“Do you think it is a Pandemic?” Apocalypse, Anxiety and the Environmental Grotesque in Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl

  • Sanchar Sarkar Indian Institute of Technology, Madras
  • Swarnalatha Rangarajan Indian Institute of Technology, Madras
Keywords: bioengineering, gene-hack, pandemic, posthuman, post-fossil fuel economy, agricultural apocalypse, anxiety, the environmental grotesque

Abstract

Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl (2009), set in the post fossil-fuel, post turbo-capitalist country of Thailand, portrays the shocking after effects of bioengineering and gene-hack modifications in food crops. The narrative depicts a country tottering on the brink of an agricultural apocalypse on account of food production being severely affected by crop driven anomalies and rogue diseases such as “cibiscosis” and “blister rust” transmitted by variants of mutating pests. Natural seed stock becomes completely supplanted by the new genetically engineered seeds which become sterile after a single seasonal cycle of sowing and harvesting. The native population of Thailand is adversely affected by the pandemic scenario, which becomes aggravated by an expedient “scientocracy” that is at the heart of the neocolonial enterprises of American megacorporations and calorie companies like Agrigen, PurCal and Redstar who hail gene hacking as the new future of food resources and market profiteering. The consumption of the gene-hacked produce spreads through crops and affects the human body in unimaginable ways thereby resulting in a considerable rise of health issues including digestive and respiratory failures.

This paper intends to articulate the idea of a pandemic, its historical understanding and affective influences in the context of a post techno-fossil fuel economy set in Thailand. It will analyse the idea of epidemiological colonialism; diseases introduced by colonising forces that reshape the natives’ existing environment thereby bringing forth a deep pandemic anxiety that percolates the collective memory of the Thai people. It also highlights how the novel portrays the conflict between traditional ecological knowledge systems and modern extractive enterprises that acts as a catalyst to hasten the destruction of sustainable systems of agriculture and food production that have endured the impact of climate change and ecological fallout. The paper will study the relevance of the pandemic as an agency of ecocatastrophe and its function in an eco-speculative science fictional narrative. Finally, the paper looks into the concept of the posthuman android, genetically modified humans in a “technologiade”, a society reconfigured by technoscience to resist the impact of environmental collapse, and explores how this trope is incorporated in Bacigalupi’s narrative to celebrate human striving for hope and survival in an imagined environmental future marked by a self-created agro-scientific grotesqueness.

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Published
2022-09-01