Environmental discourse in science fiction for children with reference to the Anna Atoom series by Elizabeth Wasserman

  • 0


It is evident that humankind has caused almost irreversible damage to the natural environment of our planet. Nevertheless, rather than being overcome by feelings of hopelessness about the survival of life on earth, we can reflect on new possibilities. Fictional texts have the potential to expose environmental issues and to offer potential solutions. This study does not focus on the chosen texts as examples of creative solutions for environmental issues, but rather on science fiction (SF) as a tool for creating environmental awareness and a better understanding of the human-nature relationship. The role of SF in environmental discourse is addressed and examples of reproductive and/or resistance discourse in the series are discussed.

This article is an ecocritical examination of three fictional texts by Elizabeth Wasserman, namely Anna Atoom en die seerower se dolk (2011), Anna Atoom en die magnetiese meermin (2012) and Anna Atoom en die digitale draak (2012). The texts have been chosen on account of the ecological messages that they convey, and the study involves environmental discourse as it is portrayed in the genre of SF. The ecocritic fosters a language of symbols that enables thought on the influence of humankind on the environment as well as our complex relationship with the earth.

Ecocriticism is an umbrella term that comprises various theoretical and methodological approaches in search of a better understanding of the relationship between human culture and the environment (Weidner 2016:2). An ecocritical lens is directed at the role of technology in the relationship between humankind and the natural environment in the fictional texts mentioned. The focus will be mainly on environmental discourse as it is identified in the texts. Concepts such as nature and natural environment, as encoded in the texts, will be explored by means of text analysis (Podeschi 2002:254). An ecocentric reading approach is followed. In this approach, the intrinsic value of nature is recognised. This is in contrast to an anthropocentric approach where human behaviour is justified mainly in relationship to human motives and desires. The investigation of forms of environmental discourse is an ecocritical approach to literature. This study searches for environmental messages on the human-nature relationship communicated to the reader. Two types of environmental discourse are identified, namely reproductive and resistance discourse, as forms that Podeschi (2002:254) called green culture studies.

Considering that the protagonist in the series is female, that the nature-culture dualism frequently crops up, and that nature, like the female body, is considered as consumable and inferior by fellow characters in the series, it was inevitable that ecofeminism was entailed in the study. Central to ecofeminism is the idea that patriarchy leads to hierarchy and exploitation and therefore patriarchy is seen as instrumental in the suppression of women and nature. According to Podeschi (2002:256), numerous feminists and ecofeminists accuse Western science and technology of being a significant accessory to this dominance.

It is essential that a love for nature and the natural environment is fostered and encouraged in the child so as to ensure a lifelong care for the earth and its life forms. Children’s and youth literature is one of the ways to accomplish this. Children’s literature is a genre in which the natural world regularly features and seen in the light of the current global environmental crisis, the children’s book is being increasingly employed as a didactic tool regarding ecological issues (Steenkamp 2015:95). Ecoliterary texts comprise stories that view humankind and its relationship to nonhuman things critically, and therefore the value of these texts should not be underestimated. These are texts that create awareness, that appeal to the conscience, and that (hopefully) will lead to action. An ecocentric reading approach creates the potential for environmental awareness and action. As I have written elsewhere (Loubser 2016:636), fictional texts can serve as educational, ideological and political instruments, and can appeal to the reader’s values, morality, emotions and imagination.

The article is a reflection on the manifestation of, on the one hand, a reproductive discourse, and on the other hand a resistance discourse or alternatively an amalgamation of the two forms of discourse in the series. Brief reference to the Anna Atoom series is also made from an ecofeministic perspective. The protagonist, Anna Atoom, is female, and according to Murray (2012:113) nature itself is often viewed as a female space (which can be dominated) from a patriarchal conviction. For Murray (2012:113) the struggle for the preservation and protection of the earth and of gender equality are closely related issues. According to Murray (2012:113), ecofeminists view the androcentric man/woman dualism as the source of anti-ecological practices where the woman is associated with nature, the materialistic, the emotional, while humankind is associated with culture, non-material, rational and the abstract (2012:113).

Important concepts in this study are nature and environment. According to Weidner (2016:2) the concept nature can be wrapped up in a description of the earth and her geological biological diversity and ever-changing ecosystems. Turner (2015:xxx) uses the phrase natural world in her description of the “entirety of the living planet beyond the human-built environment”. For the purpose of this study, I will use natural environment to refer to nature.

In his professorial inaugural speech, Danie Schreuder (2002) mentions that the concept environment does not only implicate the biophysical reality, but also the dimensions that people add to it as a result of their cultural function. The human environment is a social construction and it can be referred to in social, political and economic dimensions. These dimensions exist in an intimate interrelatedness. The biophysical environment is, furthermore, according to Schreuder (2002:3), the earth with all natural life-maintaining resources and processes, and these serve as “essential infrastructure for all social-constructed dimensions”.

This article reflects on humankind’s relationship with the natural environment and non-human forms of existence. It is also a reflection on the impact that the natural environment has on humankind and on the impact that humankind has on the natural environment and other beings. With this research, I attempt an ecocritical investigation of the chosen fictional texts as representative of SF as a genre. SF offers useful alternative ways of thinking of the natural environment (Canavan 2014:xi). Furthermore, the future projections of SF are a social reality, and are therefore culturally significant. It foresees what may be possible in the future. Furthermore, SF provides a holistic view on what will, may or should be, and therefore shows what communities will or may or should think about nature and the environment (Podeschi 2002:254).

Technology is significantly present in SF where ideas of continued technological power and progress are reproduced. It is also the case in the Anna Atoom series. Concern about technology is, nevertheless, not totally absent. The three stories debate and comment critically on the environment, and express anxiety about technology. In the analysis of the stories, the focus is mainly on the impact of technology on the natural environment. Examples that emphasise the effect of technology on nature, rather than on humankind and its future, were looked for in the text. Frequently, the finding was that technology is in fact developed for the benefit of humankind. However, the development of technology and the useful application thereof in order to preserve and protect the natural environment was also found in parts of the text. I therefore view the Anna Atoom series as representative of a fusion of the two forms of discourse as identified by Podeschi (2002:264).

The value of nature relative to the community is a critical issue. The Anna Atoom series shows the beauty of nature and emphasises the worth of the non-human. There is in general no negative portrayal of nature. The so-called civilised person is also not portrayed as more worthy than other life forms, even though technology is at times developed for the benefit of humankind. On reflection, it proves that the texts do not portray civilisation as dominant over natural spaces. Rather, the Anna Atoom series, as representative of SF, leaves the reader with the conclusion that scientific and technological development can be utilised in the conservation and protection of natural spaces.

It was found that nature is not portrayed as unapproachable and unpleasant. There is, rather, a deep awareness that treading upon natural space has to take place with the necessary respect, and that humankind in its interaction with nature should allow space for harmonious coexistence. There is hence no destructive nature-civilisation dualism in the Anna Atoom texts, rather an aspiration to harmonious coexistence of human en non-human forms of life. After reading the Anna Atoom series the child should be more informed about the scientific, technological and aesthetic components involved in debates on the environment.

Although it is not dogmatically expected of SF to necessarily be ecocentric, the SF author can nonetheless inform and create awareness and dialogue that examines humankind’s relationship with the natural environment. SF, such as the Anna Atoom series, has the potential to serve as a sort of environmental discourse in the end, as a new form of holistic thinking, and interconnectedness with the ecosystems of nature. I agree with Grendon et al. (2012:13) that SF presents hypotheses about the future of humankind – and more specifically the future of the humankind-nature relationship. As shown in the analysis of the texts, examples of creative possibilities regarding humankind’s role in the conservation of nature is also found in the Anna Atoom series.

Keywords: Anna Atoom series; children’s literature; ecofeminism; Elizabeth Wasserman; environmental education; environmental issues; environment discourse; human-nature relationship; nature; science fiction (SF); technology

Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans: Omgewingsdiskoers in wetenskapfiksie vir kinders met verwysing na die Anna Atoom-reeks deur Elizabeth Wasserman

  • 0


Jou e-posadres sal nie gepubliseer word nie. Kommentaar is onderhewig aan moderering.