the great folly

Liubov Popova, Space Force Building, 1921


Commentary on Amitav Ghosh's Newly Edited Book

“Catastrophe is the insurmountable horizon of our time. […] The historical hour in which we now live is no longer an epoch, but a deadline, the time that remains” (Paulo Arantes, The new time of the world).

 “When it rains, when there are clouds over Paris, never forget that this is the responsibility of the government. Alienated industrial production makes it rain. The revolution makes good weather” (Guy Debord, the sick planet).

Em the great folly, Amitav Ghosh considers as one what, ideologically and historically, has been separated: time as climate and time as epoch, as climatic condition and as history, time as a condition and as a result, humanity itself and the entire planet. As he writes at the beginning of the book: “I came to recognize that the challenges that climate change poses to the contemporary writer (…) originate from a broader and older phenomenon: ultimately, they derive from the literary forms and conventions that shaped the narrative imagination precisely in that period when the accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere was rewriting the destiny of the Earth” (p. 13). This means, I interpret, that conventions, cultural in that they are literary, determine peculiar narrative positions and modes of understanding. The conception stresses the modulation of the narrative by the material condition of climate change, hence the linkage seen as a temporal and existential unit.

The result of a series of lectures given at the University of Chicago in 2015, as the author tells us in his acknowledgments, the book is divided into three parts: I. Stories [Stories]; II. History [History]; III. Policy [Politics] The first has eighteen subparts, only numbered, and it is where the author reports and reflects on the consequences of several of the stories he lived and heard about climate change in India, it is where, therefore, the literary character of the composition stands out most.

The second, consisting of nine subparts, addresses the current history of the climate crisis, with emphasis on the conditions and consequences in Southeast Asia, at which point the author resumes and presents historical and scientific data and formulations as the basis of his argument.

Politics, the third and final part, deals with the challenges posed to world politics regarding the already almost irreversible advance of climate change. whose summary of the discussions was released by the UN, with the encyclical letter Laudato Si, by Pope Francis, pronounced in the same year as the Agreement. With regard to serious climate problems and emergency measures to be taken, papal preparations are much more advanced than what the diplomats and specialists participating in the meeting in Paris could combine.

Through the whole of the most literary part of the book, we realize that the meaning of literature taken here is, therefore, broader than what we are used to understanding, because it includes, in addition to fiction, the narrative of ancestors, language, therefore, also spoken and peculiar to each people and their ways of transmitting culture. And a tradition is, in a way, a way of seeing and seeing oneself. This is one of the rediscoveries that Amitav Ghosh offers us, that of categories of thought that allow us a narrative consistent with the unifying perception of the coexistence between species and nature, a supplementary meaning to give support by another way to the worn-out idea of ​​environmental preservation as an imperative unavoidable survival.

“I believe it to be true that the land here is alive; that it does not exist only, nor even incidentally, as a stage for the enactment of human history; that she is [herself] the protagonist” (p. 12). Amitav Ghosh invites us to recognize (that is, review) the status of our condition of existence on the planet. For him, “the instant of recognition occurs when prior knowledge flashes before us, promoting an instantaneous change in our understanding of what is contemplated. (…) [Recognition] arises from a renewed confrontation with a potentiality that already exists within someone” (p. 10-11).

This fantastic idea of ​​our cohabitation, as part of an interdependent system, with non-human beings seems to me especially fruitful. Mainly, in the set it forms with different works by several important authors, also diverse in their ways of thinking, writing and publicly intervening, of which I highlight Dipesh Chakrabarty, Donna Haraway, Tobie Nathan, Bruno Latour, Déborah Danowski, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Eliane Brum, Marco Antonio Valim, Davi Kopenawa and Ailton Krenak.

The planet, therefore, is not understood as a stage or frame, it is not chance, as humans we would be the need, it is not outside while we are inside, nor is it a house that could be redone or replaced at any time when it proved to be insufficient, unsatisfactory, and it could only be considered shelter in the proper sense similar to the way we conceive the body as an intrinsic and inseparable part of the spirit.

However, even this protagonism of the planet is not hostage to automatisms and their effects on what we take as our way of thinking. It means that the soil and the planet respond to the injury of their diseased organ, humanity. However, they do not produce the effects as retaliation or, worse, punishment, but as a transformation perhaps in search of a new equilibrium. The problem is that the scope of this change translates into the impossibility of the survival conditions of the species.

This intelligibility is what our recognition depends on. And literature, according to Amitav Ghosh, plays a decisive part in this, as it helps us to learn that knowledge, in some way, already exists in our humanity, in what subsists unconsciously in us of an original condition of symbiosis as part of the elements of nature and even of culture, and constitutes a path that could awaken us to this awareness. If we remember what Antonio Candido tells us, that “literature is the waking dream of civilizations. Therefore, just as it is not possible to have psychic balance without dreaming during sleep, perhaps there is no social balance without literature. In this way, it is an indispensable factor of humanization, it confirms man in his humanity” (“The Right to Literature”, p. 177). Literature, therefore, is, at the same time, a dream and an awakening for both authors, which, in relation to the world order that leads us to the imminence of the catastrophes of climate change, also means, in this apparently contradictory combination, to another possible world , far from the current follies.

The book combines a warning and a summons, and in doing so combines a diagnosis and an appeal for the engagement of each and every one, whether or not we are writers, from intellectuals to politicians, from professors to students, from rural producers to urban entrepreneurs, from the coastal population to countryside. In this sense, Amitav Ghosh seems to resurrect, opportunely, the sense of engagement dear to Jean-Paul Sartre. And if the informed reader opposes the difference between the enemies of one and the other as a weakness of the argument, he will be, I think, being carried away by the widespread misinterpretation of history,[I] of the supposed defeat of the enemies that Sartre aimed at at the time, more immediately, both the Nazis and the French collaborationists, and he will neglect, for this very reason, how much, in fact, among several other factors (social, economic, political and environmental) the The climate crisis itself denounces, on the contrary, the proof of ideological victory and, therefore, the validity of the thoughts and practices of these enemies, because they were and are also in relation to the climate. Here is another aspect of unreason.

Said like that, it looks like it would be a philosophy book, but it's not. Or rather, it is only in the sense that every good book evokes and deals with philosophical themes. It is at the same time a book of literature, history, ethics and politics. We quickly recognize that the ethical aspects stand out from the beginning, as well as the aesthetic ones, because the literary perspective, the narrative conception and the imperative of engagement are discussed; the second part, History, recovers the critical fortune around research on climate change and the circumstance of occupation of Southeast Asia, guided by a philosophy of history; the narrative of the third part of the book assumes an important political position by being guided by the idea of ​​Sartrean expression – “It is in the colonies that the truths of the metropolis become more visible”, in fact, as one of the notes clarifies, a preview of Frantz Fanon : “in the colonies the truth was naked, the metropolises preferred it clothed” – when describing and emphasizing the conditions and risks around the Indian coast and, somehow, also throughout Southeast Asia as an indication of what could happen in the regions coastlines around the world. The system, therefore, shows its perverse truth first on the periphery. We know how close Brazil and India are in terms of economics and imagination since colonial times.

It is, therefore, a consistent and detailed historical clarification, a change of point of view, combined with a careful alert, perhaps because catastrophic in measure, enlightening, and leads to a call for care for life, because it reintegrates humanity and nature. Initially, as he writes, directed to the so-called Anglosphere, but, a fortiori, also to all humanity.

From the beginning, but also as the reading progresses, literary satisfaction, historical perplexity, indignation with the political and business postures of the mainstream, and political and cultural sympathy with the author's positions. In all these dimensions, Amitav Ghosh denotes outstanding political courage, authenticity of points of view and great literary skill and argumentative imagination.

The above quotes are intended to suggest that the concern is broader and older than might first appear. The essay genre and, as emphasized by Amitav Ghosh, the literary genre, addressing the worrying climate change represents one of the fronts of awareness and combat in this territory of political and economic forces, which reconstitute these authors, each in its own way and complementary. The new era of the world is one of decreasing expectations, of the horizon of catastrophes, but, as Amitav Ghosh makes clear, “from this struggle will be born a generation that will be able to look at the world with more clarity than we do; who will be able to transcend the isolation in which humanity found itself imprisoned in the era of its great folly” (p. 174). After all, “the revolution makes good weather”, as we bet with Guy Debord. And after reading this admirable book, we are even more confident in the idea that he is absolutely right.

*Denilson Cordeiro Professor of Philosophy at Unifesp, at the Department of Exact and Earth Sciences, Diadema campus.


Amitav Ghosh. The great folly: climate change and the unthinkable. Translation: Renato Prelorentzou. São Paulo, Quina editora, 2022, 216 pages.


[I] It is historically undeniable that there was a military victory for the Allies in the Second World War, but the question is raised here in the sense of the survival of the perspectives and the Nazi ideological axis.

The site the earth is round exists thanks to our readers and supporters. Help us keep this idea going.
Click here and find how

See this link for all articles


  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • Impasses and solutions for the political momentjose dirceu 12/06/2024 By JOSÉ DIRCEU: The development program must be the basis of a political commitment from the democratic front
  • Strengthen PROIFESclassroom 54mf 15/06/2024 By GIL VICENTE REIS DE FIGUEIREDO: The attempt to cancel PROIFES and, at the same time, turn a blind eye to the errors of ANDES management is a disservice to the construction of a new representation scenario
  • Introduction to “Capital” by Karl Marxred triangular culture 02/06/2024 By ELEUTÉRIO FS PRADO: Commentary on the book by Michael Heinrich
  • Hélio Pellegrino, 100 years oldHelio Pellegrino 14/06/2024 By FERNANDA CANAVÊZ & FERNANDA PACHECO-FERREIRA: In the vast elaboration of the psychoanalyst and writer, there is still an aspect little explored: the class struggle in psychoanalysis
  • The strike at federal Universities and Institutescorridor glazing 01/06/2024 By ROBERTO LEHER: The government disconnects from its effective social base by removing those who fought against Jair Bolsonaro from the political table
  • Volodymyr Zelensky's trapstar wars 15/06/2024 By HUGO DIONÍSIO: Whether Zelensky gets his glass full – the US entry into the war – or his glass half full – Europe’s entry into the war – either solution is devastating for our lives
  • PEC-65: independence or patrimonialism in the Central Bank?Campos Neto Trojan Horse 17/06/2024 By PEDRO PAULO ZAHLUTH BASTOS: What Roberto Campos Neto proposes is the constitutional amendment of free lunch for the future elite of the Central Bank