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


From Nostalgic Longing to Solastalgic Distress: A Cognitive Approach to Love in the Anthropocene

The essay aims to demonstrate the usefulness of a cognitive approach for affective ecocriticism, taking as an example Dale Jamieson and Bonnie Nadzam’s co-authored short story collection Love in the Anthropocene. It analyzes how in three stories from the collection readers are cued to feel empathy for characters and share their feelings of loss and nostalgia in the face of the drastically impoverished environments of an indistinct future. Like most emotions, love is a feeling that is directed at an object. The most uncontroversial object of human love may be another human being, but in Jamieson and Nadzam’s stories the emotional objects are far more diverse and more elusive. Sometimes they aren’t even materially present and yet we can trace how their very absence cues an emotional response in readers.

(forthcoming in Affective Ecocriticism: Emotion, Embodiment, Environment, edited by Jennifer Ladino and Kyle Bladow, Omaha: University of Nebraska Press)

Sensing Animals: Trans-Species Empathy and the Nature Documentary

The essay argues that viewers’ belief in the authenticity and consequentiality of the events seen on the screen is of central importance for their emotional responses to wildlife documentaries. Research in affective neuroscience and cognitive ethology that has demonstrated that signs of empathy and emotion can be observed in many mammals. The essay suggests that a closer look at the embodied expression of animal emotions allows for a better understanding of our affective responses to the animals we see in nonfiction film. It also helps explain why wildlife filmmakers have to edit their material so carefully in order to provide viewers with emotional experiences that are satisfying but not overwhelming in their intensity and valence.

(forthcoming in Documentary and Cognitive Theory, edited by Catalin Brylla and Mette Kramer. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan)

The Moral Dilemma of Unsustainability: Eco-dystopian Fiction as Cultural Critique

The essay takes the recent resurge of interest in dystopian fiction as a starting point for an investigation into the relationship between speculative storytelling and the cultural discourse on sustainability. Drawing on the work of sociologists Shai Dromi and Eva Illouz, the essay suggests that eco-dystopian texts are cultural critiques in the sense that they present readers with a dilemma and then imbue that dilemma with emotional value. It argues that Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower is a pertinent example of such a critique in that it invites readers to share the moral dilemma of its hypherempathetic protagonist while making them viscerally aware of the environmental and social conditions that have caused that dilemma.

(forthcoming in Cultural Dimensions of Sustainability, edited by Gabriele Rippl and Torsten Meireis, New York and London: Routledge)

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)

How We Feel about (Not) Eating Animals: Vegan Studies and Cognitive Ecocriticism

The essay aims to draw connections between two emerging research fields within the environ­mental humanities: vegan studies and cognitive ecocriticism. It suggests that a cognitive ecocritical approach drawing on the insights of affective neuroscience and cognitive ethology can complement the cultural studies side of vegan studies by turning our attention to the ways in which texts and films invite us to feel about animals, food, and the relationship between the two. It is particularly interested in the transformative potential of a range of negative and positive emotions that are cued by texts that critically investigate our relationship with food.

(forthcoming in Doing Vegan Studies: Textual Ethics and Lived Activism, edited by Laura Wright, University of Nevada Press)

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)

The Day After Tomorrow

This short introductory essay for Cli-fi: A Reader gives an overview of the central themes and narrative structure of Roland Emmerich’s climate change disaster blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow (2004). It also offers insight into the film’s reception and recommendations for teaching.

(forthcoming in Cli-fi: A Reader, edited by Axel Goodbody and Adeline Johns-Putra,  under contract with Peter Lang)

The Age of Stupid

This short introductory essay for Cli-fi: A Reader gives an overview of the central themes and narrative structure of Franny Armstrong’s climate change documentary The Age of Stupid (2009). It also offers insight into the film’s reception and recommendations for teaching.

(forthcoming in Cli-fi: A Reader, edited by Axel Goodbody and Adeline Johns-Putra,  under contract with Peter Lang)

Green States of Mind? Cognition, Emotion, and Environmental Framing

The essay takes the virtual experience of Hurricane Harvey in the American media as a starting point for an exploration of what George Lakoff’s notion of cognitive framing can contribute to ecocritical discourse. Lakoff notes that it isn’t easy to change cognitive frames once they have become firmly established, but suggests that engaging storytelling is precisely what can get us to, quite literally, change our minds. The essay explores from a cognitive ecocritical perspective just how elastic our minds really are and what narratives strategies environmentally ortiented storytellers have developed in order to change them.

(under view for the journal Green Letters)