Veränderte Umwelt: Neue Leseweisen im Anthropozän
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My dissertation, titled "Veränderte Umwelt: Neue Leseweisen im Anthropozän" ("Altered Environments: New Readings in the Anthropocene"), explores the role imagination plays in coming to terms with the Anthropocene, the new geophysical era that we are now living in. In this new era, as a number of scholars in both natural sciences and history argue, environmental changes have become so encompassing that human forces have to be acknowledged as the most important power in nature. In five chapters, each concerning one key aspect of the environmental debate, I provide exemplary close readings that explore the aesthetic and rhetorical strategies employed when texts and films negotiate the relationship between the human species and its environment. As my readings show, the chosen films and texts ask us to reconsider our relationship with non-human nature and to reposition ourselves as human beings in an increasingly environmentally degraded world. My approach is interdisciplinary, encompassing multiple perspectives that bear on the chosen material, from disciplines including sociology, psychology, biology, environmental history, and deep ecology. The material I have chosen ranges from well-known to some lesser-known texts, allowing me to demonstrate a number of points. First, I maintain that there is no such thing as a preexisting "green" canon; an environmental perspective can be applied to any text or film. Second, an environmental focus brings texts and films to our attention, the relevance of which has so far been overlooked. Though their works might not be commonly perceived as environmental literature and film, the authors and filmmakers I discuss negotiate human dominance on the planet and its consequences on a number of levels. Existing definitions of environmental literature and environmental film, therefore, need to be revisited. Finally, working across genres enables me to advance a more detailed analysis of the paradigm shift represented by this new era of human dominance-the Anthropocene. In Chapter One, entitled "Nahrung" ("Food"), I turn to two more recent Austrian food documentaries: Unser täglich Brot (2005) by Nikolaus Geyrhalter and We Feed the World-Essen Global (2005) by Erwin Wagenhofer. While We Feed the World shows how utilitarian ways of thinking about animals and plants are inscribed into the language of the actors in the contemporary agroindustry, Unser täglich Brot exhibits a striking absence of such language, evident with the lack of both a voice-over and interview segments-rhetorical tools that the majority of contemporary food documentaries heavily rely on when it comes to promoting a critical perspective on the agroindustry. I read this absence as a state of speechlessness in the face of an encompassing violence against non-human living things, committed through the "monological system" (Val Plumwood) of factory farming and monoculture. Geyrhalter effectively calls this system into question by avoiding the linguistic mode of representation altogether. Chapter Two, entitled "Müll" ("Waste"), considers two centerpieces in the literary oevre of Wolfgang Hilbig, a non-canonized author who is typically dealt with as a "GDR-writer." In Die Weiber (1987) and Die Kunde von den Bäumen (1994), the garbage dump assumes multiple functions: as a literary motif, as a topographical element, and as a metaphor. While Die Weiber and Die Kunde von den Bäumen are imaginatively situated in a society that finds itself unable to rid itself of what it regards as superfluous or undesirable, Hilbig's literary configurations of trash, I maintain, also point to the very real environmental practices in the former German Democratic Republic-practices that led to an excessive degradation of nature and the landscape. While the objective of societal mechanisms of abjection is to ensure the continued status quo of sociopolitical affairs, in Hilbig's prose on trash these mechanisms appear to be dysfunctional; even when being presumably disposed of, waste in Die Weiber und Die Kunde von den Bäumen continues to impact not only the individual and society, but also the writing process and its product, the text itself. The most prominent indicator for the new chapter in the Earth's geophysical history is the concentration of carbon dioxide in the global atmosphere, accelerated by the use of fossil fuels industrialization has set in motion. In Chapter Three, entitled "Verschmutzung" ("Pollution"), I read yet another short prose text by Wolfgang Hilbig, Alte Abdeckerei (1991), as a negotiation of the interdependencies of the use of fossil fuels and artistic expression. In Hilbig's tale, an excess of pollution and poisoning has overwhelmed both the first-person narrator's senses and the literary style. As I show, the text exhibits a plentitude of Gothic elements that constitute what Lawrence Buell has termed a "toxic discourse." This discourse plays out aesthetically that the protagonist no longer stands on the brink of environmental catastrophe: He is in the midst of it. The final tabula rasa not only points to a scenario in which coal as a combustible is no longer in use. Just as Alan Weisman's The world without us-a convincing thought experiment about the footprint that would remain if humankind would suddenly disappear from the planet-Alte Abdeckerei puts forward the vision that only the absence of humankind is an exit out of a state of pollution out of control. In Chapter Four, entitled "Tiere" ("Animals"), I read Werner Herzog's documentary film Grizzly Man (2005) as a negotiation of what Edward O. Wilson has termed biophilia, the acknowledgment of intuitively felt, profound connections between humans, land, and animals. As I argue in this chapter, Grizzly Man is marked by an anthropocentric or human-centered appropriation of animals through two filmmakers: Timothy Treadwell, whose video material Herzog recycled, and Herzog himself, who not only selects from Treadwell's material but overwrites with his dominant voice-over (spoken by himself) and a number of other significant interventions. Herzog thus uses Grizzly Man to carry on a performative insistence that runs through his entire filmic oevre-an insistence on a sphere of nature opposing humankind in an indifferent, if not hostile way. Ultimately, I argue, a notion of the severity of loss with regard to the disappearance of wild animals from our sphere of life persists against Herzog's filmic strategies to maintain the interpretational sovereignty not only over Treadwell's material, but also over his narrative of what animals are "meant to mean." In Chapter Five, entitled "Alarmbereitschaft" ("Alert"), I argue that acknowledging the Anthropocene not only means to carefully detect the subtleties of the many signs of warnings around us, but also to read literary texts with the multiple implications of tempi, tenses, and verb forms in mind. While Julia Schoch's Wo Venedig einst gestanden haben wird (2011) draws on many well-explored Venice topoi and clichés, a close reading reveals that what on first sight looks like a travel essay is a complex negotiation of climate change apathy. In Schoch's text, the first person narrator has a conspicuous preference of the tense and grammatical mode of Future Perfect-Vollendete Zukunft in German-a tense that has the potential to express temporal and causal environmental interdependencies with an enhanced poignancy. By grammatically indicating the completion of the act, the tempus of Vollendete Zukunft draws our attention to the fact that in the Anthropocene-the era in which, as a consequence of humankind's past and present actions, nature as we know it is a concept that already belongs to the past-we will be facing a fait accompli: Humankind can no longer escape the effects of past and present actions. While Wo Venedig einst gestanden haben wird exposes the lethargy, conformity, and indifference of Venice's residents just as its visitors Kathrin Röggla's die alarmbereiten, or, more specifically, the episode "die ansprechbare," presents the opposite: a state of being alarmed that is so persistent that it results in the first person narrator's disassociation from others. In a larger context-the context of the Anthropocene-Wo Venedig einst gestanden haben wird just as die alarmbereiten question our dismissal of those who warn us too persistently, and our own roles in the social organization of the denial of anthropogenic environmental changes.
- German