Ecocriticism and the Idea of Culture: Biology and the Bildungsroman

Ecocriticism and the Idea of Culture: Biology and the Bildungsroman

Helena Feder

Language: English

Pages: 188

ISBN: 140940157X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Ecocriticism and the Idea of Culture: Biology and the Bildungsroman draws on work by Kinji Imanishi, Frans de Waal, and other biologists to create an interdisciplinary, materialist notion of culture for ecocritical analysis. In this timely intervention, Feder examines the humanist idea of culture by taking a fresh look at the stories it explicitly tells about itself. These stories fall into the genre of the Bildungsroman, the tale of individual acculturation that participates in the myth of its complete separation from and opposition to nature which, Feder argues, is culture’s own origin story. Moving from Voltaire’s Candide to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and from Virginia Woolf’s Orlando to Jamaica Kincaid’s Lucy, the book dramatizes humanism’s own awareness of the fallacy of this foundational binary. In the final chapters, Feder examines the discourse of animality at work in this narrative as a humanist fantasy about empathy, one that paradoxically excludes other animals from the ethical community to justify the continued domination of both human and nonhuman others.

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1997. 26–38. Print. Botting, Fred. “Reflections of Excess: Frankenstein, the French Revolution, and Monstrosity.” Frankenstein. Ed. Johanna M. Smith. Boston: Bedford. 2000. 435–49. Print. Bowie, Malcolm. “Freud and the Art of Biography.” Mapping Lives: The Uses of Biography. Ed. Peter France and William St. Clair. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002. 177–92. Print. Bradbury, Malcolm, and James McFarlane, eds. Modernism: 1890–1930. New York: Penguin, 1976. Print. ———. The Social Context of Modern English

happy life; and the least hurtful, or rather the most beneficial profession of any” (45). As Ecocriticism and the Idea of Culture 60 Anne K. Mellor argues, Elizabeth’s plan for Ernest demonstrates a commitment to an ethic of mutual dependence and cooperation (“Possessing” 284). Far from viewing the world as empty, Elizabeth sees the world as a presence. Unlike Victor, Elizabeth seems to desire harmony with nature rather than the pursuit of nature “to her hiding places” (36). For this reason,

characterizes them as the repository of an awesome transcendence. There is a similar dynamic with the many bodies of water in the novel, from Lake Leman to the North Sea and the Arctic Ocean. However, in the case of water, it is Walton, and not Victor, who frames the reader’s experience, painting the Arctic as sublime. Here Robert describes Victor’s reaction to the Arctic landscape: “Even broken spirited as he is, no one can feel more deeply than he does the beauties of nature. The starry sky,

Over two hundred years later Lucy, a young woman from Antigua3 working in the United States (the title character of Jamaica Kincaid’s Bildungsroman Lucy), contemplates the connection between sugar, freedom, and slavery: Paul had wanted to show me an old mansion in ruins, formerly the home of a man who had made a great deal of money in the part of the world that I was from, in the sugar industry. … As we drove along, Paul spoke of the great explorers who had crossed great the seas, not only to

animals in the course of experiments. Rather, the sadism is the organizer of the narrative plot and part of the material apparatus for the cultural production of meanings; sadism is about meanings produced by particular structures of vision, not about pain” (233). In Primate Visions, Haraway suggests that Western primatology as a whole has the quality of “travel and quest literature” (251). 23 For example, his work on mirror neurons (as they form part of Baron-Cohen’s neurological “empathy

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