Nature Writing of the Anthropocene

Abstract: The point of departure for this study is the hypothesis that the American genre of nature writing has reached an important crossroads in the way it describes the human-nature relationship. My study argues that the awareness of the large-scale environmental changes that are signaled in terms such as the Anthropocene has changed the way nature writers approach their genre. Where traditional nature writing would tend to posit a separation between pristine and humanized environments, the nature writing of the Anthropocene emerges from the awareness that environmental impacts have reached a scope where no such distinction can be made. The traditional narrative of retreat to pristine nature or the wilderness from civilization has thus been replaced in Anthropocenic nature writing with the narrative of confrontation with a natural environment impacted by humans. This is a dystopian tendency in the genre, in which descriptions of nature are increasingly characterized by the writer’s concerns over what is happening to the landscape in question, and what the future might hold in a world where industrial humanity is affecting all ecological processes. Such literature increasingly foregrounds the best available environmental science, and the texts mark a shift from the traditional focus on spiritual connections with the environment, towards more material and functional understandings of the role of humanity in the complex organic and inorganic dynamics that maintain the world’s ecosystems. This dissertation analyzes the emergence of Anthropocenic awareness in selected texts of contemporary American nature writing with reference to its five main features: scientific interest in the function of ecosystems, interest in the agency of matter rendered through what is referred to as material nature writing, the dignification of the overlooked, the environmental landscape of fear, and a turn in the genre towards matters of environmental justice. Even though what I refer to as Anthropocenic nature writing may seem dystopian, this dissertation foregrounds the various ways in which the narrative of confrontation with the human also invites activism and engagement in the hope of stimulating change and environmental justice.