Cultural critic Josephine Livingstone at The New Republic magazine wrote recently: “From Jeff Vandermeer’s novel ‘Annihilation’ to Nathaniel Rich’s ‘Odds Against Tomorrow,’ the last decade has seen such a steep rise in sophisticated “cli-fi” that some literary publications [such as the Chicago Review of Books] now devote whole ‘verticals’ to it. With such various and fertile imaginations at work on the same topic, whether in fiction or nonfiction, the challenge facing the environmental writer now is standing out from the crowd (not to mention the headlines).
Meet Josephine Livingstone.
Livingston became the staff writer for culture at The New Republic at the start of 2017. Trump’s election for the presidency was a fresh blow then, one that threw many literary critics into a specific, existential tailspin; what could be the use of their book reviews, an inherently secondary, interpretive type of writing, when direct action was so obviously going to be needed–and soon?
“After indulging in a brief panic, I realized two things,” Livingstone says. “First, answering this question was no mere background concern; it was my new job. Second, if I was going to prove that arts criticism truly matters — that it has as much capacity to provoke dialogue, foster empathy, and refashion imaginations as direct political commentary — then I was going to have to make it fun, or nobody would be reading. In the years and hundreds of articles since that first (terrifying) day on the job, these two principles have kept me afloat in the media churn, like water wings on an ocean-tossed toddler. It’s never stopped being fun, and sharing the pleasure of the arts with The New Republic’s readers feels like a secret we’re keeping from the authorities. As I put it in one of my very first pieces, every piece of cultural criticism is manufactured by human community and then offered back to that community as a gesture of thanks.”