Response: Let This Be an Example: Three Remarks on a Thematic Cluster about Climate Change Exemplarity

  • Hall Bjørnstad Department of French and Italian, Indiana University Bloomington, USA
Keywords: Climate change, exemplarity

Abstract

This thematic section of Culture Unbound brings together five articles which in very different ways invite us to reflect on the importance of examples in the discourse on climate change. At first glance, such an invitation might be surprising, if not puzzling. Anthropogenic climate change is something radically unprecedented, so it would seem counter-intuitive to approach it through the discussion of prior examples. Furthermore, the analytical vocabulary which is already mobilized in the title of the section (exemplarity) and the introduction (exemplification) may seem alien to most readers. Do these terms actually serve as precise conceptual tools in the analysis? Indeed, is there really something like an operative theory of examples? To my mind, the five articles gathered here are very successful in dispelling such an initial reticence. Each piece is rich and thought-provoking on its own terms. Moreover, taken together, these articles help us appreciate the extent to which the use of examples is an unexpected and promising index for mapping how climate change discourse navigates between effect and affect, between illustration and ideal, between facts and values, between science and politics. In so doing, this thematic section also provides tools for better grasping the power of examples as such, which should be of methodological interest for other fields of study.

In what follows, I will briefly comment on three aspects that I not only found particularly intriguing, but which are illuminated differently according to the shifting perspectives of the case studies in the articles. First, the surprising emphasis on the archive in certain articles; second, the position of exemplarity and exemplification between theory and practice; and third, the meaning of the deep desire for potent examples of climate change in the wider society, which will, in closing, bring me back to the title of my response.

References

Eriksen, Anne, Ellen Krefting and Anne Beate Rønning (2012): “Eksemplets makt,” Anne Eriksen, Ellen Krefting and Anne Beate Rønning (eds.): Eksempelets makt: Kjønn, representasjon og autoritet fra antikken til i dag. Oslo: Scandinavian Academic Press, 9–38.

Gelley, Alexander (1995): “Introduction,” Alexander Gelley (ed.): Unruly Examples: On the Rhetoric of Exemplarity. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1–24.

Lyons, John D. (1989): Exemplum: The Rhetoric of Example in Early Modern France and Italy. Princeton: Princeton University Press. https://doi.org/10.1515/9781400860814

Oxford English Dictionary. <www.oed.com> (accessed 1/4/20).

Published
2020-01-30