The Ecological Uncanny: Estranging Literary Landscapes in Twentieth-Century Narrative Fiction (Princeton University, Department of English, June 2017)
Abstract: The Ecological Uncanny rethinks ecology for a posthuman era. Drawing on a wide range of critical paradigms (phenomenology, narrative theory, postcolonialism, ecocritique, and speculative realism) and engaging with a diverse selection of twentieth-century writers (Martin Heidegger, Willa Cather, D. H. Lawrence, and southern African “farm novelists” including Olive Schreiner, Doris Lessing, and J. M. Coetzee), this project posits landscape and ecology as two sides of the problem of representation. I situate this problem in the context of narrative fiction, where “landscape” names a descriptive practice that gathers otherwise unfamiliar space into the viewing subject’s own particular beloved place. This defines what I call landscape’s “homely metaphysics.” By contrast, “ecology” refers to something essentially virtual, and hence unrepresentable as such. Because it cannot appear directly, ecology emerges “negatively” as a haunting presence that dismantles landscape’s homely metaphysics from within. Thinking ecology as an uncanny and potentially terrifying, ugly, or destructive force entails dismantling the intrinsic link contemporary ecological thought has fashioned between ethics and aesthetics. In the face of ecology’s phenomenal and conceptual invisibility, ecological thinking must develop more “speculative” modes of inquiry that grope, however blindly, into the strange universe of things.
Advisors: Simon Gikandi, Maria DiBattista, and Wendy Laura Belcher.
I am currently revising my dissertation in hopes of publishing it as a book, so I cannot make the full text available at present. However, to read a preview (including a longer abstract as well as the prologue and introduction), click here.