“Unsettled Places and Cultural Ecology: Modernist Trauma Literature.” . London. 26–28 June 2014.
The contemporary frameworks of cultural ecology and ecocriticism, though increasingly prevalent in general, are still surprisingly sparse when it comes to the study of modernism. After all, typical modernist topics such as urbanity, technology or industrialized warfare at first glance appear diametrically opposed to the premises of ecocriticism. This paper crosses these lines, and focus on trauma literature as a field where the disorienting experience of technological and violent acceleration comes into contact with organic, creative structures and the topic of nature in general.
This approach offers two insights: first, nature and ecology are central topics in relevant texts which respond to the trenches of an industrialized warfare, maiming soldiers and landscapes alike. Writers such as Virginia Woolf (The Waves), or Ernest Hemingway (Big Two-Hearted River) respond to this conspicuous interrelation between trauma and the natural landscape in their texts. They subvert such culturally stabilizing notions of nature as the pastoral idyll or the sublime encounter; their literary landscapes rather materialize the haunting, present absence of traumatic memories. Secondly, and that is even more important, ecological processes become salient in the structure of these texts; they provide subtle dynamisms to renew cultural memory and literary representation after the shattering shock of trauma.
Approaching modernism from contemporary ecocriticism, therefore, provides a productive new take on the topical and aesthetic complexity of these texts, and offers stimulating perspectives on the simultaneity of shock and innovation, fragmentation and creativity which characterized the modernist period.