- Ecocritics and Ecoskeptics: A Humanist Reading of Recent French Ecofiction by Jonathan F. Krell
This book belongs to a recent current of expanding criticism exploring environmental issues in French literature. While ‘green’ fiction scholarship has been prominent since the dawn of the 21st century in the Anglo-Saxon literary landscape, publications about French novels that have environmental concerns at their heart are still quite scarce: Finch-Race and Weber (2017); Romestaing, Schoentjes, and Simon (2015); Finch-Race and Posthumus (2017); Persels (2012); Desblache (2006). As its title suggests, Ecocritics and Ecoskeptics discusses not only authors of fiction sympathetic to environmental concerns but those critical of them, in order to present the possibilities of an “ecological humanism” (180), in a French theoretical context that has been reluctant to “overturn the Cartesian humanism that elevates humanity to a place of dominance over the rest of the universe” (204). The introduction frames this approach, opposing, while in some respects attempting to reconcile, the views of two leading French contemporary theorists, [End Page 169] “ecocentric” philosopher Michel Serres and “anthropocentric” writer and politician Luc Ferry. The book, structured in three parts (Three French Ecofictions, The Animal Question, Two Ecoskeptics: The Humanist and the Humorist) analyzes nine French novels, contrasting in style and spanning over seventy years: Vercors’ Les animaux dénaturés (1952); Tournier’s Les météores (1975); de la Montluel/Chawaf’s Mélusine des détritus (2002); Gran’s O.N.G! (2003); Rufin’s Globalia (2004) and Le parfum d’Adam (2007); Audeguy’s La théorie des nuages (2005); Rosenthal’s Que font les rennes après Noël? (2010); and Gran’s L’écologie en bas de chez moi (2011). Given the diversity of this corpus, finding a common framework for discussion is a challenge, hence the author’s decision to consider thinkers theoretically related to each novelist, such as Arendt for Vercors or Bachelard for Tournier. The second part illustrates how French ‘eco-fiction’ writers have shown, until recently, relatively little interest in animals. Generally, this is characteristic of a lack of intersections between animal studies and ecology in French thought. Most authors chosen for analysis are not primarily engaged in environmental issues (unlike authors who have put the relationship of humanity to the rest of their environment at the core of some of their work, from Romain Gary to Claudie Hunzinger for example). This reflects an overall tepid interest from most 20th-century French novelists towards ecological issues, but also shows the wide-ranging styles of ‘eco-fiction’, from allegorical to ideological or satirical narratives. Given the book’s aim to promote an ecological humanism, the absence of reference to some writers, such as Marguerite Yourcenar, a key environmental humanist and animalist thinker, is perhaps surprising. However, Ecocritics and Ecoskeptics intends to portray the diverse landscape of French environmental literature rather than be comprehensive. It succeeds in doing so, with theoretical references ranging from the anthropological to the philosophical, and from Antiquity to today. While those references are sometimes challenging to compare (the activist Pierre Rabhi and the philosopher Jane Bennett for instance), they offer a rich perspective to the emergent field of French eco-criticism.