Threshold Thinking: Environmental Limits and Literary World-Making

Hetrick, Austin, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Cushman, Stephen, As-English-Eng Lit Ops, University of Virginia
Kuhn, Mary, As-English-Eng Lit Ops, University of Virginia
Ganguly, Debjani, As-English-Eng Lit Ops, University of Virginia

As Earth’s finitude and fragility became increasingly clear in the twentieth century, literary authors centered their work on environmental thresholds, verges and brinks that augured dramatic transformation. Tracing this distinct form of environmental imagination through a selection of modern and contemporary Anglophone literature, “Threshold Thinking: Environmental Limits and Literary World-Making” establishes that the problem of environmental boundaries must be understood not merely as technical or scientific, but also as a narrative, rhetorical, and affective phenomenon, one which can be usefully approached by the humanities. While scientists and theorists have long warned of impending biophysical limits like inadequate farmland, rapidly filling atmospheric sinks, and depleted oil reserves, this project connects those empirical accounts with their cultural and aesthetic formulations, and shows how the era’s literature and science share imaginative, narrative, and rhetorical DNA. Through readings of work by George Orwell, M.F.K. Fisher, Nadine Gordimer, J.M. Coetzee, and Rohinton Mistry, “Threshold Thinking” argues that the environmental imagination of limits functions not as a closure, but rather as an impetus and opening for literary world-making.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Environmental humanities, Ecocriticism, Environmental limits, Malthusianism, Anthropocene, Overpopulation, Postcolonialism, Environmental justice, Natural limits, Sustainability
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: