Gabriele Dürbeck

Gabriele Dürbeck, Professor of German at Vechta University (semiologies of natural catastrophes)


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“The Good, the Ugly and the Ridicule: Ecologists in Contemporary Literature”

The paper analyses specific characters in contemporary environmental prose. Assuming that environmental literature often depicts rather schematic characters with a steady set of information, this paper is part of a broader attempt to develop a typology of ‘ecologists.’ In particular, the paper addresses the question which characters and role models have the potential to convince the audience and have the potential to become a permanent image. The paper combines ecocritical and narratological perspectives. In narratology, more rounded concepts of character and characterisation have been developed in recent years. According to this approach, characters are entities in the narrated world which are composed of general assumptions about human nature and cultural knowledge. To this, social-ecological relations need to be added.

Distinguishing one-dimensional from multi­dimensional characters the paper analyses a spectrum of narrative strategies for characterisation that stretches from personification, character model (type) and individual character. It explores how personal characteristics result from explicit or implicit attributions, figural schemes as well as situational schemes and how relations between character and reader are constructed. I demonstrate how the conception of characters is orientated toward the reader’s emotional perception (e.g. sympathy/antipathy) and his/her assessment derived from historical, cultural and ecological criteria. Finally, I examine the narrative functions performed by different characters in the context of the two dominant narrative patterns in eco-literature: catastrophic (apocalyptical) rhetoric and risk narrative. In particular, I will discuss the assumption that eco-thriller are driven by action, suspense, a conventional story line and rather schematic characters (often natural scientists) whereas risk narratives often employ more complex diegesis with more differentiated characters.