If we cannot inherit the earth, what next? Perpignan, France-May 23-27, 2012

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American Studies Association in France (AFEA)
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This session at the French American Studies Association's 2012 Colloquium (centering on the theme of Heritage) investigates the ways in which the relation between the land and its occupants has to be rethought in the light of ecocriticism. The national history of the United States, which juxtaposes the spoliation and displacement of indigenous peoples and the influx of immigrants from other continents, renders the concept of heritage problematic. Native Americans conceptualized their relationship to the land differently from the English colonists, who saw it as property to be claimed, utilized, and exchanged or passed on to their descendants. That vision depended in part on dissociating the earth from its human inhabitants and representing the land as property apt to be transmitted and encapsulating a shared identity. Post-structuralist theory calls into question that dualistic vision, disowns the owner’s rights and question the proprietary tag attached to the land. Certain ecocritical theories, developing Aldo Leopold’s call for a land ethic, accord the land its own rights (Roderick Nash; Michel Serres). Adding to the instability of the notion of heritage is the new consciousness of the environmental dangers threatening the earth, of the fragility of our hold on the land and of the upheaval that our expansion has caused. We are as much inherited by the land as inheritors of it, or, to completely subvert the heritage concept, it could be said that men and land inherit each other. This paradox is expressed in Cormack McCarthy’s catastrophic vision in -The Road- of America as a desecrated land where a father is unable to pass on to his son the world he has known, for this world no longer tallies with the father’s values; another conception of the earth is called for, but we do not know what, since it is unthinkable. We want to focus on this necessary but unthinkable reconception. The apocalyptic scenario is one of the possible answers to the failure of the dualistic vision, but it is, of course, far from being the ultimate solution. New concepts, new utopias, and alternative visions are necessary if we want to avoid repeating the last century’s errors. This session will bring together papers on American literature and civilization that consider the consequences of and the alternatives to the dominant conception of ownership of the land. The accent will be placed on attempts to think and represent the new situation of co-responsibility between man and land that has always existed but has been brought into dramatic prominence by recent ecological calamities in America and elsewhere. Abstracts to be sent to Wendy Harding by December 15, 2011

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