Nesten menneske. Biografien om Julius (2017, Almost Human. Julius – A biography)

Norwegian Alfred Fidjestøl is an awarded biographer and a non-fiction author with a keen eye for curious lives and institutions. Thus, it is not a big surprise that he has been the first Norwegian author to embark on yet another unusual project; that is, to write an animal biography or zoography about the most popular and well-documented animal living in Norway, the chimpanzee Julius, born, raised and kept in custody in Kristiansand Zoo from 1979 until today. What then is an animal biography? How do animals document their life? What is the sources of an animal’s life? In addition, who are the readers, probably not their kin, and why does anyone want to tell the life story of an animal?

The structure of Fidjestøl’s biography is the chronological one, spanning from birth to the present, with an emphasis on the first half of the chimpanzee’s life, which is the period when Julius’ popularity was at its highest. Not only is the book title an open loan, referring to Robert Yerkes’ Almost Human from 1925, the various titles of the book chapters refer to literature, songs and films, such as ‘Happy days’ (Beckett), Four Weddings and a Funeral (Newell) and Home for Christmas (Mena). Interestingly, all these references are expressions of human cultural practices.

The main source to Julius’ life used by Fidjestøl are also human related; the medic’s journal from the first years, public archives, interviews with main caretakers of Julius, including the zoo director, photos, TV-programmes, and children’s books about the chimpanzee. In addition, he has studied seminal research on chimpanzee life, both wild (e.g. Goodall) and in custody (e.g. de Waal). It is interesting to note that what is less studied and discussed, is the animal biography genre, concerning both theoretical aspects (e.g. animal studies) and other animal biographies.

At first glance and after reading the first chapters, one may get an impression that the biography is a homage to Kristiansand Zoo voicing the unpublished works of the medic and the director. However, Fidjestøl proves, in various and very clever ways, to be able to interlace critical comments, insightful perspectives on the anthropocentric human-animal distinctions, and questions concerning the rational of modern zoos.

To the NaChiLitCul project, it may be of interest to study and perhaps question how Fidjestøl analyses the various ways Julius expresses himself. Except for the secondary sources (journals and both oral and written reports), most of the biographer’s knowledge seems to derive from photos, film clips and some paintings made by Julius. Julius himself is not represented by a human verbal language. Hence, Fidjestøl ends up reading Julius’ body language. His physique, his movements, his grin and, very often, his eyes. In addition, also the sounds or Julius’ ways of calling or yelling are taken in to consideration. The big problem, which is hard to solve, I guess, still remains; how do we, as humans, know how to interpret these means of communication? Shall we use human behaviour as a basis of comparison or shall we tune ourselves into or involve with animals as if we are about to learn a second language?

According to Fidjestøl, the act of looking into the animals’ eyes seems to be a key possibility. Leaning on Martin Buber (in addition he could confer with Levinas), he tends to mystify the gaze of the chimpanzee. What is perhaps most important, he also stresses that when looking into the eyes of the chimpanzee, he also finds a plea for respect, and a call upon us as humans to stop massacring and eradicating the many species and forms of life around the world.


Nina Goga, 29.11.2017


Twenty-first Century Feminisms in Children’s and Adolescent Literature (2018)

At a time when feminism struggles to find an appreciative audience with young people, Twenty-First-Century Feminisms in Children’s and Adolescent Literature by Roberta Seelinger Trites offers convincing arguments for its relevance by showing how contemporary feminisms inhabit literature written for children and adolescents. Throughout this book, Trites reflects on the ways in which literature for young people continues to employ various forms of feminism to break down barriers in ways that empower girls regardless of whether they identify with the gender they are assigned at birth. She also considers where the literature falls short by relying on gender stereotypes and hierarchies.

In mounting her argument for a material feminist approach, Trites reflects on how her own theoretical position has changed from a heavy reliance on language and discourse in her early book Waking Sleeping Beauty: Feminist Voices in Children’s Novels (1997) to recognising the value of a tripartite framework – language, discourse, embodiment – in Twenty-First-Century Feminisms in Children’s and Adolescent Literature (2018). Instead of privileging the discursive over the material, material feminism aims to understand the material in discursive terms. While Trites acknowledges the lived experience of bodies, her book is not based on empirical research. Rather, she quite rightly notes that children’s literature can only represent the material body. In so doing, children’s literature exposes its readers to the many aspects of materiality – human embodiment, toys, physical spaces and geographies, and the environment. Her approach throughout this book is to demonstrate the value of multiple perspectives by asking ontological questions about how gender intersects with the material world. Trites reasons that by adding a material feminist lens to her analytical framework, she is able to frame her analyses of texts to take account of how ‘youth’ is a multi-faceted stage of life that involves complex interactions among embodiment, discourse, the environment, technology and culture.

Chapter 1 provides the theoretical foundation for the book, considering how material feminism offers a way for examining the individual in terms of the interactions of the material and discourse. It begins with a review of how different feminisms have defined being female in various ways: in physical/biological opposition to maleness (Adrienne Rich; Mary Daly); as a social construct (Jacques Derrida; Michel Foucault); as a gender performance (Judith Butler); as a process-of-becoming (Giles Deleuze). The chapter also considers how by attending to being (ontology) and knowing (epistemology) new opportunities are created for interrogating the process-of-becoming inherent in the gendered experience of adolescence (Karen Barad). The final section of the chapter applies these theories to the feminist YA novel Beauty Queens (2011) by Libba Bray.

Chapter 2 examines issues of age as they intersect with other forms of oppression including gender, race, ability, and class. By drawing on the theoretical work around intersectionality (which recognizes all forms of oppression) and aetonormativity (aged-based norms), the chapter analyses five narratives to consider how these perspectives work with the material to show how writers are attempting to destablise binaries of race (white/non-white), gender (male/female), and age (young/old). Texts include: Christopher Paul Curtis’s The Mighty Miss Malone (2012); Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Becoming Naomi Léon (2004); Phillip Hoose’s Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (2009); Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming (2014); and Sherri L. Smith’s Flygirl (2008).

Chapters 3 and 4 are particularly pertinent to NaChiLit. Chapter 3 demonstrates how ecofeminism extends the concerns about oppression and material feminism by showing that the body is always enmeshed with the physical world. Drawing on the work of children’s literature scholars (Alice Curry; Bradford et al.; Beth Pearce), ecofeminists (Greta Gaard; Donna Haraway; Karen Barad), and feminist geographers (Linda McDowell; Robyn Longhurst; Doreen Massey), the chapter examines how a selection of ecofeminist children’s ‘realist’ fiction (historical and contemporary realism) link environmental awareness to the lived materiality of maturing girls. Texts include Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust (1997), Jacqueline Kelly’s The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (2009), Angela Johnson’s Heaven (1998), Jewel Parker Rhodes’ Ninth Ward (2010), and Margaret Mahy’s Kaitangata Twitch (2005). Trites concludes that in the best of these ecofeminist novels, the protagonists transcend language and/or employ it to understand their environment. They also recognize how their own embodiment is affected by the environment and they respect the way that nature’s agency informs existence. Chapter 4 deploys ecofeminism and material feminism to explore embodiment in the focus texts and how neoliberalism complicates twenty-first century feminisms in adolescent fiction. Key theorists include Elizabeth Grosz and Susan Bordo. She concludes that the texts range from those that offer successful examples whereby female protagonists reject heteronormative love triangles and critique neoliberalism (e.g. The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex; Orleans by Sherri L. Smith), to those that objectify the female body, where even the female protagonists participate as objects of exchange in male homosocial love triangles (e.g. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins; Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor; Starters by Lissa Price).

Chapter 5 considers how sexuality is linked to materiality but is also interpreted, represented, performed and lived in ways that involve the discursive. The chapter explores the interrelated aspects of sexuality, orientation, and gender identification in YA literature. It reviews the work of children’s literature scholars on queerness and sexuality (e.g. Kerry Mallan; Lydia Kokkola; Michelle Ann Abate & Kenneth Kidd; Amy Pattee) and feminist and queer theorists (Judith Butler; Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick; and Michael Warner).

Finally, chapter 6 posits that a feminist ethics of care (Nell Noddings) argues that identity formation occurs within a matrix of human interactions, the environment, and the material. From this starting point, the chapter analyses the rhetorics of caring and cooperation both in feminist intersections with Disability Studies (Rosemarie Garland-Thompson) and with narrative theory and reader response in a selection of YA fiction. Chapter draws on work of children’s literature scholars: Lissa Paul; Holly Blackford; Kerry Mallan, and Sara K. Day.

One of the most significant achievements of Twenty-First-Century Feminisms in Children’s and Adolescent Literature lies in showing the value of multiple perspectives by attending to the discursive, ontological and material aspects of textual representations of gender. Trites deftly demonstrates the usefulness of a material feminist critique through close reading of selected texts that engage with twenty-first century feminist concerns regarding female empowerment amidst growing social, economic, technological and environmental challenges. It is disappointing that the range of fiction is restricted largely to North American examples and does not include picture books. Despite this limitation, the book provides both students and experienced scholars with accessible accounts of how children’s literature engages with critical issues and concerns that impact the lives of young people. It also offers a springboard for further research into how material feminism can be a helpful means for the reconceptualization of nature with respect to the material, discursive, human, nonhuman, corporeal, and technological.

Kerry Mallan, Queensland University of Technology, Australia, 18.09.17

The Nature Principle. Human restoration and the end of Nature-Deficit Disorder (2011)

In the book The Nature Principle. Human restoration and the end of Nature-Deficit Disorder (2011), Richard Louv delivers a powerful call to action – this time for adults. This book follows up on his bestselling book from 2005, Last Child in the Woods, which sparked a national debate and an international movement to reconnect children and nature. (See the NaChiLit-blog from Marianne Presthus Heggen 05.07.17).

Louv is a journalist and the author of many books about the connections between family, nature, and community ( He is also the founding chairman of the Children & Nature Network which also has a blog and

In The Nature Principle, Louv points out that the more high-tech our society becomes, the more nature we need. He claims that nature is important for human intelligence, creativity, and mental health; and that our physical, emotional and family fitness depends on our proximity to nature and time spent in nature. He supports his arguments with stories from his own and his family’s experiences outdoors, on various trips in the local environment and on longer excursion into the wilderness. Louv also refers to various written sources to support his arguments. He draws upon research projects, published articles and books, and a large number of other media publications, to clarify his statements. The book has a long and particularly interesting chapter with notes, suggested reading and an index.

In The Nature Principle, Part one, Louv highlights what he calls ”nature neurons”. He claims that time spent in the natural world, both restories and stimulates the brain,and this may lead to bursts of new neurons, «nature neurons». In Part two, he discusses the role of Vitamin N for human beings and our development. In Part three, Louv considers sustainability and sustainable happiness, as well as how to take care of the nature and the local environment, and live better by using less. In Part four, he considers the nature principle at home, and starts by saying that nature is not a place to visit, it is a home. Louv gives examples from places such as The EcoVillage organic garden, where people again take pleasure in working the land. In the last part of the book, Part five, Louv calls upon the reader to look forward: «Making a Living, a Life, and a Future» (p.239). There are many networks, organisations, clubs, programs, teachers and people talking about a human-nature reunion, so a lot of research has been carried out. Now it is time to connect all this: «What if family nature clubs really caught on, like book clubs did in recent years?» (Louv, 2011 p. 263).

To summarize the book, Louv identifies seven basic concepts that can help us reshape our lives and he considers how humans can reshape their lives now and in the future:

  1. The more high-tech our lives become, the more nature we need to achieve natural balance.
  2. The mind/body/nature connection, also called vitamin N (for nature), will enhance physical and mental health.
  3. Utilizing both technology and nature experience will increase our intelligence, creative thinking, and productivity, giving birth to the hybrid mind.
  4. Human/nature social capital will enrich and redifine community to include all living things.
  5. In the new purposeful place, natural history will be as important as human history to regional and personal identity.
  6. Through biophilic design, our homes, workplaces, neighborhoods, and towns will not only conserve watts, but also produce human energy.
  7. In relationship with nature, the high performance human will conserve and create natural habitat – and new economic potential – where we live, learn, work, and play. (Louv, 2011 p.5)

The book is relevant in the NaChiLit-research group. Perhaps the most important message to the reader is to reconnect humans with nature: «Nature can help us feel fully alive» (Louv, 2011 p. 6). In this book, Richard Louv uses some of the same sources as the research group NaChiLit, and he has found his own way to use them in his discussion for nature-smart communities. Louv is aware that «permanent cultural change will not take root without major institutional and legislative commitments to protect, restore, and create natural habitat on a global basis» (p. 264.).

Bjørg Oddrun Hallås 01.09.2017

Animality and Children’s Literature and Film (2015)

The monograph Animality and Children’s Literature and Film by Amy Ratelle is an investigation written from a posthuman and animality studies approach that aims to explain the permeability and fluidity of the boundaries between humans and other animal species in popular children’s books (4). One of the main aspects Ratelle is focussed on is the identification of children with animals: the overlapping rhetorics addressing children, childhood and animals, and also the paradox of asking children to be identified with real and fictional animals, but making them position as human at the same time (10).

Some of the theories included are Donna Haraway’s model of “companion species” and “natureculture” from When Species Meet (2008), A Thousand Plateaus’ by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1987) – both referents avoid the traditional superior position of humans over other animals –, Jacques Derrida’s “carnophallogocentric paradigm” from “‘Eating well’ or the calculation of the subject” (1991) and also his discussions about how language has been used to differentiate animals that are non-human from The Animal That Therefore I Am (2008), related to the also cited Akira Mizuta Lippit’s Electric Animal: Toward a Rhetoric of Wildlife (2000), Temple Grandin’s Animals in Translation (2005) about autism and animal behaviour, and Giorgio Agamben’s concepts of “zoe” and bios” from Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (1998).

The first out of five chapters, “Animal Virtues, Values and Rights”, is devoted to compare the origin of animal rights advocacy and legislation – especially regarding horses – and the children’s rights movement since the 19th century. Special attention is given to animal rights and to what extent works such as Dick, the Little Poney (anonymous, 1799) and Black Beauty (Anna Sewell, 1877) defend them, often according to the social context when they were written. By continuing her analysis of how domestic animals had culturally been seen as labour, chapter 2, “Contact Zones, Becoming and the Wild Animal Body”, aims to address how the anthropomorphized animal body has recurrently attributed human values in children’s fiction – for instance, the pacificity of cow and sheep or the loyalty of dogs – and what assumptions about the relations between animals they have conveyed. This chapter mainly analyses these aspects in The Call of the Wild (1903) and White Fang (1906) by Jack London and the film Princess Mononoke (Hayo Miyazaki, 1997). It is specially interesting her description on what wolves have symbolised along history.

Chapter 3, “Ethics and Edibility”, deals with meat consumption and how children can identify with farm animals, and essentially provide the reader with some debatable theories about the industrial farming and their application in analysing the novel Charlotte’s Web (E. B. White, 1952) and the films Babe (Chris Noonan, 1995) and Chicken Run (Peter Lord, Nick Park, 2000). Therefore, this chapter can be useful to interpret the role of edible animal in children’s fiction. This topic is tightly linked with animal experimentation, the subject from the fourth chapter, “Science, Species and Subjectivity”. Ratelle presents a wide range of discussions on how technological progress has experimented with animals and what have been their rights. With this chapter, readers can interrogate themselves again about the boundaries between humans and other animals and about why the aptitude for human language can be used to identify animal subjectivity. One stimulating idea from the study of the novel Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien (1971) and the film The Secret of NIMH by Don Bluth (1982) is how featured animals are skilled at human language and take advantage of it.

The last chapter, “Performance and Personhood in Free Willy and Dolphin Tale”, analyses Free Willy by Simon Wincer (1993) and Dolphin Tale by Charles Martin Smith (2011) in order to understand why films like these have promoted legal personhood rights for marine mammals. Ratelle uses the animal subjects in films and real live to advocate for a concept of identity that goes beyond the human / non-human binary. This chapter can be relevant to explore the legal personhood rights for animals and, like in the previous two chapters, to access a rich compendium of theories on animality.

Maria Pujol Valls 15.08.17

The last child in the woods. Saving our children from Nature-Deficit Disorder (2005/2009)

The last child in the woods is a book of great impact. The background for the book is how Richard Louv finds that children spend less time outside, playing in nature. He investigates this premise, the reasons causing it, suggests some possible effects and a way forward to ameliorate this problem. After its publication in the United States in 2005, its impact was tremendous and a slightly revised European version was published in 2009. It is this European version that is the basis for this review.

Louv’s book was ground-breaking in the way it spoke of the relationship between children and nature, combining a background of scientifically based knowledge with personal anecdotes and selected quotes from literature. The aim was to make a book read by parents, changing their attitudes in the upbringing of their children, and it ended up with high sales numbers, excellent reviews, and an impressive number of scientific citations.

The last child in the woods starts with describing how children are less in nature. This is explained by the increased protection by parents, media-induced anxiety, fear of litigation in the US, and environmental regulations. This is supported by calculations showing how much time children spend outside now, and quotes from parents explaining why they are not spending more time outside.

The second part of the book aims to reveal the benefits children (and the rest of us) get by a close relationship with nature. In this part of the book, Louv explains both physical and psychological beneficial effects. He continues with elaborating how nature experiences stimulates our senses. He explains how knowledge about nature can be the basis for an “eight intelligence”, being “nature smart”. He further highlights the importance of nature to foster creativity before he ends this part exploring the connection between ADHD and similar issues, and limited exposure to calming nature experiences.

In the third part, Louv explains the background for why, in his opinion, children are not that much outside playing in nature anymore. Starting with lack of time and fear of not succeeding, he shows how children spend more time in organized activities than in free play in nature, and how, consequently, parks and natural areas are rebuilt to soccer fields, escalating the trend. Another fear is also prominent in his arguments: “The fear of the bogeyman”. He expands his survey to the educational system; how the lack of natural knowledge leads to less value of the nature experiences, and continues to discuss which effect this will have on the formation of future environmentalists. In the last three parts of the book, Louv focuses on the way onwards, how nature, education systems and societies can be reunited with nature.

Last child in the woods is an important book, and is important for the NaChiLit group as one of the fundamental books about the relationship between children and nature. As earlier noted, Louv’s book had great impact and spotlights important issues. There has, however, been raised some important critiques. First of all, the underlying assumption in the book, that children play less in the woods, seems to be rooted in experiences of Louv’s (and most of the researchers he cites) own youth. The ideal childhood of the book then seems to be the childhood of the white, male, middleclass children growing up in the 50’ies and 60’ies (Dickinson, 2013). The other, large underlying assumption, hits the central focus of NaChiLit’s research – the description of nature. As he talks about nature as something we could go into, and experience as wild places or natural landscapes, he separates between nature and humans. As Louv’s intention with Last child in the woods is to reconnect children with nature, there is an issue in that his foundation is a dichotomy between humans and nature.

Marianne P. Heggen 05.07.17

Ecocriticism (2012)

Ecocriticism is a critical introduction to the field, both authoritative and accessible to newcomers. Garrard describes ecocriticism as a literary or cultural analysis of environmental issues, generally associated with green moral and a political agenda. Broadly defined, the subject of ecocriticism is “the study of the relationship of the human and the non-human» in cultural history (p. 5), and the volume explores the ways in which we imagine and portray this relationship in cultural productions, primarily in western tradition.

Garrard’s point of departure is a description of Carson’s Silent Spring from 1962, which he considers “the founding text of modern environmentalism”, and he analyzes the rhetorical strategies “with which Carson shapes her scientific material” (p. 3). Her uses of pastoral and apocalyptic imagery are examples of how we imagine the relationship between the human and non-human.

In this way, he pinpoints the difference between ecocriticism and the science of ecology in their dealings with the issues at stake. Ecocritics may not be qualified to debate or solve problems in ecology, but what they can address, is “ecological problems” which are “features of our society, arising out of our dealings with nature” (p. 6) – based on claims made by ecologists. A central insight is that the language used influences our thoughts, images and behavior.

In Ecocriticism Garrard studies the relationship between the human and the non-human (nature), as it is expressed in what he calls “large scale metaphors” through history.  Each chapter explores one of these metaphors – such as wilderness, apocalypse, pastoral, dwelling, animals and earth – which are thought to have “certain political effects or serve specific social interests” (p. 8).

To the NaChiLit group this is obviously relevant, since it shows the implications of identifying the human-nature relationship in a children’s book as ,for example, ‘pastoral’, ‘wild’ or ‘apocalyptic’.

Garrard also presents different “positions” in environmentalism, identifying a number of distinct ecophilosophies associated with different approaches and understandings of environmental crisis. They range from “cornucopia”, which denies the existence of environmental threats, to radical forms of environmentalism. The majority of “environmentalists” lie between these extremes; they are concerned, but do not want to change their own life style. They defend western ideas like democracy and scientific progress, though these may sometimes collide with environmentalist ideals.

Among the radical positions, deep ecology is the most influential outside academic circles. Deep ecology insists on the “intrinsic value in nature” and identifies the human centered and instrumentalist view of nature in western culture as “the origin of environmental crisis” (p. 24). This is an ecocentric position, the aim of which is to challenge and eliminate the dualistic separation of humans from nature.

The critique of anthropocentrism is also central to other positions, such as ecofeminism, which in addition emphasizes gender and identifies male-centeredness (androcentrism) as part of the problem, and social ecology, which focus on the systems of domination and exploitation in general.

The various positions are intertwined in the different tropes or large scale metaphors discussed in the following chapters. For example, the chapter on apocalypse considers the imagery and rhetoric of the world’s decline through history, but also states that apocalyptic ideas are powerful and central to the environmental imagination in general. Thus, deep ecologists attack overpopulation and “civilization” as the road to apocalypse, eco-feminists blame male-centeredness, and eco-socialists attack the limitless belief in economic growth.

For the NaChiLit project, it is relevant to ask in which ways the different positions in the NatCul matrix can be related to positions in Garrard’s overview, as well as to the “large scale metaphors”. The NaChiLit project itself may be understood as ecocentric and close to deep ecology, problematizing the separation of human and nature.

Ecocriticism was first edited in 2004 and has been influential ever since. This second edition from 2012 contains a new chapter on animal studies and is also updated to include new perspectives on globalisation. In Garrard’s view, a key task for ecocriticism is the “reconsideration of the idea of ‘the humans’, dragging ecocriticism away from pastoral and nature writing towards postmodern concerns such as globalisation and the numerous naturecultures.” (p. 17).


Marianne Røskeland 29.05.17

The Denial of Nature. Environmental philosophy in the era of global capitalism (2016)

With regard to the environment, things have deteriorated over the last few decades: loss of species, habitat, and biodiversity are increasing in most parts of the world, and the global temperature is rising. According to the philosopher Arne Johan Vetlesen, when it comes to nature, there is a blind spot in the Western philosophical tradition. This lack of discourse is, though not a direct cause, at least a symptom. In The Denial of Nature, the Vetlesen questions whether and why this is so. The book marks a shift in the works written by Vetlesen: «As a philosopher I came late to the present topic» (4). Thus, one might say that the book illuminates a blind spot in the philosopher´s own professional career. This link between the development of the philosophical discourse on nature, and the author´s own awakening to the same topic, is a driving force in the text.

The premise of the book is that «philosophy is an activity deeply entrenched in the patterns of contemporary culture; for good and bad, it mirrors and helps reproduce those patterns both in thought and in practice» (2). According to Vetlesen, contemporary culture is fully anthropocentric; human values permeate both the way life is lived and the intellectual life; they shape our identity and our place in the world. From this perspective, humans have the position and the right to make use of nature. We do not see this anthropocentric culture because we are totally immersed in it.

Scientific knowledge has informed us about climate change and environmental challenges. Why is it then, in our post Enlightenment era, that we do not take seriously the consequences of this knowledge about the exploitation of nature and the warming of the climate? This paradox has to do with the anthropocentric culture. Vetlesen claims that, in order to make a difference in the real world, «a shift must be made from theorizing nature to experiencing nature» (2). Nevertheless, the aim of the book is theorizing, since it challenges canonized philosophical texts on the nature issue, and presents examples of less well-known philosophers who discuss and contribute to environmental thinking.

Of special interest for the NaChiLit group is Vetlesen´s discussion of Descartes, Kant, and the «Nature deficit in critical theory» (chapter 2), the Frankfurt School (Horkheimer and Adorno), and Habermas. His claim is that the concept of rationality worked out by Habermas in The Theory of Communicative Action (1981), which was highly relevant for modernity and democracy, is an example of how this anthropocentric position make humans the unquestionably ruler of all life on earth, at the same time devaluating all other species and lifeforms. Then, in «Philosophizing value in nature» (chapter 3) Vetlesen presents philosophers who have the potential to guide us to the view that «value is intrinsic in nature» (96): Paul W. Taylor, J. Baird Callicott, Holmes Rolston and Hans Jonas. In spite of this discussion being linked to the topic of Interspecies ethics (title by Cynthia Willett, see earlier book report), there are hardly any cross references between the two books.

Vetlesen argues that our understanding of nature also rules our inner nature, the way we understand ourselves. We tend to think about nature and human capital in the same exploitative way. The author urges us to search for another kind of language, with a new kind of confidence in our own experiences and feelings. This we see in practice in the way Vetlesen brings his own life into the debate: «Spending a day in the woods recently, two experiences stood out» (147). Here is an argument for the role of literature and educational practices in the environmental discourse.

Aslaug Nyrnes 15.05.2017

Interpreting Nature: The emerging Field of Environmental Hermeneutics (2013),

Interpreting nature (edited by Forrest Clingerman, Brian Treanor, Martin Drenthen, and David Utsler) sets out to establishing environmental hermeneutics as a new field at the intersection of environmental issues and philosophical hermeneutics. The essays explore hermeneutical approaches to the concept of interpretation and the environment, in the field of environmental philosophy. One of the main concerns in the volume is how our understanding of the environment shapes both ourselves and our actions in nature. A key goal is to examine the complexity of these reflexive encounters in order to understand our interpretive and ethical relationships with our environments.

The book has four sections that sort the contributions thematically. Part 1 includes essays on “Interpretation and the Task of Thinking Hermeneutically”. The title of part 2 is “Situating the Self, and of part 3 is “Narrativity and Image”. Part 4 is entitled “Environments, Place, and the Experience of Time”. Most essays in these sections discuss texts by Heidegger, Gadamer, Habermas and Ricoeur, making the point that our engagements with the surroundings are dialogical rather than binary in nature. In Nathan Bell and David Utsler’s contributions, this insight sparks explorations into what constitutes an environmental identity. The answer, they conclude, is to be found in Ricoeur, in a complex narrative form, inspired by his “hermeneutics of the self”. For both Bell and Utsler, the question of selfhood has normative aspects in relation to the environment and the present-day environmental crisis.

The volume provides clarifying insights into human understanding and engagement with nature, as the essay authors engage in hermeneutical discussions regarding our relationship with nature. In the introductory chapter, the editors provide an overview of approaches to environmental hermeneutics. Such an approach is justified since “[e]nvironmental hermeneutics can critically mediate between different disciplinary interpretations so as to suggest a fuller and more robust understanding of environments” (p. 4). With the many narratives related to the environment included in the essays, the weighing and mediating of different interpretations is an issue that needs to be discussed. One important question that could be explored in greater depth in the volume is the role scientific knowledge plays in the ways we interpret nature. This seems especially crucial when Utsler, in his essay “Exporations in Environmental Identity”, stresses the healing and therapeutic capacity of nature as a foundational marker in environmental identity. The difference in nature as a therapeutic and a recreational environment is something that I would like to see addressed in relation to the environmental identities Utsler construes.

The hermeneutical approach to the environment could be relevant to most, if not all, of the projects in the NaChiLit-research group, particularly the chapters that explore anthropocentric views of nature. Christina Gschwandtner, in “Might Nature Be Interpreted as a “Saturated Phenomenon””, suggests that anthropocentrism cannot be avoided as long as “it is the human who continues to speak and to articulate even the biocentric or ecocentric position” (pp. 99, 100). Brian Treanor, in “Narrative and Nature: Appreciating and Understanding the Nonhuman World”, tries to deal with this issue by highlighting usefulness of the hermeneutical understanding of narrative as a way of giving form to an interpretation that is different from science (theoria) and practice (praxis) (p. 198). The focus on narrative constructions in interpreting nature, highlights the need to consider personal experiences and literary and cultural mediations of natural environments, as well as scientific knowledge, in order to establish a philosophy that includes perspectives on environmental ethics and the construction of environmental identities.

Ahmed Khateeb 18.04.2017