and examines what Elizabeth DeLoughrey calls our "anticipated history of ruins" through the lenses of utopian theory and salvage-Marxism. By conceptualizing waste as one of the most visible markers of the Capitalocene (Moore), I argue that it is not only a planet's resources that are considered disposable in a capitalist economy but also some of its inhabitants. The analysis focuses on the novella's main character Tetley, who, in contrast to her fellow citizens, attempts to locate beauty in the ruins and has hope – not for salvation but for the broken world. By reading Tetley as a salvagepunk character, this article nods towards a different utopian horizon in The Past Is Red, one that is not defined by solastalgia (Albrecht) for the past or the hope for a future Eden but as a praxis of becoming post-apocalyptic, by learning to "stay with the trouble" (Haraway) of a world built out of trash.


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