Affective Ecologies: Empathy, Emotion, and Environmental Narrative
How do we experience the virtual environments we encounter in literature and film on the sensory and emotional level? How do environmental narratives invite us to care for human and nonhuman others who are put at risk? And how do we feel about the speculative futures presented to us in ecotopian and ecodystopian texts? Alexa Weik von Mossner explores these central questions that are important to anyone with an interest in the emotional appeal and persuasive power of environmental narratives.
Affective Ecologies is an exploration of our embodied engagement with environmental narrative. Environmental narrative, broadly defined, includes any type of narrative that foregrounds ecological issues and human-nature relationships, often but not always with the openly stated intention to bring about social change. Focusing on the American cultural context, the book argues that a cognitive ecocritical approach that draws on the theoretical and empirical insights of neuroscience, cognitive narratology, and the psychology of fiction can give us a better understanding of how we interact with such narratives in ways that are both biologically universal and culturally specific. In doing so, it pays particular attention to the thesis, forwarded by neuroscientists such as Antonio Damasio and Vittorio Gallese, that our minds are both embodied (in a physical body) and embedded (in a physical environment), not only when we interact with the real world but also in our engagement with imaginary worlds. How do we experience the virtual environments we encounter in literature and film on the sensory and emotional level? How do environmental narratives invite us to care for human and nonhuman others who are put at risk? And how do we feel about the speculative futures presented to us in ecotopian and ecodystopian texts and films? These are the central questions that are explored in the three parts of the book, questions that are important not only for ecocritics but for anyone with an interest in the rhetorical strategies and persuasive power of environmental narratives.
Part I of Affective Ecologies focuses on our sensory and affective experiences of virtual environments and the ways in which literary texts (Chapter 1) and films (Chapter 2) cue readers to simulate such experiences in their minds, using their own real-world experiences as models and their own bodies as sounding boards for the simulation.
Part II engages moral questions and looks at the role of what Suzanne Keen has called strategic authorial empathizing in environmental justice narratives (Chapter 3) and in stories featuring charismatic nonhuman animals (Chapter 4).
Part III of the book investigates our embodied experience of speculative future environments in ecodystopian (Chapter 5) and ecotopian (Chapter 6) narratives, and the negative and positive emotions they cue in order to convince us to adapt more sustainable lifestyles.
The conclusion of the book widens the scope of its exploration in a brief consideration of transmedia and digital formats and then closes with some thoughts on the importance of interdisciplinary empirical research in the investigation of the affects and effects of environmental narratives.