Making worlds with raven in rural Iceland: entangled memoir for the Anthropocene

Thomas, Sarah Elizabeth Annie (2019) Making worlds with raven in rural Iceland: entangled memoir for the Anthropocene. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The Anthropocene epoch calls for new narratives which accurately relate the experiences of our times from a diversity of perspectives. As humans make an irreversible impact on the geological record, I suggest that such narratives should engender more democratic and generative sharing of earth with other life forms – on the page as in life. Drawing upon my own transformative experiences of reciprocal living with human and non-human Others in the remote Westfjords of Iceland, I present a memoir, The Raven’s Nest, as my experiment towards such de-centred and ‘entangled’ writing (Haraway 2016). Covering the period of 2008 – 2014 it includes a variety of instabilities characteristic of the Anthropocene – economic, social, geological, and ecological – in the context of the everyday concerns of a sheep farming and fishing community at sixty-six degrees North.

I argue that Anthropocenic narratives should resist a linear trajectory of beginning – middle – end, which is often wrongly conflated with the shape of ‘progress’, and instead find a new shape which can contain the ‘ongoingness’ of life, broken as it is. Drawing on Donna Haraway‘s concept of ‘entanglements’ (2016), and applying Ursula Le Guin’s ‘Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction’ (1989) to memoir, pulled together by Ingold’s ideas about ‘weaving’ as a way of being in the world (2000), I propose a woven, many threaded, container-shape composed of plant, animal and man-made materials: a ‘raven’s nest’.

I highlight that the North as an idea – which includes Iceland – has been shaped by masculinist cultural representations which are a legacy of the era of polar exploration and remain dominant. This representation of North as an empty space; a wilderness; an extreme to be conquered or pentrated is in need of revision in our times. In search of an ‘ancestry’ that reflects my own experience of being a woman dwelling in the North and dependent on others for my survival, I find a number of women. From them, I focus on a canon of writers and a film-maker, identifying the tropes they share with my memoir and with each other which might be usefully incorporated into Anthropocenic narratives.

Finally, I discuss the ethical implications of entanglement as it manifests in living, and in writing a memoir in the context of the academy. Acknowledging human ‘entanglements’ with other-than-human agents involves acknowledging the impact writing about them might have. This is true for places as much as for people. This thesis explores what happens when place speaks through human stories.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Anthropocene, Iceland, Arctic, The North, creative non-fiction, memoir, The Raven's Nest, carrier bag theory of fiction, multi-species, entanglements, women's writing of The North, ethics of memoir.
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GF Human ecology. Anthropogeography
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social & Environmental Sustainability
Precurrent Departments > School of Interdisciplinary Studies
Supervisor's Name: Borthwick, Dr. David and Phipps, Professor Alison
Date of Award: 2019
Depositing User: Dr. Sarah Thomas
Unique ID: glathesis:2019-75133
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 30 Oct 2019 09:33
Last Modified: 08 Aug 2023 13:01
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.75133

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