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To browse Academia. Skip to main content. By using our site, you agree to our collection of information through the use of cookies. To learn more, view our Privacy Policy. Log In Sign Up. Ecocriticism - review of Greg Garrard. The years and have seen a range of fundamental challenges to the dominant critical paradigm, none of which on its own is unprecedented but which, taken together, constitute a genuine alteration of the theoretical terrain.

Normal Science: The Usual Practice of Ecocriticism From the outset, ecocritics have considered themselves environmentalists in a political sense, and have reflected on the relationship of that identity to the demands and compromises of largely helpless participation in consumerism and professional academic life.

Non-fictional nature writing, hitherto ignored or despised by the literary academy, was redeemed and redeployed to chal- lenge what was seen as a biophobic, ecocidal Western culture. For permissions, please email: journals. As the title suggests, the project of this book is barely distinct in literary-theoretical terms from pre-ecocritical surveys of nature thematics in, say, Shakespeare or D.

Lawrence : it does exactly what it says on the tin. What do you love? Think about it now. Moving from the loss of extinct animals to the death of his own son, Pablo, Slovic forces the reader to trace the modulations of grief, nostalgia and rhapsodic lyricism.

The environmentalist ambitions of ecocriticism have always and will always be vulnerable. That attention, appreciation and sense of value should alter our behaviour and thence our ecological impact, but in practice, the last two crucial links in the chain have seldom been discussed, let alone subjected to empirical proof.

With Lucy, or the newest fossil finds in South Africa? With homo habilis? At the time of the cave paintings in Combray, or those at Lascaux? There is certainly no global shortage of critiques of Cartesian dualism. In fact, one suspects that interconnectedness can be celebrated to the precise extent that it does not really matter to us. The poetry is seen as at once evoking and refraining, naming and marvelling, although the substantial formal differences among the primary texts—as between lyric nature poetry, Modernist free verse and narrative prose—barely register.

He represented Euro-Americans as a distinct species, doomed to destroy the land they colonized, whereas the Penobscot Indians, clinging on to scattered remnants of their ancestral lands, were cast as rightful custodians. Conversely, proclaim- ing the supernatural powers of stones as in the New Age crystal industry would be to connive in the Reason-nature duality in inverted form. Curry persuasively argues for moral pluralism, bolstered if necessary by tactical essentialism, and for neo-animist re-enchantment.

Yet the vividly schematic contrasts Plumwood and Curry rely upon are at once too vaguely capacious and too narrowly exclusive. If disenchantment means Cartesian denial of agency and value to all but the rational ego what one might call anti-anthropomorphic atheism , one would be hard put to locate it anywhere in contemporary culture or science: we mourn our pets and cajole our laptops while some plead with their gods or planets as before, and even hard-line Darwinian atheists such as Richard Dawkins and E.

Wilson are effusive with the intricate beauties of adaptive structure and the inherent value of bio- diversity. Our reluctance to attribute agency to stones might then be seen only as anti-anthropomorphic agnosticism: given that we know human nature is inclined to bestow soulfulness willy-nilly, a certain caution— professionalized for scientists—would seem sensible. Since animistic cultures have apparently been responsible for extinction events in North America, Aotearoa New Zealand, Madagascar, Micronesia and elsewhere, it seems the relationship of disenchantment and ecological assault is, at best, extremely indirect.

While Plumwood and, to a lesser extent, Curry disavow New Age mysticism, the implications of their view for ecocritical practice are, from the point of view of secular reason, generally dire.

The essays enact a semiotic enchantment, a renovation of the world of signs, as a foundation for material and political enchantment. This book seems specifically designed to smarten it up and make it new friends in the literary academy, and in that respect it seems likely to succeed. Coke is it!

The conclusion hovers on the boundary between radical insight and banality: It is strange to discover a secret passage between bottles of detergent and mountain ranges. But there is one, and it is called Romantic consumerism. Green consumerism is only one kind of environmental consumerism. Environmentalisms in general are consumerist. SUVs, books of nature writing, organic vegetable boxes and carbon credits are indeed all consumer com- modities, and some all?

Slovic, pp. The gentle sound of waves lapping against my deck chair coincides with the sound of my fingers typing away at the laptop. No—that was pure fiction; just a tease. As I write this, a western scrub jay is chattering outside my window, harmonizing with the quiet scratch of my pen. That was also just fiction. The fact is that the question of mimesis has been a central argument in ecocriticism from the outset.

Likewise, the view that popular constructions of nature might be incompatible with ecology is not a surprise or rebuke to ecocriticism; it is ecocriticism, albeit that critics of different stripes have adopted less or more sceptical versions of it. Far too often, for all its sporadically gleaming virtues, Ecology without Nature is unforgivably obscure, tendentious, unfair or even just inaccurate. Rather, its markets are fu- ture postgraduates and currently sceptical theorists from other schools who may sense their moment passing.

Ingram et al. Though he is disgusted by the Meadowlands, he does not turn away; though his fear is justified, it does not drive him out. Ecomimesis already is—not what it used or Morton uses it to be; while wilderness epiphany no doubt lurks in some corners, nature writing is capable of demonstrating a sophistication a certain urbanity in both senses? The critique of ecomimesis is there in its very romantic origins— a point with which Morton would no doubt concur.

Whereas the visuality of neurotypical people is continually subject to verbal over- shadowing that shapes perception according to expectation, Grandin argues that her own visuality is at once closer to other animals and more like a video camera. Animal studies, too, is close kin with ecocriticism with some limited heterogeneities; Wolfe makes a powerful case for combining both perspectives with disability studies, charged as it is with thinking about humans that, in certain times and places, are equally considered in- or nonhuman.

In terms of the contrast Kate Soper develops in her seminal What is Nature? Ecology without Nature positions itself at the forefront of that movement, although many of its key claims have been simultaneously or previously discovered, and more accessibly explained.

What remains to be seen in this shift is whether the gains in theoretical sophistication, interpret- ive subtlety and—one suspects—institutional acceptance outweigh the pos- sible loss of the simple normative force, affective immediacy, historical depth and complexity of nature and wilderness. It is more problematic than Parham indicates to delineate a specifically left environmentalism, therefore. For example, while Soper does not glibly dismiss the narcissistic pleasures of commodity consumption, she notes how frequently simpler pleasures such as walking, cycling and convivial eating are at once rendered impossible by contemporary economic and ecological conditions fear of crime, traffic, the demands of work and displaced into more highly mediated, resource-intensive and expensive locations such gyms and restaur- ants.

While she admits the minority character of both the disillusionment and the more sustainable alternatives that might channel it, her argument is, notwithstanding its understandable caution, inspirational. Residual obeisance to the Old Gods is also one of the few faults in the most exciting collection of essays reviewed in this period: Material Feminisms, edited by Stacy Alaimo and Susan Hekman.

While many of the contributions lie outside our purview, the essays by Nancy Tuana, Catriona Mortimer- Sandilands and Alaimo herself should redefine the place of ecological thought among feminisms in general. Mortimer-Sandilands aptly titled The Good- Natured Feminist UMinnP [] began the process of coaxing ecofeminism away from its Earth Mother origins, and attempted to circumvent the endless futile shuttling between essentialist and constructionist versions.

These essays, though, are still more ambitious, engaging directly, critically and productively with the sciences of nature. It makes it nearly impossible for feminism to engage with medicine or science in innovative, productive, or affirmative ways—the only path available is the well-worn path of critique. Tuana correctly identifies the revolutionary nature of her interactionist approach, and we might also note, simply, how much more difficult it is likely to be in practice, given how biophobic anti-essentialism reassuringly minimizes the variables.

Nevertheless, there may be trouble ahead; take this claim: Interactionism not only allows but compels us to speak of the biological aspects of phenomena without importing the mistaken notion that this biological component exists somehow independent of, or prior to, cultures and environments. It serves as witness to the materiality of the social and the agency of the natural.

But a properly interactionist account would not conclude in advance that biological or cultural factors could not be considered as, so to speak, first causes. There are effective anecdotes too: the way in which disability operates at the boundary of recalcitrant flesh and discrim- inatory societies, or that tomato-growing might disclose the co-implication of our bodies, our agricultural discourses and dirt.

The message to Alaimo and col- leagues should be: you are your own theorists; you are the vanguard. You already know more than the Old Gods knew, and it is to you critics ought to defer. The most startling insight follows from an account of the neurological reality of memory: I find this idea quite extraordinarily beautiful: in the act of remembering something, the world is, quite literally, written into our brain structure.

And memory allows the body to greet the world with greater physical ease the more often we have a particular sensory experience. Indeed, a dominant social relationship would be, literally, more clearly inscribed in the brain and more amenable to a strong memory: hegemony is physical. For example, cells can be seen as regulated by both digital DNA and analogue say, biochemical concentra- tion gradient information.

The Umwelt of the tick is a very limited semiotic environment; the Umwelt of the human is correspondingly very extensive. Each level produces, through re-entry and consequent complexification of semiosis [i. Are there, for example, evolutionary or genetic constraints upon semiosmic process, as some Darwinian critics allege?

Are literary works meant only to exemplify such emergence, or shall they be praised—as Wheeler seems to praise Wordsworth—for having some more or less conscious awareness of it? Even to be asking these ques- tions, nevertheless, and to have available the answers suggested by biose- miotics, is a step of tremendous significance for the environmental humanities. Such caveats notwithstanding, these developments presage ecocriticisms that are, at last, properly materialist and ecological, which was, for some, the original promise.

Ecocriticism 25 5. The globalization of ecocriticism, nevertheless, is a development universally welcomed and promoted, in its early phases, most prominently by Patrick D. It will be a hard act to follow, not least because it pinpoints so precisely the nature of the quandaries involved, primarily the baffling and disastrous disconnection between cognitive awareness of climate change and the generally insignificant alterations in lifestyle we seem pre- pared to countenance.

The latter, we might say, wants to enjoy the perverse thrill of the aftermath, but refuses to consider its meaning. What shelters them, and what do they feed on? It is no doubt unavoidable, though also unfair, that an essay on incommensurability invites reflection on the vast disparity between the audience for British neo-Modernist poetry is it less or more than the readership of ecocriticism? Indeed, we might suggest that it is the very sense of mutual dependence that should characterize a bioregion that would motivate competition over its resources.

As a result, she claims, ecocriticism has found it hard to think globally, but also unable only to act locally. It would make for a fascinating comparative study. Part II of Sense of Place and Sense of Planet again ranges widely, surveying the parameters of risk perception as they have been assessed within various disciplinary paradigms: toxicologists have wanted to quantify and understand why people consistently fail to understand objective risk accur- ately, by their lights, while sociologists have tended to stress the ideological construction of risk—especially along axes of gender, race and class.

Would not Exxon and the Cato Institute concur, and welcome that news? The former is essentially a survey of the absence of environmental engagement in black African criticism, and a confused rejection of environmentalism as, possibly, a neo-colonial imposition, suspect especially because of the enthusiasm of white South Africans for it. Once again, it is very clear who needs to clean up their act.

While it is true that, historically and in principle, western environmentalism may support and even reproduce colonial and neo-colonial organizations of space and categor- izations of people and animals, western science and activism also challenges them. The cycle of assertion and counter-assertion—already evident in these texts—is best circumvented with evidence.



May 06, Greg Garrard's volume in the Routledge New Critical Idiom series, Ecocriticism , is a fascinating read for someone knowledgeable about the field, and -- if introduced carefully -- a useful introduction for someone new to the field. While I've read this book before, I'd never read it start to finish, instead dipping into it and reading isolated chapters as the mood and need struck. I've got some different ideas about it now, which I suppose is a lesson I've learned more than once already, as well as an injunction I've given an awful lot of students over the years: read the damn book. In sum, Ecocriticism is a politically engaged response to the assorted published and in-the-air manifestations of ecocriticism, not a summary of the field.


The New Critical Idiom is a series of introductory books which seeks to extend the lexicon of literary terms, in order to address the radical changes which have taken place in the study of literature during the last decades of the twentieth century. The aim is to provide clear, well-illustrated accounts of the full range of terminology currently in use, and to evolve histories of its changing usage. The current state of the discipline of literary studies is one where there is considerable debate concerning basic questions of terminology. This involves, among other things, the boundaries which distinguish the literary from the non-literary; the position of literature within the larger sphere of culture; the relationship between literatures of different cultures; and questions concerning the relation of literary to other cultural forms within the context of interdisciplinary structures. It is clear that the field of literary criticism and theory is a dynamic and heterogeneous one. The present need is for individual volumes on terms which combine clarity of exposition with an adventurousness of perspective and a breadth of application.





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