By Kelly Ng
Image by Ashbel Chioh for Yale-NUS College.
From 15 to 17 January 2019, Yale-NUS College had the privilege of hosting award-winning writer, Dr Amitav Ghosh, for a series of talks and lectures. Dr Ghosh is the author of works such as the Booker prize-nominated Sea of Poppies, and his works have been translated into over 30 languages. The visit culminated in a public lecture, part of the Yale-NUS President’s Speaker Series, a lecture series designed to allow the community to engage with some of the brightest academics and practitioners on contemporary issues of today. Titled ‘Can the Non-Human Speak?’, Dr Ghosh questioned how literature and other disciplines can give a voice to nature in an era of increasing environmental degradation and climate change.
Speaking to an audience of over 300, he called for society to be more thoughtful in its interactions with nature, and for us to consider how we coexist with other living beings. Carson Huang (Class of 2020) shared that as a literature major, his perception of how the environment is represented in literary works was radically changed.
“Dr Ghosh’s lecture really opened my eyes to characters in literature who are usually ignored. The idea of whether the non-human can speak questions our own biases about humanity,” Carson said.
Besides the public lecture, Dr Ghosh also shared his expertise with the Yale-NUS community at other events on campus. As part of the ‘Literary Works in Progress’ series, a series of lunchtime talks organised by the Literature department, Dr Ghosh participated in a panel discussion titled ‘The monolingual nature of the modern novel, and the challenge of linguistic diversity’ on 16 January. He was joined by Yale-NUS Assistant Professors of Humanities (Literature) Gretchen Head, Ma Shaoling, and Nienke Boer, who moderated the panel.
Reflecting on the event, Tan Jia Hui (Class of 2019) said, “I found the talk very illuminating and thought-provoking. Dr Ghosh questions how the modern novel can reflect growing linguistic diversity in today’s modern world. As languages are so tied to how people from different cultures see the world, how can the modern novel truly reflect reality if it is written in a single language?”
The College also held a lunchtime discussion on climate change, in which Dr Ghosh shared his thoughts on climate change and the Anthropocene in Asia and the Global South. Jirasiri Techalapanarasme (Class of 2019) shared, “Having read The Great Derangement [a book by Dr Ghosh], the talk helped me to better understand the context of Dr Ghosh’s work. During the question and answer segment, he addressed the urgency and tragedy of issues like increased suicide rates in farmers due to debt, as well as dredge fishing destroying whole ecosystems.”
The talk also made Jirasiri consider the positive effects that literature could bring about with regard to environmental change. “While it may be overly optimistic to think that one work of literature or art can change the world, Dr Ghosh brings it back to the question posed in The Great Derangement: why is climate change and its issues not a serious component of fiction?”
The next lecture from the President’s Speaker Series will take place on 21 February 2019, where Mr Charles (Chip) Goodyear, President of the Goodyear Capital Corporation and Former Chief Executive Officer of BHP Billiton will speak on the topic ‘So are Tariffs and Protectionism Really That Bad?’. Details of and registration for the talk can be found here.