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Writing in “the midst of an unfolding disaster”: ecocritical perspectives on contemporary imaginative representations of Tasmanian wilderness
This thesis argues that in the midst of an unfolding ecological disaster contemporary Australian authors and filmmakers are eschewing stereotypical Gothic and Romantic depictions of Tasmania’s wilderness, and instead, are repositioning the nonhuman—the environment and wildlife—as more threatened than threatening.
Emerging from colonial discourse Tasmania’s particular aesthetic heritage developed around a series of double visions involving the representation (or absence) of Aborigines in the landscape. Ian McLean captures this tension in the concept of the “fractured aesthetic,” which provides a point of departure for my analysis. I adapt and apply the fractured aesthetic through my ecocritical readings of eight contemporary fictional texts, all set in the Tasmanian wilderness. In contrast to McLean I focus on the representation (or absence) of anthropogenic degradation, resulting from exploitation of the island’s natural resources. Ultimately, representations of human/nonhuman kinship, rather than intra-human relationships of power direct my textual analysis. To this end, and drawing on the work of Lawrence Buell, Kate Rigby, Serenella Iovino, Greg Garrard, Richard Kerridge, Emily Potter, and other leading scholars of ecocriticism, I synthesise posthumanist ideas of shared materiality that engage recent theories of kinship, entanglement, nonhuman agency, affective narration and ideas of hope through environmental prophecy.
Tasmania’s rich literary and environmental history is apparent in the body of work analysed. The selected texts are: The Tale of Ruby Rose (1987), a film directed by Roger Scholes; Death of a River Guide (1994) and The Sound of One Hand Clapping (1997), both written by Richard Flanagan; The Hunter (1999) novel by Julia Leigh and the film adaptation, The Hunter (2011), directed by Daniel Nettheim; TheWorld Beneath (2009), by Cate Kennedy; The River Wife (2009), by Heather Rose and The Blue Cathedral (2011) by Cameron Hindrum. Ecocriticism of these novels and films remains scarce and I address this gap by exploring ways in which these texts represent nonhuman agency while also acknowledging the sense of shared materiality at the core of human/nonhuman kinship.
After a contextual discussion of wilderness ideology generally, and Tasmanian wilderness representation particularly, I explore the lingering “Tasmanian Gothic” aesthetic which depicts the environment as threatening, as enemy and/or “monster.” The textual analysis demonstrates a shift in consciousness apparent in residual Romantic aesthetics, reworked to include ecocritical perspectives on the sublime and nonhuman agency. Genre is examined, through the power of fairy tale and magic realism, to represent unfolding environmental disasters, and also through satire, to represent the ethical ambiguities of “showcasing” wilderness. In addition, I explore how co-presence between human and nonhuman communities can become toxic co-dependence. The ethical implications of dystopian and/or more optimistic representations of extinction, loss of biodiversity and environmental degradation generally are at the centre of my analysis. The final main chapter returns to the Gothic theme but this time I give a contemporary ecoGothic reading which recasts the monster as the human threat to fragile wilderness ecosystems.
Underpinning this thesis is the idea that literature and film play a crucial role in shaping society’s ethical response to environmental crises. These narratives, I argue, need to be read ecocritically to reveal new paradigms of thought that constitute environmental advocacy. I further argue that writers’ and filmmakers’ representations of Tasmanian wilderness offer opportunities for reflection that exceed local interests and national mythology. They function as a regional lens into understanding ecological and cultural tensions and ambiguities of global relevance.
Department/SchoolCollege Office - College of Arts, Law and Education
PublisherUniversity of Tasmania