Gry Ulstein / PhD candidate

Ghent University / Comparative Literature

The translation of this testimony was generated automatically by a translation program. Thanks for your understanding.

As a member of the ERC-funded project “Narrating the Mesh” (NARMESH), I study the representation of nonhuman realities and environmental issues such as climate change in contemporary literature. NARMESH explores the ways in which narratives invite readers to think about and engage with ecological issues from different perspectives. I am particularly interested in weird/horror literature as an expression of ecological anxieties.
Because my research has little to no practical application or measurable impact, I sometimes find it difficult to tell people about what I do. They quickly jump to questions such as “how is reading a novel going to help deal with global warming?” or “isn’t the book industry actually pretty horrible for the environment?”
They are partly right, of course: reading a novel that thematises climate change does as much to directly affect global warming as reading a novel about depression does to directly affect global mental health.
I suppose what motivates me in my daily research is the idea that storytelling is still valued for its power to take listeners, readers, or viewers somewhere they would not or could not have gone on their own accord. This “somewhere” can be a place, a mental state, a political ideology, day-to-day habits, or elsewhere.
My life is affected by and affecting the environment in ways I sometimes find deeply troubling and difficult to negotiate. I have limited my meat consumption and plastic consumption, I try to fly less, and I try to never throw away food. But I love long showers, buy new clothes more often than I need to, I live abroad and “have to” fly back home once in a while. The choices I make are largely guided by habitual patterns that I find it hard or uncomfortable to break out of: there is a discrepancy between what I know and what I do about climate change.
The stories we tell ourselves and each other about climate change and our part in it must be challenged and broadened; their implications activated and habitualised. This can only happen if governments work to implement sustainability and ecology communication and action as routine parts of people’s lives.
A novel can’t stop global warming. But some stories stick with us, possibly affecting the way we think about the world, and in turn affecting the way we live in the world.

Originally posted 2018-05-07 02:14:09.

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