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The Futures of Homo Ecologicus: An Ecological Inquiry into Modes of Existence for the Anthropocene in Selected Works of Daniel Defoe, Toni Morrison, and Arundhati Roy

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thesis
posted on 19.12.2021, 14:20 by Geun-Sung M LeeGeun-Sung M Lee

This dissertation explores the philosophical, cultural, and political implications of the discourse on humanity and human subjectivity in the time of the Anthropocene that engages a wide geographic and temporal range. Specifically, I examine the ways in which three selected literary works of Daniel Defoe from England, Toni Morrison from America, and Arundhati Roy from India interact with the intricately contested notions of what it means to be a human being sharing the earth’s natural habitats with another entity traditionally defined as “other,” categorized around species, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, class, and even religion.

I argue that Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, the allegedly first modern novel, inaugurates the reigning understanding of human being as homo sapiens represented by Crusoe’s rationalized humanity, the essential feature of which has come to engender a threatening condition both for the nonhuman and non-European world; that Morrison’s Paradise and Roy’s The God of Small Things each in their own way not only problematize and challenge the overall tenet of Defoe’s metaphysical rationality in Euro-American and Anglophone cultures, but also investigate a more secular and thereby alternative idea of human subjectivity as homo ecologicus, so as to either (re)construct or restore a vibrant and sustainable community based on a notion of human not as hierarchically superior to “other” entities, but more horizontally and inclusively situated within one larger common habitat called the planet Earth.

Postulating the conviction that one cannot fully understand the aforementioned alternative conceptualization of human being as homo ecologicus within the confines of divisive identity politics based upon racial, ethnic, national, religious, gender, and sexual orientation categories, it is a pivotal concern of my thesis to bridge the ostensibly unquestioned bifurcation between human beings and Nature: that between the West and the East, that between male and female, that between reason and intuition, and that between knowledge and life. In performing these wider ecological inquiries into radical modes of human existence, I place the core value of nonfoundationalist thoughts of Friedrich Nietzsche, Alfred North Whitehead, Martin Heidegger, Michel Foucault, and Edward Said, among many others, in critical dialogue with the study of literature with a view to thematizing the broader question of how a literary narrative as a historical and cultural institution imaginatively reframes our self-consciousness of the precarious condition of the Anthropocene. In conclusion, I argue that the study of literature and other humanities that valorize a vital interconnectedness between humans, objects, and the environment offers the potential for an inexhaustible and enduring habitat in which homo ecologicus continues to, in the words of Nietzsche, “remain faithful to the earth,” embracing homo sapiens.

History

Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

English

Campus location

West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Robert P. Marzec

Additional Committee Member 2

Alfred J. Lopez

Additional Committee Member 3

Aparajita Sagar

Additional Committee Member 4

Daniel W. Smith