"The whole earth is our hospital" : contemporary fictions of eco-sickness
- This study defines an emerging narrative mode—what I term "eco-sickness fiction"—and argues that pervasive sickness is a crucial organizing concept of contemporary environmental literature. My readings establish in particular that sickness is a key trope by means of which American fiction figures how individual bodies and global processes of environmental change interrelate. I identify the definition of sickness that emerges from novels and memoirs of the 1990s and early 2000s: it is pervasive and non-causal; it crosses systems; and it joins the social, environmental, and biomedical. This definition is keyed to three developments unique to the late 20th and early 21st centuries: the medicalization of the subject and of space, environmental collapse, and the advance of biotechnologies that raise new ethical dilemmas. I argue that, in imagining sickness in this context, recent narratives offer ways of thinking about the intersection of culture and science in an age of technoscience. In particular, they mobilize various affects to understand the imbrication of humans in their surroundings. This dissertation theorizes these affects of eco-sickness fiction—from wonder and anxiety, to disgust and discord—as mediating awareness of biological change and ethical responses to it. Close analysis of texts by David Foster Wallace, Richard Powers, Leslie Marmon Silko, and AIDS memoirists Jan Zita Grover and David Wojnarowicz reveals the workings of affect. I demonstrate how these writers' narrative strategies elicit feelings that inform responses to environmental and medical issues. This project thus provides an account of how literature molds awareness of and investment and intervention in somatic and ecological dysfunction. In this respect, this dissertation reorients accounts of contemporary literary history. Eco-sickness fiction is continuous with but also diverges from the aesthetic dominant of its time: postmodernism. Consistent with this cultural and theoretical movement, these works diagnose the complexities of etiology and the ubiquity of disorder. Yet they diverge from this paradigm in that they refuse the postmodern ideal of detachment. I show how this literature seeks to recover ethical responsibility and therefore places guarded faith in action and accountability. This project also establishes a framework for the literary analysis of sickness, one that interleaves environmental criticism, social and cultural theories of the body and science, and accounts of affect. Furthermore, it exposes how environmental and biomedical dilemmas generate representational dilemmas that the techniques of postmodernism, realism, or environmental writing alone cannot neatly resolve.
|Type of resource
|electronic; electronic resource; remote
|1 online resource.
|Houser, Heather Marie
|Stanford University, English Department
|Heise, Ursula K
|Heise, Ursula K
|Statement of responsibility
|Heather M. Houser.
|Submitted to the Department of English.
|Thesis (Ph.D.)--Stanford University, 2010.
- © 2010 by Heather Marie Houser
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