Ecocritics and Ecoskeptics

BookEcocritics and Ecoskeptics

Ecocritics and Ecoskeptics

A Humanist Reading of Recent French Ecofiction

Studies in Modern and Contemporary France, 5


September 1st, 2020



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In France, the fundamental intellectual debate over ecology might best be summarized by the contrasting views of Michel Serres and Luc Ferry. In The Natural Contract, Serres calls for an end to humans’ war on nature: Our world view must turn from anthropocentric to ecocentric, and our relationship to the earth must become symbiotic instead of parasitic. Luc Ferry’s response to Serres in The New Ecological Order ridicules the metaphor of a natural contract, by which humans (and humanism) would no longer reign over the earth. Ferry accuses Serres and other ecological thinkers of being “premodern” and “prehumanistic”; valuing nonhuman life as much as human life evokes the ridiculous trials of five centuries ago when beetles and rats were threatened with excommunication if they did not cease their antihuman activities.
After analyzing the Serres-Ferry debate, Ecocritics and Ecoskeptics examines environmental themes in novels by Michel Tournier, Stéphane Audeguy, and Chantal Chawaf. It then considers the complex and evolving relationship between humans and animals as expressed in novels by Vercors and Olivia Rosenthal, and in philosophical works by Jacques Derrida, Élisabeth de Fontenay, and Peter Singer, among others. Two novels each by the humanist J.-C. Rufin and the humorist Iegor Gran provide a dose of healthy skepticism. Rufin’s stories reveal the potential dark side of extreme environmentalism—authoritarianism and terrorism—while Gran’s hilarious satires critique some environmentalists’ piousness, opportunism, humorlessness, and antihumanism. The book concludes that environmentalism and humanism are not incompatible, if we proceed beyond the traditional humanism of Ferry and other modernists. Essays by philosophers such as Claude Lévi-Strauss, Pierre Rabhi, Edgar Morin, and Michel Maffesoli demonstrate that an inclusive, ecological humanism is not only possible but necessary for our survival.

"This pioneering study provides eco-humanist insights into a broad spectrum of contemporary French fiction. Professor Krell contributes richly to discussions around the green agenda that are more and more urgent because of the intensity of manmade changes in our planet’s climate."
Daniel Finch-Race, Research Fellow in Environmental Humanities at Università Ca' Foscari

Author Information

Jonathan F. Krell is a Professor of French at the University of Georgia.