Ce que la Renaissance française peut faire à l’écocritique / What Can the French Renaissance Do for Ecocriticism ?

  • End date:
    20/06/2016, 00:00

What Can the French Renaissance Do For Ecocriticism?

Editors Pauline Goul and Phillip John Usher

Volume Proposal

The present volume seeks to offer a set of answers to the question raised by its title, “What Can the French Renaissance Do For Ecocriticism?”

All too often, theory in general–and ecocriticism in particular–are said to serve as “lenses” through which we can understand (early modern) literature. All too often, contemporary thought models are “applied” to (early modern) literature, as if true lay only in the contemporary. This volume’s purpose is to envision a back-and-forth, to allow (early modern French) literature to interrogate, to nuance, to provoke, contemporary ecological theory. Our volume’s title owes it concise formulation to Louisa Mackenzie, who first identified that question as pertinent at the Vancouver MLA conference in January 2015. Mackenzie, a scholar at the cutting edge of French Renaissance Studies in the United States, suggested that we should not be asking what ecocriticism can “do” for our readings of the early modern period, but precisely the opposite. Indeed, turning back to 16th century France means shifting to an intellectual context in which key concepts—nature/culture, geology, Deep Time, etc.—were thought in ways uncannily similar to contemporary thought, precisely because certain disciplinary “splits” and intellectual conceptualization had not yet happened, precisely because certain disciplines (e.g. geology) were nascent, but not born. This volume seeks to take seriously Mackenzie’s question and to offer a set of responses. Each chapter of the volume will take up a specific concept or idea of contemporary ecocriticism, in order to question it and refine it.

Possible concepts/ideas to address include:

-Latour’s nature/culture

-Chakrabarty’s idea of putting Deep Time in dialogue with the human time of history

-Morton’s Dark Ecology

-Queer Ecology


-the nonhuman and objects, Morton’s hyperobjects, Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter

-inter-relatedness and the mesh

-logocentrism / anthropocentrism

-the Anthropocene in 1600

Another reason this volume is so urgent is that it will offer a much needed response to the anglocentrism of much ecocriticism, denounced by Tim Morton in his guest column in PMLA on a “Queer Ecology”, and yet made especially clear of late (in 2016) when the MLA’s new forum on « Ecocriticism and the Environmental Humanities,” whose executive committee is made up of Sharon O’Dair, Stacy Alaimo, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, and Stephanie LeMenager, all professors of English, defined ecocriticism as « a scholarly practice within English Studies. » Jeff Persel’s fabulous edited volume The Environment in French and Francophone Literature (FLS, vol 39, 2012), makes it evidently clear that ecocrticism is not, of course, limited in such a way to English departments! A related problem is that, even when considered as anglo-centric, ecocriticism as a discipline seems to be formulated mostly by voices that either look at post-1800 sources or at medieval ones. There is thus a gaping lack of any early modern point of view, which, especially with the possible starting date of the Anthropocene in 1600, leaves much to be done. This volume will thus assert and demonstrate the need for ecocriticism and ecological thought to take up and respond to non-English materials from the early modern period. In the words of Louisa Mackenzie in her article in the French Literature Series’s ‘Environment’ issue (2012), “It’s a good time to think about an early modern, a French, a queer ecology.”

The book will be in English, and the submission of chapters is set for May 30, 2017.

Please submit a title, 300-word abstract, and a short CV to Pauline Goul (pg323@cornell.edu) and Phillip John Usher (pu8@nyu.edu) by June 20, 2016.