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Weak Planet

Literature and Assisted Survival

Vulnerability. We see it everywhere. In once permanent institutions. In runaway pandemics. In democracy itself. And most frighteningly, in ecosystems with no sustainable future. Against these large-scale hazards of climate change, what can literature teach us? This is the question Wai Chee Dimock asks in Weak Planet, proposing a way forward, inspired by works that survive through kinship with strangers and with the nonhuman world.

Drawing on Native American studies, disability studies, and environmental humanities, Dimock shows how hope can be found not in heroic statements but in incremental and unspectacular teamwork. Reversing the usual focus on hegemonic institutions, she highlights instead incomplete gestures given an afterlife with the help of others. She looks at Louise Erdrich’s and Sherman Alexie’s user-amended captivity narratives; nontragic sequels to Moby-Dick by C. L. R. James, Frank Stella, and Amitav Ghosh; induced forms of Irishness in Henry James, Colm Tóibín, W. B. Yeats, and Gish Jen; and the experimentations affordedby a blurry Islam in works by Henri Matisse, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and Langston Hughes. Celebrating literature’s durability as an assisted outcome, Weak Planet gives us new ways to think about our collective future.

Author Information

Wai Chee Dimock is the William Lampson Professor of English and American Studies at Yale University. She is the author of three scholarly books, most recently, Through Other Continents: American Literature across Deep Time.


Weak PlanetdisplaysDimock’serudition and ambition, as well as her subtlety and insight. Exploring weakness and vulnerability from the origins of American literature to the present,sheprovocatively argues for ‘collateral resilience.’ A method of hope and survival, collateral resilience may be exactly what we need now.”
— Viet Thanh Nguyen, University of Southern California

"Two classes of people have emerged in the present moment: those who have been thinking and planning for pandemic, and those who have not. Dimock clearly belongs to the former.Weak Planetinvites us to reflect on the deep interconnections between two threatened extinctions: that of the humanities and that of a host of animal species (not least our own). The book is nothing short of a radical reorientation of literary history, away from the historicist stress on past damage and toward the forms of resilience and durability that will be required of the field in the future."

— Stephen Best, University of California, Berkeley

Weak Planetis a powerful, hugely insightful book that engages with a range of disciplines across the humanities and social sciences and is especially relevant in the era of COVID-19. Dimock astutely analyzes an admirable diversity of narratives that speak to arcs of vulnerability and provide guidance on finding the strength, or at least the resilience, to stay in the fray against all odds.Weak Planetspeaks about collateral resilience, the other side of the spectrum from collateral damage. This book is essential reading at a time when we collectively are being forced more than ever before to reshape priorities and societies.”

— Karen Thornber, Harvard University

"Weak Planetexpands on Dimock's previous work on 'weak theory' by offering an inspiring and subtle reading of a variety of literature, historical and contemporary, drawn from across the world. All in search of a spirit of resilience and non-despair in the face of our planetary vulnerability. A mesmerizing and virtuoso performance that speaks to our times."
— Dipesh Chakrabarty, University of Chicago

Audience: Professional and scholarly;