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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 29, July 15, 2023

Bhagat’s Review of Toxic Immanence by Livia Monnet

Saturday 15 July 2023


Reviewed by Raina Bhagat (Northwestern University)

Toxic Immanence:

Decolonizing Nuclear Legacies and Futures

by Livia Monnet

Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press
2022. 472 pp.
ISBN 978-0-228-01136-1

Toxic Immanence: Decolonizing Nuclear Legacies and Futures is an edited collection with an ambitious scope, making impressive strides across both disciplines and genres to sketch out numerous paths toward the unequivocal need for the abolition of nuclear technologies. In the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster of March 11, 2011, how can we construct “decolonizing pedagogies of the nuclear” (p. 6)? Working toward the construction of the nuclear energy and environmental humanities, Toxic Immanence explicitly states its desire to create decolonial pedagogies with the power to shape how nuclear discourses are taught in a world that is decidedly not post-nuclear. The collection features academic essays from a range of disciplines, as well as a section devoted to creative work in the form of poetry and photography.

As the first major collection of scholarship on nuclear energy humanities, Toxic Immanence provides a comprehensive overview of the field of nuclear energy humanities, while bringing together the chief achievements made by monographs in the field across disciplines. In the text’s introduction, Livia Monnet defines toxic immanence as “the embodied experience of living with, (re)thinking and contesting, and offering resilience under the contaminated, increasingly unlivable conditions created by extractive neocolonial capitalism” (p. 12). With contributions from known scholars in the field, such as Joseph Masco (The Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico [2006]), Thomas LaMarre (The Anime Ecology: A Genealogy of Television, Animation, and Game Media [2018]), and Jessica Hurley (Infrastructures of Apocalypse: American Literature and the Nuclear Complex [2020), as well as early career scholars still finishing their PhDs, the collection truly underlines the formative and metamorphic state of the field. This immanence is explored under different theoretical formulations, from Sharae Deckard’s “enduring nuclear” in chapter 1 to Michelle Murphy’s “alterlife,” discussed in the introduction and across multiple chapters (p. 12). The interdisciplinary range of the collection allows Masco’s study on seismic politics in US nuclear policy in chapter 5 to coexist harmoniously in the same section as a genre-bending “atomic opera” following the extraction of uranium by Indigenous groups in Canada to power nuclear weapons in the United States in chapter 8, by Juliet Palmer, Julie Salverson, and Peter C. Van Wyck. The collection has something to offer for scholars of every subject from literature to archaeology, to anthropology and visual culture. Additionally, Toxic Immanence succeeds in exploring the dangers and implications of nuclear power not simply from the radiation it produces but also from the impact of the blast and the heat and from the underlying processes that produce it, including uranium extraction, nuclear testing, and military expansion.

One of the struggles of a collection as broad in scope as Toxic Immanence is arranging its many moving pieces into a logical sequence, and this is where the collection could have taken the opportunity to really showcase the eclectic nature of nuclear writings. A notable imbalance between large sections on Cold War imaginaries and sparse pickings on nuclear archaeologies and heritages could have been remedied by interspersing the artistic contributions relegated to the back of the book, between chapters, similar to the organization of the 2017 collection Energy Humanities: An Anthology (edited by Imre Szeman and Dominic Boyer). For instance, a piece like CHamoru (Chamorro) poet Craig Santos Perez’s multipart “Nuclear Family: A Poem” in chapter 16 could have been a particularly hard-hitting inclusion following criticism on nuclear aesthetics in irradiated peoples from northeastern Kazakhstan and Indigenous Australia. Additionally, because of its strong focus on nuclear power, Toxic Immanence might not be well suited to the scholar looking for an overview of energy humanities trends.

What is perhaps most striking in this collection, however, is its commitment to following through with the implications of nuclear development targeted in every chapter. As Monnet points out early in the text, “The development and expansion of nuclear technologies depended on the appropriation and exploitation of resources in outlying or internal colonies” (p. 6). The recognition of the implicit violence done unto marginalized communities and responsibility for said violence is welcome in an age where bridging the gap between scholarship and activism has never been more important, as human rights are openly attacked across the globe. By adopting a pedagogical focus, Toxic Immanence turns the focus of nuclear studies to questions of public-facing scholarship, environmental justice, and Indigenous sovereignty. Furthermore, the collection makes a vital bridge to discussions on climate change, further bolstering the urgency of the nuclear energy humanities. This urgency is underscored not only by solid countering to the “green” aspirations of nuclear power but also by developing the connections between the processes of nuclear development and natural disasters thereby aggravated, including post-meltdown forest fires and radioactive acid rain from contaminated glaciers. All in all, Toxic Immanence succeeds in setting the contours for a precise sector of study, while also bridging it to the well-established academic disciplines of environmental humanities, gender and sexuality studies, and critical Anthropocene studies, to name only a few.

[This work from H-Net Reviews is licensed under a Creative Commons License]

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