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.