Environment and Fiction

Critical Readings

by Özden Sözalan (Volume editor) Inci Bilgin Tekin (Volume editor)
©2020 Edited Collection 158 Pages


The essays in this volume engage with questions concerning the relationships between fictional texts and environmental issues in their various articulations, and offer critical readings that display the theoretical diversity in the current reconsiderations of the place of human in relation to nature and the environment. Written by scholars working in separate yet closely related disciplines in the field of humanities, the essays present analyses of literary and cultural texts, performed with the critical tools provided by studies in ecology, ecofeminism, urban studies, posthumanism and animal studies as well as genre-specific approaches.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction (Özden Sözalan)
  • The Urban Body in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Man of the Crowd” (Sinem Yazıcıoğlu)
  • An Old Debate, New Perspectives: Cherrie Moraga’s and Caryl Churchill’s Dialogues with Nature (İnci Bilgin Tekin)
  • Embodied Anthropocentrism in Anatolian Novel and Film (Nilay Kaya and Ekin Gündüz Özdemirci)
  • Intersections, Interventions, and Utopian Pessimism in Son Ada (The Last Island) (Burcu Kayışcı Akkoyun)
  • The Cat, the Cock, the Maid and Zeberjet: The Animals of Motherland Hotel (Ayşe Beyza Artukarslan)
  • Grizzly Man: From the Ethics of Film to the Ethics of the Animal-Other (Zeynep Talay Turner)
  • The Precarious Lives of Cats in Doris Lessing’s On Cats (Canan Şavkay)
  • Decentering the Human on Stage: Neither as Posthumanist Opera (Ferdi Çetin)
  • Ecofeminist Ecopoetics and Carol Ann Duffy (Özlem Karadağ)
  • Notes on the Contributors

←6 | 7→

Özden Sözalan


“Human”, “nature”, and “environment” continue to occupy their privileged place among the inexhaustible themes in literary and cultural representations. Verbal or visual, most representations are, after all, about human beings and their relation to the physical and social environment. As environmental crises grow increasingly more threatening for human and non-human life on our planet, the need to ask new questions pertaining to the ways we think about the interconnections between those concepts becomes pressuring. The latest pandemic has reminded us once again, that “people are entangled in co-constitutive relationships with nature and the environment, with other animals and organisms, with medicine and technology, with science and epistemic politics.”1 To think of a virus originating in an animal body that can infect millions of human beings simply because it is capable of traversing corporeal boundaries between the human and the non-human animal. Not only that. The resulting global scare has already led to huge changes in our habitual ways of working, producing, studying, making art, socializing, and travelling. These seem to be indicative of a shift of paradigm in “culture”, too, the domain we once took to be solely of our own wilful making. As much as human interference in nature and the environment has been causing colossal damage on a global scale in our age of the Anthropocene, thus changing it irreversibly, our cultures are simultaneously being transformed according to the mandates of natural and non-human phenomena. So, yes; we are “fully in nature,” in the same sense as “nature is fully in us.”2 Therefore, the theoretical re-positioning of the human subject vis a vis nature begs for radical changes in our conceptualizations of once all-too-familiar terms, too. Instead of the conventional understanding of human positioned in ←7 | 8→an oppositional relation to nature in compliance with the modern divide between culture and nature, we are beginning to think of ourselves not only in relation to environment but as always already environed embodiments, impacting on as well as impacted upon by natureculture.

Works of fiction depict imagined worlds which may closely or remotely resemble the one we inhabit. With the help of specific formal and stylistic devices and depending on the manner of representation, those imagined worlds are indeed commentaries cast on the way we lead our material and spiritual lives. Therefore, representation matters. For the symbolic categories we use to refer to things condition the ways we know about ourselves and relate to our environment. In other words, our perceptions of life, human and non-human alike, are fashioned by the images and perspectives provided by linguistic and aesthetics systems of representation. Yet we tend to ignore the fact that our convictions and judgments are determined by the specific forms through which we speak and see, and that even our interactions with nature are tainted by those filtering systems. Literature and art matter because, while depending heavily on, and contributing to the reproduction of, such symbolic categories in order to mean at all, they also have at their disposal the privileged tools with which to question, challenge, and disrupt those categories. Literary and artistic works keep drawing attention to the artifice of the words and images used in everyday communication – the stereotypical images of the “happy family” in commercials, for example – as well as the very apparatuses and conventions of the medium – the devices of framing, and perspective mainly serve to “naturalize” the power relations and acts of injustice concealed in/by verbal and visual constructs. Art’s subversive potential lies in its ability to expose the framing devices inherent in any representation; good art makes us aware of the identificatory and perspectival processes involved in our modes of thought and action.

Nature as origin or as inspiration has always been a favorite resource for literature and art. Under current ecological threats, contemporary fiction’s take on nature seems to be engaged with environmental issues in ways that are remarkably more committed and creative than ever. Literary and cultural criticism has, on its part, responded with vigor. Profoundly ground-breaking theories which had already begun to flourish in the field of literary and cultural studies in the latter part of the 20th century continue ←8 | 9→to provide us today with innovative strategies of reading. Informed by interdisciplinary environmental studies and theories of posthumanism, new critical methods enable us to approach new texts with new tools as well as allowing us to re-interpret texts from the past with new insight. Our growing awareness of the complexity of the relationships we have with nature and the environment, with non-human animals and organisms as well as with science and technology require that we refigure our own relational positions as readers and spectators, too. To understand and to account for the ways in which works of representation reinforce or challenge the anthropocentric system of thought responsible for the creation of hierarchies and antagonisms rather than foregrounding interconnections and interdependencies, it becomes imperative that we broaden the scope of our critical questions to embrace this new awareness: What are the forms by means of which a certain view of life, of nature, and of the human is reproduced and perpetuated in literature, in film or in the theater? How do nature documentaries construct the species? Which assumptions about the centrality of the human are implicitly suggested in films about “man’s struggle against nature” or in novels about “man’s relationship with animals”? How is oppression normalized through structures of language used in novels associating the Other with the natural? How is the divide between nature and culture deconstructed in contemporary poetry? Which new manifestations of the posthuman are visible in art works and products of popular culture? What kind of new forms are likely to rise that are better suited to express current structures of feeling underscoring our anthropocentric age?

The essays in this volume engage with these questions, in their various articulations, and offer critical readings that display the theoretical diversity in the current reconsiderations of the place of human in relation to nature and the environment. Written by scholars working in separate yet closely related disciplines in the field of humanities, the essays present analyzes of literary and cultural texts, performed with the critical tools provided by studies in ecology, ecofeminism, urban studies, posthumanism and animal studies as well as genre-specific approaches. Some essays in this volume re-visit familiar texts with a view to tracing in them the symptoms of our deep-rooted anthropocentric assumptions while others look at new texts to see the ways in which they articulate new possibilities for envisioning ←9 | 10→a better world. Any text can be the subject of critical inquiry regarding the role of representation in the human relationship with the environment. Therefore, the forms and genres of texts discussed in the essays are diverse; they include novels, short stories, poems as well as narrative and documentary films, dramatic plays and theatrical performances. Likewise, geographical, temporal and language limits that are used, albeit often arbitrarily, to demarcate the scope of our academic studies become redundant when texts are subjected to an environment-oriented reading. Our increasingly growing awareness of our always already environed earthly existence requires that we develop even more innovative ways of thinking in non-anthropocentric and non-dichotomic terms that seek interconnections and alliances across boundaries. This volume hopes to represent an instance of such diversity.

The first essay in the volume, The Urban Body in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Man of the Crowd”, takes us on a tour of 19th century London, a setting spatially and temporally synonymous with industrialization, modernization, and urbanization. Sinem Yazıcıoğlu argues that in Poe’s short story “A Man of the Crowd”, the bourgeoning city and the emerging urban subject inextricably shape, and are inscribed on, one another in the new paradigm marked by the modern divide between nature and culture. Her reading historicizes Poe’s text to reveal the links between the modern construct “city” and its repressed others including first and foremost nature itself, and linking nature and the natural with the lower classes. Concentrating on the relation between the human body and the metropolis in the text, she refers to the ideas of city planning which use the human image as model and the British and American discourse on urbanization to analyze the narrator’s examination of the city through the faces in the crowd and his fixation on a particular man. As human interference exacts its toll on the environment, the city is shown to be moulding its own categories of the human subject. The man in the crowd embodies the city itself, as Poe’s use of a descent-and-return narrative and the doppelgänger in the context of urban environment is shown to be relating the troubles of urbanization to the form of the human body.

İnci Bilgin Tekin’s discussion of two dramatic texts expressive of the disastrous consequences of the capitalistic exploitation of nature involves, too, the interconnectedness of bodies and habitats, albeit on a different ←10 | 11→plane. An Old Debate, New Perspectives offers a comparative reading of Caryl Churchill’s The Skriker and Cherrie Moraga’s Heroes and Saints which highlights the fact that it is the most vulnerable of the earth who greatly suffer the consequences of environmental troubles. A timely consideration for the current global crisis we have been experiencing as the casualty and unemployment statistics on the latest “natural” disaster has brought the economic and social inequalities back on the agenda. Born as a head due to excessive use of pesticides, Cherrie Moraga’s heroine, Cerezita, in Heroes and Saints serves as a metaphor for poor Chicana children dying of cancer and babies born with disabilities in real life California. Similarly, in Caryl Churchill’s The Skriker the titular protagonist, a shape-shifter drawing on British folklore, who warns of an “unprecedented catastrophe” awaiting “the world as we know it” challenges familiar assumptions about a humanity gone wrong as the planet itself appears at the brink of extinction. Tekin argues that in both plays the dramatization of the exploits of mythological figures in modern contexts is a choice informed by ecofeminism in its insistence to draw attention to the links between the anthropocene and the capitalocene.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (August)
ecology sustainability posthumanism literature Environment
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 158 pp.

Biographical notes

Özden Sözalan (Volume editor) Inci Bilgin Tekin (Volume editor)

Özden Sözalan (PhD, Essex) is Professor of Literature and head of the English Department at İstanbul Bilgi University. İnci Bilgin Tekin (PhD, METU) is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and teaches in the English Department at İstanbul Bilgi University.


Title: Environment and Fiction
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160 pages