ENVS core faculty Louise Westling has published a book presenting the philosophy of Maurice Merleau-Ponty as a theoretical grounding for studies in environmental humanities. The Logos of the Living World: Merleau-Ponty, Animals, and Language draws on interdisciplinary research to argue that human and animal semiotic activities—including cultural and linguistic behaviors—are not separate phenomena, but rather exist on a continuum.
“As more people become excited about working in the environmental humanities,” Westling explains, “theory is critical. I focused on animals because they are the environment closest to us, and here Merleau-Ponty gives us exactly what we need. He was interested in the place of humans in connection to animals, and in breaking down ideas of dualism between the two.”
Her analysis, which uses Merleau-Ponty to frame texts as diverse as Euripides and Eudora Welty, also emphasizes his fascination with the sciences and the ways in which evolutionary biology and ethology can assist cultural engagement with animals.
As she continues her work with environmental humanities and the field of biosemiotics, Westling asserts that such wide-raging curiosity is key: “the creative imagination works across all disciplines. Science helps writers think about the world, and the humanities shows scientists the culture they’re working within.”