Ecoseismology: Writing the Wild in Crisis
Date: 2 January 2014
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
PhD in English
Abstract This thesis represents live and on-going research into the recent literary movement that has been termed ‘the new nature writing’. A focus within this movement has arisen which employs particular alertness to aural soundscapes in wild nature. This focus, which for the purposes of the thesis I am limiting to the British ...
Abstract This thesis represents live and on-going research into the recent literary movement that has been termed ‘the new nature writing’. A focus within this movement has arisen which employs particular alertness to aural soundscapes in wild nature. This focus, which for the purposes of the thesis I am limiting to the British Isles, appears to be an increasing attempt to harness the human ear and employ it as a tool for ‘seismic’ effect. The method used, which I have termed ecoseismology, works at the intersection of the sensory and the literary; by using deep listening to external soundscapes it aims to achieve an integrative, internal effect through rendering of experience. Ecoseismology is a response to an intense period of ecological and environmental uncertainty. It is guided by immersive observation, often forensic in its closely-heard detail, where ecological particularities and sonorous dimensions of the natural world are sensed and rendered. Ecoseismology sensitises the listener and the reader in order to achieve shifts in scale where awareness moves from the particular, close-up, ‘heard’ and ‘felt’ experience towards thinking about more ecosensitive ways of living on the planet. To locate the spectrum of experience and output encompassed by ecoseismology the thesis exposes its three stages. By applying these stages to nature writings of the last ten years, texts that use or fit the ecoseismic method are identified. At the heart of these stages is the ecoseismic moment: a re-imagining of crisis provoking thought about the wider ecosystem which is intended to be a catalyst for change. The two ‘classic’ otter books which inspired the creative part of the submission, Otter Country, In Search of the Wild Otter, (shortened to Otter Country from here), are measured against ecoseismology. Then Otter Country’s own ecoseismic structure, which entails a quest for increased understanding of an elusive wild mammal, is measured. Alongside the sensory aspects of close encounter in this new otter narrative, issues of wider ecology are triggered, but didactic solutions are not directly sought. Thoughts provoked by this last aspect of Otter Country provide directions for further research: is it more effective to make readers feel, or to urge them to act? How is this movement within the new nature writing spreading to other genres and media, and what forms will it take, what effects will it have?
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