- French Ecocritique: Reading Contemporary French Theory and Fiction Ecologically by Stephanie Posthumus
The study and application of ecocritique, as Anglo-American scholars know it, to the French literary corpus, whether theoretical or belonging to fiction, is almost always impossible, as many concepts and categories used by American theory cannot be applied to European literary representation, the concept of wilderness being one of the most common examples coming to mind. By stating right at the beginning of her study that her "aim in this book is to build a French écocritique on the premise of cultural difference," Stephanie [End Page 176] Posthumus clarifies elegantly and concisely the nature of this overdue challenge, which, at the end of reading French Ecocritique, I can conclude she has met beautifully.
The book presents many strong features, among which its organization is not the least. In each chapter, the author couples a French theoretician with a fiction writer, under such precise themes as ecological subjectivity, as examined by Felix Guattari, ecological dwelling, as presented by Michel Serres, the ecological politics, as viewed by Bruno Latour, and the final question of ecological ends, as submitted by Jean-Marie Schaffer. Using the philosophical thinking of these authors, who are all well known in the intellectual anglophone community, Posthumus points to the fact that these theories have to be applied to the French corpus keeping in mind that the language specificity constitutes not so much an obstacle but, rather, a fact that leads to a difference in the conception of the world – of the representation of ideas and surroundings – that a simple translation cannot really take into account. It involves a specific conception brought by the truth that another language is another world and, in fact, another ecology-oikos in itself, which informs Posthumus's reflection and leads her to question such principles as humanism, universalism, deep ecology, nature conservancy, and, especially, a whole set of dichotomies between nature and culture, which have to be rethought in terms of the French intellectual activities of the last fifty years. To this effect, I would say that the exposé that the author offers about the position of Bruno Latour, and the consequent analysis of two fictional texts by Jean-Christophe Rufin in chapter three, is especially efficient in this regard. In these discussions, we are invited to question the conception of nature as being "outside" culture and to nuance the opposition between humanism and anti-humanism that seems to block further advances towards the (French) conception of what constitutes "ecology."
Another plague of ecocritique has always been the question of the universalization of values, and their globalization, which is applied indifferently to all world cultures and language, without acknowledgement of fundamental cultural and historical differences that delineate those other ecologies. It is another very strong feature of the book that Posthumus has the intellectual courage and the critical capacity to cast serious doubt on the value of the universalization of the ecological problematic and to somehow suggest its inanity in the face of the growing complexity of a world more and more fragmented. Hence, there are her final references to francophone African ecocritique and Quebec ecocritique. It is with some relief that we can read her passing remark about the need to pay attention to the manifestation of various cultural subjectivities before "they are lost in the bellowing of a notion as grand that the Anthropocene."
While applying theories to a French corpus, French ecocritique is a magistral reflection on this field of studies at large, full of nuances and distinctions about terminologies and perspectives. As such, the book constitutes [End Page 177] a compelling addition to what already exists on ecocritique – French or Anglo-American – because, as far as being a final and definitive comment on the vast question of our objective and subjective relation to the environment, it endlessly proposes more ways of assessing and conceptualizing what we consider to be "ecology."
Department of French, Italian, and Spanish, University of Calgary