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Heinrich Wilke

Doctoral Fellow

 

Campus Neues Palais
building 2, room 1.14

University of Potsdam
Am Neuen Palais 10
14469 Potsdam

Dissertation Project

The Order of Destruction: Monoculture in Colonial Caribbean Literature and Beyond

Export-oriented monocrop cultivation was a central feature, if not the raison d’être, of the European colonization of the Caribbean from the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries. Devised to mass-produce commodities such as sugar, coffee, and tobacco for European markets, this novel, distinctly commercial way of practicing agriculture powered by slavery set in motion a drastic restructuring of spaces, transforming intricate tropical rainforests into single-cultivar plantations across the entire Caribbean. This study inquires into this history by exploring monoculture in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Anglophone texts in a number of genres. Although unavailable to contemporaries as a word and concept, monoculture is nonetheless represented textually in indirect and implicit ways which are accessible to a literary-studies perspective attentive to form and to motifs such as order, control, uniformity, and their respective opposite. Drawing on scholarship on the West Indies’ (environmental) history and on (eco-)Marxist analyses, this investigation seeks to elucidate monoculture as a pivotal factor of human-nature relations in the history of modernity that has generated contradictory responses in literature. Monocultures have since spread across large parts of the globe, destroying ecosystems, fostering exploitative labor conditions, and throwing into violent contact people from vastly different regions. These encounters render monoculture an instance of ‘actually existing’ or ‘lived’ cosmopolitanism — yet one rarely acknowledged as such, in which the universal force tying together agricultural laborers and employers/corporations from various national and cultural backgrounds is globally operating capital. To account for this, this study factors in economic and ecological conditions and consequences of cosmopolitanism. Since one of the enduring effects of monocultures is the standardization of natural spaces as well as people, this project will also reflect on the significance of the imposition of uniformity to modernity.


Biography

I studied English and Philosophy (and, for a while and with markedly less success, Ancient Greek) at the University of Tübingen and the University of Connecticut, graduating with a Staatsexamen (“state exam”, i.e. teaching degree) and an M.A. in English Literatures and Cultures. In the second half of my studies, I encountered that strange, contradictory, liquid thing called dialectics, which continues its hold on my thought. An Americanist for most of my time as a student, I became, towards the very end, interested in the Global South, particularly in the Caribbean. My research attempts to combine those two spheres, approaching issues of and from the Global South, especially economic and ecological problems, via dialectics and Marxism, and exploring how such problems are reflected in and refracted through literature.


Research Interests

     

  • History and Literature of the Caribbean
  • Dialectics and Marxism
  • Ecology & Economy and/in Literature
  • Poetry
  • Philosophy of History

Conference Papers

"Conservative Fear: The Terror of Uncontrolled Immigration in H.P. Lovecraft's 'The Horror at Red Hook'". Goethe University Frankfurt, Postcolonial Narrations: Moving Centers & Traveling Cultures, October 10-12, 2018.


Scholarships and Awards

  • Baden-Württemberg—Connecticut Exchange (academic year 2012/13)
  • Scholarship by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) to study at a university in North America (academic year 2012/13)