Postlocal Ecocriticism: Place-Making in California's Literary Landscape, 1850-1999
AuthorLombardi, William Vincent
AdvisorGlotfelty, Cheryll A.
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This dissertation is an ecocritical project examining place-making strategies in a global age. Region and locality are presumed to be subordinate to the forces of globalization; as such, localist environmental practice has, in recent years, been perceived as short-sighted and provincial. Regional and environmental literary and cultural criticism have turned their attention to socio-environmental issues that are planetary in scope. Critics understand the problems of globalization as matters of scale. Contemporary criticism focuses on distance, on a separable and distinct near or far. Yet my survey of California literature since the Gold Rush reveals that in everyday practice place is the outcome of a simultaneous near-and-far. I call this condition “postlocal,” as opposed to the limited local and overdetermined global which an inordinate attention to scale predict. I argue for a clearer understanding of locality that accounts for the resilience of local meaning, even as the world’s places interact with, and are transformed by, the flow of people, ideas, and goods across the globe. Each chapter triangulates among texts depicting specific sub-regions of California, each in a different era. Chapter 1 analyzes adaptations to local conditions in the diggings of the Feather River watershed based on miners’ accounts. Chapter 2 examines the industrialization of the rural landscape in literature at the beginning of the twentieth century. Chapter 3 is a study of fictional family histories from settler colonial and indigenous perspectives. Chapter 4 is an interrogation of futurity in what I call “speculative regionalism,” or place-based science fiction. This study indicates that ground-level meaning-making is crucial to modern environmental practice.