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French Ecocriticism

From the Early Modern Period to the Twenty-First Century

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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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On the Meaning of Being Alone with Nature: Sylvain Tesson’s Ecocritical Sincerity and Ecopoetic Sensuality in Dans les forêts de Sibérie (Hannes De Vriese)

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Hannes De Vriese

On the Meaning of Being Alone with Nature: Sylvain Tesson’s Ecocritical Sincerity and Ecopoetic Sensuality in Dans les forêts de Sibérie

Abstract: In the 2011 travelogue Dans les forêts de Sibérie, Sylvain Tesson relates a six-month retreat on the banks of Lake Baikal in Siberia. This autobiographical piece of literary nonfiction – motivated by a disgust with Parisian society that is considered to be morose and artificial – celebrates the beauty of pristine nature, and describes the benefits of a humble life in the wilderness. In view of the genre, themes and general configuration of Tesson’s text, a filiation with Thoreau’s Walden (to which Tesson refers) is obvious, yet there are marked differences in Tesson’s narrative: the seasons have little influence on the activities of the narrator, and there is no account of efforts to work the land, or of any engagement with natural cycles. Instead of depicting a vision of independence and harmonious co-existence with nature, the book indulges in hedonic exoticism and sensuality that arise from contact with the wilderness. The ecocritical dimension of Tesson’s text centres on the revelation that the narrator’s retreat is more of an ecopoetic parenthesis than an ecological utopia. Although Tesson ponders the relations of man towards animals and nature, his experience of the wild – designated as provisional and unstable – is subject to irony and criticism, reflecting what may be a typical French suspicion towards ecological thought, as critics including...

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