Special issue on sustainability: Svenskämnets berättelser och berättelser i svenskämnet: ett temanummer om hållbarhet 

Detta är ForskULs andra temanummer, producerat tillsammans med två gästredaktörer.I Svenskämnets berättelser och berättelser i svenskämnet: ett temanummer om hållbarhet presenterar  Anna Lyngfelt och Katharina Dahlbäck fem artiklar som på olika sätt utgör exempel på det den brittiska professorn Kari Facer benämner ”närvarandets pedagogik”. Detta är en form av undervisning  där elever får fördjupa sin förståelse av samtidens företeelser och samtidigt ges tillfälle att öva sig i att se komplexiteten i det som sker, för att därigenom kunna utveckla tankar om potentiella framtidsvägar. Temanumret belyser på så sätt möjligheter att genom svenskämnet bidra till samhällets hållbarhetsarbete. Temanumret avslutas med en reflektion av just Kari Facer.

David Thurfjell: Granskogsfolk. Hur naturen blev svenskarans religion (2020)

Nature in general, and the woods in particular, are essential to Swedish society and culture. In fact, trees and forests are so crucial to the modern, primarily secular Swedes and their self-image that this type of natural landscape could be regarded as a national religion in contemporary Sweden. This is the central thesis presented by David Thurfjell (professor in religious studies) in Granskogsfolk. Hur naturen blev svenskarans religion (“People of the spruce woods. How nature became a religion to the Swedes”)

Thurfjell asks why rural landscapes such as the pine woods appear to be the sphere most Swedes choose when seeking places for existential reflection, what these spiritual experiences are like, and how this orientation toward the rural parts of society has become so widespread among the modern Swedes.

To answer these questions, Thurfjell turns to two types of sources. To find out how the Swedes of today think of and experience nature, he has interviewed 72 of the hikers he has met while strolling in the forests surrounding Stockholm. These contemporary reflections are contextualized through a comprehensive cultural-historical analysis. Based on a variety of historical, religious, philosophical, and psychological studies, as well as examples from the Swedish literary canon, Thurfjell presents the Swedes’ relationship with nature throughout history. This journey begins in the mythical landscapes of Norse society, pass through the conflicting ideas of the holy as something beyond, but also within, the material world during the Christian era, continues to the secular instrumentalization of nature in the industrial period, and ends up in the existential paradoxes of the Anthropocene. Even though much of this narrative is familiar, at least to readers interested in images and stories about Scandinavian nature, Thurfjell’s spiritual history of Sweden demonstrates the critical insight that nature is indeed a crucial part of what we conceive of as culture.

From the perspective of literary studies, it is interesting to note that the many quotes from well-known Swedish poems, novels, and songs included in Thurfjell’s argument reflect a remarkably richer and more nuanced way of expressing the profound and significant experience of connection between human beings and their natural surroundings, compared to the urban “new age”- discourse influencing many of his informants. The poem from which Thurfjell has borrowed the title, Granskogsfolk, is a telling example of how precise, but uncomplicated all the same, literary language can be:

Vi uppsöker gläntornas ljus

och bor till en del i städer

där vi får för oss

att vi är oss själva.

Ändå är vi vad vi är

Ett granskogsfolk

(From Tuvor (1973) by Harry Martinsson)

However, those (of us) who hoped the title Granskogsfolk referred to a religious history connected to trees or spruces particularly will be disappointed due to the general scope of Thurfjell’s examination. As Thurfjell admits himself, the words “nature,” “landscape,” “forest,” and “spruce woods” are used synonymously. Nevertheless, there are some passages where connections to trees as such, and even certain species, are given particular attention.

Oe such example is a section on “Kärleken till träd” (The love of trees), where the author discusses a tendency among his informants to establish friendly relations with trees. Several of them report conversations with trees, and one expresses that she looks upon trees as persons “with a real personality” (p. 43). Thurfjell enriches these testimonies with parallel examples in texts by canonized Swedish authors such as Artur Lundkvist and Sara Lidman.

A section on the powerful Swedish timber industry reveals a far more problematic perspective on trees. During the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, vast parts of the Swedish woods were treated with the same pesticides used as chemical weapons in the Vietnam War. The long list of “unwanted” plants mentioned in the marketing campaign for these products (including common species such as birch, hazel, and willow) effectively explains why monoculture is one of the most significant threats to biodiversity in Scandinavian forests today. 

Thus, even though Granskogsfolk does not contribute much new knowledge, neither about the spiritual history of Swedes or their relation to spruce, it is a well-written reminder that the natural landscapes we walk through, read about, and dream of are central to what it means to be a human being.

04.05.2022 by Beatrice G. Reed, Post doc. Western Norway University of Applied Sciences

New PhD-thesis – by Ahmed Khateeb

This dissertation examines constructions of nature and childhood in a selection of contemporary Norwegian books for children and young adults. The selected titles are Stian Hole’s picturebook trilogy about Garmann (2006; 2008; 2010), the illustrated novel Tonje Glimmerdal (2009) by Maria Parr, and the novel Fredlaus (2006) by Ragnar Hovland. By engaging with ecocritical theory, philosophical texts on nature and formation by Rousseau and Thoreau, and Klafki’s theory of categorical Bildung, the main aim of the dissertation is to explore how the character’s experiences of and reflections on the landscapes they live in have formative qualities.

I have mainly dealt with the part of ecocriticism that discusses literary constructions of landscapes. Throughout the readings, I show that the selected texts reproduce culturally established ideas about pastoral and wild nature, and I argue that these ideas shape the characters’ interpretation and understanding of the landscapes.

As part of the analysis, I map the texts’ constructions of landscape and childhood against the “Nature-in-culture” matrix as developed in the research group “Nature in children’s literature and culture” at the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences. This matrix is an analytical tool that I use to discuss how the characters’ natural surroundings may be read as ecocritically formative landscapes where the relationship between nature and culture is celebrated, explored or problematized. Although I show that the texts reproduce anthropocentric and celebratory understandings of nature, I highlight that the characters problematize uncritical celebrations of nature, both in themselves and in other characters. This makes them examples of critical and self-reflexive characters who alternate between different ways of understanding themselves and their engagement with nature, while also assessing how other characters position themselves in the landscapes.

I find that the characters are constructed in dialogue with literary childhood figures from a romantic nature-celebrating tradition, while also arguing that it is possible to read the characters in dialogue with Anthropocene thinking by underscoring their problematizing reflections on human kind as a destabilizing ecological force found in the texts. These are formative reflections that lead the characters to the insight that their connections to the landscapes are not only idyllic and something to be celebrated but is also a complex relationship that involves responsibilities.

The dissertation is a contribution to the in-depth theoretical and analytical understanding of constructions of nature and childhood in children’s literature. It demonstrates that the primary texts examined reproduce established ideas about the relationship between nature and childhood, while also presenting new insights into the ways in which such thinking is explored and developed in new literary texts for children and young adults.

Climate Panel on Plants in Children’s and Young Adult Literature

“Agency, Kinship, and Stories of Plants”

Join us for a conversation on the representation of plants in children’s and young adult hosted by Melanie Duckworth and Lykke Guanio-Uluru, co-editors of Plants in Children’s and Young Adult Literature. Panelists will include Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak, Anja Höing, Mónika Rusvai, and Terri Doughty. They will discuss critical plant theory, kinship, and the agency of plants in relation to a broad range of children’s and young adult literature from Sweden, the US; Australia and the UK: from Elsa Beskow’s plant people to the terrifying Wood in Naomi Novik’s Uprooted; from violent vegetables in Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton’s The 52-Storey Treehouse to arboreal poetry written by children.

Climate change, deforestation, mass plantations, pesticides and genetic engineering are affecting both plants and the complex ecosystems to which they – and we – belong. One way to begin addressing these issues is to start thinking of plants as more than just objects. Do plants think? We know that they sense – but do they feel? What characterizes plant knowledge? Should we think of them as people? Even if we do not – do plants have rights?

These are questions being asked in the emerging field of critical plant studies. Here, we explore such questions in relation to the rich and varied worlds of children’s literature, which offer unique opportunities to imagine and encounter the life of plants.

Attendees will have the opportunity to submit questions and comments. The event will be recorded.

Event Information:

  • Format: Live Zoom webinar
  • Time: 09.00-10.00 CT
  • Date: March 11, 2022
  • Registration required
  • Webinar link will be emailed after registration

 

Lykke Guanio-Uluru is Professor of Literature at Western Norway University and researches literature and ethics, particularly plant studies, ecocriticism, fantasy, and game studies. She is the author of Ethics and Form in Fantasy Literature (2015), co-editor of Ecocritical Perspectives on Children’s Texts and Cultures: Nordic Dialogues (2018) and the author of multiple articles, the most recent of which is “Analysing Plant Representation in Children’s Literature: The Phyto‑Analysis Map

Melanie Duckworth is Associate Professor of English Literature at Østfold University College, Norway, where she teaches English, postcolonial, and children’s literature. Her research interests include Australian literature, plant studies, children’s literature, and ecocriticism, and she has published on Australian historical children’s fiction, Australian literature, ecofeminism, and contemporary poetry.

Digital lecture by Prof. Marek Oziewicz on «Creating Universal Climate Literacy with Children’s Literature and Media»

This talk suggests that narrative fiction is good for thinking with, and that we need to think our way out of the challenges facing us in the Anthropocene. The notion of climate literacy is introduced as a narrative competence, and the argument is that the achievement of universal climate literacy is necessary for our world to transition to an ecological civilization. Climate literacy presents us with multiple pedagogical and conceptual challenges but it may also be the greatest opportunity for our education systems. How do we go about building grassroots climate awareness that will change the world? How can English arts teachers and literature scholars be part of this global shift? What tools can we use and where do we begin? This talk suggests that one good place to start is narrative fiction and that young people’s literature and media are ground zero for building a climate literate society.

When: February 23, 2022, 18.00 (CET)

If you are interested in taking part in the lecture, please contact Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak by email by 21 February at the following address: justyna.deszcz-tryhubczak@uwr.edu.pl

Suzanne Simard: Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest (2021)

Suzanne Simard, a Canadian, is one of the most influential forest ecologists of the past thirty years. Her discoveries about the mycorrhizal network connecting the root systems of forests, for which she coined the term the “wood wide web,” have inspired several popular science books, including Peter Wohlleben’s well-known The Hidden Life of Trees. She was also the inspiration for a character in Richard Powers’ arboreal novel The Overstory (2018). Rob Nixon (2021) speculates that her discoveries about the interconnected nature of forests have been so resonant because, in the face of the climate crisis, many people are ready to let go of individualistic and competitive notions of self and meaning, and are seeking new ways of imagining and embodying community. The intricately enlaced roots of forests provide precisely this.

Finding the Mother Tree is an autobiography that puts Simard’s scientific discoveries in the context of her life and family history. Her attitudes towards trees are an intriguing mix of the pragmatic, the scientific, the intuitive, and the mystical. Born into a family that has been logging for generations, Simard is at ease with the fact that humans use trees to build livelihoods. She explains that as a child she chewed the rich humus of the forest floor, a trait for which her siblings never teased her. She writes: “I can’t tell if my blood is in the trees or if the trees are in my blood” (Simard 2021, p. 25). As a young female ecologist in the male-dominated forestry industry, Simard is eager to prove herself as competent and trustworthy as “one of the boys,” but she is disturbed by the devastation caused by clear-cut plantations, and troubled by the fact that the roots of newly-planted saplings seem reluctant to connect with the earth.

The book is fascinating for a number of reasons: the insights into mid to late-twentieth-century logging culture, the descriptions of the mycorrhizal fungi that attach to roots of trees and assist the exchange of nutrients, and the accounts of Simard’s detailed and decades-long experiments that demonstrated the integral role the mycorrhizal fungi plays in sustaining communities of multi-species forests, in direct contrast to the assumptions of the logging industry that “competing” species should be removed. The book also addresses the issue of gender. In addition to describing the challenges Simard faced in establishing herself in—and questioning the foundations of—a male-dominated industry, the book reflects on Simard’s relationship with her mother and her own two daughters, including her decision to spend significant stretches of time away from them as they grow up, in order to devote herself to her research on forests.

The “mother tree” of the title refers to the enormous, ancient trees of the forest whose roots support the development of the saplings and the younger trees around them. Simard discovers that old and young trees communicate with chemical signals passed through fungal networks—similar in many ways to the neural pathways in our own brains. She writes: “the old trees nurture the young ones and provide them food and water just as we do with our own children” (Simard 2021, p. 5). Simard decides to call these trees “mother trees” despite the fact that that they aren’t exactly female because the word “mother” speaks to her own experiences of care and nurture: “The hubs were Mother Trees. Well, mother and father trees, since each Douglas-fir has male pollen cones and female seed cones. But … it felt like mothering to me” (Simard 2021, p. 228). In 2013, Simard gave a talk on Mother Trees to a group of fourteen-year-olds. It was posted on YouTube, and was successful enough that she was invited onto TED Talks’ main stage two years later. She writes: “I struggled with anthropomorphisms that I knew would be criticized by scientists, but I chose to use terms such as ‘mother’ and ‘her’ and ‘children’ anyway to help the kids understand the concepts” (Simard 2021, p. 274). Her choice to anthropomorphize the trees contributed to the popular dissemination of her research and struck a chord with viewers and readers around the world.

17.01.2022 by Melanie Duckworth, Associate Professor, Østfold University College, Norway.

Two publications by Roberta Grandi – both on Watership Down

I. “Anyway, What’s a Doe More or Less?” Androcentrism in Watership Down (1972) and Tales from Watership Down (1996) by Richard Adams

Abstract: When Adams’s Watership Down reached the US market, it came under strong criticism for “its anti-feminist bias” (Resh Thomas 1974: 311). Several years later, Le Guin reiterated the censure of its “egregious sexism” (2009: 82), taxing the novel with falsifying animal behaviour. However, through the comparison of Lockley’s The Private Life of the Rabbit (1964) and Adams’ text, it is possible to prove that the latter’s representation of rabbits’ society is actually strongly indebted to his source text for its blatant androcentrism. The sequel, Tales from Watership Down, published in 1996, ostensibly tries to give the does more “floodlight” (Adams in Monaghan 2011: 14) and make amends for some of the accusations received. However, as the paper highlights, while the novel undeniably conveys a strong ecological message, its point of view remains strenuously patriarchal.

II. «Animals don’t behave like men… They have dignity and animality». Richard Adams’s Watership Down and Interspecies Relationships in the Anthropocene

Abstract: When thinking of animals in children’s literature, the pictures that usually come to mind are those of anthropomorphized beasts “merely embodying human tropes» (Jaques 2015: 45), talking creatures that mirror human behaviour and oftentimes interact with men. However, in Watership Down (1972), thanks to the accurate study of rabbits’ social organization as described in Lockley’s The Private Life of The Rabbit (1964), Adams manages to offer the reader a full “immersion in lapine natural history» (Buell 2014: 411). In this anthropocenic world, the “contact zones» (Haraway 2008:4) between men and animals are configured as conflict regions where the rabbits fight their daily battle against their predators. Yet, while all other non-human animals “do what they have to do» driven by fundamental needs, human beings are the only creatures whose attitude is both gratuitous and catastrophic. The article focuses on the way in which Adams, by allowing the reader to adopt a defamiliarized point of view on human behaviour “gives agency to the earth» (Battista 2011: 159). Moreover, the study also analyses the relevance and consequence of the fact that in Watership Down animals are capable of fostering fruitful interspecies relationships and even forming alliances with other creatures. Hence, “humanity» becomes a derogative term effectively replaced by “animality» as the byword for a new, eco-centric non-exploitative attitude towards other fellow creatures.

Thor Hanson: The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History

In The Triumph of Seeds, conservation biologist Thor Hanson guides the reader through a fascinating exploration of the evolution of different types of seeds, from spores to coffee beans. Taking Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution as his point of departure, he argues that “natural selection, like commerce, rewards a good product” (xxiii); a mechanism which ensures that successful evolutionary adaptations become the norm.

Hanson combines his biological expertise with a genuine enthusiasm for the subject of seed evolution, allowing the reader to discover the multifaceted organisms that seeds are, as well as how deeply they are entwined with human lives: “We live in a world of seeds. From our morning coffee and bagel to the cotton in our clothes and the cup of cocoa we might drink before bed, seeds surround us all day long” (xxiv). Hanson’s accessible style makes his expertise available to the reader, who may find him or herself similarly enthused by the intricate mechanisms of seed evolution and survival.

The book is subdivided into five sections, each focusing on a different quality pertaining to seeds: Seeds Nourish, Seeds Unite, Seeds Endure, Seeds Defend, and Seeds Travel. In each section a few species of plant are discussed more in depth, to exemplify the overarching quality. Under “Seeds Nourish” for instance, Hanson discusses grasses, several of which are significant food crops, and links them to early human civilisations.

In a pedagogical move, he compares seeds to “babies” that usually come packed with their own “lunch”, and manages to make the specificities of plant biology accessible to a lay audience:

In terms of lunch, most seeds use a nutritious product of pollination called endosperm, but various other tissues will do the job, including perisperm (yucca, coffee), hypocotyl (Brazil nut), or the megagametophyte preferred by conifers. Orchids don’t pack a lunch at all – their seeds simply pilfer the food they need from the fungi found in the soil. (Hanson 17)

Noting how all seeds share the common goal of “protecting, dispersing and feeding baby plants” he goes on to demonstrate how “the food in seeds gets eaten by a lot more things than baby plants” (ibid) – and not least by humans. In this rich volume, Hanson also discusses the survival strategies of seeds, seed banks, and seed longevity in relation to climate change. Thus, his book certainly provides food for thought.

30.12.2021 by Lykke Guanio-Uluru, Professor, Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, Bergen