A Return to Culture: Literature as Ecology


A Return to Culture: Literature as Ecology.” SITES: Contemporary French and Francophone Studies 25, no. 1 (2021): 85-94.


Literature is an important part of French national identity and cultural patrimony, as seen in the hype around the literary rentrée each year and the prestige economy that continues to mark French literature with its prize system. However, French literature, particularly those works that are canonical or on track to being canonized, is full of excrement. I examine this literature's excrementality to argue that the shit in this valued literature allows us to think literature not in canonical terms but in ecological ones. Shit serves as the ground for conceptualizing what kind of material literature is; it is the material by which canonical texts break down the very idea of the canon that would contain them, thereby returning culture to its early, non-industrial, agricultural roots, where culture and cultivation converge as a material, human encounter with the environment marked by a cycle of exchange and reciprocity. Despite the seeming health of an elitist and canon-driven model of literary production, these works’ scatological quality acts at cross purposes with the canon to allow the shit-culture it contains to circulate and return to an environment where it can be mobilized to enrich and produce new forms of culture.

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