In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • IntroductionEcocriticism and Narrative Form
  • Liza B. Bauer (bio), Cord-Christian Casper (bio), Hannah Klaubert (bio), and Anna Sophia Tabouratzidis (bio)

Narrative has proven itself a continuous as well as adaptable means for environmentally oriented expression. Its role goes beyond the mediation of pre-existing knowledge imported into the realm of storytelling from other domains; rather, influential models of the natural world tend to circulate as storyworlds (Herman 105). This special issue of SubStance proceeds from the premise that narratives are not only a sequence of (material) signs encoding a story but also “invisible, elusive representations that exist only in the mind” (Ryan 526). Narrative forms generate and transfer environmental knowledge; moreover, any specifically narrative concerns are important contributing factors to the models of agency, change, and nonhuman subjecthood that serve as the basis of environmental thought and action at a given time. Narrative, in other words, influences what is considered knowable (and doable) in an environment. In no small part, it also determines what the contested term ‘environment’ encompasses in the first place: any “terrains located at the intersection of economic, political, social, cultural, and sexual ecologies” (Alston 93) can also be conceived as matters of narrative negotiation. Consequently, inquiries into eco-narrative form allow us to put into focus the exclusionary limits, perspectival narrowings, and restrictions of agency (Bunting 3) that precede and underlie any seemingly ‘pristine’ environment.

Who is granted narrative agency? What are the bounds of the imagined human world surrounded by an environment? Which storyworld connections express the ecological relations between organisms? The environmental impact of these entangled ecological/narrative questions becomes particularly conspicuous whenever there is a change in the models of nature we live by. For example, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), often characterized as a founding text of modern [End Page 3] environmentalism, not only describes the detrimental consequences of synthetic pesticides but also offers a narrative of progressive deterioration and potential amelioration. In the 1960s, an emerging global ecological movement could latch onto this macro-narrative to renegotiate whose voice is heard, who is granted agency, and which model of change may supplant agrochemical acceleration—concerns that, for all their material impact, are also performed in and by narrative templates. It is only fitting that Carson’s text stimulating this broad narrative shift also draws upon a brief story to communicate its message: “There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings” (1). This harmony cannot last: the land is polluted by “a strange blight” (2) prefiguring the environmental pollution to which Carson draws attention. As ecocritics have noted, the passage evokes the “pastoral and apocalypse” (Garrard, Ecocriticism 2) as narrative stand-ins for not-yet-visible pollution. Thus superimposing a stripped-down model of thought upon a complex material process, Carson solves the representational problem of pollutants with a remarkably straightforward account of a collective change of state. In the terms of Jerome Bruner’s classic definition of narrative, the ‘canonicity’ of harmonious life is countered by the as-yet-undefined ‘breach’ of the blight (11).

This special issue provides current scholarly perspectives on such intersections between environmental and narratological concerns. It originally emerged from a two-day workshop at the International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture (Giessen, Germany) in December 2019. First and foremost, the symposium sought to specify the contributions of narrative to the mediation of ecological models. We also, however, reversed this line of inquiry in order to ascertain the environmental imaginary inherent in forms of narrative, their reception, and dissemination. As we approach these questions anew in this issue, we ask which role narratives play in the constitution and cultural perception of the multiple environments human and nonhuman beings inhabit. Which epistemologies of ecological interconnections and changes do narratives convey? How is knowledge inflected by narrative elements of form, and vice versa? And, most importantly: do narratives on the model of Silent Spring still live up to present-day understandings of nature, ecology, or the environment—let alone to the sense of crisis in which these terms are steeped?

Particularly, the issue asks which narrative features offer representational tools to engage...