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Title: The Ecological Uncanny: Estranging Literary Landscapes in Twentieth-Century Narrative Fiction
Authors: Eggan, Taylor A.
Advisors: Gikandi, Simon
Contributors: English Department
Keywords: Ecology
Farm novel
Speculative realism
Subjects: Modern literature
Environmental philosophy
Issue Date: 2017
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Contemporary ecological philosophy is homesick. It longs for a return to the natural world, to the sustainable practices of bygone eras, and to our embodied, perceiving selves. In plotting a course for this homecoming, however, ecophilosophy ignores the paradoxical way in which, following Freud, our “home” in the natural world necessarily houses the unhomely (das Unheimliche) within itself. In The Ecological Uncanny, I open this paradox to investigation by rethinking the status of homeliness in contemporary ecological thought. I do this within the context of narrative fiction, where I pit the active presence of landscape description against the unsettling obscurity of ecological realism. In narrative, landscape names a descriptive practice that actively gathers otherwise unfamiliar space into a safe and comforting place for the viewing subject. Landscape description therefore invokes a narrative power that organizes a world around the subject and brings her home to her most primordial sense of self. This focalizing power constitutes landscape’s “homely metaphysics.” Ecology, by contrast, refers to something essentially virtual and hence unrepresentable. Because it cannot appear directly, ecology emerges negatively as a concealed presence, warping landscape’s homely metaphysics with an unhomely realism. This realism forms the basis for what I call the ecological uncanny: the defamiliarization of the natural world that arises from our repressed sense that “Nature” lies absolutely beyond the horizon of human knowledge and perception. Because the ecological uncanny draws attention to human finitude, it invokes fear of the unknown. Taken to its extreme, this fear sponsors apocalyptic visions of the world’s end. If landscape functions as a worlding figure that consolidates a human dwelling place, then the ecological uncanny actively, even violently, unworlds the home gathered by landscape. Close attention to such apocalyptic visions leads away from ecological theories that privilege human agency (ethics, activism), and instead demonstrates the need for a radical posthumanism that democratizes being and affirms all forms of life.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:English

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