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A Study of Annie Proulx’s Ecological Vision

Author YangLi
Tutor YuJianHua
School Shanghai International Studies University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords Annie Proulx ecocriticism ecological holism bioregion reinhabitation
Type PhD thesis
Year 2011
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Ecocriticism is an interdisciplinary literary study of the relationship between literature and the natural world under the guidance of ecological holism. Since its inauguration in the 1970s, ecocriticism has burgeoned into a recognizable literary critical school. As a theory of practice facing up to the reality of modern ecological degradation, ecocriticism regards literature as the redemption of human intrusion upon nature and commits itself to environmental action. Celebrated ecocritic Lawrence Buell claims that apart from exploring literary imagination for the root causes of environmental degradation, the ecocritics today need to focus on the spirit of commitment to environmental praxis and construct the dialogue between ecological theory and environmental activism. In addition, they should accommodate the environmental justice and social values in their critique and extend concerns to the influences of literature on popular belief and public opinion. At the same time, in the age of globalization, ecocritics should as well attend to the ecological structure of place consciousness. This dissertation, approaching Annie Proulx’s three novels from an ecological perspective with consideration of reinhabitation and bioregion, is dedicated to making a full investigation into Proulx’s ecological vision while exploring the social significances and practical values of her ecological philosophy.Proulx is one of the most influential contemporary American writers, whose novels take place against the background of real historical events in contemporary North America. In her work, she depicts the long-term influences of social changes on the local bio-community through detailed description of ecological transformation. As a result, her fiction is a reflection and critique on anthropocentrism that has misguided human beings to conquer nature in order to thrive. In her fiction, Proulx reprocesses some real ecological crises that have befallen and appeals for the reconstruction of harmonious relationship with the natural world. Throughout her work, Proulx responds positively to deep ecologists who advocate a thorough reconsideration of the contemporary global ecological crisis for the future of the earth. In addition, she offers "reinhabitation" as a constructive solution to save "the endangered world." Besides, it is worth mentioning that Proulx has practiced reinhabitation theory personally in her life. As a result, Proulx’s work is consistent with the trend of contemporary ecocriticism by emphasizing both the spirit of environmental praxis and social values of literature.In her fiction, Proulx constructs three patterns of intricate linkages between the human and nonhuman world in New England, Texas Panhandle, and Newfoundland, which I categorize respectively as Non-inhabitation, Ecological Restoration, and Reinhabitation. Non-inhabitation is characterized by people’s anthropocentric attitude to reshape the natural world according to their pastoral imagination, which ultimately leads to the destruction of both the ecological and human community. Ecological Restoration is characterized by peoples’ environmental action to repair the damaged biosystem for a return of harmony to their habitat. Reinhabitation is characterized by peoples’ effort to reestablish an ecologically and socially sustainable pattern of existence in their dwelling place under the guidance of traditional inhabitory wisdom and ecological literacy. At the same time, they realize themselves and become mature global citizens through reintegrating with the whole biosphere spiritually and physically.This dissertation consists of five chapters.Chapter One is an introduction which first presents a summery of the current studies on Annie Proulx, then provides a glimpse of the origin and development of ecocriticism and finally focuses on the illustration of land ethic and deep ecological thoughts professed by Aldo Leopold, Arne Naess, Heidegger as well as reinhabitation theory.Chapter Two probes into Proulx’s ecological consciousness embodied in her first novel Postcards and explores in depth the relationship between pastoral impulse and environmental degradation. The discussion reveals that the pastoral ideal with the anthropocentric assumption that the natural world is a lifeless object would lead people astray and propels them to regard nature as a provider of material and spiritual resources. Such human-centered attitude is disastrous to the ecological and human community, which explains why people still fail to reconnect with the natural world when they are back to the land.Chapter Three is devoted to the examination of Proulx’s mid-period masterpiece That Old Ace in the Hole. Permeating in the novel is Proulx’s expression of denouncement of the traditional American attitude that encourages people to exploit nature in order to thrive. In the novel, Proulx imparts to the readers her reflection on the history of Westward Movement when the pioneers took a strictly economic posture toward the land and disturbed the age-old balance of nature in the region, leading directly to the dust bowls days in the 1930s. Today in the beginning of the 21st century, such anthropocentric attitude to nature is still prevailing. The westerners continue to treat the land as their personal property and refuse to extend ethical concern to the maltreated natural world. Yet faced the intrusion of global agribusiness corporations coming for the vast land, some of the local people with place consciousness have realized the significance of the land as their home where they belong. They try to resurrect the ruined biosystem with "Prairie Restoration Homestead" plan.Chapter Four first concentrates on Proulx’s exploration of eco-unconsciousness common to rootless modern people. Then it focuses on her envisagement of reinhabitation that enables people to reconnect with the natural world and rebuild an ecologically and socially sustainable pattern of existence. To reinhabit the earth is more than to "dwell poetically" through safeguarding the oneness of the natural world. It requires people to know their habitat from the perspective of bioregion and to apply such ecological literacy in their action to protect and restore the local community. Therefore, reinhabitation, as Buell puts, it, is the latter-day equivalent of "poetically man dwells" in the modern world.Chapter Five is the conclusion. Through careful analysis, Proulx is found to side with contemporary reinhabitory writers who have transformed reinhabitation into the symbiosis between artistic accomplishment through literary imagination and environmental practice in real life. As a result, her ecological philosophy has enriched the movement of reinhabitation both conceptually as well as aesthetically. Through describing in depth the real ecological degradation existent in remote areas, Proulx expresses her great concerns for the future of the human and nonhuman world. These real "endangered worlds" in her fiction urge people to reflect on modern civilization and its damages to nature, and appeal to them to reorient their relation with nature. According to ecocritics, environmental writing does not literally repair the biosphere, yet, it reorients the partially denaturalized readers to an artifactual version of environment designed to evoke place-sense. Naturally, Proulx’s fiction as an ecological education helps her readers develop place attachment and reinhabit the earth with environmental humility in order to restore the harmonious green world of which they are a part.

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