Coming into Contact

Coming into Contact: Explorations in Ecocritical Theory and Practice

Annie Merrill Ingram
Ian Marshall
Daniel J. Philippon
Adam W. Sweeting
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Coming into Contact
    Book Description:

    A snapshot of ecocriticism in action, Coming into Contact collects sixteen previously unpublished essays that explore some of the most promising new directions in the study of literature and the environment. They look to previously unexamined or underexamined aspects of literature's relationship to the environment, including swamps, internment camps, Asian American environments, the urbanized Northeast, and lynching sites. The authors relate environmental discourse to practice, including the teaching of green design in composition classes, the restoration of damaged landscapes, the persuasive strategies of environmental activists, the practice of urban architecture, and the impact of human technologies on nature. The essays also put ecocriticism into greater contact with the natural sciences, including elements of evolutionary biology, biological taxonomy, and geology. Engaging both ecocritical theory and practice, these authors more closely align ecocriticism with the physical environment, with the wide range of texts and cultural practices that concern it, and with the growing scholarly conversation that surrounds this concern.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-3668-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Thinking of Our Life in Nature
    (pp. 1-14)

    One of the many paradoxes confronting students of literature and the environment is the fact that ʺenvironmentsʺ are both places and processes. On the one hand, deserts, mountains, prairies, watersheds, and other familiar environments are clearly places; they ʺtake placeʺ in particular locations and inspire legions of devoted citizens to work for their protection. On the other hand, environments are never stable; they change all the time, shaped not only by the biogeochemical cycles of carbon, water, and nitrogen but also by the anthropogenic changes that accompany population growth and technological innovation. What may not be as obvious is that...

  5. Part 1. Who Are We? Where Are We?: Exploring the Boundaries of Ecocriticism
    • Of Swamp Dragons: Mud, Megalopolis, and a Future for Ecocriticism
      (pp. 17-38)

      In her classic Purity and Danger, anthropologist Mary Douglas defines ritual pollution as ʺmatter out of placeʺ and concludes that such pollution can be a door to whole cosmologies: ʺWhere there is dirt, there is a systemʺ (44). Accordingly, she distinguishes between ʺdirt-affirmingʺ and ʺdirt-rejectingʺ cultures based on their reaction to ritual pollution (202). To affirm dirt is to recognize that impurity is inevitable, and to offer it a carefully defined place that recognizes and contains its power. To reject dirt is to imagine that it can be separated from what is sacred, and to finalize that separation by annihilating...

    • Challenging the Confines: Haiku from the Prison Camps
      (pp. 39-57)

      On a small scrap of paper lying on a plywood table in a cramped room that was once a horse stable, in a form restricted to seventeen syllables—as unyielding as the barbed wire fence that traps the cold night—with a pen that is almost out of ink, imagine writing freedom. Imagine finding the words that move against one another and against your loneliness and frustration in such a way that they create, if only for a moment, a place of peace. And imagine that in these few words, intrinsic to your language and cultural heritage, you can convey...

    • Beyond Walden Pond: Asian American Literature and the Limits of Ecocriticism
      (pp. 58-75)

      In the late Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Aliʹs long poem ʺIn Search of Evanescenceʺ he writes: ʺIndia always exists / off the turnpikes / of Americaʺ (41). The poem is a multilayered personal narrative that recounts the authorʹs travels in America and the twisted strands of memory and personal loss that are both a part of the American landscape and shaped by it. In fact, the entire collection of which ʺIn Search of Evanescenceʺ is a part, A Nostalgistʹs Map of America, recounts the authorʹs journeys across America as he retranscribes the history of its places through the lens of...

    • To Name Is to Claim, or Remembering Place: Native American Writers Reclaim the Northeast
      (pp. 76-92)

      Relying on the assumption (left unspoken) that the cliff dwellers in what is now southwestern Colorado abandoned their city because of a long-term drought, Wallace Stegner writes in the introduction to Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs that contemporary western cities facing the possibility of drought ʺmight ponder the history of Mesa Verde.ʺ Then, as if the former inhabitants of Mesa Verde have no history after all, Stegner turns immediately to this generalization: ʺall western places are newʺ (xvi). In a chapter entitled ʺA Sense of Place,ʺ he actually offers a definition of what it is that makes...

    • Lynching Sites: Where Trauma and Pastoral Collide
      (pp. 93-108)

      I stumbled upon a column in the Kansas City Star a while ago about a restaurateur, Myra Harper, who decided to name her new place Strange Fruit Restaurant and Smoothie Bar after the signature song of her favorite singer, Billie Holiday. Appropriately, the restaurant would be setting up shop in the 18th and Vine District, legendary hotbed of jazz in Kansas City, redeveloping around the American Jazz Museum and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. But the name Harper chose stirred up a mild hubbub in Kansas City, with a number of people disturbed at her naming a restaurant after a...

  6. Part 2. The Solid Earth! The Actual World!: Environmental Discourse and Practice
    • Composition and the Rhetoric of Eco-Effective Design
      (pp. 111-127)

      It is not every day that judging a book by its cover turns out to be the best form of literacy criticism, but that is what William McDonough and Michael Braungart would have us do with their book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. Even before you begin reading, you know there is something weighty, something substantial, about the book. It is heavy for its size, and the pages are a bit thicker than normal. On the cover you notice a small round graphic in the bottom right corner with the words ʺWater Proof Durabookʺ inscribed in...

    • A Mosaic of Landscapes: Ecological Restoration and the Work of Leopold, Coetzee, and Silko
      (pp. 128-140)

      Although the goal of most ecological restoration projects is to return the landscape to its condition prior to European contact, less attention has been paid to the ecological implications of cultural restoration movements that involve restoring the rights and sovereignty of the people who may have lived at the restoration site before the arrival of Europeans. Most recent attempts to define ecological restoration avoid the unsettling questions of cultural restoration, with limited references to the human presence in the landscape and ambiguous allusions to the importance of human preferences in shaping what occurs there. The Society for Ecological Restoration (SER),...

    • Apocalyptic or Precautionary? Revisioning Texts in Environmental Literature
      (pp. 141-153)

      Environmental apocalypticism—writing that employs apocalyptic tropes to persuade readers to heed warnings in the face of imminent environmental peril—has been celebrated and criticized since the publication of Rachel Carsonʹs Silent Spring (1962). Because public understanding generally equates apocalypse with foreboding doom and gloom, critics have pointed to books like Silent Spring as environmentalist hysteria, the products of authors who claim, like Chicken Little, that the sky is falling—or worse, who cry wolf to achieve selfish ends.

      Scholars of environmental texts have also commented on environmental apocalypticism. In The Environmental Imagination (1995), Lawrence Buell identifies five characteristics of...

    • Facing the True Costs of Living: Arundhati Roy and Ishimure Michiko on Dams and Writing
      (pp. 154-167)

      A popular saying has it that today we know the price of everything, but the value of nothing. To refine this a little we might say that today we know the price tags of many things, but not the full costs we pay for them, and therefore we do not know their real values. For today it has become difficult for most of us to be sufficiently aware of the full extent of the costs incurred on our immediate lives and on the larger world by the many things we use—be they computers or cars, books or bombs, drugs...

    • Romanticism and the City: Toward a Green Architecture
      (pp. 168-184)

      Thirty years ago Raymond Williams pointed to the perceived duality between urban and rural environments as a key aspect of romantic ideology. Surprisingly, while much has been made of the romantic escape to nature, little attention has been paid to the distinctive anti-urbanism in romanticism. I am specifically interested in the collective myth produced through the collaborative poetics of Wordsworth and Coleridge, in which Wordsworth comes substantially to ground his poetic creativity and authority in his childhood exposure to rural/natural landscape, and Coleridge correspondingly is able to find a reason for his self-announced poetic failure in his overfamiliarity with urban...

    • Annie Dillard and the Book of Job: Notes toward a Postnatural Ecocriticism
      (pp. 185-196)

      In the Book of Job, delivering his climactic speech out of the whirlwind, God humbles Job with a series of acute reminders of the limitations of mere humanity while extolling his own status as the divine creator and sustainer of nature. That status appears to be a matter of both power and knowledge. ʺWhere were you,ʺ God demands of Job,

      when I founded the earth?

      Tell me, if you know so much …

      Who shut the sea within doors …

      Saying, ʺThus far come, but no more,

      Here your wild waves haltʺ? …

      Have you entered the springs of the...

  7. Part 3. Contact! Contact!: Interdisciplinary Connections
    • Seeking Common Ground: Integrating the Sciences and the Humanities
      (pp. 199-208)

      My situation reminds me of Emersonʹs opening words at his first London lecture, in 1848.¹ Emerson had been attending scientific lectures in London and Paris, ʺand, in listening to Richard Owenʹs masterly enumeration of the parts and laws of the human body, or Michael Faradayʹs explanation of magnetic powers,ʺ he ʺcould not help admiring the irresponsible security and happiness of the attitude of the naturalist, sure of admiration for his facts, sure of their sufficiency. They ought to interest you: if they do not, the fault lies with youʺ (Later Lectures 1:137). Emerson quite envies the scientists—compared with them,...

    • Mindless Fools and Leaves That Run: Subjectivity, Politics, and Myth in Scientific Nomenclature
      (pp. 209-220)

      Off the shores of eastern Hawaii at a place called Laupahoehoe, brown birds swoop and wheel just out of reach of the waves, turning and spinning in the summer sun. These birds are called brown noddies, their Greco-Latin binomial Anous stolidus meaning ʺmindless fool.ʺ As I watch their grace and skill, I wonder why science has applied a demeaning label to birds that wrest their living from a treacherous ocean. To Hawaiian fishermen, these birds provided valuable assistance in locating fish, for people knew that the noio (Hawaiian name for noddy) would gather above schools of skipjack and bonito, to...

    • Reading after Darwin: A Prospectus
      (pp. 221-233)

      This prospectus is part of a larger project I have modestly named ʺEvolutionary Theory: Ecological Theory: Literary Theory.ʺ After reading Gouldʹs The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, I wondered: (1) Why donʹt we call ourselves ʺevocritics,ʺ taking Darwin as our methodological source? (2) Why shouldnʹt we rigorously integrate the theoretical methodology of biological science into our studies? (3) For instance, if the idea of limited global resources is central to modern environmentalism, it is also rooted in evolutionary theory, from Malthus onward. Like biologists, ecocritics have adopted an idea at the root of evolutionary thinking, formative of the creative forces and...

    • Of Spiders, Ants, and Carnivorous Plants: Domesticity and Darwin in Mary Treatʹs Home Studies in Nature
      (pp. 234-249)

      Mary Treat (1830–93), the prolific naturalist of the New Jersey pine barrens, saw the world around her small Vineland home as a rich field of inquiry for scientific investigation. ʺTo the lover, especially of birds, insects, and plants,ʺ she writes in the preface to Home Studies in Nature (1885), ʺthe smallest area around a well-chosen home will furnish sufficient material to satisfy all thirst of knowledge through the longest lifeʺ (6). The diverse collection of essays gathered in Home Studies reveals Treat as an equal opportunity naturalist who bonds with all of the organisms that come under her purview,...

    • The Great, Shaggy Barbaric Earth: Geological Writings of John Burroughs
      (pp. 250-260)

      Throughout his career John Burroughs insisted that nature, and ultimately the earth, should be the basis for all observations, all interpretations, and for beauty itself.¹ As far as Burroughs was concerned, observations could be embellished, as an artist might emphasize certain aspects of a view to enhance its beauty. Observations could also be described with emotion, and indeed it made for poor writing if the author wrote without some degree of passion. In the end, however, Burroughs felt that observations and their interpretations must be true to the nature of that which was being described. In ʺBefore Beautyʺ he put...

  8. Contributors
    (pp. 261-264)
  9. Index
    (pp. 265-278)