Element Focused Inquiry: Air and Water in American Literature
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Element focused inquiry, in dialogue with environmental-crisis literature, proposes a theory and a methodology to explore human-elemental becomings, particularly pertaining to air and water. EFI is mobilized to acquire insight into the entwined nature of human beings and elemental others, and to foster understanding of the implications of these relations as they concern what it is to be human. Material imagination figures centrally in EFI and is considered alongside the potential for elements to form assemblages with human bodies, to move people to act, to shape events and the way narratives are structured. My dissertation draws on three American environmental-crisis novels from the late 20th to early 21st century, embracing the ways literary fiction always already figures a relation to the world—via the incorporation and mobilization of processes and practices of human-elemental becomings, environmental influence and crisis, and paradigms reflecting what are often unexamined aspects of human-elemental assemblages. The introduction offers an account of how the theory and methodology evolved from my observations and experience. Chapter one takes a traditional approach to positioning the theory within the evolving body of work on contemporary materialism, eco-materialism, and elemental ecocriticism. Chapter two focuses on the role of air in Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise, suggesting that air is not only at the centre of this uncanny novel and key events, but also at the centre of Jack’s imagination, perceptions, actions, narratives, and body. Chapter three looks at Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, exploring how water acts on the characters’ memory, language, and movement. Chapter four examines Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour, grappling with the slow violence of environmental collapse, watery memories, elemental entanglements, and religious influences. The conclusion considers the question of what we are as human-elemental becomings and what that means for future inquiries.
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Jennifer Doyle (2022). Element Focused Inquiry: Air and Water in American Literature. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/18734