University of Worcester Worcester Research and Publications

The island imagination: an ecocritical study of ‘islandness’ in selected literature of the British and Irish archipelago

Marland, Pippa (2016) The island imagination: an ecocritical study of ‘islandness’ in selected literature of the British and Irish archipelago. PhD thesis, University of Worcester.

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Taking its cue from Robert Pogue Harrison’s exploration of the cultural meanings of forests in Forests: The Shadow of Civilization (1992), this thesis investigates the role of islands and islandness in the cultural imagination, focusing on a selection of post-1960 island-themed literary texts from four selected islands/island groups around the British and Irish archipelago. The study draws upon recent developments in island studies, cultural geography, archipelagic perspectives, and the emergent field of material ecocriticism, and addresses the following questions: What can an ecocritical reading of literary island writing contribute to an understanding of islandness? And reciprocally, in what ways can an understanding of islandness take ecocritical debate forward? The methodology brings the close reading techniques of literary criticism to bear on the texts, augmented, where possible, by interviews with the authors. The findings have confirmed Pete Hay’s assertion, in the context of island studies, that islands are special, paradigmatic places: ‘topographies of meaning in which the qualities that construct place are dramatically distilled’ (2006: 31). The work of the island authors studied here reflects an apparent intensification of phenomenological experience, along with a disruption of established understandings of human being-in-the-world. The latter is exemplified in the thesis by discussion of concepts such as ‘concurrent’ island time and the ‘more-than-metaphorical’, and by its reframing of existing conceptualisations of dwelling. The physical qualities of islandness foster reflections on the intersections of the local and global, and offer visions of spatiotemporal scales that might assist in forging new means of apprehending the human place in planetary ecologies.

Material ecocriticism has provided a theoretical basis for the consideration of islands as ‘naturecultures’ and ‘assemblages’, and while this approach has proved richly productive, it has also revealed islands to be resistant to encapsulation, in ways that have cast both the tropes of islandness and these theoretical positions themselves into critical relief. The results of the study have suggested amendments to ecocritical theory that include: a need to balance a sense of the vibrant choreographies of material becoming with an exploration of more personal, culturally-inflected chorographies; the addition of the concepts of ‘material affect’ and ‘material value’ to material ecocritical readings; and the augmentation of ecocritical posthumanism by an ongoing study of the implications of human technicity. The research responds to reservations expressed within the field of island studies about literary portrayals of islandness, and argues that the works studied here represent important interventions into island literature. Their authors can be seen as introducing new, hybrid forms, such as ‘pyscho-archipelagraphy’, to the articulation of islandness, and as offering critical reflections upon earlier island texts while working towards their own, original responses. In sum, the thesis carries out both the islanding of ecocriticism and the introduction of ecocritical approaches to the field of island studies, and makes a case throughout the discussion for the ongoing relevance and value of the study of literary evocations of islandness to both island studies and ecocriticism.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information:

A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the University’s requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy. University of Worcester, 2016.

Uncontrolled Discrete Keywords: ecocriticism, island studies, island literary studies, material ecocriticism, posthumanism
Divisions: College of Arts, Humanities and Education > School of Humanities
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Depositing User: Pippa Marland
Date Deposited: 02 Nov 2021 12:59
Last Modified: 02 Nov 2021 12:59

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