Of rat waldens and quests for rubber duckies: Zeugma as structural principle of the new nature writing

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Abstract

The rhetorical device of zeugma, where one part of speech is used to yoke more than one other part of a sentence in a surprising and often ironically humorous way, can be seen as the governing figure, or the operative structural principle, of the new nature writing of the last decade or so. The new nature writing makes ironic use of the language of traditional nature writing in order to deflate the tradition's romantic and transcendental bent. We can see the tactic clearly in Robert Sullivan's Rats, which liberally borrows chapter titles and language from Thoreau's Walden, appropriating them in the service of celebrating not some pastoral ideal like Walden Pond but a rat-filled alley in New York City. Even as the tone shifts from spiritual reverence to comic irony, the tactic shifts our focus away from the tradition's emphasis on sacred and sublime landscapes and redirects our attention to what Scott Hess has called "everyday nature".

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)284-295
Number of pages12
JournalProse Studies
Volume35
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Literature and Literary Theory

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