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Department of English, NTNU


This paper argues that Karen Tei Yamashita’s novel Tropic of Orange (1997) provides a prescient, Anthropocene vision of the city. The idea of the Anthropocene—a geological epoch dominated by human-driven changes to the environment—blurs tidy distinctions between the human and the natural. But literary and ecocritical depictions of the city have frequently relied on such categories, imagining the city as a distinctly unnatural space. Tropic of Orange offers an alternative urban vision, depicting Los Angeles as a complex ecological space, shaped both by material histories and by unjust social systems. The novel uses magical realist elements to reverse what Jean and John L. Comaroff have described as the “occult economies” of globalization, making the material elements of global exchange visible as they move through the city. Similarly, magical events draw together crowds of people, living and dead, who have been integrated into the city’s economy, making the human element of the city’s impact visible as well. By materializing the human and ecological networks that support the city, and by rejecting traditionally escapist and pastoral visions of the natural world, Tropic of Orange offers a complex vision of the city as a sociomaterial ecosystem. While the novel does not offer a fully-formed alternative urban vision, it does provide a cautionary tale about what will happen if we do not accept the fundamental challenges that the Anthropocene provides to conventional understandings of nature, ecology, and human responsibility.