Ecocritical Theory

Ecocritical Theory: New European Approaches

Axel Goodbody
Kate Rigby
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 336
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Ecocritical Theory
    Book Description:

    One of the more frequently lodged, serious, and justifiable complaints about ecocritical work is that it is insufficiently theorized.Ecocritical Theoryputs such claims decisively to rest by offering readers a comprehensive collection of sophisticated but accessible essays that productively investigate the relationship between European theory and ecocritique. With its international roster of contributors and subjects, it also militates against the parochialism of ecocritics who work within the limited canon of the American West. Bringing together approaches and orientations based on the work of European philosophers and cultural theorists, this volume is designed to open new pathways for ecocritical theory and practice in the twenty-first century.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3163-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    “From its inception ecocriticism adopted a belligerent attitude towards critical theory.”¹ This is the opening gambit of John Parham’s article entitled “The Poverty of Ecocritical Theory” in the ecocritical special issue ofNew Formations, a major British journal of culture, theory, and politics. Edited by Wendy Wheeler and Hugh Dunkerley, “Earthographies” joins a number of other recent publications, including Catrin Gersdorf and Sylvia Mayer’s collectionNature in Literary and Cultural Studiesand several new monographs, such as those of Kevin Hutchings, Dana Phillips, and Timothy Morton (and, we might add immodestly, Axel Goodbody and Kate Rigby), which signal that the...

    • Passing Glories and Romantic Retrievals: Avant-garde Nostalgia and Hedonist Renewal
      (pp. 17-29)

      This essay offers a rather more general argument than do many others in this collection. It arose out of a paper delivered to a conference entitled “Romanticism, Environment, Crisis” organized by the Centre for Romantic Studies at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, in 2006, and its main aim is to consider the nature and extent of the relevance of Romantic thinking about nature, particularly that associated with the English Romantic poets, to our contemporary ecological “crisis.” In pursuing this theme, it takes issue with simplistic interpretations of the nature philosophy attributed to Romanticism by some environmentalists. But it also resists...

    • Green Things in the Garbage: Ecocritical Gleaning in Walter Benjamin’s Arcades
      (pp. 30-42)

      In his beautiful, terrible image of the angel of history drawn from the Klee paintingAngelus Novus, Walter Benjamin offers a glimpse of his view of the relationship between garbage and history:

      Where we perceive a chain of events, [the angel] sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close...

    • Raymond Williams: Materialism and Ecocriticism
      (pp. 43-54)

      Raymond Williams was born in 1921 and died in 1988. Many would regard him as the single-most important critic of literature and culture at work in postwar Britain. He was a major figure on the British intellectual left: “by far the most commanding figure,” in Terry Eagleton’s assessment.¹ Working initially in university adult education, at the age of forty he was appointed a Lecturer, and subsequently became Professor of Drama, at Cambridge. He made the ancient university a new base for his continued extramural commitments: to the critical public discussion of ideas, to the political Left, to his native Wales...

    • Sense of Place and Lieu de Mémoire: A Cultural Memory Approach to Environmental Texts
      (pp. 55-68)

      It is striking how often literary representations of nature appear within recollections of childhood, or more broadly in the context of acts of remembering. At the same time, memories of the past, in literature as in life, are commonly anchored in places, landscapes, or buildings. As approaches to the study of culture, ecocriticism and cultural memory studies differ in their principal concerns: while the former relates to nature and space, and examines cultural constructions of the natural environment, the latter is oriented toward history and time, and principally preoccupied with representations and understandings of the social, in formulations relating the...

    • From Literary Anthropology to Cultural Ecology: German Ecocritical Theory since Wolfgang Iser
      (pp. 71-83)

      While ecocriticism first emerged in the Anglophone world, the last decade or so has witnessed its rapid spread throughout other countries and academic communities. In many of these communities, new ecocritical theory has drawn on locally predominant traditions of thought, thus diversifying and enriching the ecological approach through specific cultural influences but also transforming these influences with regard to an ecological worldview. In Germany, ecocritical theory, and especially literary theory, has been shaped decisively by the anthropological approach, which reached the peak of its popularity around 1990. In the following, I compare two exemplary ecocritical models that are influenced by...

    • The Social Theory of Norbert Elias and the Question of the Nonhuman World
      (pp. 84-97)

      The ecological damage that has led to an emerging sixth world extinction event may not be derived entirely from Western modernity. It could, however, be argued that in spite of more general causal factors such as the exponential growth in human populations, the androgenic causes of this environmental crisis have many of their sociogenetic roots in the emergence of modernity in Europe. It was, after all, European modernity that gave rise to the Industrial Revolution, and to the heightened instrumentalization of nature that serves the vast engines of a Western capitalist system now global in its reach. Hence, in the...

    • From the Modern to the Ecological: Latour on Walden Pond
      (pp. 98-110)

      So long as ecocritics are trapped in the “two cultures” ideology that polarizes literature from science and human society from nonhuman nature, we will find it difficult to define a middle ground from which literature and science can be seen as partners, and humans and nonhumans as agents, all cooperating to form the world we share. To locate this middle ground we need to think not of a monolithic “Science” but of the various practices and disciplines of the sciences, and in this quest our natural allies will be our colleagues in science studies. Bruno Latour has spent a lifetime...

    • Martin Heidegger, D. H. Lawrence, and Poetic Attention to Being
      (pp. 113-125)

      The thought of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889–1976) is a challenge to thinking because it asks us to imagine being differently. His works are not straightforward and do not set out an explicit program for social change but rather invite a shift in attention and conception of self in relation to world, time, and the nature of knowledge. This shift involves refusing a major aspect of our late modernity, that is, the ubiquity and dominance of forms of abstract and theoretical knowledge. Heidegger wishes to return this knowledge to its proper place, grounded in pragmatic relationships that respond...

    • Merleau-Ponty’s Ecophenomenology
      (pp. 126-138)

      Maurice Merleau-Ponty is the only major European philosopher who embraces the consequences of evolution and sees humans as interdependent members of the ecosystem. His thinking manifests a lifelong engagement with modern science, which he saw in a necessary complementarity with philosophy. Although his untimely death prevented the completion of his ambitious philosophy of nature, enough of the work in progress exists in manuscript to indicate its shape and importance as a radically ecological philosophy.

      In contrast to the long tradition of Western philosophical dualism, phenomenology from Husserl to Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty restores attention to the human immersion in nature and...

    • Gernot Böhme’s Ecological Aesthetics of Atmosphere
      (pp. 139-152)

      In The Ideology of theAesthetic, Terry Eagleton acclaims A. G. Baumgarten’s “discourse of the body” as “the first stirrings of a primitive materialism—of the body’s long inarticulate rebellion against the tyranny of the theoretical.”¹ While Baumgarten is widely acknowledged as a founding figure in modern philosophical aesthetics, the counterideological potential that Eagleton locates in his valorization of corporeality failed to be realized, as the emergent discipline of aesthetics fled the flesh, restricting itself instead to a consideration of the formal properties and moral-intellectual significance of the work of art. Gernot Böhme, a leading figure in contemporary German ecological...

    • Dialoguing with Bakhtin over Our Ethical Responsibility to Anothers
      (pp. 155-167)

      The Russian theorist Mikhail Bakhtin (1895–1975) provides a valuable set of tools for ecocritical analysis and a method of approaching literary works and their interrelationship with the material world. Bakhtin’s attitude toward language positions him in opposition to Ferdinand de Saussure and Saussurean linguistics. Instead, he can be aligned with his contemporary, Émile Benveniste, as well as current linguists such as George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, who have emphasized discourse over language. This emphasis leads to seeing speaking and writing as individual acts undertaken at particular moments in specific configurations of the world. That recognition of immersion leads to...

    • Coexistence and Coexistents: Ecology without a World
      (pp. 168-180)

      Environmental ethics sometimes depends upon ideas of life forms immersed in a surrounding “world.”¹ For Trevor Norris, “world” is the “dynamic relatedness that grounds our identity” (see his essay in this volume). The philosopher Martin Heidegger derives the notion of “world” from his study of Jakob von Uexküll’s biological research, which suggested that different sentient life forms have different experiences of their surroundings, and hence phenomenologically (that is, experientially) different worlds. A “world” in this sense is a zone of things that surround the sentient being, which have various kinds of significance for that being.

      On this view, life forms...

    • The Matter of Texts: A Material Intertextuality and Ecocritical Engagements with the Bible
      (pp. 181-193)

      Preserved in the British Library, the fourth-century CECodex Sinaiticusand the fifth-century CECodex Alexandrinusrecall both a colonial history of appropriation and custodianship of ancient artifacts, and a long tradition of production and reproduction of Bibles. Along withCodex Vaticanusand major papyri, these codices provide key witnesses for the authenticity and authority of particular textual variants in the Greek New Testament. By their material difference from contemporary mass-produced Bibles, they also remind me of the materiality of the text.

      Very early, Christian usage moved from papyrus scrolls, to papyrus codices, to the codex manufactured from parchment. Thomas...

    • There Can Be No Democracy without a Culture of Difference
      (pp. 194-205)

      Ours is an age of sociology, of statistics, of mass media, and of politics. To be sure, other components can be included, such as technique, which is perhaps the one that underlies and unites the others. And also the one that today imperils the democratic model, at least as far as citizens, both men and women, are concerned. But is it not up to these citizens to judge whether a democratic system is well founded and well functioning?

      What we call democracy, in fact, was born in ancient Greece and had as its more or less explicit stakes the differentiation...

    • The Ecological Irigaray?
      (pp. 206-214)

      It could appear that the work of Luce Irigaray bears little relevance to environmental thought.¹ Irigaray is a feminist philosopher of sexual difference, after all, and the injustices that concern her are explicitly social and political. Most prominently, her work has sought to undermine the dominance of masculine culture by exposing the systematic exclusion of women from psychoanalytic theory and traditional Western philosophy; to discover positive forms of feminine subjectivity; and to imagine social and political relationships that advance beyond masculine monism and inaugurate a “culture of two subjects”—man and woman in their irreducible difference.² And yet, as we...

    • Cybernetics and Social Systems Theory
      (pp. 217-229)

      Aldo Leopold’sA Sand County Almanacopens with a walk in the hills of southwestern Wisconsin, in January, during a brief spell of thaw. The narrator follows the track of a skunk: “[It] leads straight across-country. . . . I follow, curious to deduce his state of mind and appetite. . . . In January one may follow a skunk track . . . with only an occasional and mild digression into other doings. . . . There is time not only to see who has done what, but to speculate why.”¹

      The narrator thus resolves to shift his interest...

    • Ecocentric Postmodern Theory: Interrelations between Ecological, Quantum, and Postmodern Theories
      (pp. 230-242)

      The ecological turn has not only brought an integral awareness of the natural world into the field of literary studies, reorienting the humanities toward a more biocentric worldview, but has also drawn attention to the role of literature in influencing our knowledge of the world. According to Norman N. Holland: “Literature has power over us. At least it certainlyfeelsthat way when we are, as we say, ‘absorbed’ in a story or drama or poem.”¹ The cognitive function accorded to literature is of fundamental importance for ecocritics, who expect of writers that they inscribe ecological viewpoints in their work....

    • Affinity Studies and Open Systems: A Nonequilibrium, Ecocritical Reading of Goethe’s Faust
      (pp. 243-255)

      Ecocriticism’s contributions to the current rejection of dualistic thinking are noteworthy, particularly when this interdisciplinary field concentrates on hybridity and “relations” that preexist essences. In this mode, ecocriticism participates in a broader development of “affnity studies” that encompass the many efforts across the disciplines toward reconfiguring our “intraactions” with the world in terms that avoid dichotomies and Newtonian linearity and that utilize instead nonlinear, nondualistic forms of “hybridity.” Hybrids, in Steve Hinchliffe’s words, are “more or less durable bodies made up of similarly hybrid and impermanent relations. Things are, to use another commonly used term, configured, or drawn together, in...

    • Blake, Deleuze, and the Emergence of Ecological Consciousness
      (pp. 256-269)

      Gilles Deleuze (often in collaboration with Félix Guattari) sought to move analytic philosophy and theoretical psychoanalysis beyond “abstraction” and toward a “transcendental empiricism” already present in earlier philosophic work. This remarkable combination of traditionalism and innovation describes a state elusively beyond any linguistic epistemology—yet resident in any experiential event—and offers a method to capture individual experience of “pure immanence.”¹ The emphasis Deleuze placed on event and experience stimulated the energetic analysis of their interrelations by Alain Badiou, turning philosophy away from cognitive mapping through Kantian categorical imperatives and re/turning it to the world. Rereading “the role of rhythm...

    • The Biosemiotic Turn: Abduction, or, the Nature of Creative Reason in Nature and Culture
      (pp. 270-282)

      In this essay I explore an ecocritical theory of cultural, and thus also literary, creativity from a biosemiotic point of view. While what follows might be thought broadly to fall within what is sometimes called the “post” humanities, in fact biosemiotics is a thoroughly interdisciplinary proto-discipline; it seeks not only to change how humanists think about culture, the arts, and the biological sciences but also to change how scientists and social scientists think about biological science and the arts and humanities.

      Essentially, the biosemiotic “project” first fully self-identified a quarter century ago consists in an elaboration, by biologists, psychologists, anthropologists,...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 283-312)
  11. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 313-316)
  12. Index
    (pp. 317-322)