True Stories: Narrative Ecologies in Revolutionary Fiction and College Composition

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Wade, Stephanie
The Graduate School, Stony Brook University: Stony Brook, NY.
"The question is how you rearrange the stars above your head, to open up unexpected paths on the ground beneath your feet."- Brian Holmes This project argues that college writing classes are important sites of interdisciplinary work, where students can pose and pursue questions that exceed traditional disciplinary boundaries. I use the concept of narrative ecologies to respond to Fredric Jameson's critique of Jean Francois Lyotard's narrative theory and account for the layered, connected, unevenly distributed nature of master and local narratives as they alternately intersect, collide, diverge and align. The concept of narrative ecology rooted in Sidney Dobrin and Christian Weisser's explication of discursive ecology, combines narrative theory and cultural ecology to better understand narratives as living systems, that, like our physical homes and earthy environments, shape our experiences and also respond to our actions. In the first two chapters, an ecological approach allows me to read the narrative and scientific work of Aphra Behn and Charles Brockden Brown, writers who worked during revolutionary periods and who used narrative and scientific discourse to engage in culture work. I use their work as evidence that contemporary disciplinary divisions are historically specific and as evidence of non-Cartesian representations of identity. In assessing the critical responses to these writers, I argue that their vexed positions in the canon are related to critical orientations that emphasize the figure of the hero or heroine and reinscribe the values of individualism. Revisiting these writers offers a historical perspective on post-humanist, ecological understanding of experience. Next, an ecological approach allows me to disrupt traditional histories of composition studies and remap this period, plotting connections among the work of Lyotard, Gayatri Spivak, and Peter Elbow, to reveal an alternative history, one that supports liberatory pedagogies. The final chapters evaluate ecocomposition and public, mixed-media writing as strategies for incorporating narrative and scientific discourse into the first-year writing curriculum.