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Prof Catherine du Toit

Inaugural lecture:

21 May 2024 @ 17:3018:30

Crime Fiction in a period of consequence. Climate change and the limits/limitations of literature.
Misdaadfiksie in ’n kritieke tydsgewrig. Klimaatsverandering en die perke/beperkinge van die letterkunde.
La Fiction policière dans une époque lourde de conséquences. Changement climatique et limites/limitations de la littérature.

This inaugural lecture is intended for a broad audience. At the same time, it also serves as a moment of critical reflection about the nature of my research and teaching and the values and approaches that underpin my work. Why bring together climate change and crime fiction? Crime fiction, always ready to probe inconvenient truths, has, over decades, concerned itself with the critical impact of climate change. Recently, this focus has become increasingly acute, moving beyond a descriptive context to accentuate the dynamics of accountability in the causal relationship between human activity and climate instability. Since the climate change crisis is not limited to any national or regional space, it makes sense to inscribe such a study in the broader field of comparative literature. A number of climate fiction novels deal with violence and the notion that anthropogenic climate change constitutes a crime against humanity. However, these narratives are not typically accompanied by the kind of investigation that characterizes crime fiction. The texts selected for this lecture are not dystopian but focus on current realities of climate change or scenarios that align with probability rather than speculation. They also include criminal investigations directly linked to these issues. I will speak mainly about Impact (2022) by Olivier Norek, which has a very clear informative intention about the urgency of the climate crisis and climate activism. I will also refer to 42 Grad (2020) by Wolf Harlander, which deals with infrastructural collapse and climate refugees, and Auðnin (2008) by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, which warns about a deadly disease awakened due to global warming. The discussion will include an interrogation of the nature of the crime, the identity of the victims and the question of accountability. This interpretation further links to new research about defensive and offensive criminal law responses to human rights and climate change.

Ce discours inaugural est destiné à un large public. En même temps, il constitue un moment de réflexion critique sur la nature de mes recherches et de mon enseignement, ainsi que sur les valeurs et les approches qui sous-tendent mon travail. Pourquoi associer le changement climatique et le roman policier ? Le roman policier, toujours prêt à sonder les vérités dérangeantes, se préoccupe depuis des décennies de l’impact critique du changement climatique. Récemment, cette préoccupation est devenue de plus en plus aiguë, dépassant un contexte descriptif pour accentuer la dynamique de la responsabilité dans la relation causale entre l’activité humaine et l’instabilité climatique. La crise du changement climatique ne se limitant pas à un espace national ou régional, il est logique d’inscrire cette étude dans le champ plus large de la littérature comparée. Un certain nombre de romans sur le climat traitent de la violence et de l’idée que le changement climatique anthropogène constitue un crime contre l’humanité. Toutefois, ces récits ne s’accompagnent généralement pas du type d’enquête qui caractérise les romans policiers. Les textes sélectionnés pour ce discours ne sont pas dystopiques, mais se concentrent sur les réalités actuelles du changement climatique ou sur des scénarios qui correspondent à des probabilités plutôt qu’à des spéculations. Ils comprennent également des enquêtes criminelles directement liées à ces questions. Je parlerai principalement d’Impact (2022) d’Olivier Norek, qui a une intention informative très claire sur l’urgence de la crise climatique et de l’activisme climatique. Je ferai également référence à 42 Grad (2020) de Wolf Harlander, qui traite de l’effondrement des infrastructures et des réfugiés climatiques, et à Auðnin (2008) d’Yrsa Sigurdardottir, qui met en garde contre une maladie mortelle réveillée par le réchauffement climatique. La discussion portera notamment sur la nature du crime, l’identité des victimes et la question de la responsabilité. Cette interprétation est également liée à de nouvelles recherches sur les réponses défensives et offensives du droit pénal aux droits de l’homme et au changement climatique.


Short biography

After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in law (Baccalaureus Legum Civilium) in 1988 and an Honours degree in French in 1989 from the University of Pretoria, Catherine was appointed as a junior lecturer for French. A French government scholarship allowed her to continue her studies in France in 1992-1993. She obtained a Diplôme d’études approfondies (DEA) in French and comparative literature from the University of Nantes, graduating at the top of her class. After returning to work at UP, UNISA and the then Department of Foreign Affairs, Catherine was appointed at Stellenbosch University in 1998 as a second lecturer in French in the newly formed Department of Modern Foreign Languages, where the number of French students had dwindled to fewer than a hundred. She obtained her doctorate in French Literature at the University of Pretoria in 2005 with a thesis about the life and work of Henri Pierre Roché. As a known authority on Roché, she was approached by the Editions de l’Herne of Paris in 2012 to create one of their famous Cahiers de l’Herne on this elusive author. This book, in collaboration with Xavier Rockenstrocly, was published in 2015. She has single-authored nearly thirty chapters in books and articles in either French, English or Afrikaans. Literary translation has always been a passion for Catherine. Publications of her translations include authors such as Breyten Breytenbach, Marlene van Niekerk, Ryk Hattingh, Bitterkomix, Arthur Rimbaud, Michel Houellebecq and Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo. Wine and viticulture are also longstanding passions. Catherine followed a winemaking course at the agricultural college of Beaune in Burgundy in 2001 and has published ten translations of books on wine and viticulture. Over the years, she has received numerous awards recognizing her contributions to research, teaching and general performance in the university context. She has been invited to collaborate on several international research projects and to lecture abroad in France, Madagascar, Norway and the USA. In 2016, Catherine received the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from the French government for her “significant contribution to the enrichment of the French cultural inheritance”. She is a Knight in this order. Catherine was promoted to full professor of French in 2018, and is the first woman in the history of Stellenbosch University to do so. She is also one of only a handful of South African academics ever appointed as professor of French.



21 May 2024

Organizer (event)

Amira Brown


STIAS Wallenberg Research Centre
10 Marais Road
Stellenbosch, 7600 South Africa
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