Kerstin Ekman’s The Forest of Hours (first published in Swedish in 1988) and Jenny Erpenbeck’s Visitation(published in German as Heimsuchung in 2008) span two decades and two countries, but both novels reach across far larger epochs, in their respective journeys from Europe’s glacial prehistory through the Dark Ages and the Thirty Years War, and through the twentieth century’s collective trauma. Though disagreement persists on when the Anthropocene began to leave its mark in stone, contemporary fiction often registers its traces through a marginally human witness who somehow survives generation after generation, recording in word or action what he or she has seen – and, in Ekman and Erpenbeck’s novels, heard. Music plays a significant role in both of these texts. It works thematically in Ekman’s Forest of Hours, in moments of transformation experienced by a semi-human troll in different historical periods, as well as structurally in the novel’s repetitions. In Erpenbeck’s Visitation, the recurring witness figure of a Gardener echoes Ekman’s liminal, looping perspective, while the novel’s detailed musical references signal the survival of the human in inhuman times. Drawing on Christine Marran’s model of “obligate storytelling,” this article argues that music’s presence in both novels binds human and nonhuman experience, memory and metanoia, like the flow of water that leaves patterns of erosion and transforms the land. The Anthropocene’s long view allows both of these novels to witness, most trenchantly through sound, the human capacity not only to destroy but also to love the sensory world.
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"The Musical Poetics of Witness: Two Anthropocene Journeys,"
Yale Journal of Music & Religion:
2, Article 3.