Ill at ease in our translated world: ecocriticism, language, and the natural environment in the fiction of Michael Ondaatje, Amitav Ghosh, David Malouf and Wilma Stockenström

Johnson, Eleanore (2012) Ill at ease in our translated world: ecocriticism, language, and the natural environment in the fiction of Michael Ondaatje, Amitav Ghosh, David Malouf and Wilma Stockenström. Masters thesis, Rhodes University.

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Abstract

This thesis explores the thematic desire to establish an ecological human bond with nature in four contemporary novels: The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh, An Imaginary Life by David Malouf, and The Expedition to The Baobab Tree by Wilma Stockenström. These authors share a concern with the influence that language has on human perception, and one of the most significant ways they attempt to connect with the natural world is through somehow escaping, or transcending, what they perceive to be the divisive tendencies of language. They all suggest that human perception is not steered entirely by a disembodied mind, which constructs reality through linguistic and cultural lenses, but is equally influenced by physical circumstances and embodied experiences. They explore the potential of corporeal reciprocity and empathy as that which enables understanding across cultural barriers, and a sense of ecologically intertwined kinship with nature. They all struggle to reconcile their awareness of the potential danger of relating to nature exclusively through language, with a desire to speak for the natural world in literature. I have examined whether they succeed in doing so, or whether they contradict their thematic suspicion of language with their literary medium. I have prioritised a close ecocritical reading of the novels and loosely situated the authors’ approach to nature and language within the broad theoretical frameworks of radical ecology, structuralism and poststructuralism. I suggest that these novels are best analysed in the context of an ecocritical mediation between poststructuralist conceptions of nature as inaccessible cultural construct, and the naïve conception of unmediated, pre-reflective interaction with the natural world. I draw especially on the phenomenological theories of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, whose insistence that perception is always both embodied and culturally mediated truly renders culture and nature irreducible, intertwined categories. By challenging historical dualisms like mind/body and culture/nature, the selected novels suggest a more fluid and discursive understanding of the perceived conflict between language and nature, whilst problematizing the perception of language as merely a cultural artefact. Moreover, they are examples of the kind of literature that has the potential to positively influence our human conception of nature, and adapt us better to our ecological context on a planet struggling for survival.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Ecology, Nature, Human bond, Theme, English fiction, Novels, Michael Ondaatje, Amitav Ghosh, David Malouf, Wilma Stockenström, Language, Human perception, Corporeal reciprocity, Empathy, Radical ecology, Structuralism, Poststructuralism, Culture
Subjects:G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GF Human ecology. Anthropogeography
P Language and Literature > PE English
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Humanities > English
Supervisors:Wylie, Dan
ID Code:3629
Deposited By: Philip Clarke
Deposited On:11 Oct 2012 14:58
Last Modified:11 Oct 2012 14:58
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