Sabine Frost

Sabine Frost, Post-doctoral Scholar, Universität Erfurt / University of Washington



Friends of Nature. Enemies of Man

Environmental Critique of Civilization in Literature

The study analyzes texts that expose the relation between man and the en­vi­ron­ment since the end of the eighteenth century in Western Europe and North America. My focus is on the turn from a critique of environmentally harmful economic and social systems to an anti-humanistic critique of civilization itself. The tendency of the en­­viron­mental protection movements, which began to establish themselves around 1800, to separate the perception of nature from its capacity to fulfill human re­quire­ments is related to the literary aim of renouncing pur­posive rationality and giving poetry itself an aesthetic value. My thesis is based on the structural relation between biocentrism, which declares nature’s intrinsic value, and the autonomy of literature.

In the analysis of the literary texts several thematic aspects are emphasized, for example, the re­lationship between man and animals or utopian and dystopian visions of the future that discuss overpopulation, climate change, or problems such as the uncontrolled in­de­pendent existence of machines or genetically manipulated nature. The study also con­­si­ders texts that not only critique anthropocentrism but develop alternatives. Cen­tral to my study therefore, is the literary examination of radical biocentric positions and the discussion of whether they are necessary for a new perspective on nature or per­­cept as an ‘eco-terroristic’ threat.

The analysis of the texts follows two different questions: first, the tropological ques­tion of the rhetorics of ecological discourse and second, a discursive question per­taining to the constitution of (proto-)ecological knowledge. The study asks how know­ledge about nature, along with its moral implications, is manifested in lite­rature, and how a critical attitude towards men develops therefrom. In particular, I fore­ground the question of how literary forms of knowledge participate in the estab­lish­ment of the ecological discourse. Therefore, texts in the contexts of life sciences, phi­lo­sophy, sociology, and economics will complete the study’s text corpus and will be re­lated to the literary writings. My research considers why literature is intended to have a special approach to nature, despite the fact that it is inevitably an­thro­po­cen­tric, and also whether literature is specifically related to nature and generates a know­ledge about it that is not accessible for the knowledge systems.