Prof. Dr. Caroline Rosenthal

Caroline Rosenthal has worked on spatial theory, mobility studies, and minor mobilities in North American literature and culture since 2001 when she started working on her second book New York and Toronto Novels after Postmodernism: Explorations of the Urban. The book’s first part looks at symbolic spaces in the national contexts of the US and Canada which were produced through different patterns of mobility and immobility. While for the US, the eternally progressing frontier became a core myth, Canada saw its national self-definition epitomized in what Northrop Frye called a ‘garrison mentality’, set on survival and staying in one place. The second part of Rosenthal’s book examines how these divergent early spatial myths manifest themselves in the production of urban space in 21st century novels which focus on residual spaces, excluded mobilities, and transnational movements. Urban space is a highly politicized concept which renders the dominant social imaginary of a culture but also makes the culturally repressed and excluded resurface. The book addresses minor mobilities in three distinct ways: First, it looks at the figure of the flâneuse for alternative productions of gendered urban space. Originally a male figure bound to the space of 19th-century Paris, contemporary female authors recycle the figure, often as a racially diverse flâneuse that traverses the boundaries between public and private, real and symbolic, as well as between reading and writing, observing and authoritatively interpreting the city. Minor mobilities are, secondly addressed by looking at Black Diasporas in New York and Toronto as represented in the works of Paule Marshall and Dionne Brand who both investigate politics of origin and belonging as well as in- and exclusion in the nation state. Both the US and Canada are formerly white settler societies whose material and symbolic notions of the multicultural metropolis have been profoundly altered by transmigrations and by concomitant discourses on hybridity, syncretism, and the diaspora. Diaspora communities are characterized by transnational movements and multiple affiliations which challenge myths of the melting pot and the mosaic as much as the idea of a stable national identity. Thirdly, the book deals with minor mobilities by concentrating on what cultural geographer Mike Crang called ‘suppressed urban temporalities’. Those include the routines of everyday life which do not follow an accelerated urban pace but nonetheless structure both the private and public realm. The novels map the common and banal and outline liminal spaces, forgotten histories, and quotidian mobilities. 

 

Rosenthal has deepened her research on those three aspects of minor mobilities in several articles on gender, race, and urban space (see essay on Tessa McWatt) as well as on the contemporary flâneuse. Her essay "TransArea Studies: Gendered Mobility (and the Picara Figure) in North American Literature" focuses on "mobility as a lived reality and, more radically, as a source of knowledge and meaning production" (Cresswell 2012, 16) and looks at the picara figure in two North American novels. Aritha van Herk's No Fixed Address: An Amorous Journey (1998) traces the journey of a woman who leaves behind the normative gender roles of the Canadian West for the open space of the Canadian North, while Erica Lopez' graphic novel Flaming Iguanas: An Illustrated All-Girl Novel Kind of Thing (1997) recounts the motorcycle trip of a young Latina from the East to the West Coast of the United States and hence challenges the masculine white journey west (Ganser 2009). In each novel, the unruly female protagonist subverts social norms and by violating spatial rules and normative gender expectations. Mobility is never neutral but always invested with power. Also, as an embodied practice it is never universal but bound to specific bodies marked by factors of race, sex, age, or class (Urry 2007, 43). Who is allowed to move in certain spaces at certain times is regulated by underlying cultural hierarchies and hegemonies so that social difference and geographical space always mutually depend on each other (Soja/Hooper 1993; Massey 1994). Mobility includes as well as excludes, comes at the expense of immobilized others (Razack, 2000), and often points to a conflict between individual mobility and state control (Greenblatt 2009). The essay shows that the paradigm of mobility studies is vital for a new approach to what was once called Area Studies because it allows us to see an area as a malleable construct, shaped primarily by the flux of people and multiple, often contesting mobilities. 

 

Most recently, Rosenthal has turned to investigating mobility, movement, and migration in cultural constructions of nature. It is this aspect of the intersection of human and non-human migration as well as colonialist and indigenous mobility that she wants to explore further in the context of ENMMA. Rosenthal has recently published on the impact of the geological epoch of the Anthropocene on textual and visual representations of nature, as well as on discourses of Nature Writing, Ecocriticism, Bioregionalism, or Urban Birding and political participation in North America. Her involvement in the ENMMA project joins three areas of her expertise: a longstanding interest in spatial and mobility theory, an emerging expertise in Ecocritcism and Nature Writing with a special focus on the unacknowledged agencies, knowledges, and mobilities of indigenous people and non-human species, and her participation in a graduate school on Romanticism (funded for 9 years by the German research foundation), a context which has allowed her to look into practices and patterns of thought and representation established during romanticism/colonialism which continue to shape our view of the world. As Allan Bewell among others has shown in Natures in Translation: Romanticism and Colonial Natural History the “unprecedented traffic in biological organisms” (2017: 21) during the colonial period changed nature and ecosystems on both sides of the Atlantic forever. Species were intentionally and involuntarily moved back and forth and decisions made as to which species and which nature to preserve and which not. Both the passenger pigeon and the bison, two species that like no other stood for the seemingly inexhaustible abundance of natural resources on the American continent, were exterminated within the first 150 years of settler contact. Other species like the starling were introduced to the American continent from Europe and had a disastrous impact on ecosystems. While Aldo Leopold and many environmentalists after him have shown that the history of human settlement and mobility is inextricably linked to that of species migration, an anthropocentric worldview has not acknowledged the role that non-human species have played in settling the American continent. Romanticist definitions of wilderness have rendered it as a pristine space free of human influence which, as the environmental historian William Cronon has shown, ironically led to the destruction of natural spaces. Indigenous people, who during the colonial romantic period were likened to nature were removed from wilderness spaces and their alleged racial inferiority cemented by seeing them, just as nature, as having no agency of their own and as being a vanishing species. Not only were indigenous people forcefully removed from their homelands, however, but the knowledge they had of the land and the practices they exercised to live with the land were erased. Recent theories by Donna Haraway (species-being, making kin) in the philosophy of science or in anthropology (multispecies ethnography) focus on the participation, recognition, and representation of those unrecognized and formerly invisible species. In biology and geography approaches like Animal Studies or Urban Reconciliation Ecology deconstruct colonialist definitions of nature by acknowledging that nature is not a pristine other space but that which surrounds us on a daily basis. These approaches advocate to think of spaces and mobilities of animals, non-animate entities, and humans not as separate but one. Theories on place-making, bioregionalism or home-making, as exemplified in the ecopoetry of Gary Snyder or Don McKay, decolonize Western colonialism by drawing on indigenous knowledges and practices of being on and with the land. Whereas colonialism displaced and displayed species as testimony to the grandness of the Empire (Canada) or the greatness and exceptionality of the new nation (US) theories of place-making stress being in and getting to know one place and its native plants, soil, geography, and climate. Thinking beyond a settler-colonialist paradigm of mobility as conquest, erasure of knowledge, and extermination of species, Rosenthal wants to decolonize constructions of nature also by looking at indigenous practices of knowledge formation that resist the logic and regimes of colonialist settlement, as exemplified in e.g. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants (2015), Gregory Cajete’s Native Science. Natural Laws of Interdependence (2000), and Herman J. Michell’s Land-Based Education: Embracing the Rhythms of the Earth from an Indigenous Perspective(2018).

 

Selected Publications

 

"Wildnis Stadt: Zeitgenössisches Urban Birding und seine historischen Wurzeln in den USA." In Kerschbaumer, Sandra/Gisela Mettele (eds.) Romantische Urbanität: Transdisziplinäre Perspektiven vom 19.bis ins 21. Jahrhundert. Wien/Köln: Böhlau 2020: 187-209.

 

 "Landmarken: Das Konzept des Bioregionalismus bei Gary Snyder und Helmut Salzinger."

(with Peter Braun) Zeitschrift für Germanistik XXX:2 (2020): 363-380.  

 

"Sehnsuchtsort Natur. Von Ralph Waldo Emerson bis Peter Wohlleben: Vom Schreiben über Natur in den USA und in Deutschland (with Peter Braun). In Weiland, Marc/Werner Nell (eds.) Rurale Topographien. Bielefeld: Transcript 2021: 167-197.

 

"The Nature(s) of Canadian Ecocriticism and Ecopoetry." In Comos/Rosenthal (eds.) Anglophone Literature in the Anthropocene. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2019: 96-114.

 

"TransArea Studies: Gendered Mobility (and the Picara Figure) in North American Literature." In Hodgett, Susan/Patrick James (eds.) Necessary Travel: New Area Studies and Canada in Comparative Perspective. Lenham etc.: Lexington Press 2018: 117-128.

 

"Embodying the Global Metropolis: Tessa McWatt's This Body and Out of My Skin." Canada and Beyond: A Journal of Canadian Literary and Cultural Studies Volume 4 (2014), http://rabida.uhu.es/dspace/bitstream/handle/10272/13344/Embodying.pdf?sequence=2

 

New York and Toronto Novels after Postmodernism: Explorations of the Urban. Rochester, NY: Camden House 2011.

  2018–2021 European Network for the Study of Minor Mobilities in the Americas       Code and Design by Steffen Wöll