Creative responses to uncertainty: the representation of environmental change themes within recent fiction

Author: Monika Stasiak

Stasiak, Monika, 2018 Creative responses to uncertainty: the representation of environmental change themes within recent fiction, Flinders University, School of Humanities and Creative Arts

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Abstract

This creative writing thesis Creative Responses to uncertainty: the representation of environmental change themes within recent fiction presents a novella and an accompanying exegesis. The novella A Widening Gyre is set in a near future Australia as the impacts of climate change become evident. A Widening Gyre is presented through a discontinuous narrative, in which each chapter depicts a scenario involving the protagonist Em. Em’s interactions with people and situations provoke reflections on uncertainty. Em and the other characters must confront their responses to a future that is uncertain, with each chapter representing differing responses. Each chapter presents an environmental change scenario, and characters undertaking a journey of exploration to define the themes and values that are personally meaningful amidst changes in their surroundings.

The exegesis discusses the relevant theoretical context for the novella, encompassing the period of my research 2010 to 2015. Chapter One examines the field of Ecocriticism, which focusses on narratives that explore the relationships between humans and their non-human surroundings. Chapter One defines Ecocriticism and proposes that Ecocritical practitioners will need to engage with multiple issues that are arising in environmental discourse in the twenty-first century. These include concepts such as the Anthropocene, new ways of perceiving ecological systems, globalisation, environmental justice, and place-based environmental stewardship. This chapter also argues that Ecocritical practitioners will need to examine and perhaps defend their value as the era of climate change advances.

Chapter Two surveys recent critical discussions about how climate change is represented in realist fiction. This chapter provides the context for my own writing about climate change. This chapter contends that it is important to write fiction about climate change for many reasons. Climate change is an issue that requires an urgent response. All disciplines can contribute to environmental discourse, and fiction is particularly powerful because its techniques can provoke emotional, imaginative and sensory responses. This chapter also enquires whether fiction writers are obliged to communicate scientific information, and finds that there are differing and therefore inconclusive views.

Chapter Three discusses a range of fiction styles that represent environmental change themes, including dystopian fiction, science fiction, speculative fiction, and Young Adult fiction. This chapter appraises the varying styles and concludes that authors use a broad range of aesthetic and craft techniques to depict environmental change scenarios. The purpose of this chapter was to investigate whether my novella clearly represents one particular style. I discovered that, like so many works of fiction, my novella displays qualities of several styles and therefore cannot be discretely categorised.

Chapter Four analyses three Australian texts that strongly influenced my novella. These include Nevil Shute’s novel On the Beach, Steven Amsterdam’s novel Things we didn’t see coming, and Sue Isle’s novella Nightsiders. This chapter discusses the features of these texts by reference to the stylistic parameters introduced in Chapter Three. This chapter also identifies that these texts were influential for me because they explore characters’ responses to external environmental change scenarios, as does my novella.

Chapter Five explains the processes that I undertook to produce a novella which discusses environmental change themes. It also introduces the main social theories that underpin my research, including psychogeography, voluntary simplicity, cultural creatives, existential enquiries related to the growth-based economy, scientific climate change predictions, and the role of discourse in behaviour change.

Keywords: climate change, environment, cli-fi, ecocriticism, speculative fiction

Subject: Creative Arts thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2018
School: School of Humanities and Creative Arts
Supervisor: Dr Danielle Clode