French Écocritique: Reading Contemporary French Theory and Fiction Ecologically

It has been over four years since my last blog post. Given that I started the blog to establish good writing habits when I began working on my book, it seems quite appropriate to post an entryfront_cover_Fr_ecocritique the month the book was published. I am very happy to announce that French Écocritique: Reading Contemporary French Theory and Fiction Ecologically (2017) is now available with the University of Toronto Press. It was a real pleasure to work with the academic press, their editorial team and the designers to collaboratively produce a well-made object with such a beautiful cover.

The book was a long time in the making. I originally began thinking about the intersection between ecocriticism and contemporary French literature over ten years ago. I published my first article on the subject back in 2007 in the online journal Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture. The journal’s special issue on “Eco-Cultures: Cultural Studies and the Environment” afforded me an invaluable opportunity for asking how environmental philosophy and politics are embedded in cultural meanings and practices. Although I have since refined my position on what constitutes culture, my thinking continues to be informed by the question of how culture comes to matter and for whom when arguing for environmental change or global warming issues.

To summarize the main idea behind the book, I develop the concept of the ecological in lieu of the environmental for analyzing contemporary French literary texts. While these two terms may seem synonymous to an Anglophone reader, they have very different connotations, histories and politics in the French linguistic and cultural context.  Associated with a green political agenda and sustainable living practices, the environmental remains rooted in  dualist thinking about the natural/the artificial and the given/the constructed. The ecological, on the other hand, requires thinking about nature as embedded in culture, about the artificial as  constituted by physical and biological elements.

In order to demonstrate what I mean by the ecological, I analyze the ways in which it presents itself with respect to subjectivity, dwelling, politics and ends in a collection of French contemporary novels. Close reading of specific passages allows me to ground the conceptual thinking in concrete examples. My hope is that French literary scholars will find this approach and the corresponding four concepts useful for reading a host of other texts ecologically.

As I reflect back on my book project, I am reminded of how problematic it is to use the term “French” in today’s political climate. The recent heated debate about a less nationalist understanding and teaching of “French” history reveals the ideological schisms at the heart of this term (see for example Le Monde‘s recent Hors Série, “Les querelles de l’histoire”). As a bilingual Canadian living in Montreal, Quebec, I am aware that this term evokes a colonial legacy celebrated by some and denigrated by others. And yet a careful contextualization of the term “French” allows for a more heterogeneous approach to reading literary texts and analyzing cultural artefacts. In this sense, I see my book as contributing to the ongoing critique of making and doing “French literary studies.”

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