Literature, Culture, Environment: An Introduction to Ecocriticism

Presenting person: Prof. Dr. Sylvia Mayer, American Studies and Intercultural Anglophone Studies, BIFAS, University of Bayreuth (Homepage)
Th. 2013-12-12

Since the 1990s, the field of ecocriticism – environmentally oriented literary and cultural studies – has emerged within the larger domain of what is now emerging as the field of the “environmental humanities.” Addressing fundamental questions concerning the relationship between human thought, language and the environment, ecocriticism studies products of the imagination: fictional texts such as novels and fiction films as well as non-fictional texts such as nature documentaries. Ecocriticism assumes that such texts have over time contributed to shaping our knowledge about and attitude to the natural world, and that they have explored the political, economic, and ethical dimensions of human-nature interactions.

Alongside other environmental humanities disciplines such as environmental history and environmental philosophy, ecocriticism claims that only the inclusion of knowledge produced by these disciplines ensures a comprehensive, and ultimately more successful, understanding of, for instance, current environmental threats. Knowledge created by the various disciplines of the sciences is undoubtedly crucial for recognizing and dealing with such threats, but it does not locate environmental problems within their larger historical, societal, and cultural settings.

The presentation will, first, provide a short introduction to the central premises and questions of ecocriticism. It will briefly outline what role language, literature, and film have played in representing and constructing concepts of nature, culture, and the human in Western culture. It will then, secondly, make ecocritical work concrete by focusing on the example of current literary and film representations of the issue of climate change.
As an American Studies scholar, I will focus on novels and films created in the United States. Among the texts addressed will therefore be the novels Flight Behavior (2012) by Barbara Kingsolver and the Science in the Capital trilogy – Forty Signs of Rain (2004), Fifty Degrees Below (2005) and Sixty Days and Counting (2007) – by Kim Stanley Robinson as well as the Hollywood blockbuster movie The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and the documentary An Inconvenient Truth (2006).

 



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