Monday, December 3, 2012

Melanie Challenger's "On Extinction"

Melanie Challenger is the author of Galatea, an award-winning first collection of poems, and co-author, with Zlata Filipovic, of Stolen Voices, a history of twentieth-century conflict compiled through war diaries. She has received a British Council Darwin Award for her work. She lives in the Scottish Highlands.

Challenger applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, On Extinction: How We Became Estranged from Nature, and reported the following:
On being asked to perform the 99 Test on my book On Extinction, I turned to the requisite page only to discover that in this edition of the book, the page is a blank. At first I stared at the blank page and felt rather silly. But, then, of course, it struck me. On Extinction is just that: a meditation on the loss of species, places, ways of life, languages, and an exploration of the human capacity to feel loss. It's a book about this point in human history, when the Earth's diversity and also, in different ways, the diversity of human experience is under threat. And so a blank page is actually rather poetic, rather redolent of the subject. Think, for instance, of the permanent silence of the song of New Zealand's wonderful Laughing Owl or of the thrumming wings of Kerr's Noctuid Moth. Think of the last breath of the last speaker of the Eyak language spoken by tribes from the mouth of Copper River. The particular dreams and myths and intonations of their way of life were extinguished on the speaker's deathbed. And so a blank page is suggestive of extinction itself but also of the unwritten annals of the future. While I can’t pretend to readers that On Extinction is a laugh-a-minute, it’s none-the-less a heartfelt, deeply hopeful book. My argument throughout is that there are sentiments intrinsic to human nature that might yet enable us to resist the destruction of other life-forms and of the special ways we inhabit the earth. In this way, that blank page also points to the possibility that the future environmental disaster is not inevitable, if, and only if, these sentiments can be aroused in us.
Learn more about On Extinction at the Counterpoint website.

--Marshal Zeringue