ASLE’s Scholar of the Month for June 2022 is Cara Judea Alhadeff.
Dr. Cara Judea Alhadeff is former professor of critical philosophy and corporeal politics at University of California, Santa Cruz, and is currently an independent scholar and eco-justice performance artist. She is the author of the critically-acclaimed Zazu Dreams: Between the Scarab and the Dung Beetle, A Cautionary Fable for the Anthropocene Era (Eifrig Publishing, 2017) and Viscous Expectations: Justice, Vulnerability, The Ob-scene (Penn State University Press, 2014), as well as numerous essays on environmental justice, greenwashing, petrocultures, art, sexuality, and ethnic and critical refugee studies. Alhadeff and her family live in their eco-art installation repurposed schoolbus where they perform and teach creative-zero-waste living, social permaculture, and cultural diversity. (carajudea.com / zazudreams.com / carajudeaalhadeff.com)
How did you become interested in studying ecocriticism and/or the environmental humanities?
As a Sephardic child, I learned through my cellular consciousness how fossil-fuel addicted, industrial-capitalist society metabolizes the unfamiliar, the unknown—how difference is anathema to our culture. Corporeally and cognitively, I understood how objects and people are too often categorized as “waste;” and, how these “disposable” and “replaceable” “others” are absorbed into convenience-culture economies. Growing up in biologically diverse rural environments, but inflicted with omnipresent anti-Semitism and racism, I have always chosen to live life through an understanding of contradiction and interrelationality. I have found that this kind of embodiment that dismantles artificial categories separating our intimate experiences from public life is integral to the environmental humanities. I live these intricacies of biodiversity and cultural diversity as inseparable.
My ardent commitment to interdisciplinary coalition building, alternative economies, and confronting the interconnected roots of our humanitarian and ecological crises are all intrinsic to my daily-life choices that not only study but embody ecocriticism. For over 30 years, I have committed to decolonized economies by living a primarily barter-economy and never owning a car, smart phone, or credit card. I am committed to minimal (almost zero) consumption and zero-waste (my family and my home reuse all by-products). As a woman of color, a minority within a minority, it is exhilarating to be practicing my eco-critical ethics in the way I raise my eleven-year old son, Zazu (born at home and unassisted on my 40th birthday). I attempt to live the environmental humanities with as much integrity as possible. While working on ecovillages across the world, I have found that my lifestyle, passions, and academic research were on the margins of the margins. In response, I teach, perform, parent, and live the implications of establishing infrastructures that support transdisciplinary awareness and action/theory and practice. My rich experiences with ASLE over the past years have led to fertile pedagogical collaborations—demanding intellectual, spiritual, and creative risk taking.
Who is your favorite environmental artist, writer, or filmmaker? Or what is your favorite environmental text? Why?
Because of her combination of personal-political intimacy, her sense of love, and her relentless political imagination, Arundhati Roy is one of my many favorites. Deeply grounded in literature, politics, and philosophy, Roy compels us to creatively and collectively challenge the imbricated complexities of environmental racism and ethnocentrism. She guides us from solipsistic complicity to collective agency—what Karen Barad would call “agential realism,” interspecies collaborative processes that invite becoming intimate, becoming animate. This ability to respond (responsibility in the context of Donna Haraway, Camila Marambio and Cecilia Vicuña) offers the opportunity of being fully alive.
In Roy’s The Cost of Living, she writes, “All we can do is to change [history’s] course by encouraging what we love instead of destroying what we don’t.” She provokes us to take action. Psychologically and economically, the myth of scarcity obliterates the possibility of love. Scarcity-addiction is one of the most vile, avoidable plagues of contemporary society. Globally and locally, redistribution is a vital, communal response to our consumption/disposal-obsessed societies. Every day, I am reminded of Agnes Vardas’ Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse [The Gleaners & I], a film that offers a remarkable exploration of the socio-economic, aesthetic, and communal vitality of gleaning and its concomitant social prohibitions. Varda’s peregrinations are reminiscent of Roy’s commitment to Indigenous wisdoms. Both Roy and Varda are polymaths who combine atavistic memory, waste-resistance, and social protest through individual and collective action.
What are you currently working on?
I am delighted to be collaborating with Báyo Akomoláfé on his course We Will Dance with Mountains. We are integrating text and image from Zazu Dreams: Between the Scarab and the Dung Beetle, A Cautionary Fable for the Anthropocene Era, my speculative-fiction, cross-cultural, climate-justice book endorsed by Noam Chomsky, Paul Hawken, Stephanie Seneff, David Orr, Rabbi Lerner, Claire Colebrook, Eve Ensler, James E. Hansen, and Arun Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson), among other activists, scientists, and scholars.
Báyo and I are also in the process of adapting Zazu Dreams into a musical theater production (stage and screen). I am particularly interested in the fusion of joy and critique; redefining resiliency in the context of play, vulnerability, and intuition. This cinematization of radical interdependency will offer symbiotic solutions as we transition from our extractive petroleum-pharmaceutical-addicted cyber-culture to regenerative ecological spiritualities. Additionally, last year, I received a grant from ASLE to translate Zazu Dreams into Spanish. It is now fully translated. I would love to hear if anyone has suggestions for Spanish, Latin American, or Catalonian publishers who might be interested.
Over the past few years, my research has been censored because of my critique of so-called “renewable” energies. Questioning perceived solutions to climate chaos is an unpopular position. For over half a century, climate-crisis deliberation has focused on consumer distractions: counter-productive institutional Band-Aids and unreliable technological fixes. I challenge this greenwashing by confronting industrial-waste and consumer-convenience culture through my written and visual work and my personal daily commitments. My current research explores our complicity with ostensible “renewable” energies and the “green” economy—greenwashing as eco-capitalist strategies. I challenge how such consumer-habituated obedience sustains the status quo through environmental racism in the United States and green colonialism throughout the Global South. I am in the process of assembling a counter-greenwashing and petro-pharmaculture anthology—a compendium of critical and spiritual ecologies. In the context of greenwashing and the green economy, these diverse petromedias explore cross-cultural, regenerative responses to socio-ecological byproducts of “waste” (the intersection of disposability and the illusion of equality/neutrality). Here is one of my video-lecture examples: Ecozoic Resiliency: Antidotes to Greenwashing-Induced Environmental Racism. “Consumer-reduction” is an unpopular approach to environmental crises because it falsely implies sacrifice. I contend that the alternative to convenience-culture is not inconvenience. My personal-political, pedagogical-performance projects are not about “energy-shaming” but rather attempt to help establish positive feedback loops that encourage us to recognize, reevaluate, and replace our habits with behaviors that generate mutual benefits for the health of all of our human and nonhuman bodies and communities.
I have intimately experienced what happens when those in power disagree with dissenting voices—manipulating the concepts of equality and the greater good to justify stripping civil liberties while eradicating possibilities for debate and mutual learning (i.e., censorship based on difference). It is clear I need to pursue these apparently threatening positions even more vigorously. I confront such destructive normalizing hegemonies by incorporating my frequently censored color analog photographs into my various pedagogical projects that demonstrate the vulnerability of the body as a strategy for ecosocial justice. As an antidote to pervasive fatalistic climate-crisis data, I highlight how we can learn from local nonhuman ecosystems and cross-cultural models while embodying beauty in order to co-create symbiotic communities. By blurring the distinction between the synthetic and the “natural,” my images explore visual narratives to catalyze collective action for cultural biomimicry.
During this Shmita year of “letting go” in Jewish traditions, I am attempting to use my written, photographic/video, performance, and collaborative work to provoke dialogue and action among peoples and communities from very different cultural backgrounds. With support from FEMA’s “ArtWorks: Communicating the Value of Mitigation through the Arts” Initiative and the Infrathin Congress, my public art project includes an installation of several photography-performance videos compiled into a Surrealist montage in conjunction with my eco-action initiative, S.O.U.L. (Shared, Opportunity, Used, Local): monthly programming that encourages a collective, interfaith practice of environmental justice and community action through bioregional/watershed consciousness. Supporting equity and justice while developing resilient communities through spiritual intelligence, I am helping to develop local infrastructures that promote regenerative ecological and human health, enact reparative justice, and support local food and farming, arts, and resource use. This includes “performing” various narratives from Viscous Expectations: Justice, Vulnerability, The Ob-scene, my interdisciplinary, critical philosophy book. Some examples include: http://www.cara.zazudreams.com/video-lectures/
What is something you are reading right now (environmental humanities-related or otherwise) that inspires you, either personally or professionally? Comment briefly on why or how it inspires you.
What and how I read directly reflects how my personal-professional worlds have always nourished and provoked one another—my private life is relentlessly public, my personal unwaveringly political. If I am not reading and sharing about seven books simultaneously (through writing, performance, or other forms of activist education), then I am not fulfilling my responsibility to being fully alive. Right now I am weaving: An Ecotopian Lexicon, Ecological and Social Healing: Multicultural Women’s Voices, Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind, Vanessa Nakate’s A Bigger Picture: My Fight to Bring a New African Voice to the Climate Crisis, Oliver Sachs’ An Anthropologist on Mars, Rebecca Burgess’ Fibershed: Growing a Movement of Farmers, Fashion Activists, and Makers for a New Textile Economy, Yaa Gyasi’s Homecoming, and Tyson Yunkaporta’s Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World. For me, the vitality of the intersection among these books emerges from a common imperative to decolonize the very concept of “equality,” how to disrupt our neurologically-sustained habituated obedience—another manifestation of internalized fascism (Foucault) that perpetuates humanitarian abuses and ecological devastation implicit in linear Western civilization. Additionally, memoir-intersecting-with-manifesto is integral to the animation of these texts.
Over the past couple of years with Mother Pelican, Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability, I have published my “Boycott Civilization” series: monthly articles on social permaculture-as-pluriverse, biomimicry/interspecies co-evolution, and internalized fascism (such as what I identify as “petroleum parenting”—the commercialization of childhood through parents’ addiction to plastics and other toxic, taken-for-granted petroleum products and petroculture-addicted lifestyles). Reflecting the social critique and polymath moral imagination of the authors I mention above, I am consolidating my essays into my new interdisciplinary book, Becoming Trickster. The core of this material attempts to uproot middle-class standard of living that depends on toxic systems and the exploited labor of others. How can we live our lives without sacrificing the lives of others? How can we transition from our petroleum and pharmaceutical-addicted cyber-culture to a circular, localized economics rooted in symbiotic relationships? How can we decolonize our thinking (Eduardo Kohn) by learning from ancestral teachings and biomimicry? I explore how these earth technologies can guide us to establish eco-regenerative infrastructures.
Is there a scholar in the field who inspires you? Why?
As an undergrad at Sarah Lawrence College in the early 1990s, I was introduced to Vandana Shiva’s writing and activism—her extraordinarily potent chapter on “Resources” in Wolfgang Sachs’ The Development Dictionary: A Guide to Knowledge and Power. She reminds us that the concept of “resources” is rooted in the rhetoric of imperialist-driven anthropocentric progress. Neoliberal, racial capitalism converts living communities into dead commodities and dead commodities into private wealth. Thirty-plus years later, Shiva’s radical integrity and unrelenting passion offers a model for fearlessness. Her voice, like that of Wangari Muta Maathai in the 2009 documentary Dirt!, unflinchingly scrutinizes the interconnectedness between individual empowerment and corporate accountability. They nourish a sense of connection and mutual respect that is too often missing in activist/scholar circles. Vulnerability becomes a strength. Consumed by my compulsion to speak out about inextricable relationships between exiling “the other” and harming the natural worlds in which we live, Shiva’s voice continually buttresses my own. Another physicist who I cannot resist including here is Karen Barad. Emotionally and intellectually expansive, Barad, like Shiva, writes through a poetic urgency. (Barad is among the artists, scholars, scientists, and activists who endorsed my cross-cultural, climate justice book Zazu Dreams.)
Although I am haunted by the horrors of our insidious and explicit techno-utopic race into a robotic future, through the example of these scholars, I cling tenaciously to the possibility that we can shift our self-destructive complicity that sustains ravaging anthropogenic environmental racism. I maintain my staunch devotion to collective action that could generate the reciprocity of Ecozoic infrastructures. I am an unusually proactive collaborator—as a cross-disciplinary thinker, unexpected affinities expand the parameters of my own visual, performative, and written pedagogical work. And I would love to be in conversation with others who also find themselves ignited by such devotion. Please reach out to me through email: firstname.lastname@example.org.