Malcolm Sen joined the faculty this past fall right after finishing a post-doctoral position at Harvard University. The Editor of The Ink Pot caught up with him in January to see how his year was going.
Editor: Welcome to UMass Malcolm! You had a busy fall, so busy in fact that we had trouble sitting down for coffee.
Malcolm Sen: I’ve had a busy term. Plus my cross-Atlantic move from Ireland this summer had all the attendant trials that one expects but is nonetheless stumped by.
Ed.: That’s right, you were on a post-doc through Harvard but were also teaching in Ireland. Rumor has it that you also recently jetted back to Europe for a conference.
Sen: Yes, it is a dreadful irony that although I work on climate change related issues I ended up with a lot of air miles in the last few years. In December I went to a conference at the University of Frieburg as part of the UMass interdisciplinary delegation of scholars working on various aspects of climate change.
Ed: Tell me more about your research.
Sen: I’m working on a book (tentatively) titled Environment, Narrative and Sovereignty. In it I consider the ways in which literary texts, and the humanities in general, can play an important role in our understanding of climate change. The climate change ‘question’ has been cast as an economic, scientific and political question with economic, political and scientific solutions. But climate change is a multi-generational, multi-scalar issue and brings to the foreground, for example, questions of empathy across time and space that is the stuff of literature and literary analysis.
Ed. Can you give me an example?
Sen: Sure. One very basic issue is the question of the model of the nation state. Climate change is a planetary predicament and doesn’t limit itself to national boundaries. It forces us to redefine our ideas about sovereignty.
Ed.: This sounds rewarding and tough. What places does your research lead you?
One of the places that stands out is the archipelago of the Sunderban Islands. A remarkable aspect of these islands is that they are tidal, buoyed up by a perfect chemistry of sea and fresh water. They are the subject of Amitav Ghosh’s famous novel, The Hungry Tide.
Ed.: Are you teaching The Hungry Tide this year?
Sen: Yes. I’m teaching a Junior Year Writing course on Ecology and Environment in World Literature, and in addition to The Hungry Tide, we’ll read Abdelrehman Munif’s Cities of Salt. I’ve already taught Contemporary Irish Literature and will teach it again this term. I have edited a series of podcasts titled “Irish Studies and the Environmental Humanities” that takes up these issues.
Ed.: How do UMass students respond to the questions you are posing about the fallout from climate change?
Sen: They respond incredibly well! UMass students are very earnest. I am impressed by all their hard work and delighted to be working with them.