Bringing the word sustainability back from the brink of cliché—to a substantive, truly sustainable future
Is sustainability a hopelessly vague word, with meager purpose aside from a feel-good appeal to the consumer? In The Three Sustainabilities, Allan Stoekl seeks to (re)valorize the word, for a simple reason: it is useful. Sustainability designates objects in time, their birth or genesis, their consistency, their survival, their demise. And it raises the question, as no other word does, of the role of humans in the survival of a world that is quickly disappearing—and perhaps in the genesis of another world.
Stoekl considers a range of possibilities for the word, touching upon questions of object ontology, psychoanalysis, urban critique, technocracy, and religion. He argues that there are three varieties of sustainability, seen from philosophical, cultural, and economic perspectives. One involves the self-sustaining world “without us”; another, the world under our control, which can run the political spectrum from corporatism to Marxism to the Green New Deal; and a third that carries a social and communitarian charge, an energy of the “universe” affirmed through, among other things, meditation and gifting. Each of these carves out a different space in the relations between objects, humans, and their survival and degradation. Each is necessary, unavoidable, and intimately bound with, and infinitely distant from, the others.
Along the way, Stoekl cites a wide range of authors, from philosophers to social thinkers, literary theorists to criminologists, anthropologists to novelists. This beautifully written, compelling, and nuanced book is a must for anyone interested in questions of ecology, energy, the environmental humanities, contemporary theories of the object, postmodern and posthuman aesthetics, or religion and the sacred in relation to community.
About the Author
Allan Stoekl is professor emeritus of French and comparative literature at Pennsylvania State University. His books include Bataille’s Peak: Energy, Religion, and Postsustainability (Minnesota, 2007) among others.