Storying Extinction
: Cultural Imaginations of Insect Decline

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Abstract

With dozens of species becoming extinct every day, we inhabit an era increasingly known as ‘the sixth extinction’. Despite this extensive loss, however, the cultural imagination remains concerned with a few select examples of charismatic fauna and flora. In an ecocritical exploration of the relationship between imagination, politics, culture, and the insect, this thesis examines the role of story(ing) in directing cultural attention to certain species in an era defined by human-driven ecocide. In particular, it focuses on insects and their decline. This thesis identifies how writers and artists are responding to as well as struggling with a growing imperative to bear witness to the lives of uncharismatic or unloved individuals that are facing extinction. I read their works in relation to recent scholarly responses to species decline across critical extinction studies, ecocriticism, and animal studies to ask: why do we pay careful attention to certain species and not others? Employing an ecocritical lens, I consider novels and poetry as well as visual art and museum exhibitions, to investigate how insect decline is represented and storied. Through interconnected themes of story, care, and attention, I identify some of the dominant tendencies in storying insect decline (as well as particular animals that exemplify these tendencies): the ‘storytelling of multitudes’ inspired by Red Lists and taxonomic classification; narrative monocultures that overemphasise a single species, the European honeybee; and finally, the interweaving of existing stories with new extinction narratives as exemplified by the monarch butterfly. The entopoetics of extinction reveal that these stories still grapple with the biocultural entanglements that render some critters meaningful and leave others unseen. While they foreground the complexities of storying endangered and extinct species, I argue that they are equally constrained by existing narratives of loss (e.g., the elegy), natural history and taxonomy, other-than-human charisma, and socio-political contexts.
Date of Award19 Mar 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SponsorsSouth, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership
SupervisorMichael Malay (Supervisor) & Samantha Walton (Supervisor)

Keywords

  • ecocriticism
  • environmental humanities
  • critical extinction studies
  • insects

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