From Murmuring to Muttering: Anthropocene River Narratives (1798-2009)


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PhD thesis: a PhD thesis.
From Murmuring to Muttering: Anthropocene River Narratives (1798-2009)
Nisbet Rachel
Falconer Rachel
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Université de Lausanne, Faculté des lettres
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The present thesis contributes to the fields of ecopoetics and environmental literary studies. It compares five river narratives, written during the period of 1798 — 2009, consideringthem as Anthropocene texts. Thus, it takes a deep-time perspective, regarding literary fiction as being capable of responding to the socio-environmental conséquences of Britain's Industrial Révolution and its subséquent adoption of industrial capitalism. Comparable socio-economic developments on a global scale have led to the Great Accélération of human activity influencing biogeochemical cycles and biodiversity since 1950. Framed by this Anthropocene context, this thesis proposes that William Wordsworth's autobiographical poem The Préludé, George Eliot's last novel Daniel Deronda, James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, and Alice Oswald's book-length poems Dart and A Sleepwalk on the Severn counter the development of a profit-driven, individualistic society, by cultivating an attitude of attentive listening to a living-whole.
Given that the Anthropocene is a complex idea, which requires considération from various perspectives, and that the historié context of each writer needs to be engaged within such a transhistorical study, an interdisciplinary methodology is adopted in the present thesis. This principally combines ecophenomenology and environmental virtue ethics, whilst also incorporating theoretical frameworks from ecocriticism, literary formalism, geology, environmental history, geography, and psychology.
The following commonalities are observed between the above-mentioned texts. First, each of them dramatizes a phronimos, which Brian Treanor defines as a man or woman of practical wisdom, who guides the reader in a practice of responsive listening, designed to create mutually sustaining relations and nurture a protean living-whole. Second, each text, except A Sleepwalk, adopts the Georgics' device of a protean river-voice to offer ethical council in a time of social or environmental crisis. Like Vergil's Georgics, a didactic text teaching how Roman society should cultivate crops, wine, livestock, and honey for the equal benefit ail its members, the texts under considération also seek to cultivate equitable, résilient communities joined in common labour. Ail the texts train an attentive listening to a pre-linguistic riverine voice to offer ethical council. This training does not occur predominately at the semantic level, however; it is also the formai properties of the texts under question that finesse the reader's listening ability.
While ail the texts under considération develop a listening attention, the style of listening differs between them. The Préludé dramatizes an intercursus between the poet and the 'soul of things', audible in the local River Derwent. This intercursus adopts the panentheistic philosophy of Lord Shaftesbury. Daniel Deronda involves a sympathetic, listening intercursus across a river- like vibrant Cosmical médium figured by the Thames, which can unité communities that share a common moral framework. Finnegans Wake involves an active listening feedback system in which the babbling river-language of Anna Livia Plurabelle is echoed in the Wake's playful prose, which trains the reader's ability to listen to their unconscious babble, potentially countering the material excesses their unconscious drives can entail. Since unchecked human urges are detrimental to the living-whole nurtured by the river-woman Anna Livia, she is reactive, rising up to counter them. Her actions initiate a listening recursus between people and the river. In Oswald's poem Dart, the nurturing, life-giving body of the River Dart is similarly reactive. The river mutters as its waters are polluted, offering a warning; yet it still acts as a wonderous, life- giving body or water-khôra. Finally, the Severn Estuary in A Sleepwalk is dramatized as a dynamic water-khôra influenced by cosmic forces; within this complex, protean system everything listens in a web of complex feedbacks. In sum: each of these river narratives trains a listening practice that is responsive to a complex, protean living-whole.

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31/01/2019 12:33
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