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


Climate on Screen: From Doom and Disaster to Ecotopian Visions

It has become a critical commonplace that cinematic depictions of climate change offer a spectacle-driven, apocalyptic vision that is at odds with the diffuse experience of climate and the slow violence of climate change. Some critics also fear that such dark visions might prove detrimental to our capacity of properly addressing the issue because people end up disengaging from it entirely. The first part of the chapter digs deeper into these concerns by exploring some of the emotions cued by dystopian depictions of climate doom and disaster. The second part turns to two films that have tried an entirely different affective approach – Cyril Dion and Melanie Laurent’s Demain and Damon Gameau’s 2040 – by using presenting possible solutions to the climate crisis along with desirable ecotopian futures in a mode that is often humorous, witty, and uplifting. Both narrative strategies, I suggest, have their place in climate change cinema, and both can be effective with some audiences.

(for The Cambridge Companion to Literature and Climate, edited by Kelly Sultzbach and Adeline Johns-Putra. Under contract with Cambridge University Press)

Ecology and Emotion: Feeling Narrative Environments

The chapter argues that the concept of liberated embodied simulation can help us better understand how literary texts engage readers emotionally in their narrative environments. To this purpose, it differentiates between the direct emotions that a text might cue in relation to the depicted storyworld and empathetic character emotions, which allow readers to feel along with the people who populate the storyworld and are thus physically exposed to it. The chapter explores these issues in relation to a widely read climate change novel, Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife, combining narratological analysis with the insights gained from a published survey of readers of the novel.

(for The Routledge Companion to Literature and Emotion, edited by Patrick Colm Hogan, Lalita Pandit Hogan, and Bradley Irish, under contract with Routledge)

Extinction Stories Matter: The Impact of Narrative Representations of Endangered Species Across Media

This article presents the results of a pioneering experimental study into how extinction stories impact the affective, cognitive, and behavioral aspects of our attitudes toward endangered species. Combining insights from the environmental humanities with methods from the social sciences in an approach known as empirical ecocriticism, the paper shows how the sensory modalities of extinction stories and the gender of their audience may inflect their social impact in often surprising ways. It also indicates how the use of drastic imagery may backfire by diminishing the persuasiveness of extinction narratives and generally problematizes their reliance on interspecies empathy.

(with W.P. Małecki and Piotr Sorokowski. Under review at Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment)

The Reception of Radical Texts: The Complicated Case of Alice Walker’s “Am I Blue?”

The chapter presents the results of a large online-based survey (N=800) in the United States and is the latest in a series of attempts to tackle a conundrum posed by Alice Walker’s controversial story “Am I Blue?.” The interdisciplinary team of ecocritics and psychologists used quantitative empirical methods to study the narrative impact of “Am I Blue?” on contemporary American readers, seeking to replicate the results of an earlier study, conducted in Poland, while also testing new hypotheses about the cultural situatedness of reception, and about the impact of two text-immanent features. The results of the study are surprising and counterintuitive, a stark reminder of the challenges involved in studying the reception of complex literary texts. While partially confirming the author’s hypotheses about the effects of human-animal comparisons and the depiction of emotional rather than physical violence against animals, the study’s most important takeaway is the insight that culturally radical texts may fail to have the desired effect on readers who do not already share their radical position.

(with W.P. Małecki, Matthew Schneider-Mayerson, Marcus Mayorga, and Paul Slovic. For Empirical Ecocriticism, edited by Matthew Schneider-Mayerson, Alexa Weik  von Mossner, W.P. Małecki, and Frank Hakemulder)

From Mindbombs to Firebombs: The Narrative Strategies of Radical Environmental Activism Documentaries

The article examines two films that give insight into the histories of two very different radical environmental groups: Jerry Rothwell’s How To Change the World (2015) recounts the birth of Greenpeace and its development of “mindbomb” communication strategies at great personal risk. Marshall Curry’s If a Tree Falls (2011) chronicles the rise and fall of the Earth Liberation Front and its militant tactics of environmental sabotage. Situating both films in the larger history of radical environmentalism in the United States, the article explores the affective side of their rhetoric on two levels: on the level of the environmental activists’ own communication strategies—which involve putting their own lives at stake to garner attention for pressing environmental issues—and on the level of the films made about these activists and their strategies.

(for a special issue of Res Rhetorica on “The Rhetoric of Ecology in Visual Culture,” edited by Katarzyna Paszkiewicz and Anna Bendrat)