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Becoming-With: Ecological Ethics and the More-Than-Human Worlds of Russian and American Horror

  • Author(s): Roberts, Brittany Rae
  • Advisor(s): Vint, Sherryl
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY-NC-ND' version 4.0 license

This dissertation conducts a comparative analysis of horror literature and cinema from the former “Western” and “Eastern” blocs, particularly the United States and Russia. I focus especially on depictions of humans, animals, the environment, and the dynamics that link them. Although traditional academic discourses have obscured ideological convergences between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. by framing these regions as ideological opposites, I argue that both superpowers’ prominent cultural emphases on human exceptionalism, technological modernization, and scientific notions of “progress” led toward similar ecological catastrophes, shaping environmental conditions for much of the planet during the Cold War. Examining Aleksandr Sokurov’s film Days of Eclipse (1988), Carter Smith’s film The Ruins (2008), Dmitrii Svetozarov’s film Hounds (1989), Stephen Gregory’s novel The Cormorant (1986), Evgenii Iufit and Vladimir Maslov’s film Silver Heads (1998), and Stephen Graham Jones’s novel Mongrels (2016), I reveal how the discursive boundaries among humans, nonhumans, and the environment have been subverted by the cultural imaginaries of these regions, arguing that horror offers a unique space of resistance in which to imagine more ethical ecological futures for humans and nonhumans.

Horror often foregrounds species difference and nonhuman agency, with much of the genre’s narrative tensions turning on the transgression of corporeal boundaries and depictions of human-nonhuman ecological entanglement. It is thus an ideal genre through which to speculate on what a non-human-centric ecology might look like. In its radical openness to nonhuman presences and nonhuman material agencies, horror continuously makes a spectacle of the experiences of human embodiment and ecological embeddedness, foregrounding the uncomfortable intimacies between humans and nonhumans that are the necessary result of occupying shared spaces. Across this project’s six chapters, I perform an ecological and sociopolitical analysis of works of horror to demonstrate that horror takes for granted an ecological—and ethical—awareness of our inescapable entanglements with nonhuman others. I argue that the genre thus calls upon us to attend to ecological interconnectedness in ways that disrupt the oversimplified discourses of human exceptionalism predominant in the U.S.S.R. and U.S., thereby promoting an ethical attention toward animals and the environment rooted in respect for nonhuman life.

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