Elizabeth Byrne

    Elizabeth Byrne

    Postgraduate research student

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    Research Statement

    Familiar Landscapes Disappear

    My research critically examines selected works of apocalyptic ecofeminist science fiction to explore the ways in which they subvert the conventions of apocalyptic fiction and create alternative visions of the power of apocalypse to transform. In foregrounding the specific struggles and concerns of female characters, writers such as Margaret Atwood, Ursula le Guin, Octavia Butler and Hiromi Kawakami disrupt precepts about ‘human nature’ and its inevitable reversion to savagery and violence when stripped of civilisation, and the assumed dominance of male strength and power in surviving disaster. In doing so they create what Patricia Yaeger described as ‘a moment of possible transformation when the writer forces her speech to break out of old representations of the feminine and to posit something new’, and which she defined as ‘emancipatory strategies’.[1] Ecofeminist fiction exposes hegemonic constructs which normalise patriarchal violence and disadvantage, marginalise and ‘meatify’ women[2]. Ecofeminist fiction can create space for new possibilities; reimagining the relationship that can exist between humans and the natural world, blurring gender boundaries, dismantling patriarchal structures, building new kinds of communities and social systems, reinterpreting what human beings are capable of in the face of disaster, and creating a space for what authors such as Rebecca Solnit have described as radical hope[3].

    The three core chapters will critically examine selected contemporary ecofeminist fiction from North America (including Canada), Japan, and Ireland. Chapter One will explore the emancipatory strategies present in the Flood trilogy by Margaret Atwood - Oryx & Crake (2004), After the Flood (2009), and MaddAdam (2014) – with a brief comparison to their contemporary The Road (2006) by Cormac McCarthy. Chapter Two looks at recent ecofeminist fiction produced by women writers in Japan, since the devastating 2011 Tōhaku earthquake, and subsequent Fukushima nuclear disaster. It examines the literary responses to the disaster in catastrophe fiction or shinsai bungaku, and the parallel activist ecofeminist movement which has developed. It will examine the refashioned story by Hiromi Kawakami God Bless You (2011) and Yoshimoto Banana’s Sweet Hereafter (2011 Japan, English translation forthcoming). Chapter Three looks at the possibilities for ecofeminist fiction set in Ireland, interrogating limitations and boundaries present in Irish and Northern Irish women’s lives. It further develops the framework for emancipatory strategies first suggested by Gretchen T. Legler in her 1997 essay ‘Ecofeminist Literary Criticism’.[4]

    The thesis will include a bridging statement, which connects the critical thesis to my creative practice and output. I contend that writing an ecofeminist apocalyptic science fiction novel provides specific opportunities to explore gender, identity, political hierarches and relationship to landscape, and I explore these issues in my own novel, set in post-apocalyptic Ireland.

     


    [1] Patricia Yaeger, 'Emancipatory Discourse', Contemporary Literature, no. 2, 1986, p. 246.

    [2] Angela Carter, The Sadeian Woman and the Ideology of Pornography: An Exercise in Cultural History (London: Virago Press, 1979, rpr. 2013)

    [3] Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark (Edinburgh: Canongate Books, 2004)

    [4] Gretchen T. Legler, ‘Ecofeminist Literary Criticism’ in Ecofeminism: Women, Culture, Nature, Karen J Warren, ed. (Bloomington and Indianapolis, Indiana University Press, 1997)

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