Deciphering Radical Ecology in Contemporary British Fiction

Julian Barnes, David Mitchell and John Fowles

by Baturay Erdal (Author)
©2020 Monographs 182 Pages


This book indicates that postmodern literature might reveal much in common with radical environmental movements. It also offers discussions for how an ecological postmodern literary theory can provide significant contributions to the paradigm shift in social and individual dimensions before the extant environmental crisis turns into a deeper turmoil. In this context, concerning ecological images and environmental discussions they provide, A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters by Julian Barnes, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell and The Collector by John Fowles are analyzed through the lens of such radical ecological movements like deep ecology, social ecology and ecofeminism.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One The Idea of Green: From Homocentrism to Ecological Enlightenment
  • 1.1. Modernity and the Death of Nature: Reason, Science and Religion as a Totalizing Explanatory System
  • 1.2. Radical Ecology Movement: An Environmental Counter-Revolution
  • 1.2.1 Deep Ecology
  • 1.2.2 Ecofeminism
  • 1.2.3 Social Ecology
  • Chapter Two Iconoclastic Identity of Julian Barnes: Deconstructing Anthropocentric Ideology in A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters
  • Chapter Three Toward a Synthetic and Corporate Society: Distorted Third Nature in David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas
  • Chapter Four John Fowles as a Feminist Nature Writer: Fowlesian Portrait of Androcentric Exploitation of Woman and Nature in The Collector
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography

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“If you come home and find a bunch of Hell’s Angels raping your wife, your old mother, and eleven-year-old daughter, you don’t sit down and talk balance with them or suggest compromise. You get your twelve gauge shotgun and blow them to hell […] There are people out there trying to save their Mother (Earth) from rape and their story must be told also.”

—Dave Foreman, “Violence and Earth First!”

The attempts of mainstream environmentalists to diagnose merely the existence of environmental crisis have already failed to establish an epistemological basis. Instead of insisting on the symptoms of ecological turmoil, examining the perception and the reconceptualization of nature can help mapping out a new route not only to reach the roots of the crisis embedded in the human history but also to offer new alternatives for the reconstruction of the relationship between human and nonhuman. The advocates of radical ecology, according to Michael Zimmerman, distinguish themselves from mainstream environmentalists as “radical” for at least two primary reasons: “First, they claim that their analyses disclose the conceptual, attitudinal, social, political, and cultural origins of the ecological crisis” and “[s];econd, they argue that only a revolution or a cultural paradigm shift can save the planet from ecological devastation” (1998: 4). Such an approach is inclined to manifest itself in the notion that nature is indeed more than nature.

Contrary to the anthropocentric idea that the concept of nature can be expressed through basic definitions which only refer to the physical environment as a raw material, its scope actually expands so as to encapsulate a deeper ecological meaning, or a philosophical infrastructure reflecting its ideational and abstract aspect. Insisting on the plain illustration of nature paves the way for an irreparable damage in the proper perception of what is natural. In opposition to this mischievous anthropocentric approach missing the fundamental point, it must be accepted that nature is an entity being self-conscious and coherent in itself and having a deep meaning peculiar to itself, which requires ecosophical lens to make sense and diagnose the existing issues about it. This misdetection in the definition not only causes nature to be perceived as an object that would be discovered first and exploited then, but also transforms its existence into an ontological problem. Thus, behind these exploitative attitudes ←11 | 12→towards the physical and spiritual existence of nature, which has seemed not to change for centuries, lies the chronic misconception on its “raison d’être.” More components than assumed must be involved in this matter. Discussing the position of human in an all-inclusive definition of nature, Murray Bookchin, a pioneer in the ecology movement, asserts that the definition of nature is more difficult than it appears due to the involvement of human beings in nature as a part of it (1996: 3). Considering that human beings cannot be separated from nature, then, he wonders whether human beings are only “one life-form among many others” or “unique in ways that place major responsibilities on them with respect to the rest of the world of life […]?” (1996: 3). Whether social ecology attaches a great importance to the potential of human or deep ecology considers human as an equal life form among others, it is an incontestable fact that the historical roots of ecological crisis indicate the dissociation of human mind from the rest of the life-forms in an attempt to justify the domination.

This misperception reducing the idea of nature through oversimplified and artificial specifications can be claimed to begin with the Age of Enlightenment which is a Western intellectual movement characterized by the stimulation towards modernity. In this sense, the environmentalist philosophies regard modernity and the philosophical roots it is based on as being the remarkable turning point in the emergence of modern environmental problems and the deterioration of the planet. The effort to make human reason sovereign over the macrocosm, which can be claimed that it begins with Descartes’s popular statement elevating the human’s function, “I think therefore I am,” reaches its peak by the end of the modernity. Thus, some scholars from Francis Bacon to David Hume and even to Karl Marx put science, reason and human as the key elements of a new modern society. The modern world enshrines such ideologies that the reason can grasp everything in the world, science will ultimately explain anything in the universe, an anonymous power arranges everything if you free the market, class struggle is always valid and can explain all social and individual cases. However, there is an immediate ecological problem of which detection and solution are ignored and left unsolved by the enlightened mind. The tradition of humanism also plays a significant role by resting on some assumptions, as R. W. Harris puts it, “the chief of which was that the universe was a single, coherent and rational creation of the deity, and that man, and all other beings, creatures and things, existed in a pre-determined hierarchy, governed by God’s laws” (1968: 9). The era is marked by the disintegration from the medieval concept of universe, which paves the way for shaping a modern cosmological argument through the physical science started by Galileo and Newton, the investigative method of Bacon, the experimental philosophy ←12 | 13→of John Locke and Hume. Despite the fact that any goal set by the enlightened mind is thought to be achievable in the future by these scholars, the first half of the twentieth century, in the wake of the spirit of progress imposed by the modernity, witnesses a physical world endangered by World War I, World War II and nuclear power.

While Jurgen Habermas defines modernity as a process which cannot go beyond being an incomplete and immature project (2005: 163–74), radical ecology movement of the mid-twentieth century embracing deep ecology, social ecology and ecofeminism already announces the end of modernity, decentering the enlightened mind and becoming suspicious of the scientific experiment of the previous ages. In her introductory notes to Radical Ecology: The Search for a Livable World, Carolyn Merchant manifests the emergence, definition and purpose of Radical Ecology. She claims that the theory emerges as a reaction to the crisis in the industrialized societies and holds the view that the exploitation of nature paves the way for human domination in all facets of life including race, class and gender issues. For her, radical ecology attempts to overcome the illusionary idea that people have the right to exploit nature. Thus, radical ecology adopts a new environmental ethics triggering people to construct a new social structure which is in harmony with this ecological vision (2005: 1). Embracing deep ecology, social ecology and ecofeminism, Radical Ecology, to clarify and extend Merchant’s definition, is a sort of revolutionary green movement which demands a well-organized society promising equal rights for all human beings and nonhuman living beings, promotes the human race to raise awareness, or ecological consciousness about the deteriorating environmental conditions and puts forward reformulated law, ethics, moral values and new principles to rediscover the perception of nature.

The term deep ecology, named as The Long-Range Deep Ecology, was coined by Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess in 1973. Deep ecology invites human beings to realize that they are an indivisible part of what is natural, thus, any idea of superiority or the right to exploit the inferior cannot be accepted. Disavowing the thought that all organisms serve for the benefit of humanity and that nature must only be respected as long as it is a necessary object for the survival of the human race, which is considered as “shallow,” “perfunctory” and “superficial,” the followers of deep ecology strictly believes the equality of every organisms that make up the ecosystems. Based on a holistic approach to the survival of species in the universe, this ecological philosophy emphasizes the role of an individual who is invited to be aware of his/her ecological sense through self-realization. If people in a society achieve the self-realization, therefore, this can lead to the togetherness of society and nature.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (January)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 182 pp.

Biographical notes

Baturay Erdal (Author)

Baturay Erdal received his Ph.D. from Istanbul Yeni Yüzyıl University. He gives lectures in the areas of green studies and contemporary novels in the Department of English Literature, Aydın Adnan Menderes University. His research interests also include literary theories, ecofiction and postmodern literature.


Title: Deciphering Radical Ecology in Contemporary British Fiction
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184 pages