An Ecology of Waste: Transatlantic Excess in Renaissance France
This dissertation traces the human relationship to the environment in the French Renaissance through representations of waste in and around the New World. I follow the conceptual shift from a positive abundance to a perception of excess, from travel accounts written by Jacques Cartier and André Thevet, to Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel and Montaigne’s Essais, showing an epistemological break in the ecological relationship. In readings of Thevet’s Singularités de la France Antarctique and Cartier’s Relations, I take up the contradictions that arise when both Thevet and Cartier describe very different areas of the New World—Brazil and Canada, respectively— in similar terms of abundance. I argue that both texts have in common a rhetoric of satisfaction and disappointment, setting the stage for the subsequent ambivalence of the notion of abundance. My readings of Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel reveal the process that governs figures of waste, allowing for a coherent environmental reading of the four books. I argue that Rabelais emphasizes the people’s reliance on the environment, and advocates for more careful stewarding of natural resources, effectively satirizing the colonial endeavors of the French crown. My reading of Montaigne’s “Des Cannibales” uncovers the focus on the moveable elements of the natural world, in a chapter otherwise well known for his critique of colonization. I argue that the text blurs the distinction between human and nonhuman bodies, making any New World settlement unsettling and unsettled. A reading of “Des coches” focuses on the metaphorical nausea provoked by the eponymous coaches, understood as a metaphor for the Europeans’ expansionist greed. Montaigne’s contrasted views on expenditure constitute an early modern call for a sustainable, moderate consumption. Defining a more philosophical, environmental notion of waste, I identify a common pattern enmeshing human and nonhuman beings in an ecology that is certainly not always balanced, but regulates itself. The ecology of waste, in these French Renaissance texts, also transforms an initial rhetoric of saturation into a poetics of energy and movement: ultimately, waste disorders language, just as it is a locus of disorientation for the human being in her environment.
Montaigne; Rabelais; Waste; Ecology; Environmental studies; Romance literature; Renaissance; environment
Long, Kathleen P.Pinkus, Karen Elyse
Ph. D., Romance Studies
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis