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Abstract

This essay examines Craig Childs’ use of paradox as a key rhetorical device to represent the deserts of the American Southwest as depicted primarily in The Secret Knowledge of Water (2000). To understand how Childs employs this device, I draw upon the pragmatic rhetorical tradition and ecocriticism’s materialist turn to show how scientific and poetic discourses, as well as the desert’s agency, create a physical and philosophical contact zone, one where the reader confronts the borders that mark epistemological systems, divisions between the human and the nonhuman, and the discursive and disciplinary strategies and positions used to evoke the mystery and wonder of these regions. Reading The Secret Knowledge of Water through these lenses encourages us to rethink our relationships with aridity and the vast spectrum of matter (human and nonhuman alike) shaped by this reality with the broader goal of identifying how we might more effectively imagine and enact bioregional habitation.

Author Biography

Paul Formisano is an Assistant Professor and the Director of Writing at the University of South Dakota, where he teaches courses in Western American literature, ecocriticism, and composition. His research focuses on water issues and their literary and rhetorical production. He is currently working on a manuscript about marginalized discourses of the Colorado River Basin and a co-edited collection on the literature of dams.

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