Michel Serres: From restricted to general ecology

In Stephanie Posthumus & Daniel Finch-Race (eds.), French Ecocriticism: From the Early Modern Period to the Twenty-First Century. Peter Lang. pp. 153-172 (2017)
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Abstract

Michel Serres's relation to ecocriticism is complex. On the one hand, he is a pioneer in the area, anticipating the current fashion for ecological thought by over a decade. On the other hand, 'ecology' and 'eco-criticism' are singularly infelicitous terms to describe Serres's thinking if they are taken to indicate that attention should be paid to particular 'environmental' concerns. For Serres, such local, circumscribed ideas as 'ecology' or 'eco-philosophy' are one of the causes of our ecological crisis, and no progress can be made while such narrow concerns govern our thinking. This chapter intervenes in the ongoing discussion about the relation of Serres to ecology by drawing on some of Serres's more recent texts on pollution and dwelling, and this fresh material leads us to modulate existing treatments of Serres and ecology. I insist on the inextricability of two senses of ecology in Serres's approach: a broader meaning that refers to the interconnectedness and inextricability of all entities (natural and cultural, material and ideal), and a narrower sense that evokes classically 'environmental' concerns. Serres's recent work leads us to challenge some of the vectors and assumptions of the debate by radicalising the continuity between 'natural' and 'cultural' phenomena, questioning some of the commonplaces that structure almost all ecological thinking, and arguing that the entire paradigm of ecology as 'conservation' and 'protection' is bankrupt and self-undermining. After outlining the shape of Serres's 'general ecology' and its opposition to ecology as conservation, this chapter asks what sorts of practices and values a Serresian general ecology can engender when it considers birdsong, advertising, industrial pollution and money to be manifestations of the same drive for appropriation through pollution. A response is given in terms of three key Serresian motifs: the world as fetish, parasitic symbiosis, and global cosmocracy.

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Christopher Watkin
Monash University

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