Abstract and Keywords
Ecocriticism began as an environmentalist literary movement that challenged Marxists and New Historicists over the meaning and significance of British Romanticism. An important component of the environmental humanities, ecocriticism has been characterized using the metaphor of waves. “First-wave” ecocriticism is inclined to celebrate nature rather than query “nature” as a concept and to derive inspiration as directly as possible from wilderness preservation and environmentalist movements. “Second-wave” ecocriticism is linked to social ecological movements and maintains a more skeptical relationship with the natural sciences. The contributions to the book, which encompass both “waves”, are organized in a widening spiral, from critical historicizations of “nature” in predominantly Euro-American literature in the first section to a series of surveys of work in ecocriticism’s “emerging markets” – Japan, China, India and Germany – in the last. The “Theory” section includes essays adopting perspectives from Latourian science studies, queer theory, deconstruction, animal studies, ecofeminism and postcolonialism. The “Genre” section demonstrates the diverse applications of ecocriticism with topics ranging from British literary fiction, Old Time music, environmental humour, climate change nonfiction.
Seventeen years ago Jennifer Wallace wrote a piece for the Times Higher Education Supplement introducing ecocriticism to British academia. An environmental activist nicknamed “Swampy” had recently become famous for constructing and inhabiting tunnels underneath woodlands threatened with road-building projects. According to Wallace, ecocritics such as Jonathan Bate and James McKusick were “Swampy’s Smart Set”—the high-brow cultural arm of the environmental movement. The frame of reference of the article is explicitly Romantic: ecocriticism is understood to confront Marxists and New Historicists over the meaning and significance of British Romanticism. Marilyn Butler is quoted speaking of the new movement with patrician curiosity and indulgence. Wallace says Butler
is a little uncertain about the parameters or the point of ecocriticism. “What is it? Who are they?” she wonders. Much of it seems to her to be old-fashioned and nostalgic writing about nature under a new, trendy name. But on the other hand, she is intrigued by the latest interest in science and man’s dependence on his environment.
Bate’s responses to some degree confirm Butler’s anxieties: he asserts that ecocriticism is an anti-Enlightenment counter-revolution inspired by British Romanticism and American wilderness writing. Jay Parini’s 1995 New York Times Magazine article “The Greening of the Humanities” depicts ecocritical pioneers who share the values and ambitions of their British counterparts, but are healthier with deeper tans: “Magnificent specimens of the human animal” in fact (Parini 1995).
Perhaps it is something to warrant a stereotype. If so, the sturdy sandal-wearing backpacker/literary critic laboring to reverse the Enlightenment disenchantment of the world might seem tolerably flattering. This figure is, though, representative only of what Lawrence Buell, one of Parini’s original “specimens,” has taught us to see as “first-wave” ecocriticism: inclined to celebrate nature rather than querying “nature” as a concept; keen to derive inspiration as directly as possible from environmental activism; and willing to defer in matters of truth to the natural sciences, especially ecology. “Second-wave” ecocriticism is too diverse and diffuse to summarize, let alone stereotype, but its connections with political environmentalism and ecological science are, on the whole, more complex and ambivalent. As Buell observes, for second-wave critics, “The discourses of (p. 2) science and literature must be read both with and against each other” (Buell 2005, 19). As contributions to this volume suggest, queer, deconstructionist, and postcolonial varieties of ecocriticism are, at times, sharply critical of environmentalism: its metaphysics, its gender and racial politics, and its troubling relationship with colonial and neocolonial histories.
Even the metaphor of first and second wave is considered problematic. Buell himself cautions that it is not “a tidy, distinct succession” and observes that “Most currents set in motion by early ecocriticism continue to run strong, and most forms of second-wave revisionism involve building on as well as quarreling with precursors” (17). (Indeed, many second-wave critics wear Tevas for hiking just like their predecessors.) In a critique of both Buell’s The Future of Environmental Criticism and my Ecocriticism (Routledge 2004, 2011 2nd edition), Greta Gaard has pointed out that ecofeminism and feminisms of color arguably predate both the ecocritical origin and the putative first wave of feminism without featuring prominently in either history. As a result, she argues, “feminists and ecocritics utilizing feminism’s ‘wave’ metaphor will inadvertently erase the history of ecological feminism and feminisms of color from both feminism and ecocriticism alike” (Gaard 2010, 646). In their authoritative introduction to Postcolonial Ecologies, Elizabeth DeLoughrey and George Handley likewise “call attention to an implicit production of a singular American ecocritical genealogy that, like all histories, might be reconfigured in broader, more rhizomatic, terms” (DeLoughrey and Handley 2011, 15). Just as there were surely pallid, clean-shaven agoraphobes at the early conferences organized by the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment (ASLE), there were essays with “second-wave” interests such as environmental justice in Cheryl Glotfelty and Harold Fromm’s pioneering anthology The Ecocriticism Reader.
All such cautions notwithstanding, Buell is right to point out that “First-wave ecocritical calls for greater scientistic literacy tend to presuppose a bedrock “human” condition, to commend the scientific method’s ability to describe natural laws, and to look to science as a corrective to critical subjectivism and cultural relativism” (18). By contrast, as several essays in this collection will show, ecocriticism is better characterized today as a critique of what Michel Foucault dubbed “bio-power,” or “the entry of life into history, that is, the entry of phenomena peculiar to the life of the human species into the order of knowledge and power, into the sphere of political techniques” (141–142). Of course, as Foucault admits, biology and history had always been interwoven, but in the course of the eighteenth century the relationship was consciously integrated in techniques of political power for the first time. While for Foucault, the sole organism of interest is the human animal, and the institutions of bio-power the prison, the asylum and the sex clinic, ecocritics have extended his analysis far beyond our own species. As a result, the techniques and institutions of bio-power subjected to critique have come to include the environmental surveillance practiced and required by environmental organizations themselves. Timothy Luke’s Ecocritique, an early example of the Foucauldian approach, characterized the work of the Worldwatch (p. 3) Institute, which publishes reports on the “state of the world,” in terms of disciplinary “geopower”:
As biological life is refracted through economic, political and technological existence, “the facts of life” pass into fields of control for disciplines of ecoknowledge and spheres of intervention for their management as geopower at various institutional sites.
(Luke 1997, 91)
In 1997, Luke’s skeptical approach was somewhat heterodox; now it is the norm. The second part of this volume, “Theory,” attests to the prevalence of Foucauldian ecocriticism and to the proliferation and diversification that is still going on.
Summaries and generalizations of any kind are risky, as we have seen. Nevertheless, we might encapsulate the mission of the environmental humanities, of which ecocriticism is a key part,1 in chiasmic terms as the historicization of ecology and the ecologization of history. As the Foucauldian approach emphasizes, ecology and environmentalism are themselves the outcomes of specific institutional and political histories, which continue to inform, constrain, and deform both fields of endeavor today. It is necessary to historicize ecology, as well as learning from it. At the same time, the environmental humanities challenge the anthropocentrism or “human racism” of traditional historical narratives, including histories of literature. Ecocriticism now reaches back long before Romanticism—into medieval British literature in the historical organization of the first part of this volume. Here, more patently than elsewhere, the desire to represent the mainstream of ecocritical work has won out over the sort of “rhizomic” approach recommended by Handley and DeLoughrey: “history” is restricted to Anglo-American literary history, although Claborn and Mukherjee’s essays demonstrates that that restricted economy itself has always been exposed to its racial “others.”
From seeking a return to nature identified with Romantic poets, wilderness prophets and Native Americans, ecocritics have turned more consistently to the critical historicization of “nature” outlined in the first section of the Handbook, and theoretical reflection on what Donna Haraway has dubbed “naturecultures” in the second. Moreover, the emphasis on nature writing and Romantic poetry, which was never total even in first-wave criticism, has been supplemented in more recent work by extremely wide-ranging cultural analysis. In the third section, on “Genre,” my bias favors novelty over norm, with chapters on such genres as climate change fiction, environmental humor and old-time country music outnumbering those on more familiar topics like nature writing and eco-film.
It seems unlikely that any literary critic, even at Cambridge, could now ask of ecocritics “who are they?” The question “what do they want?” is more difficult to answer today than it was in 1997. The more important and interesting question, now and in the future, is where are they? Postcolonial critics such as Mukherjee, DeLoughrey, Nixon, and Paravisini-Gebert disrupt the canonical and theoretical constructs of first-wave ecocriticism, but their institutional locations are at the center of Anglo-American academia. Hence the inclusion in the Handbook of a series of (p. 4) surveys of ecocritical work in what we might call, with conscious irony, ecocriticism’s “emerging markets”: Japan, China, India, and Germany. The traffic in ideas and publications, including postcolonial ones, has until recently flowed from the old and neocolonial “centers” to the “periphery.” ASLE, an organization founded and based in the United States, requires no national modifier, unlike later affiliates like ASLE-Korea and ASLE-UK and Ireland. The European Association for the Study of Literature, Culture and the Environment (EASLCE), while pleased to affiliate with ASLE, chose its name as a conscious declaration of independence. ASLE itself is acutely aware of the problem and keen to address it.
Starting with Japan, the first non-Anglophone country to embrace ecocriticism, the Handbook presents a series of “Views From Here” surveying ecocriticism in non-Anglophone academies. Along with important recent collections (Oppermann 2011, Estok and Kim 2013), these surveys contribute to the gradual overturning of Anglo-American dominance, which many ecocritics see as intellectually limiting and politically problematic. So the structure of the Handbook recalls a spiral: from a mainly British literary history in the first section out through postcolonial and other theoretical challenges to the diversity of genres and non-Anglophone vantage points that increasingly characterize the field. It is a structure that replicates the center/periphery organization of ecocriticism to date in order ultimately to subvert it.
Such self-conscious organization also, inevitably, draws attention to the problems of coverage highlighted by Gaard. It is unfortunate that academic reviewers often attack writers and editors for what they leave out rather than addressing what they have chosen to include (what I have called the Argument from Absence [Garrard 2012a, 220–221]), despite the obvious fact that absence is inherently infinite. The scale of the Handbook might lead a reader to the erroneous conclusion that it pretends to be comprehensive, when in fact it seeks only to be reasonably inclusive. Individual essays, too, are more often exemplary than synoptic. Rather than attempt an impossible all-round defense against flanking maneuvres by wily critics of absence, I commissioned scholars whose work interested me and worked energetically with them as editor to ensure a range of rigorous and distinctive viewpoints. Since “coverage” is a lie, the Handbook makes no pretense to it.
The commissions for most of the essays were generalized rather than specific, so the recurrent topoi, as well as the lacunae, of the Handbook are largely fortuitous. Climate change turned out to be a concern of numerous contributors, including Lousley, Clark, Morton, Trexler, Kerridge, Kluwick, Philippon, and Bracke. Interest in issues of colonialism and postcolonialism went beyond the authors commissioned to write on it specifically, encompassing DeLoughrey, Paravisini-Gebert, Nixon, Mukherjee, Trexler, and Rangarajan. My own essay deliberately explores the borderland ecocriticism shares, mainly amicably, with critical animal studies, but Feder, Buell, Watson, Rigby, and Sandilands chose to venture there too. Furthermore, ecocriticism has always encouraged stylistic and formal experimentation in scholarly work, so I was pleased to include essays by Dickinson, Branch, Morton, McMurry, and Nixon that did not pay heed too slavishly to academic conventions.
(p. 5) It is notable that, although the roster includes several authors who have made important contributions to ecofeminism, only Stacy Alaimo has chosen to engage directly with it. Then again, neither have any authors discussed deep ecology, perhaps because both it and ecofeminism have become part of the tacit knowledge base of ecocriticism. One of the major forms ecofeminism now takes is “intersectional analysis,” which claims that justice for oppressed groups—originally women in ecofeminism, but now many other human identity groups are included—coincides both theoretically and in practice with environmentalist objectives. The plausibility of such claims tends to be inversely proportional to the rhetorical emphasis with which they are made, and so I have chosen not to include intersectional work of the most ambitious kind. Nevertheless, essays by Adamson, Claborn, Sandilands, Philippon, Rangarajan, and Nixon showcase subtle and persuasive forms of intersectional analysis.
The succeeding sections briefly introduce each of the essays in context. The Oxford Handbook of Ecocriticism seeks to witness—not encompass, let alone exhaust—the diversity of contemporary ecocriticism. Its heft is a symptom not of hubris, but of the desire and opportunity to celebrate the field widely and generously. If nothing else, it is a weighty book to ballast us intellectually against the storms that environmentalists see in our future.
In Jonathan Bate’s Romantic Ecology (1991), it is a claim about history that sparks an ecocritical insurgency. Responding to Alan Liu’s claim that there is “no nature except as it is constituted by acts of political definition made possible by particular forms of government,” Bate states that “It is profoundly unhelpful to say ‘There is no nature’ at a time when our most urgent need is to address and redress the consequences of human civilization’s insatiable desire to consume the products of the earth” (Bate 1991, 56). Yet the alternative to Liu’s overweening, anthropocentric “history” is not the ahistorical Nature of Wordsworthian Romanticism, but a more nuanced sense of the tessellation of both key terms. It is true that what we call “nature” is often a forgotten or pastoralized remnant of human culture, but equally there can be no exclusively human history in the first place—just as all evolution is coevolution, all history is environmental. That said, when ecocritics rummage in the literary archive, they tend not to draw on the work of environmental historians, with its strongly empiricist bias. As several contributions to this section will demonstrate, they tend rather to the “history of ideas” approach in the tradition of Lynn White’s 1967 essay “The Historic Roots of our Ecologic Crisis” (White Jr. 1996), Carolyn Merchant’s ecofeminist The Death of Nature (1983) and Max Oelschlaeger’s The Idea of Wilderness (1991). What is contested in such historical work is the intellectual or aesthetic genealogy of either environmental crisis or the movements that seek to address it.
Thus Rudd’s essay, which plumbs the greatest historical depths in the collection, appeals to the common humanity of both premodern author and contemporary reader, (p. 6) but delights in a multiplicity of perspective. Looking back at the remote world of medieval England one perceives continuity and discontinuity, which Rudd organizes around the word and the color “green.” This simple conceit makes possible an engaging and original re-reading of a canonical text, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but also challenges the assumptions and assertions of environmentalist texts such as White and Merchant that recruit the Middle Ages for their arguments. Rudd cunningly admits the anti-Paganism of the Green Knight poem, but then also points out how such a reading serves more modern Romantic purposes. “Green” in this medieval poem signifies a moment of choice or change—not merely inconstancy—that might still resonate.
Robert Watson’s 2006 study Back to Nature is among the most eloquent and illuminating works of ecocriticism, so it is with particular pleasure that we publish an extension of that analysis. Planetary environmental crisis may be recent, but according to Watson, its origins lie primarily in the European Renaissance. What Merchant claimed was a decisive shift away from a feminine “organic” to a masculine “mechanistic” cosmos in the early modern period is reconceptualized by Watson in terms of a radically revised relationship between words and things: where material things were seen by medieval Christians as supervening harmfully between man and the Word of God, Renaissance thinkers and artists began to worry that words were coming between man and the ultimate reality: things. Humans are still seen as fallen creatures, but from animal plenitude not divine grace.
The genius of Watson’s approach is that it views environmentalism, sympathetically but still critically, as beholden to epistemological anxieties that, far from being part of the human condition, are quite recent and historically contingent. Ironically, the desire to go “back to nature” (seen as ideally pure, untainted physical reality) is, for Watson, a fundamentally anti-ecological one, as he explains in his essay in this volume:
Making nature an antidote for the complexity of our cognitive ecosystems involves a denial of the indispensable complexity of nature. Ecocritics must instead make vivid, as Shakespearean drama often does, the beautiful patterns of our interdependences.
Watson analyses A Midsummer Night’s Dream alongside several examples of Renaissance painting, making this essay also a contribution to the new field of visual ecocriticism (Braddock and Irmscher 2009). Crucially for Watson, ecocriticism is primarily a work of comprehension not activism; it acknowledges the urgency of the crisis without being determined by it. Like Lynn White Jr., Watson considers Christianity a key influence on our modern cultures of nature, but he distinguishes more carefully than White’s famous essay between Catholic and Protestant art and epistemology.
Watson writes of the Renaissance with the breadth of reference of the ideal Renaissance scholar. Kate Rigby’s work is similarly magisterial thanks to her deep engagement with both British and German Romanticism. She comprehends Romanticism as a European movement, initially fortuitous but later on quite self-conscious, as well as an “enduring dimension of eurowestern modernity.” It makes sense, then, to discuss Romanticism as a set of historical texts and authors, sprawling yet bounded in time, and also as a revolutionary worldview that transcends any such local, contingent habitation. (p. 7) Rigby’s particular innovation here is to ally Romantic proto-environmentalism with contemporary postequilibrium ecology, as distinct from the Augustan notion of the “balance of nature” that inspired early twentieth-century ecologists (Kricher 2009) and late twentieth-century ecocritics. Her essay highlights the complexity and ambivalence of Romantic constructions of animals: they are at once Other and brother. Perhaps most surprising is the diversity Rigby finds in Romantic neo-Paganism, from the anti-Semitic forms later adopted by some Nazis through sexually liberating, ecstatically embodied varieties to Heine’s critique of compensatory fantasies of nature as leisure space. Ironically the Romantics have, in some accounts, been taken to exemplify exactly these kinds of fantasies.
The center of gravity of “history,” thus far, lies somewhere in the North Sea—between the British Isles, the Netherlands of Watson’s Renaissance and Rigby’s “Jena Romantics.” Pablo Mukherjee’s postcolonial analysis of discourses of the “diseased tropics” draws it far to the south and east to India, site of one of the most culturally and ecologically significant colonial enterprises. Mukherjee diagnoses a severe case of ambivalence in colonial literary treatments of cholera, in which colonizers were portrayed as at once the superior “gifted race” whose destiny it was to dominate the subcontinent, and as peculiarly liable to succumb to tropical diseases. This is a critique of imperial bio-power of the kind discussed earlier in the introduction, which considers cholera in discursive rather than biogeographical terms. At the same time, though, it retains a strongly materialist interest in the way that colonizers blamed the tropics for their diseases whilst ignoring the role of their own networks in spreading them. Besides throwing light on specific colonial anxieties, Mukherjee does vital work in drawing attention to “how the discursive and practical detection, production, circulation and containment of diseases contribute to specific imaginings and conceptualizations of environments.” Pathogens and parasites are of immense evolutionary and ecological significance (Dunn 2011), but have received almost no attention in ecocriticism. If Mukherjee’s piece is positioned in the Handbook so as to exemplify the British “Victorian” era, it also highlights the conceptual instability and incipient globality of that phase.
Since ecocritical studies of Modernism have been scarce up to now, I have chosen two essays to represent this pivotal moment in the history of Western art. Anne Raine seeks in some measure to reconcile ecocriticism and Modernism, in spite of the overtly “Promethean” hostility to nature of spokesmen like Wyndham Lewis. Like Rigby, Raine emphasizes the diversity contained within her ostensible cultural moment, and discusses diasporic Modernism as well as the canonical “men of 1914.” In addition to recuperative readings that show how accepted ecocritical terms of value can be applied to Modernists, Raine explores a revisionist alternative in which Modernist writers are seen as usefully questioning the concept of nature. In the latter respect, Raine sees Modernism as anticipating aspects of second-wave ecocriticism that are, to borrow Kate Soper’s term, “nature-sceptical” (Soper 1995). Taken together with Rigby’s argument in the previous essay, Raine’s essay suggests an intriguing possibility: as well as historicizing ecocriticism, such readings might help us to historicize ecology itself. Both authors (p. 8) contend that the metaphorics of the natural sciences might usefully be characterized as Augustan, Romantic or Modernist. As such they exemplify the process of “reading both with and against” science endorsed by Buell.
John Claborn’s contribution on African American Modernism is a continuation of research that yielded one of the most remarkable ecocritical essays I have read: an extraordinarily detailed piece on William Attaway that draws extensively on environmental history (Claborn 2009). In the analysis published here, Claborn accepts the argument of Paul Outka’s superb critique of the white American conservationist rhetoric of wilderness in Race and Nature (2008), but then shows how African American author W. E. B. Du Bois too enjoyed the sublimity of sites such as the Grand Canyon. What was distinctive in his case, though, was the juxtaposition of wilderness experience and the cosmopolitanism of Paris as remarkably similar liberatory spaces for African Americans. Claborn concludes that “By juxtaposing this social expression of racial community in Paris with nature’s mixing of colors at the Grand Canyon, Du Bois naturalizes integration and internationalizes a vision of democracy across the color line.” It is a conclusion that enriches and productively complicates arguments about the racialization of wilderness, and demonstrates that the widely attested African American ambivalence towards American landscapes could still motivate enthusiastic expression. In particular, Claborn’s delightful portrait of white tourists intruding on Du Bois’s romantic reverie in Scotland implies that the enforced “doubleness” of the black subject can represents a highly sophisticated form of admiration for wild nature rather than always a painfully compromised one.
The last chapter in “History,” so to speak, ought perhaps to be postmodernism, but the experimental protocol outlined here by poet Adam Dickinson eludes any such classification. Although as an exercise in pataphysics, or the “science of imaginary solutions,” Dickinson’s essay is in a tradition that long predates both ecocriticism and postmodernism, it is presented as a prospectus for a project at the intersection of these movements. Dickinson’s project, a continuation of the work presented in The Polymers (2013), includes aspects of both modernist procedural writing and postmodernist self-experimentation, but extends these into the “synthesis of science and wonder” of ecocriticism. As a pataphysician, Dickinson seeks to draw attention to poetic practices in science at the same time that he imports scientific procedures into poetry. In principle, then, it takes ecocriticism beyond the narcissism of narrative scholarship into unexplored realms of criticism as itself a poetic experiment in an unusually strong sense. Dickinson promises to treat his own body as a symbiotic organism: simultaneously an “interior semiotic surface” preserving signs of his activities and proclivities, and a potentially toxic “downstream” site of unwilling disposal. Dickinson is interested, scientifically and poetically, not only in how we “write the environment” but in how the “environment writes us.”
Buell’s wave metaphor and Kate Soper’s distinction between “nature endorsing” and “nature skeptical” perspectives are both useful ways to characterize the history and (p. 9) development of ecocriticism, but I tend to think in terms of centripetal and centrifugal forces. The emphasis on place and dwelling—notably in bioregionalism and much ecocritical pedagogy—impels us to hunker down in our locale, or as Gary Snyder urges in “For the Children,” one of his schmaltzier poems: “stay together / learn the flowers / go light.” The characteristic centripetal posture is a huddle, the protectiveness of which is hard to dissociate from defensive, exclusionary parochialism. National parks exemplify centripetal environmentalism: they provide necessary protection for endangered species and vulnerable ecosystems, but may also sustain (though until recently seldom memorialized) the colonial translocations and expulsions of indigenous people required to endow them as pure wilderness spaces. Yosemite in the United States and Kruger in South Africa are two examples.
Centrifugal ecocriticism, by contrast, is fascinated by hybrid spaces, cosmopolitan identities and naturecultural ironies, such as the unanticipated biodiversity of horribly polluted landscapes such as the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear accident site (Weisman 2008) and the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, a Superfund site that has been dubbed America’s “most ironic nature park” (Cronon 1996). The decentering effect of centrifugal criticism has been accelerated in recent years by the subversive energies introduced by encounters with deconstruction and queer theory. If centripetal ecocriticism tended to rely on popularized versions of ecology to validate its intuitions, centrifugal approaches informed by the sceptical perspectives of science studies and animal studies have ironically been forced into more rigorous and detailed engagements with biological science than heretofore. So the gyre described by this section circles out from questions of politics, science and culture (human and non-human) towards still more radical questioning of logocentrism, ethnocentrism, and heteronormativity.
Back in the 1990s when Theory was identified primarily with anthropocentric, impenetrable French philosophers, ecocriticism was pleased to constitute itself as anti-Theory. While a few still see it that way, there is now a relaxed acceptance that theoretical reasoning and philosophical reflection are modes of understanding as indispensable as personal experiences and close readings of cultural texts. A deicidal reconfiguration of the theoretical pantheon has been required, though: out, for most critics, went psychoanalysts such as Jacques Lacan and Julia Kristeva and in came phenomenologists and systems theorists. Figures from before the age of High Theory such as Raymond Williams and Martin Heidegger were revalued (Goodbody and Rigby 2011). The biophobic side of Foucault developed by Judith Butler is now being supplanted by a materialist conception of discourse that admits nonhuman agencies. Diverse as these perspectives are, the essays in this section suggest that the presiding figures today are the French anthropologist of science, Bruno Latour, and the American biologist-turned-critic Donna Haraway.
Cheryl Lousley’s essay heads up this section because it incisively accounts for the importance for ecocriticism of Latour and Haraway in the course of a reading of Canadian author Douglas Coupland’s JPod (2007) and a critical revaluation of the founding text of modern environmentalism, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962). The argument of postmodern relativists and scientific realists, which was too often a sterile tussle between straw men, is superseded by what Lousley characterizes, following Haraway, as “‘modest’ methods of developing truth claims without disavowing their (p. 10) embeddedness in mechanisms and relations of power.” After all, as Latour observes with evident anguish in his lecture “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam?,” sophisticated sociological questioning of scientific truth claims seems indistinguishable from politically-motivated undermining of, for example, climate science. As a result, he suggests,
entire Ph.D. programs are still running to make sure that good American kids are learning the hard way that facts are made up, that there is no such thing as natural, unmediated, unbiased access to truth, that we are always prisoners of language, that we always speak from a particular standpoint, and so on, while dangerous extremists are using the very same argument of social construction to destroy hard-won evidence that could save our lives.
(Latour 2004b, 227)
For Latour, though, “reconnecting scientific objects with their aura, their crown, their web of associations” (237)—their politics, in a generous sense—is understood to enrich, not impoverish, their claim to reality and significance. The vital contribution of Silent Spring, as Lousley shows, was to contextualize scientific knowledge of the environmental impact of organic pesticides in such a way that they became politically visible, debatable and, ultimately, actionable. In this way, DDT and the organisms it afflicted were thereby welcomed into what Latour calls the social “collective” as salient intra-actors.
Lousley’s essay also points up the indebtedness of much ecocritical theory to what we might call the “materialist Foucault.” While there is much in his work that conduces to postmodern relativism, it is also possible to read Foucault as agnostic regarding the possible autonomy and agency of subjects constituted by the epistemic regimes that are his primary interest. As Lousley explains, “Foucault suggests that power not only operates on a pre-formed object—on a juvenile delinquent, or crop pests, for example—but is also at work in constituting this object as a unit of analysis, that there is such a thing as agricultural pests amenable to chemical management.” Inspired in part by Foucault, Haraway, and Latour too are interested in these enabling conditions, but they also attest to the reality that, once elicited by scientific discursive practices that invite them into the collective, both human and nonhuman agents, delinquents and pests, remain quarrelsome and unpredictable. Lousley’s biopolitical analysis contrasts with the “reconnection with nature” of centripetal ecocriticism, in which reconnecting was separable from and antecedent to engagement in environmental politics. As she says, “We should be suspicious of the ease with which a middle-class North American might ‘re-connect’ with nature via a walk with an iPod in the woods as compared to the difficulty of, say, gathering knowledge about and re-organizing coltan mining and electronics manufacturing.” It may inherit from Foucault something of a monomania about power as opposed to other axes of social psychology (could there not be compassion/knowledge systems as well as power/knowledge ones?), but Lousley’s essay also conveys the full force and significance of Latour’s rhetorical question: “What term other than ecology would allow us to welcome nonhumans into politics?” (Latour 2004a, 226; italics appear in original).
(p. 11) Latour’s work is also significant for ecocritics whose concerns center on environmental justice, as Joni Adamson’s essay shows. If we accept what he calls the “modernist constitution,” which distinguishes categorically between a unitary “nature” and multiple, human-only cultures, we condemn anthropology to condescending multiculturalism. As Latour caustically observes, we then have but one request for indigenous Others: “‘Thanks to nature, I know in advance, without needing to hear what you have to say, who you are; but tell me anyway what representations you have made of the world and of yourselves—it would be so interesting to compare your visions to the equally factitious ones of your neighbors’” (210–211). In reality, as Adamson shows, contemporary indigenous politics and literature assume, like Latour, nonhuman membership of the collective: both the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, framed at a conference hosted by the Bolivian president Evo Morales, and such classic environmental justice texts as Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of the Dead endorse an inclusive Latourian “cosmopolitics.” Far from perpetuating the myth of the Ecological Indian, as I claimed in Ecocriticism (2004; 2011 2nd edition), indigenous activists and texts themselves contest idealizations of pre-Columbian civilizations as peaceful and environmentally benign, while also affirming that indigenous knowledge can play a positive role in the negotiation of sustainable multinatural, multicultural collectives. Indeed, Adamson cites Annette Kolodny’s research on the nineteenth-century Penobscot writer Joseph Nicolar in support of her view that indigenous peoples have been articulating cosmovisions more multiple and inclusive than those of the nation-state for hundreds of years. According to my reading of Kolodny, by contrast, indigenous leaders such as Nicolar and, indeed, Morales, have seen political opportunity in Euro-American idealisations like the Ecological Indian (Garrard 2010, 6–7). It may be that our positions differ only in the cynicism with which they read the same evidence, however.
Latour and Haraway also provide a point of departure for Stacy Alaimo, whose work as both author and editor exemplifies the sustained and productive encounter of ecocriticism, feminism and science studies (Alaimo 2010, Alaimo and Hekman 2008). In this essay, though, she takes feminist ecocriticism beyond its familiar boundaries into the remote and necessarily mediated space of the deep oceans. As Alaimo states:
The ocean eludes the feminist, environmentalist, and environmental justice models of ordinary experts, embodied or situated knowers, domestic carbon footprint analysts, and trans-corporeal subjects who take science into their own hands and conceive of environmentalism as a scientifically mediated but also immediate sort of practice.
At the same time, though, Alaimo criticizes the denial of entanglement of human and nonhuman agencies in popular representations of the deep seas. In TV documentaries and glossy coffee table books, the creatures of the abyss are reductively framed either as weird specimens of scientific study and classification or as objects of purely aesthetic attention: “Even as the ocean is being emptied of its life through massive industrial extractions that the quaint term ‘fishing’ cannot begin to suggest, there is no shortage of films, television programs, coffee table books, and web sites replete with stunning (p. 12) photos of ocean creatures.” In some ways these representations conform to definitions of “ecoporn” adumbrated by feminists and ecocritics, yet Alaimo also insists that viewing deep-sea photography should be seen as an emotional and political entanglement that begins to constitute a crucial new collectivity.
Climate change is a more obviously controversial site of scientific, artistic, and political entanglement than the abyssopelagic zone. Adam Trexler, who has reviewed climate change literature with Adeline Johns-Putra (Trexler and Johns-Putra 2011), shows how recalcitrant anthropogenic global warming is to fictional representation, thereby anticipating Richard Kerridge’s essay in this collection. Whether or not one agrees with his characterization of the struggle of ecocriticism with questions of realism, Trexler argues persuasively that ecocritics could learn from science studies how mediation, whether by scientists or novelists, can elicit things rather than obscuring them:
The things that emerge from this process [of research] are neither merely material, real, independent of human beings; nor are they pure intellection, constructed by the will of scientists, ideology, or discourse. Categorically, they are “hybrids’, ‘half object and half subject’, resisting human agency and producing human knowledge at the same time.
Trexler’s account answers the criticism that talk of the “agency” of things in science studies misleadingly implies choice and intention, and recalls Latour’s insistence that we read “thing” as both a physical object and in the Nordic sense of a gathering or parliament like the Icelandic Althing. He goes on to apply Latourian theory to Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide (2004) in a way that, in effect, construes it as fictional scientific ethnography. Both literature and science “mangle” together material and human agencies, as Trexler demonstrates in a brilliant, sustained analysis of Ghosh’s representation of Pilar’s binoculars. Trexler shares with Alaimo the optimistic conviction that encounters with artworks constitute meaningful entanglements rather than merely reporting them at one or more removes. He seems ultimately to admire The Hungry Tide not in spite of its unwillingness to represent climate change directly, but in some way because of it.
Whereas Lousley, Adamson, Alaimo and Trexler’s Latourian perspective articulates a radically decentring notion of multinaturalism, the next three essays consider the implications of extending multiculturalism beyond the human species. The first, by Helen Feder, introduces two types of “posthumanist”: one allied to an Internet movement preoccupied with renouncing humanity by technological means; the other concerned philosophically to overcome “humanity” in an idealised and anthropocentric sense. Dismissing the first group as geeks deludedly seeking disembodiment, Feder astutely evaluates the arguments and evidence in favor of a posthuman sense of “culture.” The implications are sometimes startling: elephant communities whose encounters with people have become increasingly violent, perhaps as a result of the psychological, demographic and cultural disruptions caused by ivory poaching, are said by biologist Gay Bradshaw to be “resisting colonialism.” While neither Feder nor the theorists and scientists surveyed in her essay dispute the uniqueness of symbolic communication in (p. 13) human culture, she demonstrates that there is no non-circular argument for restricting our conception of culture to our species alone. The encounter of science studies, critical animal studies and ecocriticism exemplified by Feder and Alaimo’s contributions seems one of the most potentially productive in the field today.
The relationship between animal rights and environmentalist politics was characterized by Mark Sagoff in 1984 as a “bad marriage, quick divorce” (Sagoff 1984). T. C. Boyle’s novel When the Killing’s Done (2011) powerfully fictionalizes both the tensions and the congruences between movements to protect animals and to restore ecosystems. At one remove from such conflicts between activists, my essay concentrates on feral dogs in order to bring into focus the conceptual differences between ecocriticism and critical animal studies. Adopting from cartography the metaphor of “triangulation,” the essay uses the insights of evolutionary biology and ethology as well as fictional representations in order to locate and comprehend the figure of the feral animal more securely. The empiricism of my approach contrasts with the scepticism more generally typical of critical animal studies; it seeks to show that interdisciplinary study can yield deeper, more reliable knowledge of the collectives we inhabit than posthumanistic theorization can yield by itself.
Although Latour is a French scholar, the authors collected here are all based in North America where science studies is prominent. Timo Maran, by contrast, represents a well-established school of thought that is not only European, but quite specifically (if not exclusively) Baltic in origin. The theory of biosemiotics he discusses shares with Feder the idea that semiosis is a fundamental property of life, but takes it beyond mammalian societies to the cellular level. According to Maran, what are usually seen as “material” or biochemical processes such as DNA transcription, cellular exchange and sensory activity are better seen as semiotic or communicative activities. The key biosemiotic concept of autopoeisis, or self-organization, furthermore coincides with the Latourian emphasis on nonhuman intra-actants. Thanks to its rich history of interdisciplinary research, though, biosemiotics also contributes such seminal concepts as semiotic filtering, or “translation” between systems, and the semiotic regulation of ecological processes. As Maran states, “human cultural and semiotic activities cannot be treated as a semiotic island in the vast ocean of unsemiotic void.” As we will see, Timothy Morton wants to show how the boundary between words and world deconstructs itself, but where his work bounces energetically between concepts, biosemiotics adopts more cautious procedures from biology: it distinguishes between analogical and homological processes, and it adopts typological gradations of semiosis. The notion of “interpretation” developed by biosemiotics is therefore both universalizing—no hermeneutic is categorically reserved for humans—and discriminating. In part, the difference is due to Morton’s reliance on a poststructuralist interpretation of Saussurean semiotics, whereas Maran deploys a more sophisticated Piercean structure. The latter acknowledges the existence of iconic and indexical signs in which the relationship between sign and object is non-arbitrary. By contrast, the poststructuralist Saussurean framework is inherently anthropocentric: it conceptualizes the signifier in verbal terms and the signified in mentalistic ones, and it considers the relationship between them a matter of labile (p. 14) social convention. The growing familiarity of ecocritics with the work of Estonian and Finnish biosemioticians is therefore a welcome development.
In this as in other fields of research, many Anglo-American ecocritics (the present author included) are hampered by functional monolingualism. Timothy Clark’s fluency in German as well as English informs both his Cambridge Introduction to Literature and the Environment (2010) and the essay published here. Phenomenology has influenced the development of ecocriticism, especially the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty as refracted through David Abram’s popular The Spell of the Sensuous (2006). Well versed as he is in this tradition, Clark considers that the climate crisis exposes severe limitations in what is known as “eco-phenomenology,” in particular its idealization of the body or “Flesh” as an agent of political change. Clark contrasts Abram’s neo-animism unfavorably with Gernot Böhme’s “Nature politics,” a formulation, founded in but not limited to aesthetic responses, that has much in common with the kind of democratization discussed by Lousley. We might say, in fact, that Abram’s is a primitivistic “poetics of authenticity” and Böhme’s is a “poetics of responsibility” (Garrard 2004; 2011 2nd edition). Clark concludes his essay with a series of challenges to ecophenomenology, including animals, gender and globality, and a manifesto for its reconstruction.
The next essay is by another British Timothy with a deconstructive bent: Timothy Morton, probably the most influential theorist of ecocriticism today. His Ecology without Nature (2007), The Ecological Thought (2010, and Hyperobjects (2013) have had a seismic impact, especially at the postgraduate level. While his arguments extend the posthumanism of predecessors like Haraway, it is his inimitable style that innervates or irritates, according to taste: he excels in wild generalizations, vivid illustrations, and memorably comic, gnomic utterances. “Deconstruction and/as Ecology” exemplifies the phenomenological conception of a “world” using Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and takes Bilbo Baggins’s song “The Road Goes Ever On and On” to anticipate Jacques Derrida’s concept of différance. Yet Morton describes the film adaptations of Tolkien as “a worldwide Olympics of death, unto eternity, may the best elf win.” Disciplinary gaps between literary criticism and microbiology, say, or ecology and evolutionary biology are not so much bridged as exuberantly transgressed: a computer program is like DNA/RNA transcription, which is like Nature, which in turn is like a self-referential postmodernist poem. Like Clark, Morton insists on the deconstructive radicalism of ecology, which he thinks has too little affected the environmental criticism supposedly derived from it. He work embodies an appealingly extravagant confidence in reading as both a scientific and humanistic practice, as well as the author’s confidence in the accuracy and relevance of examples drawn from fields such as mathematics and genetics. Morton’s ambition has injected much-needed vim into ecocritical theory.
Catriona Sandilands’s The Good-Natured Feminist (1999) is an authoritative revaluation of the rich, diverse tradition of ecofeminism. Ever since its publication the author has been a leading light in the movement to integrate the insights of queer theory and ecocriticism. Here, Sandilands considers the significance of “queer animals”—homosexual creatures, primarily, but also others such as intersexed individuals that do not conform to an ideal heterosexual dyad of male and female. It is clear that queer organisms (p. 15) are queerer than we can suppose, even given broad liberal definitions of sexual diversity, but Sandilands cautions against using them simply to legitimate stigmatized human sexual behaviors and identities. She quotes Karen Barad as saying that, “in an important sense…there are no “acts against nature”…only ‘acts of nature’,” a statement that simultaneously affirms queer identities in the face of homophobia and contradicts the ethical basis of popular environmentalism. The notion of “symbiogenesis” she discusses decenters humanity from its position of privilege, but perhaps also relativizes human moral responsibility for environmental change.
Sandilands is grimly fascinated, as I am, by Lee Edelman’s No Future (2004), an uncompromisingly radical work of queer theory (Garrard 2012b) that critiques the figure of the Child as both source and imagined destination of heteronormative politics. Edelman proposes that queers accept the identification with the death drive proposed for them by hegemonic culture, and “[f]uck the social order and the Child in whose name we’re collectively terrorized’ (Edelman 2004, 29). While Sandilands is far more cautious than I am about recruiting this argument in service of Malthusian objections to overpopulation—not least because Edelman attempts to distinguish between the Child and actual children—she does see ecocritical uses for its aggressive anti-naturalism. She goes on to weave a sympathetic reading of Canadian novelist Jane Rule’s After the Fire (1989) through with fascinating material on the vital role of fire in postequilibrium ecology in order to demonstrate, without reductive simplification, “affinities between social and ecological transformation.”
The last two essays in this section represent the spiral out from an Anglo-American “center” that continues with the “Views from Here.” The Latourian essays with which we began were developing a distinctive posthumanist and materialist theoretical framework, whereas the later contributions are hybrids of ecocriticism and existing fields of philosophy and literary theory: phenomenology, deconstruction, and queer theory. Of these encounters, the scope is greatest where ecocriticism meets research on globalization and postcolonialism, as the authorial and editorial work of Elizabeth DeLoughrey has amply demonstrated (DeLoughrey 2009, DeLoughrey and Handley 2011). As with critical animal studies, there are points of tension as well as overlap: postcolonial critics contest both the moral universalism of environmental charities and the epistemic universalism of environmental science. Where the concept of globalization preferred by ecocritics such as Ursula Heise allows for the emergence of new configurations of economic and political power, postcolonialism insists on the continuing importance of colonial and neocolonial circuits. Of all the theories included in this section, postcolonial ecocriticism is the least concerned about anthropocentrism because it is so profoundly keyed to movements for human emancipation. As such, DeLoughrey draws powerful—indeed painful—attention to the proper ambivalence of scholars from the United States (though the point applies elsewhere, if less pointedly) given that it is a point of origin for both ecocriticism and imperial military power. DeLoughrey reminds us of the colossal human and environmental cost of militarization, primarily that of the United States in her account but also including, in Africa and Asia especially, the appalling impact of probably the most destructive machine in history: the mass-produced AK47. Her (p. 16) postcolonial critique shapes her response to the representation of what she calls “wars of light”—atomic testing, primarily—in Pacific Island literature.
If DeLoughrey’s primary points of reference lie in postcolonial theory, Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert makes greater use of environmental history. Since the Caribbean islands have suffered environmental ruination as a consequence of colonialism, their literatures conduce to postcolonial ecocriticism. Paravisini-Gebert explains how dozens of species were driven to extinction on land and sea because of hunting and conversion of habitats to plantations, and expresses support for belated conservation efforts in the region. Her discussion of early modern accounts of the Caribbean notes their surprising attention to loss of biodiversity, and it also frames her discussion of a more complex and ambivalent extinction event: the deliberate extirpation of the Haitian Creole pig and the later reintroduction of a similar breed. Her conclusion offers a neat summary of the central claim of postcolonial ecocriticism: “The Caribbean’s path to environmental justice reveals…that environmental problems are a manifestation of other, larger problems endemic to culture, society, and economic structures in colonized societies struggling to continue to exist in a globalized world.” Thanks to this hybrid critical practice, ecocriticism is increasingly reading further afield than Europe and North America. In the process, though, it may be relinquishing the concern for the more-than-human world that was, in the beginning, its most distinctive ethical position.
All literary critical movements demand revision of the canon. Feminism, postcolonialism, and critical race studies (though not Marxism, curiously) have transformed the curriculum in Anglophone universities. What was unusual about ecocriticism in the 1990s was that it called for a revaluation of genres as well as a shuffling of preferred authors. In Lawrence Buell’s seminal The Environmental Imagination (1996), Henry David Thoreau presided over a canon of American nature writers then little known outside the Western Literature Association. Ecocritics ever since have tended to work on nonfiction and poetry, and fiction and drama less often, an order of priority unfamiliar to other critical schools. However, as this section attests, it is a situation that is changing: “environmental nonfiction” is preferred over nature writing, and we research an increasingly wide range of the authors and texts.
The section begins with a contribution from Richard Kerridge, our most reliable navigator of questions of genre. He shows in detail why, as Trexler has already suggested, climate change poses a particular challenge for existing literary genres, but he also expresses a hope, nursed presumably by many scholars but seldom openly acknowledged, that ecocritical criteria of value might extend beyond academic criticism to influence cultural debate more widely. At the moment, outside academia the reverse is true: overtly environmentalist artworks risk negatively evaluation for their (p. 17) “political agenda,” while environmental criteria are rarely applied to any other artefacts at all. Kerridge’s innovation here is to point out that ecocritical criteria are contradictory, which commits the critic to difficult judgments in every case. Kerridge honestly confronts the dilemma of activism and scholarly detachment, but he also pleads, like Mike Branch’s essay, for the extension of the emotional range of ecocriticism into absurdity, comedy and profound grief. He points out that, while ontologically posthumanism criticizes assumptions of human uniqueness, ethically we need to amplify our sense of human responsibility, not attenuate it. Kerridge concludes with an inclusive, practical list of genres and the aspects of environmental crisis they might help to address.
It was, appropriately enough, a comedian from chilly Scotland who said “Global warming? About f***ing time.” There is no shortage of popular environmental comedy, but almost no recognition of it in academic circles. Mike Branch rectifies the situation in his delightfully funny “Are You Serious?,” which explains why ecocritics need to lighten up a bit. As motoring journalist and demagogue Jeremy Clarkson has shown with his incessant attacks on George Monbiot, the stereotype of the miserable, self-righteous environmentalist who knits his own tofu continues to have comedy value. It is also, of course, a stigmatizing and marginalizing strategy to which the proper response is, as Branch shows, to poke fun right back. It helps that Branch is no mean comic writer himself, as well as thoroughly knowledgeable about comic masterpieces of American literature such as Henry Thoreau’s Walden and Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire. Luckily, he knows how lethal explication is to humor, as do I. So read the essay.
Having briefly attracted the scholarly attention of ecocritics, is nature writing now dead? It has certainly taken some severe pummeling, notably in Dana Phillips in The Truth of Ecology (2003) and Timothy Morton’s Ecology without Nature. So is it time to move on? As Dan Philippon acknowledges, nature writing is frequently portrayed as something second or third wave ecocriticism needs to get past, like some humiliating adolescent fad. Whilst he admits the force of some of these critiques, Philippon reasserts the countercultural value of nature writing—especially in the United States—and demonstrates its adaptability to issues like climate change and food miles. In fact many ecocritics cut their teeth on environmental nonfiction and continue to love it through all vicissitudes. Writers themselves are responsive to critical suspicion of nature writing in its rhapsodic and jeremiadic forms, and seek paths beyond them. Philippon’s careful assessment of contemporary American “motherhood environmentalists” Sandra Steingraber, Amy Seidl, and Barbara Kingsolver is a sterling example of the sort of critical judgment Kerridge calls for, as well as a stout defense of the continuing importance of environmental nonfiction.
The association of childhood with nature is a key construct of Romantic ecology after Rousseau, and children’s literature is saturated with anthropomorphic animals. In his contribution to the Handbook Lawrence Buell, the Dean of American ecocriticism, brings to bear on this key genre the seemingly effortless eloquence and insight that are his trademarks. Buell accepts that ostensibly environmental or animal-centered fictions can easily be read as allegorical—“a bad boy story in animal drag” like The Tale of Peter Rabbit. But, as he points out, there are counter-allegorical elements in children’s stories (p. 18) that prevent us dismissing them as crudely anthropomorphic projections of exclusively human concerns. Richard Adams’s Watership Down, he tells us, combines an allegorical quest narrative with quite detailed attention to “lapine natural history.” Even if the Romantic construct of the natural child was idealized, it is demonstrable that childhood experience of in the outdoors is formative for most environmentalists, while the converse risk of “nature deficit disorder” in children brought up mainly indoors (Louv 2008) is, as Buell recognizes, more speculative but at least plausible. Just as environmental nonfiction has adapted in response to changing concerns, children’s literature has shifted from the Carson-era environmentalism of Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax (1971) to such contemporary examples as S. Terrell French’s Operation Redwood (2010), which betray the influence of the environmental justice movement.
Few works of children’s literature are as overtly environmental as Seuss’s and French’s books, and the same is true of literary fiction for adults. Ecocritical analysis has tended to fixate on the relatively straightforward examples: Don DeLillo’s White Noise (1985); Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake (2003); Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006); Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide. Astrid Bracke’s essay takes issue with this narrow canon, and models a critical practice that can shed light on a much wider array of novels. Thanks to dominant, anthropomorphic modes of characterization, novels may be less well suited than other literary genres to challenging anthropocentrism. Yet Bracke’s analysis elicits ecocritical significance from texts with no obvious environmental dimension, such as John McGregor’s haunting If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things (2002), a novel set on the day Princess Diana died and populated by a cast of near-anonymous characters. Bracke’s close readings dedicate minute attention to punctuation and narrative architecture, thereby showing how formal elements (not just environmental “content”) of a novel can be integrated into an ecocritical reading. Bracke is even prepared to defend Ian McEwan’s Solar (2010), which I and some other ecocritics found disappointing (Garrard 2013), for its salutary anti-apocalyptic and anti-doctrinaire attitude. The essay concludes by recommending a diagnostic rather than evaluative approach to environmental criticism.
If novels have received relatively short shrift from ecocritics, poetry has been hailed from the outset. Scholars have sought to assess how ecocentric various poets and poems are, or have made more or less tenuous claims about how poetic form might itself be seen as “ecological.” Lattig’s analysis is of the latter sort, but is conducted more carefully than most. It draws on cognitive poetics, a branch of literary theory well founded in scientific psychology. Lattig’s framework recalls biosemiotics: the key concept of affordance, defined by Lattig as “what the environment offers the organism for its use as determined by both the environment and the animal cognizing it,” is cognate with Jakob von Üexküll’s foundational concept of Umwelt. But Lattig also shares Bracke’s minute attentiveness to literary form, as for example in her illuminating account of how a line ending in Emily Dickinson’s poetry functions as the boundary of positive affordance: “It marks the limits of the terrain in which one is at home while simultaneously exposing one to the ambiguity of the undefined, or the vague, afforded by the use of, for example, enjambment.” It is worth noting that, where Morton sees meaning as always haunted (p. 19) and disrupted by non-meaning (the “dark side”), Lattig shows how occlusion deepens perception as a beckoning absence. Such formal analysis is necessarily remote from environmental politics; it operates at the point where poetry, illuminated by science, becomes perception restructured by action: “As lyric poetry imagines the word as an enactor or creator of a world and as a constructed image of a world, its spatial sense may be seen to inhere in the lexical interplay of perceived and enacted space.”
It is when ecocritics develop scientifically informed reading practices, not just ecologically motivated ones, that they depart most decisively from their predecessors in the era of High Theory. In David Ingram’s essay, we move beyond the written word for the first time in this section of the Handbook, but we also see the old psychoanalytic paradigm in film criticism contrasted with a cognitivist theory similar to Lattig’s. Where Morton reconciles—at least rhetorically—contemporary science and the Old Gods of poststructuralism, Ingram considers that Marxist and deconstructive approaches deserve to be supplanted by biocultural ones. He is scornful of assumptions made about an abstract being known as “the subject,” whose responses may or may not resemble those of actual cinema audiences, and he criticizes film critics who assert implausibly direct relationships between formal and technical aspects of movies and their ideological valence. Ingram’s empirical bias suggests a response to Kerridge’s anxiety about the split between concern and inaction on climate change: if we tried to find out why the split exists, the answers might be quite different to the speculations of ecocritics.
It sometimes seems that ecocritics’ interest in art forms is in inverse proportion to their popularity outside universities. Ingram has helped to rectify this unfortunate bias with Green Screen (2004), his critical survey of Hollywood cinema and environmentalism, and a book on popular music, The Jukebox in the Garden (2010). Ecocritical treatments of music are few and far between (though see Green Letters: Studies in Ecocriticism 15:1), hence the inclusion here of Scott Knickerbocker’s essay on “The Ecology of Country and Old-Time Music.” It is not just the medium that is relatively unfamiliar territory for ecocriticism; Knickerbocker’s analysis also confronts the association of country music with the predominantly anti-environmental “red” states in the United States. These are also, by the way, the most fervently Christian parts of the country—a vast constituency largely ignored by ecocritics. It is especially important, then, that Knickerbocker teases out the vestiges of conservative environmentalism, and conveys the pleasures and possibilities of the participatory, anti-commercial vibe of old-time music. More surprising still is the analogy he proposes between old-time music and modernist art, in that “it formally enacts ecological ways of knowing,…reiterates natural processes, and…envelops its musicians in an aural environment often coextensive with an outdoor environment.” However plausible the reader finds such a close relationship between artistic form and ecology, there is no doubt of the recuperative value of the analysis, and the hints it provides of new coalitions for environmentalism.
Andrew McMurry’s—what shall we call it?—torrential piece on digital media provides a startling contrast in topic and tone from Knickerbocker. McMurry takes Morton’s airy prose and pours thousands of kilojoules of energy into it. His essay joins in the crucial work of opening ecocritical discussion on digital media, as yet only just begun, while at (p. 20) the same time confronting the daft assumption that more familiar media, our books and music and fine art, are not already digital. The essay is a paean to our species as a “killer ape,” as well as—jarringly at times—a critique of human “arrogance;” it plots humanity’s desperate course into the future, self-monitoring ever more frenetically as we crash and burn. Yet we have, as McMurry acknowledges, no alternative habitations than semioscapes, be they digital or analogue. Perhaps we have merely to choose between an environmentalist narrative of moral or epistemological decline and a more optimistic posthumanist endorsement of adaptation and continuity; we have been cyborg primates ever since the invention of the atlatl, if not before. For McMurry, even if there is faint hope in the digital “gaming” of environmental solutions, we have still to insist on the priority, in the last analysis, of biophysical reality.
This section concludes as it began: with an essay on climate change. It matters not only because of the geographical and temporal scale of the problem, but because the climate crisis faces us with such a glaring misalignment of discourse and behavior and concerted political action. Kluwick helpfully draws on Mike Hulme’s analysis, in Why We Disagree about Climate Change (2009), of climate change as a “wicked” problem that is intrinsically difficult, if not impossible, to “solve” as such. Like many of the essays here, she honors the science of climatology while resisting scientification, and identifies a variety of barriers to action beyond the “splitting” identified by Kerridge. Kluwick’s analysis of popular representations of climate change, such as Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth (2006), finds in them a marked ambivalence about individual agency: we are all encouraged to “do our bit,” but the measures proposed are obviously pitifully inadequate to the scale of the problem described. Like Ingram, Kluwick concludes that we have too little information on how readers and audiences actually react to know how to make environmental communication more effective.
Despite including both genres of longstanding interest to ecocritics, such as poetry and environmental nonfiction, alongside less familiar ones, this section has inevitably left out others of importance: theatrical drama, advertising, news media, online social networks and genre fiction such as Gothic and romance. Like the pieces collected in the final section, the intention is not to encompass diversity; rather to hint at how much further it extends.
Views from Here
The spread of organizations linked to ASLE gives some indication of the growth of interest internationally in ecocriticism. ASLE-Japan was the earliest, but there are now affiliated academic associations in India, Korea, Taiwan, Canada, Australia/New Zealand, and the United Kingdom and Ireland. The European Association for the Study of Literature, Culture and Environment roughly encompasses the European Union, although unlike the European Union it does not exclude Turkey. EASLCE’s excellent work emphasizes the challenges that need to be met as ecocriticism (p. 21) internationalizes: addressing the predominance of English; identifying and promoting primary texts and theoretical models from non-Anglophone cultures; ensuring translation both from and, more importantly, into English of key texts; and strengthening institutional and personal research links that both include and exceed the Anglophone academy.
In several countries, Scott Slovic, ASLE founder member and editor of Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, has been instrumental, along with other scholars such as Lawrence Buell, Ursula Heise, Patrick Murphy, and Terry Gifford, in both spreading the word about ecocriticism and encouraging the exploration of native literatures. Slovic’s energy and passion for ecocriticism seem inexhaustible. Yet, as Yuki and Goodbody’s surveys indicate, ecocriticism mainly spread through departments of American literature in Japan and Germany, and the leading exponents of ecocriticism as applied to German literature are Auslandsgermanisten, scholars based outside Germany like Goodbody himself (including Kate Rigby and Timothy Clark in this volume). German ecocritics are still more likely to be Americanists, including Catrin Gersdorf, Hubert Zapf, and Sylvia Mayer. More striking yet is the predominance of Anglo-American theoretical models: while France continues to be an important source of philosophical inspiration (though not ecocritical research) thanks to Bruno Latour, non-Anglophone theory is limited in this volume to DeLoughrey’s adaptation of Martiniquan Édouard Glissant’s ideas and, as already noted, Timo Maran’s Baltic biosemiotics.
Yuki’s account outlines a three-stage process by which ecocriticism becomes established: dissemination of American ideas and texts; comparison of these with local counterparts; and what we might call either nationalization or naturalization. In Japan, though, as she also shows, all three stages emerged in quick succession and continue to overlap. Such globalization has sometimes taken ironic forms, as when the American ecocritical ideal of dwelling in bioregions was conveyed by cosmopolitan means to East Asia. What has too seldom occurred is a fourth stage of “writing back,” in which Japanese, German, Baltic or Indian authors begin to exercise a corresponding influence over Anglophone critics. These surveys are intended to facilitate exactly this development.
Swarnalatha Rangarajan shares Yuki’s optimism about ecocriticism in Asia. While she acknowledges the huge difficulties facing India, both those of colonial and more recent origin, she prefers to stress native resources of hope. In this survey, these are predominantly from India’s Hindu and aboriginal traditions rather than the Muslim, Christian or secular ones (the Tamil tradition she discusses is pre-Islamic). Her account intriguingly combines theoretical positions that have been seen as antithetical: ecophilosophical ideas associated with deep ecology, and postcolonialism. Rangarajan also points out the extraordinary richness of Anglophone Indian literature for ecocriticism, with authors like Arundhati Roy, Indra Sinha, Mahasweta Devi, and Amitav Ghosh to draw upon.
Qingqi Wei picks out ecocentric traditions in Chinese history similar to those Rangarajan finds in the ancient Indian concept of Prakriti, but also identifies affinities (p. 22) between canonical American nature writers and Chinese authors. According to Wei’s survey, Lu Shuyuan takes spiritual resistance to modernization to be central to the ecocritical mission, while Zeng Fanren sees Taoism as anticipating ecology—albeit after “adaptation.” At the same time, Wei acknowledges the current limitations of Chinese ecocriticism, including a relative lack of attention to Chinese-language texts and the necessity of acknowledging the exceptionally long history of transformations of the Chinese landscape. China brings to sharp focus the dilemmas of both environmentalism and ecocriticism today: its government has acted to limit population growth (a contribution to slowing climate change that vastly outweighs the Kyoto Protocol in importance), acknowledged the ecological risks to the country and made huge investments in renewable energy. At the same time, though, Chinese ecocritics are doing their research at a time of unprecedented, unconstrained—probably unconstrainable—economic and industrial growth.
Our last survey by Axel Goodbody addresses the history and politics of environmentalism in Germany as a factor informing relative lack of interest in ecocriticism there. Specifically, Nazi flirtations with ecological ideas have cast a long shadow. Yet, as Goodbody shows, there are numerous German texts and philosophers (not just Martin Heidegger!) who ought to be of interest to ecocritics, even if they have not always identified themselves as environmentalists. Two strands of German ecocritical theory are discussed in more detail: the work of Hartmut and Gernot Böhme, and the school of cultural ecology led by Hubert Zapf.
The Handbook concludes with a superb reflective essay by Rob Nixon, whose book Slow Violence (2011) is an instant classic of postcolonial ecocriticism. “Barrier Beach” is an exemplary piece of narrative scholarship that combines personal reminiscence with literary analysis, phenomenology and political critique of the spatial organization of South African apartheid. Its discussion of African American relationships to wilderness recalls Claborn’s surprising conclusions about black Modernism, while its lightly worn understanding of the intersections of boundaries in nature with those among and between human beings harks back to Adamson, Sandilands and the postcolonial essays in the Handbook. Nixon’s prose is enviable in its own right, but more important is its devastating combination of penetrating insight and effortless readability, which has the potential to take ecocriticism outside academia where, as Kerridge observes, it urgently needs to be. Nixon ends the Handbook on an upbeat note, but it is hard-won; lived as well as known; and far from utopian.
It ought to leave us with a painful question: who has heard of the environmental humanities, let alone ecocriticism? A glimpse in the Times Higher and New York Times Magazine is afforded us every decade or so, perhaps. Ecocritics are not alone as academics seeking a wider audience, but we have better reason than most to consider it a priority. Dissensus is energizing intellectually but may well be fatal politically. A worthy counterpart to this Handbook, which seeks to witness the breadth and diversity of ecocriticism, might be a consensus statement—as brief as the time and attention span of politicians is restricted—that explains what we do and why it matters. We can give good answers to the questions “Who are they?” and “What do they want?” We have come a long way, and we should be proud to show it.
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(1) . The environmental humanities disciplines include ecocriticism, environmental history, and environmental philosophy. Ecotheology might also be considered one of the environmental humanities.