From the acclaimed author of the novel Oval comes a book of “fan nonfiction” about living and writing in the age of extinction
In this constellation of essays, Elvia Wilk asks what kinds of narratives will help us rethink our human perspective toward Earth. The book begins as an exploration of the role of fiction today and becomes a deep interrogation of the writing process and the self.
Wilk examines creative works across time and genre in order to break down binaries between dystopia and utopia, real and imagined, self and world. She makes connections between works by such wide-ranging writers as Mark Fisher, Karen Russell, Han Kang, Doris Lessing, Anne Carson, Octavia E. Butler, Michelle Tea, Helen Phillips, Kathe Koja, Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, and Hildegard von Bingen.
What happens when research becomes personal, when the observer breaks through the glass? Through the eye of the fan, this collection delves into literal and literary world-building projects—medieval monasteries, solarpunk futures, vampire role plays, environments devoid of humans—bridging the micro and the macro and revealing how our relationship to narrative shapes our relationships to the natural world and to one another.
Praise for Death by Landscape
“Erotics of compost, vampires, medieval nuns, and solarpunk. Wilk’s ‘fan nonfiction,’ examines the works of Anne Carson, Octavia Butler, Michelle Tea, and more to probe the lines and shapes of ‘weird fiction’ in the face of extinction and all its urgency and anxieties. At the heart of it are questions of how to tell stories that center the Earth as opposed to humans, that help us grapple with the end of the world, and that help us see and be with the dark of it all.” —Snigdha Koirala, Lit Hub, One of the Most Anticipated Books of the Year
“Perhaps ‘essays’ is too slight a description for Death by Landscape, which strikes me as the stealth memoir of a supertaster of the present moment—a citizen of our suffering species who has chosen storytelling as her armor for survival. Whatever you call it, Wilk’s book strengthens me to go on with the essential work, and makes me awfully eager for her next.” —Jonathan Lethem
“This book is amazing. It brought me back to sanity, space, and language.” —Jenny Hval, author of Paradise Rot and Girls Against God
“Elvia Wilk is one of the most exciting essayists working today. I love this book.” —Catherine Lacey, author of Pew
“It’s rare to come across an essay collection that veers so far into the wilds of weirdness, only to return from these distant outposts with something so deeply honest, vulnerable, and close. Wilk is a writer of exceptional talent, but it is the sheer scale and scope of her curiosity that makes these essays not only unforgettable but intellectually rearranging. Death by Landscape pulls off a wondrous bit of alchemy—it takes what might otherwise be terminus ideas, sites of conclusion, and transforms them into conduits of passage, a way of reassessing what it means to be human in this age of endless unmooring.” —Omar El Akkad, author of What Strange Paradise and American War
“Elvia Wilk’s brilliant interlinked essays show why fiction matters in a time of climate catastrophe, species devastation, and radical inequality. From the old weird to the new, sci-fi to cli-fi, medieval women’s mysticism to larps, Wilk gives us a roadmap through unfamiliar pasts and unsettling presents, pointing toward unpredictable futures that fiction—in its multiple, shifting, compostable forms—enables us to imagine. Treading the fine, impossible line between dystopia and utopia, between trauma, its repetition, and its working through, Wilk doesn’t pretend fiction can fix everything, but she does insist—and she shows—that the effects of fiction ‘are myriad small explosions with far-reaching fragments,’ fragments that help us grapple with what life means and how best to live it while we can.” —Amy Hollywood, author of Acute Melancholia
“I love these weird essays. They do best what weirdness always wants to do: defamiliarize the world around us so that we may better see where we’ve ended up, where we might be going, and who—or what—has been chasing after us all this time. Weirdness, Elvia Wilk writes, ‘provides a sort of methodology for reading stories that lead toward the black hole.’ The stuff (places, people, things) that resists description, challenges our fictions and non-fictions. A black hole is impossible to enter without warping your reality, death beyond death: Wilk scrapes the event horizon and gazes at last into the spooky abyss.” —Andrew Durbin, author of Skyland and MacArthur Park
“Elvia Wilk has written a guidebook and a philosophy for living in a precarious world, in essays that are searching and funny, self-assured and unguarded all at once. With each chapter Wilk directs her telescopic focus on plants and rot, mysticism and black holes, female embodiment and trauma, weaving together seemingly disparate topics with an intelligence that recalls the best of Mark Fisher and Wayne Koestenbaum. Reading Death by Landscape, I feel terrified and exalted, expanded, in awe.” —Madeleine Watts, author of The Inland Sea
“Elvia Wilk is that cool person I want to hang out with at the end of the world. Too smart to despair and too curious to not re-examine even the most studied phenomena (nature, trauma, ambition . . .) until they’re no longer familiar and are catching new light. Death by Landscape is expansive, athletic, weird, and funny.” —Britt Wray, author of Generation Dread and Rise of the Necrofauna
“Elvia Wilk’s learned and bracing essays distribute the mind out beyond the stubborn habits and enclosures of our ‘humanities’—out past hack plots or boundaries assigned to gender or species—where it can expand into subsoil or outer space or corpuscle in narratives weird enough to reflect another human/non-human social life.” —Keller Easterling, author of Medium Design and Extrastatecraft
“Wilk reads the world like an insect reads a garden; her approach is sensory and kaleidoscopic, buzzing beyond manicured surfaces to get at the fertile, loamy rot beneath everything from black holes and science fiction dystopias to martyred saints and larpers. Beautifully brainy, bug-eyed, and weird.” —Claire L. Evans, author of Broad Band
“Elvia Wilk reports on psychic borders, the lines drawn between earth and earthling, plant and steward, healthy and sick. She finds false binaries we hadn’t even thought to count and asks the human to find its humanity, gently but without wavering. Brilliant and swift, as she always is.” —Sasha Frere-Jones, musician and writer
“With evocative clarity and intuitive rigor, Elvia Wilk’s Death by Landscape guides us through a troubled terrain criss-crossed by that most uncanny of entities, ‘nature.’ This is writing that uniquely extends the tradition of speculative nonfiction, delineating a new constellation of culture and climate that ultimately points to the nebulous horizon of human being itself.” —Eugene Thacker, author of In the Dust of This Planet and Infinite Resignation
“Elvia Wilk’s Death by Landscape is a vivid panoramic meditation on what subjectivity is and might be in relation to its ecological situations—restless enclosure, benevolent dissolution, immersive subsumption—as seen through the unintended epiphanies of trauma. Placed within her frame is a new zoology of characters speaking but not always being heard: sentient plants, celibate lovers, AI co-authors, gnostic mystics, steampunk ruins, and experiencers of unwanted muscle memory, association and dissociation. Wilk is a generous guide to inner and outer worlds and especially to the points where one bends into the other, willingly or not.” —Benjamin Bratton, University of California, San Diego