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On the Viable Sublime: Rhetorics and Narrations of Self and Environment in the Contemporary American Ecobiographical Memoir

  • Lombard, David
Publication Date
Apr 12, 2023
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The sublime remains a contested rhetorical and aesthetic concept whose salvageability in the fields of literary criticism, philosophy, and environmental humanities, among others, is still being questioned. The liveliness of the debate on this notion as well as its continuous—implicit or explicit—deployments in a plethora of literary works attest, however, to its viability rather than to its salvageability. This talk will critically interrogate the efficacy and the ethical viability of the sublime when mobilized as a rhetorical device to represent complex relationships between self and (non-)human otherness or environment in contemporary American ecobiographical memoirs. Since the ecobiographical memoir positions and narrates the self in specific environmental surroundings, this talk will focus on emblematic settings—e.g., the mountain, the hunting ground, Oak Ridge—that have been traditionally associated with the sublime or have begotten more recent and understudied avatars that have tried to challenge the notion’s ocularcentrism (the “haptic sublime”), anthropocentrism (the “animal sublime”) or ethicality (the “atomic sublime”) while widening its affective repertoire beyond templates of terror and awe. By focusing on the U.S. context, where the sublime keeps being conflated with imperialist and masculinist concepts such as wilderness and frontier, it will identify and examine the narrative affects and rhetorical effects produced by the sublime in the forum of the ecobiographical memoir, which paradoxically promotes relationality through a human-centered perspective.

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