Landschaft, Leben, Form. Die Poetik des Anthropozäns

Stephanie Langer

We are living in the Anthropocene. That's the name for the present geological epoch - the epoch, in which humans have so dramatically changed the Earth System that their traces will still be detectable in geological strata in millions of years. Humans have become a 'geological force' changing nature profoundly on a global scale - in ways, however, that they cannot control. Originally a geological term, the concept of the Anthropocene is also much discussed in the humanities, the arts, and literature. The Anthropocene calls for a redefinition of the relationship between humans and nature. Humans have become a force of nature, yet they are also an element of nature, entangled in symbioses and dependencies with non-human parts of nature. The separation between nature and culture - in the way that has traditionally shaped Western thinking, i.e. in the separation between natural sciences and the humanities - is no longer possible. In other words: living in the Anthropocene involves a new form of being-in-the-world. Taking this transformed relation to the world as our general framework, the project investigates in the aesthetic and poetic implications of the Anthropocene. How does literature present and narrate this new mode of existence? Which literary forms are able to represent the new understanding of nature? Our hypothesis is that a poetics of the Anthropocene involves above all a reflection on form: natural forms (organisms, landscapes) but also literary forms (genre, narrative forms, style). Our corpus, which includes texts from Alfred Döblin, Max Frisch Peter Handke, W.G. Sebald, Reinhard Jirgl, Christian Enzensberger, Dietmar Dath, Raoul Schrott, Axel Ruoff and Philipp Weiss, will be analyzed under two aspects: (1) Firstly, we will explore how forms of nature - landscapes and organisms - are presented in and come to inform literary texts. We also ask which scientific theories of geology and evolution have influenced authors and have been re-written in and as literature. (2) Secondly, we will analyze the experiments in form - the play of genres, narrative modes, types of text, style etc. - that literary texts develop in and with regard to the Anthropocene. Our assumption is that the Anthropocene not only changes the human relationship to nature and the world, but also solicits a literary self-reflection that gives rise to a deep exploration of literary forms and genres. The project aims at analyzing the different forms this literary self-reflection takes and at showing how literature itself becomes a medium to think about on the relation between humans and nature in the Anthropocene.