Date of Degree

9-2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

English

Advisor

Alan Vardy

Committee Members

Joan Richardson

Alexander Schlutz

Subject Categories

Literature in English, British Isles | Literature in English, North America

Keywords

ecocriticism, affect studies, environmental humanities, affective ecocriticism

Abstract

Unthinkable Conditions bridges two literary periods and two theoretical modes in order to illustrate important parallels between historical periods and the writers who attempted to approach the changing environmental conditions of their respective eras. Each chapter names and theorizes a unique form of feeling which then serves as a framework for eco-affective analysis, drawing from existing studies in the environmental humanities and in studies of affect in order to construct a hybrid theoretical model which more fully accounts for the work of the writer treated in each chapter. The central claim of this dissertation is that vital affective innovations accompany changing environmental and atmospheric conditions, that such innovations are developed and recorded in the work of poets and speculative writers, and that placing these disparate historical and literary modes alongside each other in a single study offers a means of deepening our understanding and reinvigorating our analysis of each.

The conditions in which both William and Dorothy Wordsworth, John Clare, Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia E. Butler, and M. NourbeSe Philip each attempt to write are dominated by a growing awareness of the disastrous impact of human intervention on their world. Each writer’s work responds directly to the shocks, upheavals, and transformations that resulted from such interventions, and each one attempts to account for the adjustments, responses, and even (sometimes) recoveries they make available. In their deep and unflinching engagements with the unforeseen structures of feeling which arise amid irreparable loss of place and, possibly, of planet, the literature treated in this project attempts to account for the complex interconnectivity of mind and world, and to examine how these multi-faceted and hybrid forms of feeling might reassemble, over time, into affective orientations which might withstand subsequent shocks and upheavals.

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