Academic journal article Nature, Culture and Literature

5. Facets of EnvironMentality

Academic journal article Nature, Culture and Literature

5. Facets of EnvironMentality

Article excerpt

As Wolfgang Iser maintains, with literary theory, readers can discern literary meaning by virtue of "mapping" (see Iser 2006: 5). The preceding chapter has indeed sought to map sources of what Buell describes as textual "environmentality" (Buell 2008: 25). Instead of thinking of ?environmentality' as a textual given, however, my reading of The Hungry Tide has delineated a process of engaging with the form and content of literature via interpretation and described the interpretive negotiations of gaps and tensions in terms of a hermeneutic process. The result of this process, which acknowledges the "literary event" as an encounter with alterity, I have termed EnvironMentality. That is to say, EnvironMentality emerges as a result of negotiations: the aporias of reading nature, the tensions of reality and the challenge of talking about truth in the plural all constitute the experience of reading environmental texts. I have argued that in our dealing with nature, and with postcolonial environments in particular, the concept of alterity can help to discuss the singularity of literature as well as the world-as-text. Accordingly, and rather than providing for an exhaustive reading, the last chapter has opened up several avenues for interpretation. And instead of providing a uni vocal definition of the ?environmental text', it has explored the concept of EnvironMentality in the process of reading.

What has become clear, too, is that the "rescuing of literary discourse" (Attridge 2004b: 108) argued for at the beginning of Chapter 4 can only work to a postcolonial-ecocritical advantage if emplotment is understood as a means to move beyond the distinction of ?form' and ?content'. Although such a distinction makes sense for heuristic reasons, it cannot be maintained. Accordingly, by looking for EnvironMentality, I have been approaching a study of "form without formalism" (119). By the same token, Mikhail Bakhtin claims that "the study of verbal art can and must overcome the divorce between an abstract ?formal' approach and an equally abstract ?ideological' approach: "Form and content in discourse are one" (Bakhtin 1981: 258).

By taking into account the specific "social tone" of the novel, Bakhtin describes it as "a phenomenon multiform in style and variform in speech and voice" (Bakhtin 1981: 258; 261). He furthermore writes that by means of a new poetics of the novel we can understand how "[e]very novel [...] is an intentional and conscious hybrid" of different layers of language and meaning, which interact dialogically (366). Bakhtin's notion of heteroglot novelistic speech indeed corresponds to the tone of The Hungry Tide. In my reading, I have connected the intertextual allusions and the novel's heteroglossia to the overarching environmental orientation of the narrative. Bakhtin's idea of the ?camivalisation of literary speech' can thus be re-assessed in the context of this study (see also Murphy 2011). It shares aspects and functions with what Zapf calls the ?ecological function' of literature (or, for that matter, what postcolonial studies describes as the discursive potential derived from ambivalence, ?mimicry', and hybridity).1 By incorporating various linguistic and discursive elements into the novelistic whole, the novel stands as a ?parody' of the layers of meaning on the one hand, and as a representation of?images of languages' as they "enter the great and diverse world of verbal forms" (Bakhtin 1981: 52), on the other.2

In my reading of The Hungry Tide, I have identified a number of narrative strategies that supplemented or instigated an ?environmental' reading experience. My findings will now serve as the starting point for further readings: the emplotment of the natural environment and its staging through narrative situations and focalisation, the dialogic nature of fiction and its negotiation of the muteness of non-human nature, and the role of intertextual references, for instance. Mukherjee's claim that The Hungry Tide "exaggeratedly performs its own fictionally by borrowing idioms, rhythms and cadences from allied art forms that constitute the cultural matrix" (2010: 12) serves as an important impulse. …

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