文学作品中的自然书写与自然文学(二)

发布时间:2018-03-12 09:13浏览数:3324评论数:0 收藏

瑞典学者Christian Hummelsund Voie的博士论文《人类纪时期的自然文学》(Nature Writing in the Anthropocene)研究当代美国自然文学书写范式转变。Voie博士定义的自然书写指非文学类写作,其特色是描写人与自然环境的关系,其关注点是在人类纪时期自然书写的新特点及新发展。作为《人类纪时期的自然文学》推荐者,斯科特•斯洛维克教授评阅了该论文并参加Voie的博士论文答辩。在《对Christian Hummelsund Voie的〈人类纪时期的自然文学〉思考》一文中斯洛维克教授高度赞扬该论文,认为《人类纪时期的自然文学》对当代生态批评研究做出了贡献。斯洛维克教授指出该论文的贡献之一是归纳总结了当代美国自然书写范式的转变,即从传统自然文学聚焦从人类文明回归荒野或未受破坏的自然环境,强调人类与自然的精神联系,凸显作者对自然赞美,同时交织着对人类破坏自然环境的谴责之情转变为关注在当代有机及非有机动态变化的世界生态系统中更加物质化及实用化理解人类的职责。该论文重点描写人类与受到人类影响的自然环境,即在人类纪人类与自然的冲突。《人类纪时期的自然文学》总结了当代美国自然书写五个特点:即对生态系统作用的科学兴趣,对于物质及其在联系人类与非人类的自然进化过程中的物力论的科学兴趣,关注景观恐惧(landscapes of fear)、自然及人类破坏而带来的灾难(anti-landscapes)以及环境正义。

Scott Slovic   专家简介

Thoughts on Christian Hummelsund Voie’s Nature Writing in the Anthropocene (2017)

by Scott Slovic, University of Idaho, USA

 

I have worked for many years (more than three decades) as a scholar in the field of nature writing studies and, in recent years, in environmental cultural studies and ecocritical theory more broadly. I completed my own Ph.D. dissertation on American nature writing in 1990 (which became the book Seeking Awareness in American Nature Writing in 1992). In November 2017, I traveled to Sundvall, Sweden, to serve as the “opponent” (outside examiner) at the doctoral dissertation defense of Norwegian scholar Christian Hummelsund Voie at Mid Sweden University. What follows is a version of my introductory summary and my concluding thoughts during the doctoral defense.

 

Introductory Summary

 

Christian Hummelsund Voie’s dissertation is titled Nature Writing of the Anthropocene, by which he means particularly nature writing that has emerged in the past two decades or so (mostly in the twenty-first century). Although he retains the term “nature writing” prominently in the title of his project and fiercely defends the ongoing relevance and importance of this genre—nonfiction writing about the relationship between human beings and the natural environment—Voie argues, as he states so clearly in his abstract, that “The traditional narrative of retreat to pristine nature or the wilderness from civilization has … been replaced in Anthropocenic nature writing with the narrative of confrontation with a natural environment impacted by humans” (ii). Early in the thesis, Voie points to ecocritic Ursula Heise’s use of Dutch atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen’s definition of the geological era called the Anthropocene in his 2002 article “The Geology of Mankind,” which she summarizes as “the sum of all environmental havocs humans have wreaked on the planet” (3).

 

Of course it is no secret that humans have always had some impact on the Earth, and this impact has grown in scale and severity as a result of industrialization, but when Crutzen and his colleagues began speaking about this human impact as a quasi-geological force—an earth-changing force—around the year 2000, something profound changed in our appreciation of the human species’s power and responsibility and, indeed, our culpability, for damaging the planet and the many species with whom we share the planet. As Voie puts it in the introduction to his thesis, his project aims to respond to and extend the “recent upsurge of scholarship devoted to exploring, elaborating, complicating, dismissing or replacing the Anthropocene, which has yielded many valuable insights about how nature writers relate to large-scale environmental degradation” (3). To me, this phrase “large-scale environmental degradation” is particularly important, as it helps to justify the kinds of authors and texts Voie focuses on in his project—writers who engage with planetary change on a considerably larger scale than may have been the case with earlier generations of writers.

 

Voie’s thesis begins with an introduction titled “American Nature Writing in the Anthropocene,” in which he surveys some of the key scholarship in the field of nature writing since the 1980s, with a particular focus on the work of such theorists as Timothy Clark, Timothy Morton, and Amitav Ghosh, who have sought very recently to explain and justify the importance of literature and cultural expression more generally during “a period characterized by the irrefutable emergence of nonhuman entities as agents of history” (4), a recognition of the agentic force exerted by living and nonliving beings on the planet and our co-inhabitation of the planet with these other beings. One of the essential points Voie seeks to make about nature writing of the Anthropocene, and perhaps a rather subtle point, has to do with the basic tone—or mood—of such writing. This is a facet of the genre of nature writing that non-specialists might not fully appreciate. The question of tone comes up when Voie discusses Robert Mcfarlane’s treatment of the emergence of celebratory nature writing “at a time when the natural world is conspicuously under threat” and Joe Moran’s suggestion that nature writing highlights the “potential for human meaning-making” in the everyday world, not only our encounters with the grand splendor of wild places and exotic species. Voie distinguishes his views from Macfarlane’s in stating, “The nature writing of the Anthropocene to a greater extent dampens the conventional tendency towards celebration with the environmentalist recognition of human impacts on nature” (12). Voie comfirms Moran’s observation that Anthropocenic nature writers “do not necessarily aim for distant and exotic locations” (12).

 

In addition to his comments on Macfarlane and the “dampening” of the traditional celebratory tone in nature writing, Voie focuses specifically on tone in his section “Rhapsody, Jeremiad, and the Landscape of Fear,” in which he crucially points out that there seems to have been a fundamental shift in recent nature writing away from the more balanced use of celebratory and critical discourse (rhapsody and jeremiad) that I pointed out as a feature of the genre in my 1996 article “Epistemology and Politics in American Nature Writing,” suggesting that present-day nature writing, “nature writing of the Anthropocene,” tilts predominantly toward the jeremiad, toward the warning or critical tone, which is in keeping with the “landscapes of fear” (to use Yi-Fu Tuan’s phrase mentioned on page 16) or the “anti-landscapes” (to use David Nye’s and Sarah Elkind’s more recent term, discussed on pages 17-18) that today’s authors are writing about.

 

The four core chapters of Voie’s thesis are notable, in part, for their careful treatment of works that have in most cases not yet received a great deal of critical attention by ecocritics. The first long chapter focuses on the 2009 book Of Rock and Rivers: Seeking a Sense of Place in the American West , which was written by geomorphologist Ellen Wohl. As Voie explains, Wohl’s work is important for its “attention to the dynamism of matter, which inters the dynamism of landscapes, which in turn infers the dynamism of the planet” (my italics 32). He suggests that Wohl’s sensitivity to the inherent changeability of the physical world supports the plausibility of large-scale human impacts upon the land, the fundamental tenet of anthropocenic thinking. For me, one of the most interesting and important observations Voie makes about Wohl’s deeply scientific work is that it is not neutrally descriptive of ecological processes but also politically engaged, even activist, in its confrontation with the “altered sense of place” (40) required by life in the twenty-first-century American West. I also feel Voie makes a useful contribution to sense of place studies when he emphasizes (on pages 44-45) the “active engagement” required when a writer seeks to attain a true sense of place, not merely the passive absorption of sensations and experience.

 

After treating Wohl’s book that highlights the geophysical dynamism of Western American landscapes, Voie turns to biologist David George Haskell’s 2012 book The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature, in which the author narrows the scope of Wohl’s region-wide attention by looking at a single small patch of “forest floor” (the ground in a forest). Here Voie seizes upon Haskell’s ability to “dignify the overlooked” in order to reach toward a deeper, more scientific ecological understanding. Voie writes: “Evolutionary adaptation and ecosystemic integration are … qualities Anthropocenic nature writing often looks for in its chosen species. In such writing worms, bacteria, and fungi may be of equal, or even superior, narrative interest in the description of a place than for example its apex predators, because they contribute ecosystemic services without which the entire system would collapse” (67). This focus on dignifying seemingly unspectacular species is, of course, the kind of approach a biologist like Haskell would display, but the tendency to look at the everyday and the subtle can be applied by Anthropocenic nature writers to a wide variety of natural phenomena and human-nature relationships. I would actually argue that “dignifying the overlooked” has always been at the heart of the genre of nature writing, certainly in the Thoreauvian tradition.

 

In chapter 3, Voie takes a somewhat different direction in his project, moving from the geomorphologist and the biologist to the Kentucky writer and activist Erik Reece, whose 2006 book Lost Mountain: A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness: Radical Strip Mining and the Devastation of Appalachia is the most overtly politically engaged of the Anthropocenic texts Voie has discussed up to this point (the works in the following chapter, focusing on toxic and hurrican-flooded Louisiana, are also highly political). Reece’s lost mountain (which was actually named Lost Mountain before it became a mining sacrifice zone) is a quintessential landscape of fear, a degraded industrial site that seems unsuitable for traditional nature writing but is the precise kind of place to reveal human impacts on the planet and thus is precisely the kind of landscape we need to be paying attention to in the Anthropocene in order to gauge the meaning of our species’s actions. Here I appreciate, again, how Voie is attuned to the nuances of the writer’s tone, noting at one point that “While rhapsody figures strongly at times in Lost Mountain, it is a receding dynamic that eventually gives way completely to the jeremiad, just as the retreat must surrender to the confrontation with impacts” (102). In justifying Reece’s focus on a “damaged” landscape, Voie turns to ecocritic Rob Nixon, who criticizes the tendency of certain American environmental writers to engage in “spatial amnesia” by “forgetting our complicity in slow violence that wreaks attritional havoc beyond the bioregion or the nation” (108), which is indeed a necessary perspective in the context of coal mining, the process of which may destroy a local place but the product of which will have widespread effects on regions throughout the world.

 

The fourth and final main chapter of the thesis is “The Anthropocenic Landscape of Fear Accelerated in the Nature Writing of Louisiana,” which uses the state of Louisiana, arguably the most polluted state in the United States due to its involvement with the petrochemical industry, as a case study for politically engaged nature writing that addresses what Voie calls “large-scale environmental disasters in the dynamic wetland landscape” (132) and demonstrates the forceful and inevitable shift from rhapsody to jeremiad, from celebration to warning and critique. He argues that “The study of nature writing about Louisiana [during the period when Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred in the early 2000s] provides insights into the overall emergence and development of Anthropocenic awareness in the genre” (134). By focusing on such concepts of human “displacement without moving,” another concept from Rob Nixon’s Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, Voie also suggests that anthropocenic nature writing is very much about human experience and human plight, not only about the more-than-human world, as the contamination and alienation of humans in their home places is an essential part of the Louisiana story. In addressing works ranging from Bill Streever’s Saving Louisiana? The Battle for Coastal Wetlands (2001) and Mike Tidwell’s Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana’s Cajun Coast (2004) to David Gessner’s The Tarball Chronicles (2011) and Bill McKibben’s “Year One of the Next World” (2006), both local nature writers and national luminaries who have been attracted to Louisiana because of its succession of environmental disasters, Voie hints at the emergence of a pervasive new movement of post-natural, anti-pristine, jeremiadic nature writing that is, for better or worse, ideally suited to the world we have made for ourselves.

 

At this point, I would like to allow Christian to chime in with any comments or additions he would like to add, and then I will proceed with some of the questions I’ve come up with for him.

 

Concluding Thoughts

 

In his chapter on Ellen Wohl, Voie offers a lengthy digression in which he challenges ecocritic Dana Phillips for dismissing the entire genre of nature writing in his 2003 book The Truth of Ecology for being outmoded and inaccurate in its representation of present-day nature. Phillips criticizes nature writing for celebrating “intact places” (36) at a time when landscapes are rapidly changing and, in many cases, degrading. Voie proceeds to state that “Of Rock and Rivers proves that the wholesale dismissal of nature writing as a genre ignorant of its own times is specious, or at least premature. Phillips’ criticism,” he writes, “has had an enduring influence on ecocritical thought regarding nature writing, and it therefore seems incumbant to point out that the bibliography for his critique of nature writing is highly selective. His selection of source texts proves that he has not looked very hard or far outside the most popular items for texts that might disprove or moderate his assault on the genre” (36). I would state that one of the most important contributions of Voie’s project is the way that he has indeed identified powerful literary works that clearly reinforce the potency of the genre of nature writing during a time of ecological change. Wohl, Haskell, Reece, and the various writers—Streever, Tidwell, Gomez, McPhee, Gessner, McKibben, Williams, and others—mentioned in the Louisiana chapter of the thesis clearly indicate that nature writing is far from dead or passé