Date of Award

2015

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Communications and Arts

Faculty

Faculty of Education and Arts

First Advisor

Associate Professor Jill Durey

Second Advisor

Dr Ffion Murphy

Abstract

The thesis comprises a collection of short fiction, Maps for the Lost, and a critical essay, “Human / Nature Ecotones: Climate Change and the Ecological Imagination.” In ecological terms, areas of interaction between adjacent ecosystems are known as ecotones. Sites of relationship between biotic communities, they are charged with fertility and evolutionary possibility. While postcolonial scholarship is concerned with borders as points of cross-cultural contact, ecocritical thought focuses upon the ecotone that occurs at the interface between human and non-human nature.

In their occupation of the liminal zones between human and natural realms, the characters and narratives of Maps for the Lost reveal and nurture the porosity of conventional demarcations. In the title story, a Czech artist maps the globe by night in order to find his lover. The buried geographies of human landscapes coalesce with those of the non-human realm: the territories of wolves and the scent-trails of a fox mingle imperceptibly with nocturnal Prague and the ransacked villages of post-war Croatia. In “Seeds,” a narrative structured around the process of biological growth, the lost memories of an elderly woman are returned to her by her garden. “The Skin of the Ocean” traces the obsession of a diver who sinks his yacht under the weight of coral and fish, while in “Drift,” an Iranian refugee writes letters along the tide-line of a Tasmanian beach.

The essay identifies the inadequacy of literature and literary scholarship’s response to the threat of climate change as a failure of the imagination, reflecting the transgressive dimension of the crisis itself, and the dualistic legacy which still informs Western discourse on non-human nature. In order to redress this shortfall, which I argue the current generations of writers have an urgent moral responsibility to do, it is critical that we learn to understand the natural world of which we are a part, in ways that cast off the limitations of conventional representation. Paradoxically, it is the profoundly disruptive (apocalyptic?) nature of the climate crisis itself, which may create the imaginative traction for that shift in comprehension, forcing us, through loss, to interpret the world in ways that have been forgotten, or are fundamentally new. By analysing Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book, and Les Murray’s “Presence” sequence, the essay explores the correlation between imaginative and ecological processes, and the role of voice, embodiment, patterning and story in negotiations of nature and place. In the context of the asymptotical essence of the relation between text and world, and the paradox of phenomenological representation, it calls for a deeper cultural engagement with scientific discourse and indigenous philosophy, in order to illuminate the multiplicity and complexity of human connections to the non-human natural world

Available for download on Saturday, October 20, 2018

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