Winter 1994, Volume 11.1
Michael P. Branch
Ecocriticism: The Nature of Nature in Literary Theory and Practice
Michael P. Branch (Ph.D., U of Virginia) is an Assistant Professor of English at Florida International University. He is a contributing author of The English Instructor's Sourcebook (U of Virginia Press, 1992), and the Book Review Editor for The American Nature Writing Newsletter.
In his study of primitivism in antiquity, Arthur Lovejoy observes that "one of the strangest, most potent and most persistent factors in Western thought [is] the use of the term 'nature' to express the standard of human values, the identification of the good with that which is 'natural' or 'according to nature'" (11-12). However, despite the perennial reconstitution of nature as a standard of value, there has historically been as little consensus about what constitutes the "natural" as there has been about what constitutes the "good." In emphasizing the extreme equivocality of "nature," Lovejoy correctly asserts that "the range of connotation of the single term covers conceptions not only distinct but often absolutely antithetic to one another in their implications . . . " (12). Considering the sixty-six meanings of nature which Lovejoy offers as evidence for the polysemous nature of "nature" (447-456), it is easy to appreciate the medieval concept of libri naturae, or the book of nature; indeed, no other text has been so widely read, so little understood, so often invoked, and so capable of sustaining the range of interpretations projected upon it by human need and imagination. In its normative sensethe sense in which we still believe that what is "right" is powerfully associated with what is "natural"nature may actually be the most ancient of cultural artifacts. Each of the sixty-six meanings Lovejoy cites is both a branch in the genealogy of an idea and a moment in the history of our construction of environment and our relationship to it. This essay is concerned largely with the sixty-seventh meaning of naturewith how contemporary ecophilosophy represents so important a development in the evolution of our ideas about nature, and with how ecological consciousness is coming to be reflected in contemporary literary theory and practice.
Of course, what I will call "ecosophy" (a convenient contraction of "ecophilosophy") is itself a constellation of complex and sometimes contradictory ideasnot a sixty-seventh meaning so much as an exciting discursive climate in which a new conception of our relationship to nature is clearly emergent. Although ecological science has flourished in the late twentieth century, it is the metaphysical implications of ecology which are primarily responsible for the recent, unprecedented interest in ecological thinking.2 Only in the last twenty years has an awareness of such thinking entered the popular consciousness in America, only in the last ten years have we begun in earnest to develop and debate philosophical and ethical implications of ecology, and only in the last few years has literary scholarshipunder the aegis of "ecocriticism"begun to explore constructions of environment in literary texts and theoretical discourse.3 In this paper I will use the term "ecosophy" in its broadest sense, to describe current biocentrist attempts to revise our relationship to the environment, and to modify our current construction of the environment withinand asthe text. In short, "ecosophy" describes an ecologically informed approach to nature and literature, an approach which questions the hegemony of anthropocentric constructions of environment.4
Ecosophical thinking has already begun to exert an influence upon the way literary texts are created, interpreted, and taught. Ecosophical critiques of the humanities' relative unresponsiveness to environmental issues are being amplified, and there is a greater acknowledgment of the need for environmental education throughout the humanities.5 As sensitivity to environmental problems continues to grow, literary theory and criticismentrenched as they are in related social and political contextshave increasingly come to reflect this sensitivity. As a measure of our culture's aesthetic sensibility and as a response to the changing circumstances of our lives, contemporary literature has also begun to demonstrate increasing environmental concern.
There are, however, better and older reasons for the influence of environmental awareness upon literary studies. Although ecosophical thinking sometimes appears unprecedented, there is a strong tradition of such thinking within the domain of literary art. First, questions about the proper role of humans in the cosmic scheme have always engaged the literary imagination, and concerns about maintaining or restoring a right relationship to nature are both thematically and symbolically present in the literature of every culture. For example, when Oedipus Rex opens with a plague upon the land, or The Bible begins with Adam and Eve's expulsion from the paradisiacal garden, or The Divine Comedy starts with Dante lost in the rank wildness of the dark wood, we understand that the ethical propriety of individual action is metaphorically conceived of in terms of the health and balance of nature. Second, literature has always struggled with questions of value comparable to those being asked by ecosophy. For example: should humans be valued as creations of God, as Milton might suggest, as creations of nature, as Rousseau might suggest, or as creations of culture, as Henry James might suggest? Should wilderness be feared, as it was by Puritan exegetes, studied scientifically, as it was by Enlightenment rationalists, or revered, as it was by Romantic poets? Third, literature has always been extremely concerned with the creation and recreation of a sense of place. For example, Frost's New England and Faulkner's Mississippi are the subjects rather than simply the settings of their work. This powerful sense of emotional location is produced by a convergence of artistic and natural spheres, a kind of literary bioregionalism in which the writer imaginatively reinhabits a particular locale. Fourth, a great deal of literature has dealt explicitly with nature, whether to speculate upon our place within it, or to explore and express its beauty irrespective of human concerns. Both ecosophy and literature are born of a meeting between nature and culture: both deeply explore and often deeply question the relationships between humans and their natural surroundings.
If the perpetual reinterpretation of the relationship between human and nonhuman nature has been an important component of literary art, it is even more fascinating that the obverse is equally true: historically, literature has exerted a tremendous influence upon our changing conceptions of natural systems and our role within them. Homer provided his age with a vision of nature as a stage upon which gods and heroes enacted a cosmic drama. The classical ideas of nature's plenitude and the human place in nature's hierarchical system were formulated by Plato and Aristotle, respectively. The work of Hellenistic authors including Virgil and Horace first introduced the notion that nature exists as a serene retreat from the artificial environs of the city. During the middle ages, authors from Augustine to Aquinas promulgated the orthodox Christian view that nature was primarily significant as tangible evidence of God's design. Renaissance and early seventeenth-century writers such as Bacon and Descartes accelerated the emergence of the modern world view by applauding human control over natural forces. In the eighteenth century, Robert Burns's poetry and Gilbert White's natural history helped establish more congenial attitudes toward nature during the Age of Reason. In the nineteenth century, continental, English, and American romantic literature from Goethe to Wordsworth to Emerson led the criticism of industrial culture's hegemonic view of nature as mere commodity. And in the twentieth century, the most eloquent voices for an ecologically integrative vision of nature have come from literary artists as diverse as D.H. Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, John Muir, and Edward Abbey.6
Because literature has always conditioned our philosophical understanding of nature, literary theory and practice also have a role in shaping our cultural constructions of environment. Indeed, even the aesthetic categories by which our feelings for nature are understoodthe beautiful, the picturesque, the sublime, the scenic, the wild, etc.have been defined largely through their use in literary and critical contexts. For the early Greeks, the work of art was itself the central metaphor for nature.7 And, seen from the standpoint of an ecosophical literary theory, a literary text might actually be likened to an ecosystem: it is a functional whole whose purposes are accomplished through integration of constituent elements; its remarkable complexity has no single purpose, but may be said to exist to a variety of ends simultaneously; it is to some extent defined by its interactions with other texts and contexts; we continuously search it for knowledge of who we are and how to live in the world; and, at its best, it contains the intimation of an ineffable mystery beyond itself.8 Precisely because literature has so often provided the nexus between the interlocking contexts of nature and culture, ecosophy's new ideas about our relationship to the environment have begun to influence our critical approaches to literary texts.
As an example of the growing intimacy between contemporary literary criticism and contemporary environmental sensitivity, we might briefly consider some of the provocative correspondences between ecosophy and poststructuralist literary theory.9 Most such similarities derive from ecosophy's basic premise of interconnection, which poststructuralist theory often conceives of as "intertextuality." Ecosophers locate value in natural wholes, and in the interrelationships which comprise them; similarly, poststructuralists such as Fish locate meaning within the context of a particular discourse community, and deny that it may exist independently of such a context. When Saussure maintains that the meaning of words exists only as a function of their difference from other words, he reinforces ecologist Paul Shepard's contention that the relationships among things are as real as the things. When Derrida asserts that signification is achieved relationally through a play of signifiers, he anticipates ecosophist Neil Evernden's claim that the self is created by a system of natural signifiersthat "there is no such thing as an individual, only an individual-in-context" ("Beyond" 20). When Barthes speaks of the semiotic self as an identity which is "written" by the system of language, his discussion resembles environmental axiologist J. Baird Callicott's elaboration of the "relational self" as a non-egoistic entity which is defined by the natural field pattern in which it is embedded ("Metaphysical" pt. 5). Whether in a linguistic or an ecosystemic context, no individual element may be understood in isolation from the generative and defining context of the systemic whole.
If value resides relationally in the interrelationship of ecosystemic components, and meaning resides relationally in the intertextuality of words and interpretations of words, we can see that ecosophy and poststructuralist theory also have in common a deep questioning of stan dards of objective certitude. As modern physics and anthropology remind us, "objectivity" is simply a way to describe the observer's illusion of centrality or authority. Traditionally, western thinking has depended heavily upon the discrete separation of the observer from the observed, as the metaphysics of our science and the dialectics of our philosophy so powerfully demonstrate. Although this Cartesian and Kantian strain has established the subject/object dichotomy as our preferred mode of apprehension, ecosophical and literary critical field theories have placed this dualistic epistemology under attack. In poststructuralist theory, emphasis upon contextual discourse insists that all readings are situated in a variety of interpenetrating contexts, that our interpretations of literary texts are relationally constructed rather than hermeneutically revealed. As Harold Bloom suggests, the larger meaning of a literary text is determined both by the intertextual relationship of the text to other texts, and by the intersubjective negotiation of meaning among various interpretations of the text. Most useful here is Roland Barthes's metaphorical extension of the reader-text relationship to all aspects of experience. If, like most readers, we are hungry for meaning, predisposed toward certain interpretations, and influenced by a variety of personal assumptions, beliefs, and wishes, then how separate are we from the ontological "text"? Don't we somehow write the text as we read it, just as we create experience while perceiving it? According to poststructuralists, the locus of literary meaning resides neither in the reader nor in the text, but resides indeterminately in the contextual interpenetration of the two.
Like critical theory, ecosophy wishes to disabuse us of the notion that our interpretations may be objectively correct, and insists instead that we recognize the variety of interpretations among which meaning must be negotiated. In effect, ecosophy challenges the assumption of objectivity by which human "readers" have interpreted the text of nature. As a simple illustration, consider a tree. In addition to providing the paper which is the physical medium of this article, a tree is also a termite's way of feeding itself, a bird's way of securing shelter, the soil's way of preventing its being washed to the sea. If we interpret the tree to mean only dollars or furniture or firewood, we have "misread" the tree by ignoring the variety of other contexts which define its meaning and value. Perhaps more importantly, we have failed to recognize that, in the parlance of semiotics, we both "write" and are "written by" the tree. If we act upon our interpretation of the tree as signifying only dollars, for example, we significantly rewrite the text of nature, and we do so in a way that consequently alters nature's ability to "write" us. Thus, ecophilosophy mirrors literary theory in calling for an acknowledgment that meaning and value are determined through negotiated patterns of interrelationship rather than claims of objectivity.
Both poststructuralist theory and ecosophy may be seen, then, as objections to a certain kind of authority. Theory argues that this unjust authority stems from a belief in "presence," while ecosophy holds that it has its source in anthropocentrism. Marxist, feminist, and deconstructionist critics have all concerned themselves with critiques of the "metaphysics of presence"the assumption that "the thing itself" is present to us, and may therefore be known in an absolute, objective, and unmediated way. Derrida's "presence," De Man's "blindness and insight," Horkheimer and Adorno's "enlightenment," Ricour's "hermeneutics of suspicion," Foucault's "panoptic society of surveillance," and feminism's "paternalistic discourse" all speak to a perceived crisis of authority. According to these theorists, it is the epistemological assumption that we can know absolutely which often underwrites relationships of domination and exploitation.
In short, poststructuralist theory aims at the "deconstruction of totalizing and colonizing discourse" (Cheney "Postmodern" 125); it wishes to replace privileged discourse of all kinds with a concept of contextual discourse which better represents a plurality of voices. For Derrida this is accomplished through "freeplay," the interminable interplay of signifiers which is a "disruption of presence" (292). In Derridian deconstruction the decentering (or more precisely the uncentering) of the human subject is seen as essentially liberating, as an "affirmation [which] determines the noncenter otherwise than as loss of the center" (292). Likewise, Foucault contends that the idea of "man," at least insofar as it refers to an isolated center of authority and value, is an obsolete historical construct which must be superseded by a broader, more contextualist sense of identity.10
A comparable impulse is clearly visible in ecosophy's wish to replace anthropocentrism with an affirmation of the value of ecosystemic wholes. Naess's "deep ecology," Fox's "transpersonal ecology," Rodman's "ecological resistance," Kvaloy's "eco-philosophy," and Miller's "sustainable earth ethics" also address a perceived crisis of authority. According to these ecosophers, anthropocentrism has caused unjust domination and exploitation of other members of the ecosystemic community. Ecosophy's version of "deconstructing totalizing and colonizing discourse" lies in its resistance to the ethical Ptolemaism of a human-centered theory of value. The ecocentric world view, like paradigms being promulgated in poststructuralist theory, is revolutionary in that it seeks to break down an established hierarchy, and redistribute authority and value among all elements of the system, or to the integrative functioning of that system as a whole. Like theory, ecosophy also views the decentering of the human subject as an affirmation and as a "liberation of life" which results in a sense of interrelationship rather than a pattern of domination. Ecological egalitarianism, then, may be seen as a kind of contextualist discourse with nature. Indeed, the ecosophical perspective suggests that contemporary literary theory and contemporary environmental philosophy often function as isotopic variations on the same postmodern theme of contextual interrelationship.
If ecosophical concerns are so closely related to the imperatives of contemporary literary theory, we might ask how these concerns are being manifested in critical praxis: what is the status of ecologically informed literary criticism today? To be sure, American literary pastoralism has received a great deal of critical attention, but only in the last few years has there been a burgeoning of interest in scholarship which sees nature as more than simply a backdrop for human activity, or a green world into which humans retreat to escape adult responsibility.11 Very recently, scholars interested in ecological approaches to literature have begun to organize under the banner of "ecocriticism."12 Ecocritic Cheryll Burgess Glotfelty offers the following straightforward definition of the emerging critical approach:
. . . ecocriticism takes as its subject the interconnections between human culture and the material world, between the human and the nonhuman. Ecological literary criticism is that subset of ecocriticism that focuses specifically upon the cultural elements language and literature and their relationship to the environment; it is a critical stance that has one foot in literature and the other on land. ("Toward" 4-5)
Glotfelty has attempted to explain why literary criticism has been so unresponsive to environmental thinking, and she has joined critics including Scott Sanders ("Speaking") and Glen Love ("Revaluing") in suggesting that ecological insight should be incorporated into our approach to literary texts ("Toward" and "Ecocriticism").
Many ecocritics have catalyzed the "ecologizing" of literary studies by exploring the merits of the American nature writing tradition. Once an epithet effectively synonymous with "non-canonical," the term "nature writing" now refers to the rich corpus of literature which takes nature, or the relationship between human and nonhuman nature, as its primary focus.13 As a discipline in the humanities, literary studies has traditionally been informed by a variety of anthropocentric assumptions about the centrality of humans in the enactment and "author-ization" of literary texts. Under the influence of the ecosophical thinking which is now entering the academy through numerous disciplines, literary scholars are presently using nature writing to question the very assumptions which have resulted in its critical neglect. For if it is true that the literary text, like the natural ecosystem, is comprised of a fabric of orchestrated interrelationships, we should fully expect that literary works which concern themselves with natural systems have a great deal to teach us about literature, as well as about nature.
As ecocriticism struggles toward self-definition as a scholarly discipline, it is producing a variety of promising and sometimes widely divergent "environmental" approaches to literary studies. Peter Fritzell's Nature Writing and America, Essays on a Cultural Type (1990) argues that writing must be seen as an organic activity, as an artifact of the psychobiotic needs of the human organism. In The Rhetoric of the "Other" Literature (1990), W. Ross Winterowd claims that our privileging of "imaginative literature" has caused us to undervalue the aesthetic and lyrical richness of what he calls "the literature of fact." Scott Slovic's Seeking Awareness in American Nature Writing (1992) employs environmental psychology to examine environmental consciousness and the ways in which nature writers attempt to inspire this consciousness among their readers.14 Critics including Karen Warren, Patrick Murphy and Jim Cheney have suggested provocative ways in which ecofeminist critical perspectives can enhance the ecosophical sensitivity of literary studies generally.15 There is also a growing emphasis upon the pedagogical implications of ecocritical literary practice. Scott Slovic and Terrell Dixon have recently edited a reader for undergraduate composition courses, entitled Being in the World: An Environmental Reader for Writers, and many teachers are documenting successful experiments using environmental writing in composition as well as literature courses.16 The recent formation of The Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE) further suggests that the ecosophical thinking which is already on the threshold of literary studies has begun to influence the way literature sees the environment and the way we as critics see the environment inand ofliterature.17
As a distinctive approach to the practice of literary criticism, ecocriticism gives increased attention to literary representations of nature, and is sensitive to interdependencies that ground the author, character, or work in the natural system. This approach shifts critical focus from social relations toward natural relationships, and views the individual as a member of ecosystemic as well as human patterns of organization. It values highly the literary "sense of place," not as setting but as an essential expression of bonding with or alienation from a specific natural context. It examines the architectonic interrelationship between literary and organic form. It also looks to literature to provide speculation upon the relationship between human and nonhuman nature, and to suggest ways in which that relationship might be reinterpreted or reformed. It is integrative rather than reductive, in the sense that it wishes to demonstrate how elements of literary texts work together, rather than how they may be taken apart. This holistic quality also applies to the criticism itself, which is often broadly interdisciplinary in its construction of interpretative contexts. And because it is less anthropocentric than most humanistic scholarship, ecocriticism assumes nature to be as rich a literary subject as humans, and is therefore less likely to marginalize the literature of nature as unworthy of critical attention. In short, ecocriticism sees the literary text as embedded in and continuous with the natural context, attends to the sense of membership which the artist attempts to establish within the natural community, and takes seriously both the spiritual consequences of nature and the moral consequences of its violation.
The current "ecologizing" of literary studies clearly suggests the broad applicability of the ecological paradigm to textual theory and practice. Throughout the humanities, the changes now being called for are strongly reminiscent of poet Robinson Jeffers's idea of "Inhumanism," which he described as "a shifting of emphasis from man to not-man; the rejection of human solipsism and recognition of the transhuman magnificence."18 The move "beyond humanism" and into a more ecologically informed discourse will undoubtedly enliven our sense of relationship both with nature and with text, and will cause us to reexamine the implications of our current constructions of environment. Literary criticism will benefit from its exposure to ecological thinking, and future generations of readers may come to value literary accomplishments from Walden to Arctic Dreams primarily as trenchant artistic precursors to environmental awareness, and as cultural monuments to ecosophical wisdom.
In the meantime, ecocriticism must openly confront what it sees as both the positive and the negative implications of its remarkable relationship to poststructuralist literary theory. On the one hand, ecosophy's challenge to the metaphysics of anthropocentric "presence" may be seen as essentially liberating. Like poststructuralist theory, in which meaning is seen as "scattered or dispersed along the whole chain of signifiers" (Eagleton 128), contemporary ecosophy understands value to reside relationally, to be diffused throughout the interconnected fabric of the ecosystemic or planetary whole. On the other hand, I believe there is a perilous sense in which poststructuralism's infinite deferral of meaning is strongly at odds with an ethos of environmental concern. After all, students of nature and its representative literature are more interested in environmentalism's goal of freedom from decimation than in deconstructionism's goal of freedom from meaning. While ecosophy replaces the hierarchical anthropocentric paradigm with a vision of an ecologically decentralized natural community, few ecocritics would concede that nature ultimately has no determinate meaning, or that the natural system can adequately be described as simply the interminable "freeplay" of its "signifiers." On the contrary, normative concepts such as intrinsic value and the rights of natural objects demonstrate that contemporary ecosophy retains a genuine concern for specific loci of meaning and value.
Ecocriticism exists in constellation withand often in tremulous suspension betweenthe postmodern intellectual movements of poststructuralist literary theory and contemporary ecophilosophy. In order for ecocriticism to provide a meaningful framework for students of literature and the environment, ecocritics must wrestle with a simple paradox, which might be stated this way: "nature" is both a cultural construct and a grounding reality. When Aristotle, Virgil, Augustine, and Darwin wrote of "nature," they meant very different things by the term; and, as current political battles over land use constantly remind us, there is no consensus about the definition of "nature" even within our own historical moment. However, if "nature" is nothing more than a perpetually equivocal "signifier"a linguistic and cultural artifact which is subject to definition by (and usually to the advantage of) the human species, how are we to appraise its meaning or its value? What about that nature "out there"that very real natural world within which all our lives, and all our discussions of ideas like "metaphysics of presence" necessarily take place? How are we to know when our tireless manipulation of the signifier "nature" constitutes a morally unacceptable endangerment of our home planet and the diversity of species it sustains?
I would argue that ecocriticism must be more willing to learn from its connections to poststructuralist theory, but there is also a danger in any uncritical appropriation of the notion that the natural world is "just a text"a pattern of ambiguous signifiers which is entirely manipulable by human "readers" and "writers." Although poststructuralism often claims to decenter certain species of authority, its "subversive" suggestion that the world is somehow made of words may also be seen as simply the latest avatar of anthropocentrismas an attempt to use the ubiquity of language to keep humans at the center of our cosmological paradigm. As a sixty-seventh interpretation of nature in text and theoretical discourse, ecosophical criticism must attempt to chart a course away from our culture's destructive and self-destructive relationship with the natural world. The success of the endeavor will depend upon whether we can do what Melville's Ahabwhen confronted with the wrinkled brow of the whalecould not. As members of the literary as well as the biotic community, we must recognize that the natural world exists to purposes other than our own.
1I wish to thank Stephen Railton and Scott Slovic for their helpful comments on a previous draft of this article.
2The term "ecology" was coined in 1866 by the German Darwinian Ernst Haeckel, whose "oecologie" gave a name to the system of biological interrelationships which had been know as "the economy of nature" to natural historians since the the eighteenth century. Etymologically derived from oikos, the Greek word for household, Haeckel's neologism considered nature itself to be the extended household of mankind; "ecology," then, was to be the new science of the interrelationships between humankind and its extended household, the earth.
The burgeoning interest in ecophilosophy is evident in a variety of fields including philosophy, history, theology, psychology, economics, and literary studies (See Davis). A great deal of attention has been devoted to the metaphysical implications of ecology; the most helpful scholarship in this area includes Callicott, ("Implications" and "Search"); Nash (Rights); Evernden ("Self" and Social); Oates; Botkin; Merchant.
3See note 10.
4As a contraction of "ecophilosophy," "ecosophy" etymologically emphasizes sophiathe "wisdom" rather than the "science" of nature. However, like the equivocal appellation "environmentalism," the term "ecophilosophy" refers to a spectrum of ideological approaches to nature. I must stress that while I use the term "ecosophy" to denote a kind of composite of contemporary ecophilosophies, environmental philosophies often differ widely both in their assumptions and in their methodologies. For a thorough discussion of various ecophilosophical typologies and their respective inadequacies, see Fox (pts. I and III).
5See Orr; Eagan; French; Miles; Waage; Haslam; Perrin.
6The best source of information concerning the historical relationship between nature and culture though the eighteenth century is Glacken's Traces (also see Lovejoy). His paper on "Culture and Environment in Western Civilization During the Nineteenth Century" continues the account; Oelschlaeger (Idea and Wilderness) and Worster provide useful extensions into the twentieth century.
7This point is made by Trussell (172), though I have modified it somewhat.
8Although he leaves the analogy relatively undeveloped, Meeker also notes the resemblance between "major literary works" and ecosystems (9).
9The following discussion owes a great deal to Campbell's excellent article, and to a course of lectures on critical theory presented by Mark Edmundson (University of Virginia, Spring, 1991). See Also Cheney ("Postmodern"); Applewhite; Quigley; Frodeman; Ogilvy.
10This idea, which is presented at the conclusion of Foucault's The Order of Things, is noted by Campbell (208).
11An exploratory attempt to bring ecological insight to bear upon literary studies was made by Leo Marx; in a series of papers which suggest the ecological consequences of conclusions drawn in The Machine in the Garden, Marx points to "a convergence of insights" between the "literary and the ecological views of America's dominant institutions" ("American," 102; also see "Pastoral"; "Pastoralism"). In 1972 Joseph Meeker proposed the more provocative idea of "literary ecology"; for Meeker, literature may be seen as either more or less ecologically adaptive, and he examines various literary modes in order to determine which are most likely to be conducive to our survival as a species (Comedy, 9-10; see also Minding; "Toward.") Also see Elgin ("Comedy"; "What"). A seminal attempt to link environmental attitudes and values with literary studies is Roderick Nash's Wilderness and the American Mind (also see Rights). The term "ecocriticism" was coined by William Rueckert in a 1978 article which called for the formulation of "an ecological poetics" (see Rueckert, "Literature and Ecology"). For slightly later studies of environmental consciousness in literature, see Brooks, Janik.
12As for literary scholars organizing themselves as ecocritics, the first Modern Language Association session on ecocriticsm ("Ecocriticism: The Greening of Literary Studies") was held in December, 1991. For more on ecocriticism, see The American Nature Writing Newsletter 2.2 (Fall, 1990), which is a special issue devoted to the subject.
13In response to this growing interest in nature writing and in opening the canon to it, the last few years have seen a commensurate acceleration in the rate of anthologies being published in the field. Recent anthologies include the following: On Nature: Nature, Landscape, and Natural History (ed. Daniel Halpern, 1987); Words From the Land: Encounters With Natural History Writing (ed. Stephen Trimble, 1988); This Incomperable Lande: A Book of American Nature Writing (ed. Thomas Lyon, 1989); The Norton Book of Nature Writing (eds. Robert Finch and John Elder, 1990); The Forgotten Language: Contemporary Poets and Nature (ed. Christopher Merril, 1991); On Nature's Terms: Contemporary Voices (eds. Thomas J. Lyon and Peter Stine, 1992); Nature's New voices (ed. John A. Murray, 1992); Finding Home (ed. Peter Sauer, 1992); Poems for a Small Planet: Contemporary American Nature Poetry (eds. Robert Pack and Jay Parini, 1993). These anthologies implicitly challenge the established literary canon, even as they provoke discussion about what sorts of work the genre of nature writing should encompass. For earlier anthologies, see Bergon; Krutch.
For useful special issues of journals devoted to nature writing and to the human/nature relationship, see Hilbert (The CEA Critic 54.1; Fall, 1991); Paul (North Dakota Quarterly 59.2; Spring, 1991); Singer (West Virginia University Philological Papers 37, 1991); Dodd (The Ohio Review 49, 1993).
14 Other recent studies include Paul (For Love); O'Grady.
15See Warren; Murphy ("Ground, Pivot, Motion"); Cheney. Also see Anderson.
16Part II of the special issue of The CEA Critic devoted to "The Literature of Nature" is concerned with pedagogical applications of environmental writing (54.1; guest editor Betsy Hilbert). Also see Waage; Cooper; Haslam; Branch.
17For a list of relevant dissertations, critical books and articles both forthcoming and in progress, see pp. 6-8 of the bibliography on "Nature and the Environment." The American Nature Writing Newsletter 3.1 (Spring 1991): 6-22. For journals which have an abiding interest in ecocriticism, see Western American Literature (ed. Thomas Lyon); The American Nature Writing Newsletter (ed. Alicia Nitecki), and ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment (ed. Patrick Murphy). For information on the newly formed Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE), write to Michael Branch, Secretary-TreasurerASLE, Department of English, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22903.
18From the Preface to The Double Axe (1948). Quoted in Janik (77).
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