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)