Drafts of all of the papers below have been completed and are awaiting publication.

Why We Care about (Non)fictional Places: Empathy, Character, and Narrative Environment

The essay draws on research in neuroscience and cognitive literary studies to explore how literary reading can lead us to care about natural environments that are both threatening for humans and threatened by human actions. Ann Pancake’s novel Strange as this Weather Has Been (2007) serves as an example of a novel that cues both direct and empathetic emotions for an actual natural environment – the Appalachian Mountains – that is wounded and scarred. Pancake’s choice to relate large parts of the story through the consciousness of teenagers allows for highly emotional and in many ways radical perspectives that have the potential to engage readers (within and outside the university) in the social and moral issues around resource extraction.

(forthcoming in a special issue of Poetics Today on “Knowledge, Understanding, Well-Being: Cognitive Literary Studies”, guest-edited by Nancy Easterlin)

Feeling Literary Environments: Econarratology, Embodiment, and Emotion

Using a cognitive econarratological approach, the essay examines the narrative strategies and underlying neurological processes in the imaginary evocation and affective experience of literary environments. The first part looks at Sanora Babb’s memoir An Owl on Every Post, arguing that while it is the evocative sensual description of a literary environment that helps us imagine it vividly, it is the narrative alignment with experiencing agents that imbues that environment with affective meaning. Part two turns to Babb’s dust bowl novel Whose Names Are Unknown to demonstrate that the same basic principles also apply to fiction and that the vivid evocation of literary environments—and of characters’ affective responses to them—can be an important feature of politically engaged environmental narratives such as Babb’s.

(forthcoming in Environment and Narrative: New Directions in Econarratology, edited by Erin James and Eric Morel, Ohio State University Press)

Empathy, Emotion, and Environment in Australian Landscape Cinema: The Case of Rabbit-Proof Fence

The spectacular landscapes of Australia have always featured prominently in Australian film. The aim of the essay is to complement contextual analyses of the political, ideological, and commercial uses of natural environments in Australian landscape cinema by exploring from a cognitive perspective exactly how such environments are foregrounded in ways that affect viewers’ emotional relationships to both characters and the environments themselves. Phillip Noyce’s Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002) serves as an example of a film that is part of Australian landscape cinema but breaks the typical mould of the genre in that it is focusing on female, non-Western protagonists and on the larger socio-political context of their struggle for survival.

(forthcoming in a special issue on “Pride, Shame and Togetherness” of the journal Emotions: History, Culture, Society, edited by Jordan McKenzie, Roger Patulny, Rebecca Olson and Michelle Peterie)

Climate Change and the Dark Side of Translating Science into Popular Culture

A frequent complaint against popular culture translations of climate science has been that such translations display a problematic proclivity towards dark, even apocalyptic storytelling that cues negative emotions such as anger, sadness, fear, guilt, and shame, rather than hope or desire for a better way of being. In this context, the essay explores two concepts that Federico Italiano has suggested to be at the heart of all translation processes: opacity as that which is invisible, hidden from view, that which gets lost in translation, and the notion of emotional darkness. The essay argues that the feelings evoked by popular translations of climate science must not necessarily be bad or painful, nor must they lead to apathy or despair.

(forthcoming in The Dark Side of Translation, edited by Federico Italiano, Routledge, 2020)

Stories versus Speciesism: Strategic Empathy and Intersectionalism in Alice Walker’s ‘Am I Blue?’” (with Wojciech Małecki and Małgorzata Dobrowolska)

Alice Walker’s essay “Am I Blue?’ has been claimed as an important intervention by social justice groups and animal rights activists alike, but in 1994, the California School Board also banned the essay for being “anti-meat-eating.” The study combines a narratological analysis of the text with the results of several experiments that tested the essay’s impact on actual readers’ attitudes toward animal welfare in general and toward horses, specifically. In addition, the study pays attention to the essay’s metaphorical dimension, which does not shy away from making what Marjorie Spiegel has called the “dreaded comparison”: an acknowledgement of the similarities between the enslavement of black people and the enslavement of animals. This combination of textual, contextual, and experimental modes of investigation demonstrates that the attitudinal impact of Walker’s essay is in fact far more complex and context-dependent than has been previously claimed.

(forthcoming in a thematic cluster of articles on “Empirical Ecocriticism” in the journal Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Enviornment, guest edited by Wojciech Małecki, Matthew Schneider-Mayerson and Alexa Weik von Mossner)

Feeling Bad? Veganism, Climate Change, and the Rhetoric of Cowspiracy

Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn’s Cowspiracy uncovers a truth that many people are still unaware of: the fact that our personal food choices have an impact on the climate. The essay combines a cognitive ecocritical analysis of Cowspircacy’s rhetorical strategies with the experiences I made in teaching the film to a group of Austrian students in a seminar on American Climate Change Cinema. Class discussions as well as anonymized questionnaires showed that students were deeply affected by the film’s rhetoric. Many of them felt for the first time that their personal choices mattered in fighting climate change, but they were also overwhelmed by the prospect that this moral choice would involve changing their eating habits. The essay discusses the potential of such emotional responses in light of scholarship on the “rhetorical form” of documentary film (Bordwell and Thompson 2001).

(for Veg(etari)an Arguments in Culture, History, and Practice: The V Word, edited by Cristina Hanganu-Bresch and Kristin Kondrlik. Under contract with Palgrave Macmillan)