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  • French Écocritique: Reading Contemporary French Theory and Fiction Ecologically by Stephanie Posthumus
  • Jonathan F. Krell
Posthumus, Stephanie. French Écocritique: Reading Contemporary French Theory and Fiction Ecologically. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2017. Pp. 249. $61.00 CDN.

In articles such as "Vers une écocritique française: le contrat naturel de Michel Serres" or "Engaging with Cultural Difference: The Strange Case of French Écocritique," Stephanie Posthumus has long been calling for a distinctly French ecocriticism, which would recognize cultural differences between the French and Anglo-American world. For example, American environmentalists tend to value the preservation of wilderness, untouched-or barely touched-by humans, whereas the French have emphasized "landscape preservation" (17), where culture implies cultivation, and thus includes farmland and the architectural patrimoine of rural France (17-19). Another difference is that in North America, ecocriticism owes much to environmental studies, whereas in France it has been shaped by a spatial, geographical approach: géocritique and géopoétique (21-22).

As a bilingual Canadian well-read in both North American and European ecocritical studies, Posthumus is particularly well suited to the delicate task of delineating a French écocritique without tearing it away from its North American counterpart. She insists on the importance of considering both theory and fiction; therefore, her study is not purely about ecological themes, but is also a literary study, "attentive […] to the formal and structural elements of the literary texts in question" (23). She forms her analysis around four ecological concepts: subjectivity, dwelling, politics, and ends, exploring each concept by studying a philosopher and a fiction writer whose works illustrate the concept in question. In order to elucidate ecological subjectivity, Posthumus chooses Félix Guattari and Marie Darrieussecq; for ecological dwelling, Michel Serres and Marie-Hélène Lafon; for ecological politics, Bruno Latour and Jean-Christophe Rufin; and for ecological ends, Jean-Marie Schaeffer and Michel Houellebecq.

Chapter One explores how the idea of "subject" has evolved in ecocriticism, as the human has lost its exclusivity as subject. Guattari's The Three Ecologies (1989)1 opposes "capitalistic subjectivity" and "articulate[s] subjectivity within three overlapping domains-the mental, the social, the environmental" (32), the latter of which must include "machinic ecology" (36). Darrieussecq's Bref séjour chez les vivants (2001) can be analyzed in the light of Guattari's three ecologies. The novel recounts the lives of a woman and her three daughters: teenage Nore lives with her mother in the Basque Country, Jeanne is married and living in Buenos Aires, and Anne is single in Paris. Guattari's social ecology helps the reader interpret the complex relationships among these four women. For instance, Anne, who has difficulty relating to her body, but instead is more comfortable envisioning the noosphere, or world of ideas, illustrates mental ecology; she imagines herself connected to the "worldwide consciousness," a [End Page 523] node of the "world's encephalic field" (44). Finally, regarding environmental ecology, Posthumus stresses the role of "watery landscapes" (48) in Darrieussecq's fiction. The oldest sister Jeanne drowns at the end of the novel, trapped as her car descends into a river. Like her brother who drowned as a boy, Jeanne too will become a hybrid, a human transformed into a creature of the waters.

Marie, the protagonist of the "autofictional" novel Le Pays (2005), represents ecological subjectivity as proposed by Guattari. Her body is "porous," united with the environment, as Posthumus demonstrates: "Vos molécules se mélangent au ciel et à l'eau, la solitude se diffuse. Les mots et les choses s'écartent, la pensée ne suit plus, les signes se désamarrent; et le moi devient une grande béance pleine d'éau salée" (54).

Chapter Two studies the theme of "dwelling" in the light of l'exode rural that has changed the role of the French paysan. Along with the sailor, the farmer represents for Michel Serres the human being most apt to undertake a "natural contract" with the world, since he has been forced to adapt to "constantly changing local conditions" (70). In The Natural Contract (1990), Serres moves from the local to the global, forging "a new relationship between global earth...


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