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French Ecocriticism

From the Early Modern Period to the Twenty-First Century


Edited By Daniel A. Finch-Race and Stephanie Posthumus

This book expounds fruitful ways of analysing matters of ecology, environments, nature, and the non-human world in a broad spectrum of material in French. Scholars from Canada, France, Great Britain, Spain, and the United States examine the work of writers and thinkers including Michel de Montaigne, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Arthur Rimbaud, Marguerite Yourcenar, Gilbert Simondon, Michel Serres, Michel Houellebecq, and Éric Chevillard. The diverse approaches in the volume signal a common desire to bring together form and content, politics and aesthetics, theory and practice, under the aegis of the environmental humanities.

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The Vanity of Ecology: Expenditure in Montaigne’s Vision of the New World (Pauline Goul)


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Pauline Goul

The Vanity of Ecology: Expenditure in Montaigne’s Vision of the New World

Abstract: Ecocriticism can acquire important insights from interrogating Renaissance, humanist texts and contexts. The humanist authors who seem to be at odds with ecocriticism’s professed turn to the natural world – in this study, Michel de Montaigne – exhibit, in fact, a certain form of environmental awareness in their work. They index humanism’s shifting relationship to the environment in ways that have shaped our own ecological consciousness. Building on Louisa Mackenzie’s development of a queer, early modern French practice of ecocriticism, this chapter goes beyond merely thematic understandings of ecology to question how the human being confronts environmental change. Montaigne’s ‘Des coches’ [‘On Coaches’] and ‘Des cannibales’ [‘On Cannibals’], often read as economic and ideological critiques of colonisation, contain the depiction of an environmental crisis in Renaissance France, in terms of the notion of a global world, and insofar as the Wars of Religion turn the French territory into a barren wasteland. Juxtaposed with Georges Bataille’s La Part maudite [The Accursed Share], particularly the notion of dépense [expenditure], Montaigne’s essays appear to pre-formulate a paradoxical concern for sustainability. This chapter begins by examining the overlooked backdrop of ‘On Cannibals’ as one of environmental troubles, or trembling, based on moveable ground and the considerations of floods. This unsettling sense of humans’ insufficient control over the nonhuman environment carries into an analysis of the setting of ‘On Coaches’ at the other...

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