Browsing Languages, Literatures, & Cultures Theses and Dissertations by Author "Bezilla, Charlee Myranda"
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ItemFictions of Hybridity in the Anthropocene: Literature and Science in the Works of Rétif de la Bretonne(2021) Bezilla, Charlee Myranda; Benharrech, Sarah; French Language and Literature; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)Experiments in genetic engineering have raised environmental, medical, and ethical questions concerning the manipulation of biological processes. Does modifying an organism in this way change its nature? What do increasingly complex relations between human and machine, organism and technology, mean for human identity and our relations with non-human lifeforms? These questions rest on uneasy but persistent dichotomies of nature and culture, of the humanities and the sciences, and on notions of modernity and progress central to ecocriticism and the environmental humanities. Conceptions of humans as distinct from nature—what anthropologist Philippe Descola names the “nature/culture” divide—are deeply imprinted in the Western psyche and reflected in disciplinary divisions separating the humanities and the sciences, what Bruno Latour calls the “Internal Great Divide.”These questions about hybrid beings, manipulating nature, and the nature/culture divide were particularly pertinent in eighteenth-century French literature and natural history, a period coinciding with the nascence of biological science wherein many thinkers locate the beginnings of the “Anthropocene,” an epoch in which human activity has markedly affected earth systems. Drawing on methods from literary studies and ecocriticism, I examine how literary texts engage debates on the mutability of species, the nature of man, and anxieties about governing populations that remain relevant today. Through the lens of Nicolas-Edme Rétif de la Bretonne’s 1781 novel La Découverte australe par un homme-volant, I engage close readings of the novel alongside natural historical texts to consider the possibilities of “hybridity” as a tool for understanding literary production, the relationships between humans and nonhumans, and how the domains of fiction and science can come together. I find that these texts posit hybridity as a promising intervention, despite growing concerns about degeneration stemming from crossbreeding experiments. After analyzing the formal aspects of the “hybrid” text and its paratexts in Chapter 1, in Chapter 2, I examine how the novel incorporates, interrogates, and extends contemporary theories about the nature of humans and animals. Chapter 3 explores the manipulation of hybrid creatures and proto-eugenicist politics in La Découverte australe alongside key texts from the period to trace how the novel engages contemporary discourses of perfectibility and degeneration. Chapter 4 shows how the novel promotes mechanical technology, along with biological hybridization, as tools of imperialism and societal improvement at a pivotal moment leading up to the industrial revolution.