- Cheryl LousleyCheryl LousleyLakehead University, Department of Interdisciplinary Studies
Ecocriticism describes and confronts the socially uneven encounters and entanglements of earthly living. As a political mode of literary and cultural analysis, it aims to understand and intervene in the destruction and diminishment of living worlds. A core premise is that environmental crises have social, cultural, affective, imaginative, and material dimensions. Although ranging in its critical engagements across historical periods, cultural texts, and cultural formations, ecocriticism focuses on the aesthetic modes, social meanings, contexts, genealogies, and counterpoints of cultural practices that contribute to ecological ruination and resilience. These include myths about frontiers, progress, and human mastery over animality and nature; capitalist modes of valuing, devaluing, and radically transforming lifeworlds; and biopolitical and racialized inequalities in health, risk, development, and disposability. Ecocriticism also involves broad theoretical engagement with discursive formations and semiotic significations, including the interrogation of crisis frameworks and apocalyptic representations, considering their histories, scales, and temporalities, while also asking how any particular socioecological arrangement comes to count as a matter of concern, for whom, and in which contexts.
The concept of nature is a long-standing theoretical topic in ecocriticism. While nature may seem, rather straightforwardly, to be the domain environmentalism seeks to protect, it is a concept on which hinge crucial and contested claims about ontology (the nature of something, such as assertions about human nature as an inherent, often determining set of shared qualities) and epistemology (how we know what is real, such as the scientific practices through which credible assertions can be made that the planetary climate is changing), claims whose modern authority has rested on positioning nature as a domain outside culture. While structuralist and poststructuralist theorists have destabilized the binary opposition of nature to culture, the political and epistemological imperative to engage with nature as simultaneously material and semiotic has spawned an array of theoretical developments, from Donna Haraway’s cyborg figure and other “natureculture” assemblages to new materialisms. Meanwhile, nature circulates as a commodity form and spectacle animating digital, film, and television screens as well as many other consumer products and experiences. Cultural studies approaches to ecocriticism raise questions about the relationships of visual, narrative, and sound representations to economic power, media technologies, and the material and social ecologies through which they are produced and which they form and transform.
- blue humanities
- climate change
- deep time
- environmental justice
- new materialism
- ocean studies
- plant humanities
- reproductive justice
- science studies
- slow violence
- Literary Theory
- Cultural Studies
Ecocriticism describes and confronts the socially uneven encounters and entanglements of earthly living, from petro-capitalism to cancer stories to the poetry of bird song.1 As a political mode of literary and cultural analysis, ecocriticism aims to understand and intervene in the destruction and diminishment of living worlds. Ranging in its critical engagements across historical periods, cultural texts, and cultural formations, ecocriticism focuses on the aesthetic modes, social meanings, contexts, genealogies, and counterpoints of cultural practices that contribute to ecological ruination and resilience. A core premise is that environmental crises have social, cultural, affective, imaginative, and material dimensions. But the “eco” prefix, so familiar from contemporary consumer and popular culture, has tended to belie the theoretical insights and knots of the field. The term “ecocriticism” was popularized as a way of designating environmental literary and cultural studies in 1996 with the publication of Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm’s anthology The Ecocriticism Reader, which tells the history of how the field emerged in the United States and gathers a selection of ecocritical essays from that context.2 The theoretical questions taken up in the field, however, have a much broader and longer pedigree.
The early modern period saw the rise of many ongoing theoretical challenges, including how the real is known and represented, the moral authority accorded the natural, planetary regimes of conquest and extraction, biological diversity, social relations with animals, and how to manage risk and disaster.3 Romanticism’s engagement with landscape aesthetics, nature and freedom, self-transformation, the sacred, and the gothic, strange, and uncanny remain provocative for a host of questions about ethical relationships and political imaginaries involving the more-than-human.4 Social movements have also shaped the theoretical questions of the field. Wilderness and nature conservationism, animal rights, feminism, nuclear disarmament, environmental racism, environmental justice, indigenous rights, and environmentalisms of the poor and Global South have all influenced which aesthetic modes ecocriticism engages with as well as its critical attention to symbolic and material relations of inequality, racialization, and capitalism; to claims of universality, localisms, and situated knowledges; and to the temporal, geographical, and geological scales of environmental discourses.5 Other key theoretical debates in ecocriticism engage with phenomenology, deconstruction, critical race studies, feminism, cultural studies, postcolonial studies, science studies, historical materialism, biopolitics, and new materialism. These will be introduced in this article by way of a series of open conceptual problems posed and addressed within ecocriticism, beginning with the term “environment.”
In the Name of Environment
“Environment” is a troublesome term, though its invocation frames an array of social and political movements, fields of knowledge, management practices, and critical perspectives. Environment, sometimes used synonymously with nature, colloquially designates the physical and living world that surrounds us.6 It makes this world matter, makes it meaningful and pressing. Democratic resistance to corporate land grabs, predictive modeling of climate change, a song for the song of the white-throated sparrow, hydrology assessments for megadams and the stories of the villagers they displace—these all make the environment a matter of concern, whether they use the term or not.7 Yet its scale is ambiguous, at times indicating the planetary, at times the localized, and even the microscopic environments of bacteria located within human and other bodies. Expressed as a singular totality, “the environment” sounds like a single “thing” that might be studied, used, or protected. Note the passive voice here, embedded in the very word, which is a noun composed from the verb “to environ.” But it designates an uncountable set of many varied forms and their dynamic entanglements. When semantically denoting a passive object—as in the phrase, “what shall we do for the environment?”—the term objectifies. It deadens the exuberant vitality of biological life forms unfurling in complex rhythms within the refrains of solar, oceanic, and geological movement.
It also masks the absented subject at its center, the one who is environed, the one for whom the surroundings are an “environment.” When “the environment” is used, as it generally now is, as a short-hand for “the human environment,” the phrase adopted for the landmark 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, a double displacement takes effect. Earthly lives, landscapes, and processes of all sorts are gathered together as the environment within which human living unfolds; in the framework of an “environment,” their significance lies, by definition, in their relevance for human experience. The human is at the center, an ideological position known as anthropocentrism. Yet this figure of the human is so taken for granted as the implied center of meaning, knowledge, agency, and value that reference to it may be omitted and even forgotten. “The environment” appears to stand outside the human, even though defined in relation to it. That is the first displacement.
The second is the subsumption of human differences and inequalities into a false universalism, as if the causes and experiences of ecological degradation and climate crisis were a species-wide phenomenon.8 They are not. The abstract figure of the generic human is a convenient rhetorical device with a history of struggle over the exclusions and inclusions that give the category meaning in particular times and places.9 It can be invoked as an aspirational universalism, summoning affective and political commitment to social arrangements such as slavery abolition, human rights, or climate justice. But the human is as much a differentiating as a unifying category. The human was articulated in modern European thought and practice in opposition to the categories of the divine, the savage, the native, the slave, the female, the animal, and deadened matter.10 It is a racialized configuration. To be marked as outside the human has meant to be placed in service to an elite group of people with the social power to make their bodies, knowledge, and desires count as universal, radically remaking entire worlds in the process.11
The generic term “environment,” with an implied but unmarked subject at its center, thus obscures a wide range of political, ethical, theoretical, and aesthetic deliberations. Whose environments—whose forms of entangled, corporeal living, whose experiential encounters, whose modes of knowing, whose future prospects—are or should be universalized, taken as if to be everyone’s or the ones that matter? Whose are deemed irrelevant, or unhealthy, or discardable? Who notices? How do some social relations of environment become meaningful, imbued with meaning in particular cultural formations, such that, as Anna Tsing writes, they “conjure” social, affective, and financial investments in making some worlds matter more than others?12
Earthly Worlds, Instrumental Reason, Poetic Attention
To refer to “world” rather than “environment” is to pursue the line of embodied thought offered by the philosophical field of phenomenology, along with its variations and critiques in feminist theory, science studies, historical materialism, and poststructuralism.13 Being-in-the-world, as Martin Heidegger’s Dasein is commonly translated, precedes the Cartesian distinction between a knowing subject and a knowable object world. One comes to knowledge and to thinking through already being in a world. World, in this approach, is not conceived as a set of objects nor as the container in which they are housed. It is the subjective field of meaning and significance in which one is. World is a sensible realm or milieu: making sense or meaning because experientially sensed through an embodied attentiveness positioned somewhere—being is “being-there.”14 World is not simply what is “there” but what is apprehended by being-in-the-world. For phenomenologists, “whatever is perceived is not neutral, not just the passive reception of external stimuli, but the result of our active involvement in grasping the world.”15 The double sense of grasp—to comprehend but also to take hold of by hand—is invoked here, by Heidegger, Emmanuel Levinas, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, each distinctly influential in environmental thought.16
The relationality of being-in-the-world is not the colloquial “interconnectedness” that supposedly defines ecology, for it is not an assertion about causal relationships. But it does dispute an assumed a priori detachment of human being from world. It is a philosophy of immanence not transcendence—as Donna Haraway quips, “I am a creature of the mud, not the sky.”17 Relational experience becomes a methodological starting point, and for some thinkers has ethical significance. It grounds a critique of scientific epistemologies that rely on a subject–object dualism and on what Frankfurt School theorists Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno call “the disenchantment of the world,” stripping it of its meaningfulness and sacredness.18 In his essay “The Question Concerning Technology,” Heidegger argues that the dominant Western mode of grasping the world has been as a “standing-reserve” such that “everywhere everything is ordered to stand by, to be immediately on hand, indeed to stand there just so that it may be on call for a further ordering.”19 Other ways of encountering, grasping, knowing the world are eclipsed when instrumental command has already been set upon the world, reducing the earth to one paltry, pre-established purpose: “The earth now reveals itself as a coal mining district, the soil as a mineral deposit.”20 This reductive, instrumental view of nature as resource enables its decimation and destruction for it appears to have no other form of value; in tandem, what it means to be human is similarly impoverished in a wholly instrumentalized approach to the world.21
Heidegger closes his influential essay with a line from the poet Friedrich Höderlin, “poetically man dwells on this earth,” presenting poiesis as a counterpoint to command.22 While lyrical poetry has been most linked with this suggestive association of “poetic attention” and dwelling, the poetic is understood here in the broadest sense of attending to what is and bringing forth this meaningful world.23 It is aesthetic not in the sense of a formalized literature or art but as a perceptual activity open to how the world becomes present. This phenomenological sensibility informs a 20th- and 21st-century poetic practice described by Charles Olson as “open-field composition” or process poetics, not centered around an interiorized lyrical subject and expressive form, but the movements of experiential perception in place and the line as breath and sound.24 This experiential premise emphasizes embodiment and locality but a locality in flux, in vernacular voice, in multitudinous paths and trajectories, in fragments fleetingly grasped. Environmentally inclined experimental poetics continue to emerge that play with the linguistic and perceptual possibilities of experiential situatedness, albeit with a destabilized and estranged embodiment, not fully accessible to consciousness.25 Adam Dickinson’s poetry, for example, manifests the accumulation of toxic chemicals in the poet’s body, accessible not through immediate perception but by way of laboratory apparatuses, chemical formulas, and experimentation.26 Lisa Robertson and Sina Queyras track experiential movements through the structural forms and “soft architecture” of urban civic spaces, pastoral language, expressways, feminized comportment, and Internet search queries.27
Immanence, Dwelling, Frontiers, and Indigeneity
The notion of dwelling has received considerable interest—and critique. Dwelling appeals to environmental ethicists because it recognizes the meaningfulness of place and situates people as inhabitants of an earth, immersed in a world on which human living depends. Tim Ingold emphasizes that the earthly ground of dwelling is not to be confused with the planetary Earth, which, whether as a spherical whole or as an atmospheric-continental-oceanic system, cannot be bodily experienced in a specific place.28 The famous composite photographs of Earth reproduced in popular environmental and commercial images are premised on a physical vantage point not accessible when on the earth. Phenomenologists like Ingold are concerned when this objectifying view is taken as the only correct way of knowing the earth, for it freezes an animate world into a spectacle or image to be seen, not a world lived and experienced. Ingold describes the fluidity of immersiveness: being in weather before knowing about climate; being in light in order to see and create visual representations. He suggests, in a Deleuzian vein, we consider being “not to be in place but to be along paths,” lines of flight or becoming, lines of movement in wind and coolness, not an organism bounded and rooted in stasis.29 The planetary view from space-flight, by contrast, can replicate the detachment of subject and body from world that many environmental theorists associate with a Western cultural denial of biological dependency on the materials and other living creatures of the earth: the fantasy of “human exceptionalism” that posits “humanity alone is not a spatial and temporal web of interspecies dependencies.”30
But the concept of dwelling is also troubling. Dwelling makes place-bound lives appear more ethical and more authentic than migratory or cosmopolitan modes of living and knowing. The embodied, experiential scale of dwelling can make it less adept for globalization or planetary-scale analysis. Moreover, it tends to present belonging in place as a given feature of earthly life rather than a sociopolitical arrangement. The social interests served by the valorization of dwelling in any particular context tend to be obscured by its appearance as a more natural or authentic relationship. The symbolism of land and soil in nationalist claims to territory and arboreal metaphors of rootedness that figuratively plant a group of people in a ground are presented as forms of dwelling.31 These are exclusive and defensive articulations that can justify, often violently, expelling, subordinating, or repelling those who are deemed outsiders and those deemed not to “belong,” as well as controlling and instrumentalizing the bodies of girls and women as symbolic and laboring homemakers.32 Refugees, in particular, appear “pathological” and socially threatening within a framework that assumes fixed, sedentary communities are normal or proper, an ideology that “locates ‘the problem’ not in the political conditions that produce massive territorial displacements of people, but, rather, bodies and minds (and even souls) of people categorized as refugees.”33
Dwelling also has a complicated relationship with approaches to indigeneity and the political aspirations of indigenous peoples. A phenomenological emphasis on inhabiting meaning-laden places often underlies critiques of resource grabs and land appropriations in indigenous writing and writing by other less powerful people, often termed, following Joan Martinez-Alier, “the environmentalism of the poor.”34 But a particular theoretical knot arises in associating indigeneity with dwelling, due to the still-influential connotations of the historical and anthropological category of the “native,” a generic, hierarchical, colonial label differentiating localized inhabitants from world-traveling outsiders.35 The “native” is a figure romanticized for place attachment and associated ecological knowledge. It has meant being racialized, denigrated, and “incarcerated” in “ecological immobility,” trapped or confined to place.36 The native is figured as the opposite of the modern autonomous individual, hence the strange but common accusation that indigenous people either inhabit nature and the past or are no longer indigenous.37 In this sense, place is rendered deterministic: the native is confined to and by her environment, a state of being often associated with animality.38
Yet to dissociate indigeneity from place can undermine place-based epistemologies and ethics. As Dene thinker Glen Coulthard describes:
Indigenous struggles against capitalist imperialism are best understood as struggles oriented around the question of land—struggles not only for land, but also deeply informed by what the land as a mode of reciprocal relationship (which is itself informed by place-based practices and associated forms of knowledge) ought to teach us about living our lives in relation to one another.39
Disregard for the lifeworlds of indigenous peoples—meaningful, relational, cultural practices with extraordinary variety across the earth—has been foundational in the appropriative expansion of capitalism under mercantilist empires, settler nation states, and neoliberal globalization.40 Frantz Fanon, Achille Mbembe, Sylvia Wynter, and, more recently, Coulthard describe the cultural, epistemic, and psychological violence of practices that negate the worlds of those colonized, dispossessed, “surplused,” or forced into labor, largely black and indigenous people.41 These world-denying and world-annihilating cultural formations are land and body claims, making lands and bodies into “resources” and “frontiers.”42 “Resource frontiers,” Tsing explains, exist
where entrepreneurs and armies were able to disengage nature from local ecologies and livelihoods, “freeing up” natural resources that bureaucrats and generals could offer as corporate raw materials. From a distance, these new resource frontiers appeared as the “discovery” of global supplies in forests, tundras, coastal seas, or mountain fastnesses. Up close, they replaced local systems of human access and livelihood.43
Frontier ideologies present land as “there” for the taking, at times represented as “empty” or uninhabited, at other times represented as “unused” or “wasted” by inhabitants whose ecological practices are deemed irrelevant because they are supposedly uneducated in the arts of capitalist production.44 The idea of wilderness, William Cronon shows, inherits and participates in this frontier ideology.45 Wilderness is imagined as an unpeopled space, a landscape set apart and without human presence. Its appeal and image as a refuge of pristine nature denies the historical creation of wilderness in actual places by the removal of indigenous peoples, their incarceration to reservation lands, and the criminalization of their hunting and subsistence livelihoods.46 Indigenous lifeworlds are also relentlessly undermined by ecological collapses brought on by frontier resource economies.47 Rob Nixon describes this process as “displacement within place,” when environmental damage like deforestation, mining contamination, or river damming “leaves communities stranded in a place stripped of the very characteristics that made it inhabitable.”48 These characteristics of inhabitability are cultural, including relational experience with the more-than-human in practices of work, food, ceremony, memory, story, and future ongoingness.49
Ethical Presence, Animal Questions, Inhuman Others, Arts of Noticing
Another profoundly ethical interpretation of relational being-in-the-world is offered by Levinas, who describes how the presence of others precedes the self.50 The encounter with “the face” of “the Other” calls the subject into an ethical response; before knowledge of self or world, there is first this unknowable Other to whom one responds, to whom one owes care. A care-based attentiveness to the presence of others, including animals and plants, even stone and waters, shapes many literary and philosophical approaches to environmental ethics, apparent in Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences, the title of a short story collection by feminist speculative fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin.51 The phrase “other animal” has a dual meaning, a recognition that humans are animal beings, too, while also attentive to the strangeness and otherness of different animal worlds.
For Jakob von Uexküll, whose biological research informed the thinking of Heidegger and other continental philosophers, humans are not the only ones with worlds.52 Brett Buchanan summarizes:
Uexküll emphasizes that all animals live within a circumscribed environment that is peculiar to each animal alone. Their individual environment—that is, their Umwelt—is full of significance in accordance with only those signs that register for them.53
Most famously, Uexküll asserted that ticks have worlds, tick-worlds of perceived gradations of light, sweat, and heat.54
Uexküll likens the Umwelt to a soap bubble encircling each animal, within which certain things are significant and outside of which things simply are not manifest. This is their own subjective domain through which the Umwelt reciprocally defines the animal as a subject.55
As Buchanan explains, Uexküll
broke from an anthropocentric attitude that had until then permeated the natural and social sciences. The animal, for one, is not the mechanical object that many would have it be. Likewise, the world is neither a purely objective entity laid bare by natural laws, nor is it necessarily the product of human experience alone. Instead, we are asked to consider the idea that there are as many worlds as there are living beings.56
The implications are epistemological and aesthetic as much as they are ethical. Certainly, the mechanistic model of animal being dominant since Descartes has been used to disregard animal sentience, including pain and suffering, even as biomedical and evolutionary research relies on articulating these and other biological continuities of human with other animal being.57 Its implications linger in epistemological approaches that de-emphasize animal sociality and agency, such as sociobiological models that ascribe agency instead to genes, personified as “selfish genes.”58 DNA molecules in these models appear as lively, autonomous actors through disembodiment, taken out of their corporeal and social contexts, a practice Haraway terms “gene fetishism.”59 Despite such extensive use of figurative language like personification within the biological sciences, anthropomorphism, the figurative practice of representing other animals in human-like ways, has at times been treated with a heavy-handed disdain, discouraging recognition of animal agency, sociality, and worlds.60
But anthropomorphism has renewed appeal when approached as a social encounter between differently situated and differently capable creatures.61 Anthropomorphism is one representational strategy within theoretical toolkits and aesthetic practices striving for more nuance in appreciating the specificity and limits of human understanding, the fullness of other lives and worlds, the significance of animals and animal representation in cultural life, and the many ways in which humans and other animals have co-evolved, co-existed, and collaborated in work and play.62 “What would animals say,” Vinciane Despret queries, “if we asked the right questions?” The seeming naiveté of Despret’s approach rests on the common assumption that there cannot be any communicative exchange with other animals, even though animal worlds and social lives involve signification and interpretation—the blazing bloom signaling the bee, the slime path that entices one slug to follow another. Dog trainers work with canines with vocal and hand signs; gorilla and human companions have conversed with words from American sign language.63
Language is pivotal because it has been the mark of difference between human and animal, such that any apparent “breach” of the dividing line becomes a spectacle.64 But animal is itself a linguistic category, one side of a binary pair. For what substantive content could hold together in one class all the kinds of being gathered under this word “animal”? To emphasize its linguistic and representational dimension, Jacques Derrida presents it in French as the portmanteau neologism “animot” (animal-word), a jarring homologue of the plural animaux.65 This plurality gathered into the singular, Jacques Derrida says, “is an appellation that men have instituted, a name they have given themselves the right and the authority to give,” and what it designates is “every living thing that is held not to be man.”66 The parallel with sexual difference is paramount here. The animal, like the designation woman, is defined by what it is not—what it lacks—by those who declare themselves not that Other.67 This gesture, this negation of the Other, simultaneously generates the Self, the one who is to be called “man,” the generic “human.” In his shadow, lie those cast outside. Their disavowal is buttressed through “animalization,” a characterization that associates animality with base, bodily, non-rational drives.68 Anti-black racism and other forms of racialization continue to be articulated through various degrading discourses of animality, a subordinating discourse also used to demean workers and women.69
Deconstruction undermines the phenomenological emphasis on presence. The word “animal,” along with so very many representations of animals, turns out to signify not only animal presence but also its erasure, the absence of animal participation in the discourse of animality. The analytic significance of erasure is demonstrated in Carol Adams’s discussion of animals as the “absent referent” in meat.70 Meat is a body part of a dead animal yet gastronomic language conventionally designates the food without reference to the living animal from whose death it is made. Meat signifies food but contains within it, under erasure, the trace of a butchering of a living animal. That women are sexualized and objectified as meat is critical for Adams, who outlines the overlapping cultural structures of violence toward women and animals. Overlapping erasures diminish acknowledgement of this violence: to treat a woman “like a piece of meat,” something to be consumed, is more than to degrade women by associating them with the lower status of “the animal”; it also implies dismemberment, butchering, and death. The butchered animal, though, is doubly displaced, first as meat, second as a metaphor for sexual violence. A similar, erasing displacement of women occurs when sexual violence is used as a metaphor for invasion or violation, such as in the phrase “the ‘rape’ of the earth.”71 “Women, upon whose bodies actual rape is most often committed, become the absent referent when the language of sexual violence is used metaphorically. These terms recall women’s experiences but not women.”72
Racialized and feminized writers and theorists have responded in various ways to animalization and to animals.73 Popularly, there is a strong inclination to refuse any association with animality. Yet key theoretical insights have come from attending to relations of animality, which matter in intimate as well as industrial spheres. African American novelist Alice Walker’s “Am I Blue?” probes how forced breeding, a normalized practice of horse ranching, was also an economic strategy of chattel slavery.74 Indra Sinha’s novel Animal’s People, which depicts the injustices of the aftermath of an industrial accident based on the 1984 pesticide factory explosion in Bhopal, India, explores how disability is linked metaphorically to animalization-as-dehumanization and also metonymically, in that insecticides can poison people and other animals as well as insects.75 Haraway considers how animals work and the conditions in which they become workers, arguing against the critique of instrumentality for it misses the sociality and agency, including acts of resistance, that animals show as they work with others.76 All work involves some instrumentalization; to denounce use and purposeful action for another’s use is to imagine a world of autonomous, non-interacting individuals: a common capitalist fantasy not an earthly world in which we become subjects in relation with others.
While animal rights criticism has long focused on victimization, the wider field of animal studies has critiqued a focus on animal suffering and the sentimental cultures that tend to frame its representation and circulation, although some dismissals of sentimentality echo a gendered, derogatory stance toward femininity and domesticity, with which it is associated.77 Sentimental representations have several troubling dimensions, including how infantilized bodies of others are made spectacles for the affective intensity of the spectator. The suffering body elicits pity, the cute body summons joy. The hypervisibility of animals in digital worlds, in charming forms of intimacy dependent on “invisibilized” technological apparatuses, masks the more silent disappearance of animals in the world.78 Less charismatic and less visible animals, such as many oceanic and insect creatures, remain unnoticed, unloved, unlovable.79
The anthropomorphic qualities of animals capture attention in ways that plants and other modes of living embodiment do not. Yet plants, fungi, insects, and bacteria also make up any inhabitable earthly and oceanic worlds—and are the focus of the ecocritical domains of critical plant studies, inhuman and microbial criticism, and the blue humanities.80 Attending to fungi, Tsing offers the phrase “arts of noticing” in a variation on poetic attention infused with political economy.81 Discussing her fieldwork with matsutake mushroom pickers in the United States, she describes how she “saw nothing but dirt and some scrawny pine trees,” unfamiliar as she was with the Oregon forests or mushrooms, until the pickers showed her what was there.82 The pickers, many of whom were refugees from southeast Asia, had also gone largely unnoticed, she explains, in the battles between environmentalists and the logging industry over those forests. So, too, had the collaboration of pine trees and matsutake in making co-habitable landscapes from the ruins of logging. Complex histories, transnational trade networks, and skilled sensory attentiveness to the aroma of the mushrooms are all involved in the “multispecies worlds” of matsutake-picking livelihoods.83 The plant humanities explore the social histories of plants and botanical sciences, especially how they have intersected in colonial and gender relations, but also the strange and uncanny worlds of “vegetal” being, a social category of even greater debasement than animalization.84
Apocalypses Then and Now, Fallout, Reproductive Futures, Slow Violence
Apocalyptic visions of the end of the world recur in environmental literature, film, and advocacy. The threat of environmental collapse might seem to prompt urgent measures to avoid it, but apocalypticism is a complex cultural phenomenon without such straightforward results. The “Doomsday Clock” designed and maintained by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is one of the most famous efforts to visually represent a fast-approaching environmental threat. When inaugurated in 1947, the clock portrayed the threat to human life posed by the growing nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union as a minute hand approaching midnight, which stood for the “end,” the moment of no further human future.85 When the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty was signed in 1991 and in earlier periods of detente, the hand of the Doomsday Clock was moved back from midnight; it has since been moved forward again multiple times, due to renewed nuclear weapons proliferation and in recognition of the catastrophic threat of climate change.86
The iconography of the clock shows the nuclear threat as a politics of time. As Derrida writes in “No Apocalypse, Not Now,” total nuclear war was anticipated and dreaded as a simultaneously unprecedented and final “remainderless destruction.”87 This end, Derrida points out, is a textual phenomenon: talked about, imagined, visualized, but not experienced; for the event itself, if final, would leave none to witness, none to receive the revelation associated with the religious meaning of apocalypse. Yet this absolute finality is more fantastical than actual. As nuclear theorist Joseph Masco describes, one above-ground, nuclear-bomb test on a fabricated town in the Nevada desert destroyed and even vaporized buildings, but a safe with money inside remained intact, demonstrating for the United States government that “the monetary system might just survive a nuclear exchange after all.”88 The fixation on an end-time can capture the imagination of the present. Nuclear deterrence, seeking to defer the future event, is positioned in deference to it. The very rhetoric of a race against time and its spectacular end mobilizes political and military activity. End-times are also anticipated, desired, even hastened along in their arrival. They seem to offer ecstatic release from a corrupted world and promise a utopian clean slate, where evil (or pollution) has been wiped away in one fell swoop. One iteration of this apocalyptic fantasy takes “humans” to be the polluters and destroyers of “the environment,” prompting doomsday and celebratory speculative fictions about civilizational crashes due to human overpopulation, such as the infamous nuclear bomb metaphor adopted in biologist Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 diatribe The Population Bomb.89 A cautionary version, with nested dystopias within utopias, is presented in Margaret Atwood’s speculative fiction MaddAddam trilogy, comprising Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, and MaddAddam, in which biotech villain Crake plots to decimate the entire human population, through a virus pandemic, to be replaced with a new human species perfectly adapted to their climate-disruptive environment, including a genetically modified shortened life span to keep their reproductive numbers low.90
Such visions embrace absolutism, finality, and totality—that is one appeal of apocalyptic and utopian thinking. The Doomsday Clock sets everyone to the same time. Its universalizing iconography can appear to unite people “globally” into a single, common political project; it can also represent political disenfranchisement, as many possible futures are taken hostage and colonized by the desires of a select few for political-military dominance or revolutionary resistance. What the clock does not visualize is nuclear fallout, the radiation released into the atmosphere during atomic bombing, above-ground nuclear weapons testing, uncontained nuclear power generation and waste, and uranium mining. Radioactive debris has rained down on the earth, been taken up in the bones and tissues of living creatures, carried in pregnancy, and poisoned those exposed, some quickly, some slowly, over time. The Marshall Islands, bombed repeatedly by the United States between 1948 and 1956 as an experimental test site, live with the “fallout,” the reverberating aftermath, of “nuclear colonialism.”91 Even after formal political independence, Nixon writes,
the island republic was still in part governed by an irradiated past: well into the 1980s its history of nuclear colonialism, long forgotten by the colonizers, was still delivering into the world “jellyfish babies”—headless, eyeless, limbless human infants who would live for just a few hours.92
“Fallout,” Masco argues, “is the unacknowledged until lived crisis built into the infrastructure of a program, project, or process.”93 The concept complicates apocalyptic time: “Fallout is therefore understood primarily retrospectively but lived in the future anterior—a form of history made visible in negative outcomes.”94 Fallout is already set in motion in the past, hence a form of history. Yet it does not become visible or manifest until after a hiatus, depending on this disavowal and deferral of its futures. It is socially uneven not universal, though its lines of political and ethical responsibility are obscured by the indirectness of the harm, emerging by way of infrastructures and environments not intentional action. Fallout is a nuclear metaphor extended to other forms of environmental contamination, first to pesticides in nonfiction writer Rachel Carson’s landmark Silent Spring, galvanizing an activist environmental movement when published in 1962, then to other persistent synthetic chemicals, and more recently to climate change and plastics.95 Belated repercussions are part of the complex earth systems and the atmospheric chemistry of the carbon dioxide emissions causing the emergent climate crisis. Already identified climate changes are due to emissions made in the past, yet since carbon dioxide molecules can be long-lived (ranging from mere decades to hundreds of years and longer), those past emissions will continue to create fallout for centuries to come, as will the emissions generated in the present.96
But the rhetorical appeal of an apocalyptic “end-time” has made it difficult to apprehend the multiple temporalities involved and the sociopolitical-technical-scientific regimes that produce them. As Fredric Jameson has quipped, “It seems easier for us today to imagine the thoroughgoing deterioration of the earth and of nature than the breakdown of late capitalism; perhaps that is due to some weakness in our imaginations.”97 Molly Wallace explains that “when what the Clock measures is no longer only nuclear, but also chemical, biological, and atmospheric, the speeds are varied and the ends less sure.”98 Figuring the threat as a single, global cataclysmic event makes ecological catastrophes that have happened appear insignificant, even less real, even those on the scale of the Bhopal industrial disaster, in which thousands died and half a million were maimed with permanent disabilities and chronic health problems.99 They become symbols, harbingers of the anticipated total event, which is perpetually projected into the future.
Nixon proposes the term “slow violence” as an analytical counterpoint to spectacle-based crisis discourse.100 Slow violence, he explains, is “a violence that occurs gradually and out of sight, a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space, an attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all.”101 Representational practices, social hierarchies, and social recognition are at the core of the concept: slow violence is a form of relational invisibility, in which certain forms of harm and those who experience and endure it are underestimated or simply do not register, socially, culturally or politically; they are instead treated as irrelevant, disposable, or forgettable. The nuclear colonialism that still reverberates through the Marshall Islands is one of Nixon’s examples; others include rural and indigenous communities displaced by megadam construction and oil extraction, and the lasting chronic health and reproductive problems from the industrial accident at Bhopal and the aerial defoliants the United States army sprayed in Vietnam during its war. Extreme international inequalities and a social hierarchy of disposability made it possible for the Vietnamese forests to be treated as experimental test sites, and for them to be subsequently forgotten by those in whose name the spraying was done, as if the period of harm ended when the bombs stopped falling even as it continued within the soil, within the water, within living bodies, within communities. The reverberating fallout of slow violence is not only biophysical, Nixon emphasizes, but social, cultural, and spiritual as well. The socioecological worlds in which communities have lived their histories, remember their pasts, narrate their stories, support their livelihoods, and shape their futures are undermined with ecological ruination, an exponential, multiplying ongoingness without the clear-cut beginnings and endings of spectacular events.
This violence is “slow” not for those who endure it but in contrast to spectacular, cinematic displays of violence as a fast, single event, with an end point and closure. Slow is in contrast to commemorative accounts of war, which tally casualties only to the moment when troops withdraw, but not the extended “long dyings” in Vietnam as the war’s aerial-sprayed forest defoliants continue to poison the soil, water, and bodily tissues.102 In the Global South, the prolonged and ambiguous temporalities of slow violence complicate the postcolonial condition, Nixon argues, “blurring the clean lines between defeat and victory, between colonial dispossession and official national self-determination.”103 Slow is in contrast to the fast pace of the capitalist race toward disposability, in which sea- or land-based livelihoods are upturned when resources are sold out from beneath them, often with legal and military support provided by central governments. Slow is the time good investigative journalism takes, the work of getting nonfictional stories right, hearing the testimonies from those who live distant from media-concentrated cities. Cultural workers, Nixon argues, have a crucial role to play in responding to slow violence: there is an urgent demand for more environmental storytelling from more places and from more voices, and for new ways of telling, visualizing, and circulating the environmental stories told, particularly in a context of corporate-captured digital and cinematic media that capitalize on spectacular violence.
Women and children are especially instrumentalized in apocalyptic and counter-apocalyptic visions, given the symbolic association of reproductive fertility with social and community reproduction from one generation to another. Feminist ecocritics have explored how a conservative “family values” discourse is frequently deployed in popular and consumer environmentalisms, framing environmental politics as “all about threats to the children and self-sacrifice for the sake of future generations.”104 The needs, desires, and voices of actual children, particularly children in poor families with insufficient access to healthy environments, food, child care, health care, and disability supports, are displaced and deferred in such discourses which are organized around a symbolic child figured as a sacred totem. It serves to depoliticize environmental relations as well as women’s lives and children’s lives, relegating them to privatized and domestic spheres in which household management and bodily control are paramount. And in a strange rhetorical inversion, “the environment” not destructive sociotechnical practices gets figured as the “threat” from which to be protected, in “a domestic morality tale of an unpredictable and threatening mutant nature in crisis that must be prohibited from entering the sacred home until it is appropriately purified.”105 In anti-abortion discourse, representations of wombs disembodied from actual pregnant women abound, so that women are reduced to passive “environments” that will either nourish or threaten the survival of sacralized fetuses, pictured as if autonomous persons—or, in the most extreme abstractions, as if “life”—because stripped of context.106
Futurity discourses are tightly attached to reproductive politics, as feminist, queer, and critical race theorists have long shown. Queer theorist Lee Edelman argues that the sacred figure of the child which dominates political discourse is foundationally heteronormative, a “reproductive futurism” that positions political subjects in a linear, teleological narrative in which the ultimate social good is the creation of more children to inherit the social order.107 Women are particularly targeted for subjection to this teleological imperative, but it organizes gender and sexual categories for all. Those who refuse it, Edelman proposes, are “queer”—subjects who perversely claim the pleasures of the moment, willing to beget “no future.”108 This might appear the epitome of anti-environmental politics, with Edelman’s embrace of the “death drive” a reprise of military strategies willing to risk nuclear annihilation to achieve competitive supremacy—though even those are absurdly recuperated by deference to some abstract future.109 But queer activists, writers, and artists do chafe against the subordination of our desires and pleasures to a defensive social order; apocalyptic environmental discourses that ignore pleasure in making mere “survival” the overarching imperative repeat dehumanizing development and humanitarian discourses that reduce human life to bodily needs. These have been roundly critiqued and rejected in the Global South for depoliticizing the political and economic relations that undermine quality of life for so many.110 To choose between immediate pleasure and the well-being of children and the children they may raise is, of course, a false and frighteningly limited binary opposition. Both are undermined by ecological ruination, though usually biopolitically distributed so that some lives and futures are undermined, even deemed better not to be lived, while others are supported to flourish.111 Environmental reproductive justice builds on the “reproductive justice” approach of Global South feminists and feminists of color, which rejects a narrowly individualized reproductive rights framework to insist on social and community supports, healthy environments, and political freedoms for sexual health, sexual freedom, family choice, fertility, child raising, and elder care.112 Environmental reproductive justice insists on politically just approaches to the ecological precarity in which desires, sexuality, fertility, family, and social ongoingness find form. One example is the climate justice movement, a coalition of low-lying island states, indigenous activists, housing advocates, youth, refugees, and urban residents, which politicizes the social inequalities of the climate crisis and exposes its corporate and political beneficiaries.113
Toxic Discourse, Risk Politics, Environmental Racism, Environmental Justice
An environmental justice analysis considers the social inequalities that drive and result from environmentally linked ill health and other kinds of diminished quality of life. A social movement of working class and racialized communities, and in some places an outgrowth of the African American civil rights movement, the environmental justice movement challenges and theorizes the social distribution of environmental benefits, risks, and hazards.114 The location of hazardous waste sites and industrial air pollution has been linked to racial discrimination, known as “environmental racism,” with racialized communities more likely to be closer to these undesirable environments and to experience the poor health effects.115 Resource extraction industries such as coal and other forms of mining and oil drilling, which disrupt subsistence livelihoods as well as bring chronic health ailments and contribute to climate change, are more often located and approved on the lands of indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities, or serve as a primary employment base for wage-dependent, working-class communities.116 The toxic contamination of food by pesticides and fungicides, to which consumer markets are so sensitive, expose workers in agricultural fields and chemical industries at much higher concentrations and frequency.117 The health effects of these exposures are often compounded by unequal distributions of access to other social and environmental services, including health care, housing, transportation, clean water, and sanitation. Poor housing brings environmental hazards such as lead, mold, or wood smoke exposure.118
Toxic discourse focuses on these chronic and delayed outcomes of environmental contamination, often politicized as injustices through “moral melodramas” that show beleaguered residents and workers pitted against more powerful corporate or government bureaucracies.119 Queer Chicana playwright Cherrie Moraga’s “Heroes and Saints,” first performed in 1992, dramatizes the California grape boycott led by farm workers over pesticide poisonings and cancers by figuring the afflicted as religious martyrs and the land as a wounded mother.120 Pollution is commonly represented as a moral transgression; indeed, Mary Douglas in Purity and Danger argues that pollution is a cultural category despite its apparently straightforward empirical basis. “Where there is dirt, there is system,” she writes. Always context-dependent, dirt or pollution is opposed to purity as “the rejected elements of an ordered system,” including ambiguities and anomalies.121 This always redoubled material-and-symbolic aspect of pollution is explored in nuanced ways in environmental justice literary and cultural production.
Popular genres including mystery and detective fiction enable authors to link environmental contamination or disruption to some form of social corruption, and to visualize the restoration of moral community by way of environmental stewardship. Barbara Neely’s African American maid-detective Blanche exposes institutional corruption, where the public health and legal rights of poor and black communities are not safeguarded while the rich buy themselves out of legal and social accountability. Her punning title Blanche Cleans Up, in which not just suspicious dead bodies but lead-contaminated water pipes show up, shows the intrepid maid doing the physical and moral cleaning up of environmental messes big and small left by negligent, privileged others.122 Literary author Thomas King, in his DreadfulWater detective series, tracks how indigenous resistance to environmental exploitation, such as mining, wilderness resorts, or water pollution, can get snared in long histories of economic disenfranchisement and law enforcement discrimination.123 In a variation on the genre, Helon Habila in Oil on Water sends two Nigerian investigative journalists into the murky waters and even murkier political economies of the Niger Delta, where they discover a nightmarish landscape of oil pipelines, gas flares, military lawlessness, displaced villagers, and environmental rebel propaganda, the moral righteousness accorded journalism becoming more convoluted and ambiguous with each difficult-to-follow turn in the river and the narrative.124
Groups of people, notably sexual, gender, and ethnic minorities, women, and other subordinated groups, also get treated as “pollution.” Anti-Asian “Yellow peril” discourses are one example, which Larissa Lai critically interweaves with water and soil contamination, climate change, securitized economic blocs, and reproductive technologies in the speculative fiction Salt Fish Girl.125 Environmental justice analysis examines the contexts and symbolic systems in which such discourses get mobilized, particularly long-standing associations between whiteness, heteronormativity, and pastoral appreciation of nature and wilderness.126 Anti-urban pollution discourses intersect with racialized characterizations of urban areas as degenerate spaces, “jungles,” or wastelands, which together make both the people and the ecologies appear to have less value than others, reinforcing public policies that provide them with poorer infrastructure, services, and protections.127 Parks and other conservation areas, which have historically been linked to aristocratic and colonial enterprises in Europe, the Americas, Australia, and Africa, tend to be imagined as white spaces, with people of color and gays and lesbians seeming to be “matter out of place.”128 David Hughes writes:
If North Americans and Australians used violence to empty their land, Euro-Africans had to imagine the natives away. In what I call the “imaginative project of colonization,” white writers, painters, photographers, and even farmers crafted an ideal of settler-as-nature-lover. Whiteness and conservation, in other words, coproduced each other.129
These imaginative projects do not correspond empirically with greater environmental protection; they are, rather, part of complex political ecologies with varying effects, entangling social power, economic relationships, landscapes, biologies, and identities over a range of spaces and times.
Contemporary literary treatments of environmental injustice share many similarities with 19th- and early 20th-century melodramatic exposés of the shameful working and living conditions of the poor. Yet the moral melodrama, sometimes disparaged for overly simplistic moral binaries that heroize the weak and demonize the powerful, does not easily accommodate some of the more ambivalent dimensions of environmental risk. While single-source industrial polluters, land barons, or grandiose government megadams can be singled out for targeted political critique, dispersed contaminants are hard to track and difficult to link causally to specific health outcomes, which may vary by individual, manifest over long periods of time, travel atmospherically or by water to distant places, interact with other chemicals, and have unknown or publicly non-disclosed biochemical pathways.130
Ulrich Beck discusses these social complications in his influential Risk Society, in which he argues that the social distribution of risks is a politics of knowledge, perception, and representation. He argues that 20th- and 21st-century hazards such as radioactivity, atmospheric pollution, and toxins are mediated through science and technology in a way that earlier forms of danger and hazard were not: they are largely inaccessible through sense perception and produced as side-effects of commercialized, science-based technological development. Knowledge about these risks is thus dependent on scientific training and apparatuses, politicizing the relationships among citizens, scientific experts, corporate powers, state regulators, and consumers. Moreover, the very process of knowledge production becomes politicized, as scientific research is associated with creating new risks. The neutrality or social detachment of science is undermined, even as scientific skills and knowledge become essential for identifying and responding to the accumulating risks. Finally, the production of risk knowledge is unusually “open to social definition and construction” due to the level of uncertainty that can be involved in anticipating and ascertaining causal relationships to specific health and environmental side-effects and their reliance on expert discourses.131 Risk, Beck emphasizes, is structured around possibility and probability: the likelihood of negative outcomes and how these will be socially legitimized, distributed, and otherwise managed. These scientific uncertainties and statistical risk calculations are strategically used by well-funded corporations to protect their market shares and to avoid legal responsibility, as has been documented with tobacco, asbestos, and fossil fuel emissions. But the implications of the politicization of technoscience are much broader, associated both with greater democratic accountability as well as with reactionary mobs, as has been seen with the rise in popular skepticism about vaccines.
The phenomenological relationship between body and world is ruptured with technoscientific risks. The mediation of scientific expertise and uncertainty in knowing one’s own body is parodied in Don DeLillo’s satire White Noise, but receives serious attention in a genre known as the toxic or, more broadly, “material memoir,” which “incorporates scientific and medical information in order to make sense of personal experience.”132 Science and the self are both destabilized in the process. Unlike science writing, which generally maintains the division between objective knowledge and subjective experience, the material memoir blurs the lines between them, exposing the ambivalent, complicated, personalized politics of biomedical-environmental knowledge, while showing subjective experience to be mediated through technoscience, with the highest of stakes resting on accurate diagnosis and treatment. Truth matters, yet slips through the fingers. Nonscientific voices can be delegitimized by experts, often exacerbated by existing social hierarchies of gender, class, and racialization. Personal memories and histories—the narratives through which a sense of self is crafted—are re-evaluated as possible signs of exposure, symptom, cause, blame, betrayal, or paranoia. The narrative control displayed by the autobiographical subject, who in the moment of narration appears in charge of her own story and self, sits in tension with the loss of control over body, environment, exposure, and history in the narrative told. Terry Tempest Williams’s memoir, Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, which interweaves grief for the birds flooded out with the rise of Utah’s Great Salt Lake with grief for the women of her family felled by breast cancer, makes the personal political in grappling with the secrecy surrounding how her community was downwind from United States government nuclear testing.133 Todd Haynes’s film Safe tests the line between psychosomatic and environmental illness, while Susanne Antonetta’s Body Toxic unfolds a history of infertility, personal drug use, immigrant dreams of land ownership, and a childhood on a toxic dump.134
Naturecultures, Situated Knowledges, Matters of Concern
A key trajectory of ecocritical theory is to reconcile the critique of scientific objectivity with the need for accurate, reliable knowledge. The concept of nature lies at the center of this discussion. While nature may seem, rather straightforwardly, to be the living world environmentalism seeks to protect, it is a concept on which hinge crucial and contested claims about ontology (the nature of something, such as assertions about human nature as an inherent, often determining set of shared qualities) and epistemology (how to know what is real, such as the scientific practices through which credible assertions can be made that the planetary climate is changing), claims whose modern authority has rested on positioning nature as a domain outside culture.135 As Raymond Williams notes in Keywords, “any full history of the uses of nature would be a history of a large part of human thought.”136 Much ecocritical research is invaluably directed at tracing the iterations of nature as encountered, imagined, designed, desired, mourned, mocked, and disavowed in different periods and places.137 This richly nuanced scholarship shows nature unequivocally as cultural: an always present dimension of human experience yet differing widely in meaning and experience historically and among different social groups. These “cultures of nature” matter for the aesthetic pleasures they bring as well as for what they reveal about cultural meanings and social norms, but also because they have significant socioecological effects in having made and remade the worlds we live in.138 From suburban lawn monocultures to mountain-top-removal coal mining, cultural ideas about what nature is and the values it holds are enacted on the ground every day—and in our bodies, in the oceans, and in the atmosphere, too.
Cultures of nature are immersed in relations of power. Yet the very concept of nature has made these power dynamics difficult to read, for nature seems to be self-evidently material, the stuff of the world itself. And even if its physical surfaces and forms can be changed to suit varying cultural desires, the underlying forces or laws would seem to be fixed outside human imagination or supernatural intention.139 They are real not imaginary. There are several theoretical knots and responses here, most of which begin but then diverge from historical materialist accounts of ideology. In Marxist analysis, ideology, which is the reigning common sense or set of social explanations, is an abstraction that emerges from and obscures the material relationships on which the social dominance of the capitalist class rests.140 These ideas appear to be autonomous—free from any particular social interests; simply, knowledge or morality or beauty—but, in fact, reflect and serve the dominant group’s material interests and social relationships. An example is the pastoral landscape ideal replicated throughout so many former British colonies, where lush green grass and evenly spaced trees epitomize natural beauty, even in desert and tropical ecologies. At the core of the analysis of ideology is a critique of the false sense of autonomy accorded politics, ideas, and other cultural artefacts—a function, Marx argued, of the commodity form itself. To be made exchangeable with other non-like things, a commodity is presented without the appearance of all the social relations—like the workers, the property and vagrancy laws, the land rents, and the wage structure—that made it possible to be produced and brought to market.141
Nature as ideology manifests in several distinct ways. In addition to how landscape forms reflect social classes, there are overlapping, though also at times contradictory, appeals to nature as a normative or moral good, either as an internal, given essence (“reveal one’s true nature,” “natural woman”) or as an external, given essence (“Nature knows best,” “natural food,” “unspoiled wilderness”), and appeals to nature as a neutral or amoral, purely material realm (“natural laws,” “natural selection”), given authority as what is “real” or “true.” Because all these uses gain their authority from an insistence on nature as originating autonomously from the social, the term “to naturalize” has been used broadly to describe ideological obfuscation, how an idea stripped of its enabling social relations is set up to reign over social life, laying down laws or norms that society—or a particular, subordinated group—should follow.142 Feminist, queer, critical race, and disability theorists have shown how ideologies of the “natural” and “unnatural” extensively shape hierarchical social categories and practices of gender, sexuality, race, and ability. These categories are described as “social constructions” specifically to name and foreground the implicit social relation and historical malleability in what appears to be natural, simply there in “the body” itself. Naming and historicizing the social construction of nature is a similarly useful analytical method, though it shares several pitfalls, including the risk of relativism in undercutting the basis on which truth-claims are made. There are additional complications, notably how “social construction” can seem to oppose the natural to the social, or the natural to the historical, casting nature out of analysis as if nothing but an ideological screen that makes what is changeable appear fixed, stable, or determining.143 If only the climate were stable! Social construction, when seeming to place all the agency on the side of the social, can repeat the appropriative dominance of nature by culture and assume everything is manipulatable in any way, discounting how physical properties matter in what bodies, objects, and worlds do.144 “New materialisms” respond by emphasizing the lively agency of matter.
The opposition of nature to culture is not simply a problem with social construction but a semiotic pattern that has structured Western thought. The cultural as the realm of reason, mind, art, freedom, and civilization is defined by its elevation over and transcendence of the natural as an unthinking, base realm of the body, necessity, primitive, enslaved, animal, and material.145 Each term functions as a paradigmatic substitution for the natural, and an implied binary opposite to the cultural. The significance of this structuralist analysis is that it makes any innocent use of the term “nature” suspect and untenable: nature is exposed as a cultural category, through and through. It is not an autonomous realm but signifies only within a social context through which it makes sense, or has meaning; this context includes its usually absented yet nevertheless implied binary opposition with culture, with its historically accumulated connotations about agency, power, superiority, and moral value distributed to those who count as “cultural” and denied those marked as “natural.” A problem with structuralist analysis is that these linguistic structures can be treated as if timeless, fixed, and all-encompassing; it also does not account for the agency or signifying capacity of what has been deemed “nature.”
Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto,” one of the most influential essays in feminism, environmental thought, and science studies, addresses these theoretical issues.146 In the essay, Haraway combines a poststructuralist critique of the nature–culture binary with historical materialist attention to how cultural-material forms change alongside shifting relations of production, which she radically expands beyond conventional economics, showing global communication circuits as biotechnologies, feminized and Asian factory work, and signifying machines. She provocatively argues for the abandonment of nature and women as pre-given categories for organizing political opposition to environmental destruction and social oppression, embracing instead a decidedly monstrous figure that blurs the lines between exploitation and liberation, technology and nature, imagination and reality: the cyborg, both organism and machine, both semiotic and material, never simply human nor robotic nor science fiction. As critical reception of the cyborg figure tended toward techno-triumphalism, neglecting its embodied, biological qualities and ecological contexts, Haraway later proposed another trickster figure—the companion species—and adopted Bruno Latour’s portmanteau “naturecultures” to show entanglement as prior to autonomized subjects, objects, and their binary opposition.147
“Naturecultures” are a provocation to humanities scholarship that would ignore human embodiment in a relational world of lively others, but also a provocation to the biological sciences. As Haraway argues in Primate Visions:
Any scientific statement about the world depends intimately upon language, upon metaphor. The metaphors may be mathematical or they may be culinary; in any case, they structure scientific vision. Scientific practice is above all a story-telling practice in the sense of historically specific practices of interpretation and testimony.148
“Biology is a discourse,” Haraway writes, “not the living world itself.”149 Recognizing biology as a form of discourse—a power-effect of a system of meaning and knowledge that produces its objects of study—has especially mattered for feminist thinkers, who have exposed the implicit sexism undergirding so many scientific descriptions of biological fact, such as reproductive processes depicted with plucky sperm battling their male competition as they swim toward a passively waiting egg.150 But to take scientific knowledge of nature as a cultural practice contradicts the realist epistemology that enables empirical science to make reliable, repeatable assertions about what is real and true—knowledge that feminist and environmentalist thinkers and activists need as much as everyone else. Feminist philosophers countered with “standpoint epistemology” or “situated knowledges,” empirical methods that acknowledge the sociohistorical conditions of its production, including gendering the invisibilized scientist, whose social identity is usually considered irrelevant to truth-claims when he is performing the role of “modest witness” to nature.151 Self-reflexively situating knowledge, however, became at times the end point of analysis, as if truth-claims could be read from identity—the very starting point that feminist theory was positioned against.152 The critical task is how to do better science.
Latour points out that the science-politics opposition is, not coincidentally, another iteration of the nature–culture binary: a categorical distinction between the social world of politics and language (culture) and the scientific world of the real (nature).153 Historians of science have historicized this opposition, showing the processes by which it came to be accepted as the decisive break between the modern and the traditional, between empirical knowledge and supernatural explanation. And as a historical process, empiricism emerges through politics; in other words, the “purification” of science from its social contaminants is itself a political-material-representational act.154 In We Have Never Been Modern, Latour argues that empirical truth-claims are not irrevocably undermined when their social and representational dimensions remain visible, despite the quintessentially “modern” belief that they will be. Rather, they become more robust because the processes, instruments, and collective work involved in sorting out the relevant from the irrelevant becomes public. Making knowledge settle into a “matter of fact,” Latour argues, is a perpetual process involving interacting actants (some human, many not) in extended networks, not a one-time historical revelation.
Environmental politics are at the heart of Latour’s analysis for they dramatically confound the “modern” settlement that cleanly separates science from society. Latour recounts:
The ozone hole is too social and too narrated to be truly natural; the strategy of industrial firms and heads of state is too full of chemical reactions to be reduced to power and interest; the discourse of the ecosphere is too real and too social to boil down to meaning effects.155
Describing such entanglements as networks, assemblages, or, even messier, as “imbroglios,” Latour insists they are “simultaneously real, like nature, narrated, like discourse, and collective, like society.”156 Nor do they have clear boundaries, like “objects” do. Asbestos, Latour describes, was once an object, “an ideal, inert material,” installed matter-of-factly as a fire barrier in 20th-century buildings, but that was “before the public health consequences of its diffusion were finally attributed to it, before asbestos and its inventors, proponents, and inspectors were called into question.”157 The ecological “crisis” is the proliferation of these messy “matters of concern,” not yet stabilized into clear domains of real or imagined threat, not yet accepted as the sole responsibility of scientists or politicians, not yet tidily contained to laboratories or books.158
Popular environmentalism, Latour argues, has often missed how science-as-practice works, taking as an ecological axiom that “everything is connected” while the practice involves painstakingly sorting out connections and distinctions with interpretive instruments like metaphors and line-intersect sampling and petri dishes.159 The connections are historical; they cannot be known in advance and settled once and for all. Capital-S Science claims authority through an epistemology that denies its sociality; the more modest, plural sciences, by contrast, cannot separate their knowledge claims from the apparatuses and disciplines through which they are identified:
As soon as we add to dinosaurs their palaeontologists, to particles their accelerators, to ecosystems their monitoring instruments … we have already ceased entirely to speak of nature; instead, we are speaking of what is produced, constructed, decided, defined.160
And science is not a matter of faith—in which one believes or not—but networked, interpretive communities dynamically forming through material acts of testing and trusting others.
Planetary Thinking, Petrocultures, Anthroposcenes
The new materialisms of lively, collective actors nevertheless have a fraught relationship with what becomes, by default, the “old” materialism—historical materialism—because some versions give little attention to social relations of power or to how capitalism as a political-economic-ecological assemblage dramatically rearranges material worlds. The significance of capitalism is at the heart of debates over how to theorize the scales of ecological change; capitalism is also central to an affective turn in ecocriticism that considers the deep attachments people have not to nature but to particular “naturecultures,” such as “petrocultures,” the cultural formations structurally organized around cheap oil, bringing, to some, the pleasures of speed and convenience, well-paid work, aspirational identities, modern consumerism, and cultural life itself. The problem, Stephanie LeMenager explains, is not detachment or distance but proximity: “The petroleum infrastructure has become embodied memory and habitus for modern humans, insofar as everyday events such as driving or feeling the summer heat of asphalt on the soles of one’s feet are incorporating practices.”161 She uses the term “petromelancholia” to describe a lasting, perhaps debilitating, emotional investment in the promise of modernity, noting that ecological collapse can prompt nostalgia for oil-based infrastructure: “the stories that [Hurricane] Katrina and the BP [off-shore oil well] blowout produce tend to imagine modern infrastructure failure as tantamount to human species extinction. It is as if our species might be unthinkable without these increasingly obsolescent objects.”162 Literary studies and other aesthetic fields have barely begun to grapple with the implications of this deep embeddedness in oil. “Liveliness, as in seeming to be alive, now relies heavily upon oil,” LeMenager argues: “oil itself is a medium that fundamentally supports all modern media forms concerned with what counts as culture—from film to recorded music, novels, magazines, photographs, sports, and the wikis, blogs, and videography of the Internet.”163
Novelist Amitav Ghosh, in his essay “Petrofiction,” widely credited as the progenitor of the critical field, notes the thematic absence of oil from 20th-century fiction even as the stories it tells (not to mention the whole realm of book publishing, distribution, and marketing) are utterly dependent on the ubiquity of this energy source, only belatedly coming into cultural awareness because of the climate crisis generated by its fossil fuel emissions.164 Ghosh suggests that this absent-presence of oil is a historically materialist phenomenon, not a simple matter of cultural blindness: oil extraction is geographically and socially isolated, not requiring the large, on-site labor force of coal mining, around which working-class communities, cultures, and identities formed, and economically controlled by the oil-monarchies of the Middle East, where social dissent is suppressed. LeMenager similarly proposes a literary and new materialist variation on the critical method of “commodity regionalism,” attending to where oil matters and the sticky attachments formed through it, arguing that “the transnational, as the fundamental if elusive space of economic globalization, tends to be most visible in regional sites of capital production and transshipment.”165
A counterposing tendency can be found in the embrace of the term “Anthropocene” to designate an epochal break on a geological timescale due to planetary-scale, human-marked interventions in earth processes, which can be identified in long-enduring sediment layers. Although criticized for presenting the “anthropos,” or human, as if a singular or universal subject position, the concept has been taken up by literary and humanities scholars for its estranging effects, the way that the human can no longer be accounted for through a history of ideas or culture or power but through uncanny “scale effects” impossible to know at the level of phenomenological experience or explain and manage according to intentionality or reason.166 “To call human beings geological agents,” Dipesh Chakrabarty argues,
is to scale up our imagination of the human. Humans are biological agents, both collectively and as individuals. They have always been so. There was no point in human history when humans were not biological agents. But we can become geological agents only historically and collectively, that is, when we have reached numbers and invented technologies that are on a scale large enough to have an impact on the planet itself.167
These scalar constructions—dynamically spatial and temporal—cannot be experienced as such. Moreover, as Chakrabarty warns, they blot from view the nuanced particularities that historicist analysis is anchored to.
The Anthropocene has prompted ecocritical studies to new engagements with the past. The lively agency of ancient fossil fuels in present-day atmospheric cycles has turned attention to “deep time,” partial, uncanny encounters with geological traces that long precede human cultural records.168 Timothy Clark draws on J. Hillis Miller’s deconstructionist notion of “anachrony” to describe an emergent ecocritical reading strategy, wherein texts and traces become “readable … in times and ways that are not those of their own day”:
Rigby reads a poem by the Australian poet Judith Wright, “Dust,” written during a drought-ridden summer of 1942–3, as a form of what Rigby calls “prophetic witness.” Images of desiccation, recalling prophetic books in the Old Testament, cannot but suggest forms of human wrong-doing and responsibility, obscure retributions, the protest of the Earth, yet now in ways little envisaged in the 1940s.169
The Anthropocene concept, however, is widely criticized for obscuring political analysis of the role of capitalism in mobilizing fossil fuels in the drive for cheap energy. A slew of punning, alternate terms circulate. “Capitalocene,” Jason Moore argues, more appropriately “signifies capitalism as a way of organizing nature … and captures the basic historical pattern of modern world history as the ‘Age of Capital’—and the era of capitalism as a world-ecology of power, capital, and nature.”170 A variation, “Plantationocene,” emphasizes that this historical turning point begins with the multispecies slave plantation system that spatially transported, enclosed, and simplified workers, work, plants, and soil to maximize labor productivity while minimizing capital outputs, a model exported and replicated to this day.171 “Anthr(ob)scene” needs little explanation. The plethora of Anthropocene humanities scholarship, moreover, shows the concept is not entirely incompatible with historical materialist analysis. The term “Anthroposcenes” is used to describe an analytical method focusing on historicized, localized emergences.172 These “scenes” can be places but also the cultural hubs around which different groups of critics productively gather. Meanwhile, a fantastically autonomous “nature” still circulates as a commodity form and spectacle animating digital, film, and television screens as well as many other consumer products and experiences.
Review of the Literature
Two early foundational texts of ecocritical theory are Jonathan Bate’s Romantic Ecology: Wordsworth and the Environmental Tradition and Lawrence Buell’s The Environmental Imagination.173 Both insist that the exigencies of environmental loss and degradation call for a correction to prevailing approaches in literary theory that emphasize textuality over referentiality. Buell argues that much literary criticism ignored or neglected nature, taking it as frame or background to the seemingly “real” drama of human lives; by contrast, he argues, nonfictional environmental prose, such as the work of canonical American writer Henry David Thoreau, attended to the environment in itself and for itself. Bate, working within British Romanticism, makes a similar argument that historicist approaches to reading literature displace and undermine engagement with nature itself, instead taking nature as an ideological cloak for social ideas. Kate Soper in What Is Nature? summarizes these as “nature-endorsing” versus “nature-skeptical” positions and avers that both have merit.174 Nature-endorsing arguments emphasize the “realness” of the physical world we inhabit; nature-skeptical arguments emphasize how historically situated, cultural connotations of “nature” mediate access to what is taken as “real.”175 Nature-skepticism is important because the concept of nature has historically been used to explain and justify social inequalities, hierarchies, and acts of violence toward racialized, colonized, sexualized, and gendered people as well as toward animals.176 The influential collection Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, which includes editor William Cronon’s foundational essay “The Trouble with Wilderness,” presents a highly accessible engagement with the social construction of nature through historicized readings of cultural narratives as well as objects and practices.177
Stacy Alaimo’s Undomesticated Ground presents a specifically feminist iteration of the essentialism versus social constructionism debate, arguing that American women’s writing in the 20th century articulated feminist and environmentalist perspectives through a range of representations of nature, while feminist theory tended to adopt a “flight from nature” in critiquing the naturalization of gender norms.178 Earlier feminist approaches to environmental thought examined how the domination and exploitation of nature and women were historically interconnected, notably Val Plumwood’s Feminism and the Mastery of Nature and Carolyn Merchant’s influential The Death of Nature on how the 16th- and 17th-century rise of empirical science posited nature as a “dead” and passive material in place of a mythical “living female earth.”179 Sylvia Bowerbank’s Speaking for Nature: Women and Ecologies of Early Modern England examines the literature written by women during this period to uncover a dazzling array of contributions, responses, speculative fabulations, and alternatives to the changing forms of science, nature, and writing, complicating generalizations about the shared oppression of women and nature.180 Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands and Bruce Erickson’s Queer Ecologies presents a theoretically nuanced introduction to the intersections of sex and nature from a queer perspective, including a genealogy of the multiple ways queerness has been read in relation to sex and reproduction in evolutionary science.181 The strong feminist basis of the scholarship in science studies, namely Donna Haraway’s Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science; Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature; and The Companion Species Manifesto, has placed the politics, practices, and epistemologies of technosciences at the heart of feminist ecocriticism and elaborated a posthumanist account of nature and science that theorizes “co-production” and “natureculture” assemblages rather than a “social construction” that seems to place all the agency on the human and embodiment within nature.182
Richard Grove’s Green Imperialism firmly places the origins of conservation and environmental thought within the ecological contexts of colonial expansion, and, along with Mary Louise Pratt’s Imperial Eyes, establishes the postcolonial lineage within ecocriticism.183 Theorizing environmental aesthetics and representation within an appreciation of the uneven global relations and colonial legacies of environmental degradation, risk, waste, resource extraction, and land dispossession is at the core of Rob Nixon’s landmark book Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, and other key postcolonial-inflected studies, especially Susie O’Brien’s “Articulating a World of Difference”; Elizabeth DeLoughrey, Renée Gosson, and George Handley’s Caribbean Literature and the Environment; Elizabeth DeLoughrey and George Handley’s Postcolonial Ecologies; Byron Caminero-Santangelo and Garth Myers’s Environment at the Margins; and Cajetan Iheka’s Naturalizing Africa.184 These works adopt but also adapt and challenge anti-colonial and postcolonial frameworks, making colonial and anti-colonial politics of land and resources foundational for understanding environmental issues but also arguing that, ecologically and ethically, land is more than a contested territory or symbol—a theoretical position elaborated in indigenous theorist Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s As We Have Always Done.185 Graham Huggan and Helen Tiffin’s Postcolonial Ecocriticism is a student-accessible introductory text.186 Joni Adamson, Mei Mei Evans, and Rachel Stein’s Environmental Justice Reader and Rachel Stein’s New Perspectives on Environmental Justice make the social movements of racialized and working-class people the center of ecocritical analysis and show how environmental justice criticism disrupts ecocritical approaches focused on the British and American canons, non-urban environments, and on decentering the human subject, as if the human were not a category of differentiation and inequality.187
Timothy Morton, in Ecology without Nature, presents a Derridean critique of Buell’s turn to mimesis, arguing its aesthetics rest upon and re-enact the subject–object and foreground–background distinctions supposedly being blurred in ecomimesis.188 Morton embraces an aesthetics of estrangement instead of re-enchantment, an orientation prominent among theorists of experimental and avant-garde ecopoetics, notably Joshua Schuster’s The Ecology of Modernism, Lynn Keller’s Recomposing Ecopoetics, and Angela Hume and Gillian Osborne’s edited collection Ecopoetics: Essays in the Field.189 Kate Rigby, by contrast, argues for and marks the limits of place-based, phenomenological experience as ecopoiesis in her foundational essay “Earth, World, Text.”190 Ursula Heise’s Sense of Place and Sense of Planet, Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects, and Timothy Clark’s Ecocriticism on the Edge are the significant theoretical responses, the latter two emphasizing the vast and estranging temporal and spatial scales and hybrid human–nonhuman assemblages of the present-day climate and ecological emergencies, which explode the viability of humanist literary frameworks in the Anthropocene.191 David Farrier’s Anthropocene Poetics considers lyrical, open-field, and avant-garde poetics amidst the uncanny scalar frames and plastic materials of planetary and geological “deep time.”192 Adeline Johns-Putra’s Climate Change and the Contemporary Novel, however, makes the case for humanistic reading methods that consider the emotional engagement of readers within fictional narrative worlds.193
Cultural studies approaches to environmental theory are another distinct lineage within ecocriticism. These consider how environments and nature discourses are part of the material culture made and remade within capitalist and other hegemonic social formations. Alexander Wilson’s The Culture of Nature: North American Landscape from Disney to the Exxon Valdez examines how scenic highways, nature television, suburban housing developments, and theme parks became dominant in North American landscapes during the postwar economic boom as cheaply available fertilizers and petrochemicals enabled both the decentralization of industrial production and the emergence of popular, consumer-based forms of housing and recreation.194 The prominence of sentimental and pastoral representations of nature and animals in scenic vistas, lawns, and television programming shows them less as anti-modern or counter-hegemonic environmentalisms and more as products of the social organization of capital, work, materials, and desires. Andrew Ross’s essay “The Ecology of Images” is significant in arguing for an ecological materialism within historical materialist analysis, suggesting representations of ecology be situated within an analysis of the ecological impacts of the image industry, from production through distribution and consumption.195 Adrian Ivakhiv’s Ecologies of the Moving Image adds a phenomenologically based, process-relational approach to cinema as world-making to Ross’s twofold framework of images of ecology and the ecology of images.196
A significant line of historical materialist analysis focuses on petrocultures, theorizing how the industrial extraction and burning of oil and other is the long-unnamed material premise (and climate-changing disruption) of cultural and political life in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The field begins with Amitav Ghosh’s essay “Petrofiction,” on the absence of literature exploring the “oil encounter”—unlike the profusion of literature engaging with other grand colonial-economic transformations.197 Other significant theoretical contributions are Dipesh Chakrabarty’s essay “The Climate of History,” on how the liberal tradition and anti-colonial politics alike are premised on fossil fuels, and Stephanie LeMenager’s Living Oil, which theorizes melancholic attachments to the modernity made possible by oil amidst the transition away from a fossil-fueled economy.198 The gap between experiential and folk understandings of weather and the technoscientific expertise involved in meteorological forecasting and global warming science is the focus of “The Drought This Time,” where Andrew Ross discusses how these highly mediated forms of environmental simulation set audiences up as weather tourists, alienated from the weather around them.199 A semiotic approach to risk and expertise is presented in Peter van Wyck’s Signs of Danger and Molly Wallace’s Risk Criticism, while a Debordian analysis of spectacle, in which a highly mediated object world appears more lively and charismatic than the lived world, frames Scott Kirsch’s “Watching the Bombs Go Off: Photography, Nuclear Landscapes, and Spectator Democracy” and Joseph Masco’s analysis of nuclear apocalypticism and fallout discourse in The Nuclear Borderlands.200 Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s Friction theorizes resource spectacle as a charismatic strategy within transnational capitalism, an analysis extended to the entanglements of celebrity culture, neoliberalism, and conservation narratives in Bram Büscher, Wolfram Dressler, and Robert Fletcher’s Nature™ Inc: Environmental Conservation in the Neoliberal Age.201
Multispecies ecocriticism emerges theoretically from environmental and posthumanist critiques of the illusory autonomy accorded the human self and body, with a germinal text being Haraway’s When Species Meet, which theorizes species’ co-evolution and social relations from the figure of the animal companion.202 In animal studies criticism, Cary Wolfe’s Zoontologies gathers Derrida’s and other poststructuralist essays on the semiotic figuration of the animal beyond a binary Other, while John Berger’s classic essay “Why Look at Animals?” and Erica Fudge’s Renaissance Beasts and Brutal Reasoning present historicist readings.203 The animal–human relationship, so prominent in literature and visual arts, has been criticized by Myra Hird, in The Origins of Sociable Life, as “zoocentric,” missing the wider variety of life forms and their indifference to humans; she and others argue it is not an adequate model for theorizing other multispecies entanglements, such as with bacteria.204 Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World brings a multispecies approach to historical materialism by attending to pine tree–matsutake mushroom collaborative agency across forest, commodity, and refugee histories.205
The supposed passivity and muteness of plants is reconsidered in critical plant studies, notably Randy Laist’s Plants and Literature and Michael Marder’s Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life, a shift within the longer-standing field of plant humanities, which engages more broadly with histories and literatures of botany and landscape, often colonial and global.206 Ann Shteir’s Cultivating Women, Cultivating Science is a foundational feminist contribution to plant humanities, tracing the interrelated feminization of flowers and women within a historicized account of 18th-century botanical societies, science, and domesticity.207 The blue humanities range from Philip Steinberg’s The Social Construction of the Ocean and Steve Mentz’s Shipwreck Modernity, which theorize the social and cultural basis of understandings of the ocean and sea alongside their pivotal role within the unfolding of modern practices of risk and uncertainty and colonial expansion, to Stacy Alaimo’s Exposed, a critical examination of representations of oceanic life, to the oceanic imaginaries developed by Caribbean, Black Atlantic, and Pacific Islander theorists and writers, such as Epeli Hau’ofa’s We Are the Ocean.208 Pacific Island frameworks are discussed in Teresa Shewry’s Hope at Sea and Elizabeth DeLoughrey’s “Oceanic Futures,” which trace the violent nuclear, slaughter, and extraction histories and utopian figurations that have reshaped oceanic livelihoods and cultures.209
- Clark, Timothy. “The Deconstructive Turn in Environmental Criticism.” Symplokē 21, no. 1–2 (2013): 11–26.
- Cronon, William, ed. Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1996.
- Derrida, Jacques. “The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow).” Translated by David Wills. Critical Inquiry 28, no. 2 (2002): 369–418.
- Farrier, David. Anthropocene Poetics: Deep Time, Sacrifice Zones, and Extinction. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2019.
- Haraway, Donna. Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science. New York: Routledge, 1989.
- LeMenager, Stephanie. Living Oil: Petroleum Culture in the American Century. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.
- Mortimer-Sandilands, Catriona, and Bruce Erickson, eds. Queer Ecologies: Sex, Nature, Politics, Desire. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010.
- Morton, Timothy. Ecology without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.
- Nixon, Rob. Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011.
- Plumwood, Val. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. London: Routledge, 1993.
- Pratt, Mary Louise. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. London: Routledge, 1991.
- Rigby, Kate. “Earth, World, Text: The (Im)Possibility of Ecopoeiesis.” New Literary History 35, no. 3, (Summer 2004): 427–442.
- Watson, Robert N. Back to Nature: The Green and the Real in the Late Renaissance. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011.
- Williams, Raymond. The Country and the City. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973.
1. Stephanie LeMenager, Living Oil: Petroleum Culture in the American Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014); Audre Lorde, The Cancer Journals (Argyle, NY: Spinsters Ink, 1980); Ana Castillo, So Far from God (New York: W. W. Norton, 1992); Marie Clements, Burning Vision (Vancouver, BC: Talonbooks, 2003); Don McKay, Vis à Vis: Field Notes on Poetry and Wilderness (Wolfville, NS: Gaspereau Press, 2001); Travis Mason, Ornithologies of Desire: Ecocritical Essays, Avian Poetics, and Don McKay (Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2013); and Trevor Herriot, Grass, Sky, Song: Promise and Peril in the World of Grassland Birds (New York: HarperCollins, 2012).
2. Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm, The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1996).
3. Sylvia Bowerbank, Speaking for Nature: Women and Ecologies of Early Modern England (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004); Robert N. Watson, Back to Nature: The Green and the Real in the Late Renaissance (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011); Steve Mentz, Shipwreck Modernity: Ecologies of Globalization, 1550–1719 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015); Erica Fudge, Brutal Reasoning: Animals, Rationality, and Humanity in Early Modern England (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006); and Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert, “Extinctions: Chronicles of Vanishing Fauna in the Colonial and Postcolonial Caribbean,” in Oxford Handbook of Ecocriticism, ed. Greg Garrard (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 341–357.
4. David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (New York: Random House, 1996); Jonathan Bate, Romantic Ecology: Wordsworth and the Environmental Tradition (London: Routledge, 1991); Kate Rigby, “Ecstatic Dwelling: Perspectives on Place in European Romanticism,” Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities 9, no. 2 (August 2004): 117–143; Timothy Morton, Ecology without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007); Kevin Hutchings, Imagining Nature: Blake’s Environmental Poetics (Kingston, ON: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2003); Kevin Hutchings, Romantic Ecologies and Colonial Cultures in the British Atlantic World, 1770–1850 (Kingston, ON: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009); and Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016).
5. William Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature,” in Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, ed. William Cronon (New York: W. W. Norton, 1996), 69–90; Carol J. Adams, The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory (New York: Continuum, 1991); Greta Gaard and Patrick D. Murphy, eds., Ecofeminist Literary Criticism: Theory, Interpretation, Pedagogy (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998); Joni Adamson, Mei Mei Evans, and Rachel Stein, eds., The Environmental Justice Reader: Politics, Poetics, and Pedagogy (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2002); Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011); and Molly Wallace, Risk Criticism: Precautionary Reading in an Age of Environmental Uncertainty (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2016).
6. For a short summary of the history of the term “environment,” see Sverker Sörlin, “Environment,” in Companion to Environmental Studies, ed. Noel Castree, Mike Hulme, and James D. Proctor (London and New York: Routledge, 2018), 27–31; for a longer treatment, see Paul Warde, Libby Robin, and Sverker Sörlin, The Environment: A History of the Idea (Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 2018).
7. Don McKay, “Song for the Song of the White-Throated Sparrow,” in Another Gravity, ed. Don McKay (Toronto, ON: McClelland & Stewart, 2000), 33; and Arundhati Roy, The Cost of Living (New York: Modern Library, 1999).
8. Rob Nixon, “The Anthropocene: The Promise and Pitfalls of an Epochal Idea,” in Future Remains: A Cabinet of Curiosities for the Anthropocene, ed. Gregg Mitman, Marco Armiero, and Robert Emmett (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2018), 1–18; Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History: Four Theses,” Critical Inquiry 35, no. 2 (January 1, 2009): 206–207.
9. Donna J. Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991); Sylvia Wynter, “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation—An Argument,” CR: The New Centennial Review 3, no. 3 (2003): 257–337.
10. Wynter, “Unsetting the Coloniality”; Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution (San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins, 1980); and Val Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature (London: Routledge, 1993).
11. Wynter, “Unsetting the Coloniality”; Jason Moore, Capitalism in the Web of Life (London: Verso, 2015); and Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch (New York: Autonomedia, 2004).
13. Kate Rigby, “Earth, World, Text: The (Im)Possibility of Ecopoeiesis,” New Literary History 35, no. 3, (Summer 2004): 427–442. For an overview, see Timothy Clark, “Phenomenology,” in Garrard, Oxford Handbook of Ecocriticism, 276–290.
14. Trevor Norris, “Martin Heidegger, D. H. Lawrence, and Poetic Attention to Being,” in Ecocritical Theory: New European Approaches, ed. Axel Goodbody and Kate Rigby (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011), 113.
16. See McKay, Vis à Vis; Louise Westling, “Merleau-Ponty’s Ecophenomenology,” in Goodbody and Rigby, Ecocritical Theory, 126–138.
20. Heidegger, “Question Concerning Technology,” 320.
21. Horkheimer and Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment; Merchant, Death of Nature.
22. Heidegger, “Question Concerning Technology,” 340.
23. Bate, Romantic Ecology; McKay, Vis à Vis.
24. Charles Olsen, Additional Prose: A Bibliography on America, Proprioception & Other Notes & Essays, ed. George F. Butterick (Bolinas, CA: Four Seasons Foundation, 1974); and Harriet Tarlo, ed., The Ground Aslant—Radical Landscape Poetry (Exeter, UK: Shearsman Books, 2011).
25. Lynn Keller, Recomposing Ecopoetics: North American Poetry of the Self-Conscious Anthropocene (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2018); and Angela Hume and Gillian Osborne, eds., Ecopoetics: Essays in the Field (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2018).
27. Lisa Robertson and Office for Soft Architecture, Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture (Toronto, ON: Coach House Books, 2006); Lisa Robertson, The Weather (Vancouver, BC: New Star Books, 2001); and Sina Queyras, Expressway (Toronto, ON: Coach House Books, 2009).
28. Tim Ingold, Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description (London: Routledge, 2011), 112–113.
29. Ingold, Being Alive, 12, 83.
30. Haraway, When Species Meet, 11; and Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature; Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women.
31. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987); Édouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation, trans. Betsy Wing (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997), 143–144; Liisa Malkki, “National Geographic: The Rooting of Peoples and the Territorialization of National Identity among Scholars and Refugees,” Cultural Anthropology 7, no. 1 (February 1992): 24–44.
33. Malkki, “National Geographic,” 33.
36. Appadurai, “Putting Hierarchy in Its Place,” 37; Malkki, “National Geographic,” 29.
37. Johannes Fabian, Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983); Terry Goldie, Fear and Temptation: The Image of the Indigene in Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand Literature (Kingston, ON: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1989); and Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Second Edition (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009).
38. Philippe Descola, In the Society of Nature: A Native Ecology in Amazonia (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996); and Achille Mbembe, On the Postcolony (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001).
40. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Press, 1963); Mbembe, On the Postcolony; Coulthard, Red Skin, White Masks; and Federici, Caliban and the Witch.
41. Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth; Mbembe, On the Postcolony; Wynter, “Unsetting the Coloniality”; Coulthard, Red Skin, White Masks.
42. Coulthard, Red Skin, White Masks; Tsing, Friction; Moore, Capitalism in the Web of Life; and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017).
43. Tsing, Friction, 28.
44. Annette Kolodny, The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters (Chapel Hill: North Carolina Press, 1975); Tsing, Friction, 28–29; and Coulthard, Red Skin, White Masks, 100.
45. Cronon, “Trouble with Wilderness,” 69–90.
46. Cronon, “Trouble with Wilderness”; Jane Carruthers, The Kruger National Park: A Social and Political History (Pietermaritzburg, South Africa: University of Natal Press, 1995); and Dan Brockington, Fortress Conservation: The Preservation of the Mkomazi Game Reserve, Tanzania (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002); Simpson, As We Have Always Done.
47. Simpson, As We Have Always Done.
48. Nixon, Slow Violence, 19.
49. Nixon, Slow Violence; Simpson, As We Have Always Done; and Elizabeth A. Povinelli, Economies of Abandonment: Social Belonging and Endurance in Late Liberalism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011).
53. Buchanan, Onto-Ethologies, 175.
54. Evernden, Natural Alien, 80–81.
55. Buchanan, Onto-Ethologies, 175.
56. Buchanan, Onto-Ethologies, 187.
57. Evernden, Natural Alien.
60. Haraway, When Species Meet, 375, n. 55; Vinciane Despret, What Would Animals Say If We Asked the Right Questions? (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016).
61. Haraway, When Species Meet, 242.
62. Despret, What Would Animals Say; Donna J. Haraway, The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness (Chicago, IL: Prickly Paradigm, 2003); and Jody Berland, Virtual Menageries: Animals as Mediators in Network Cultures (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2019).
63. Haraway, Companion Species; Donna Haraway, Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science (New York: Routledge, 1989).
64. Haraway, Primate Visions; Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women.
66. Derrida, “The Animal That Therefore I Am,” 392, 400.
67. Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985).
68. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature; Kay Anderson, Race and the Crisis of Humanism (London: Routledge, 2007).
69. Anderson, Race and the Crisis of Humanism; Wynter, “Unsetting the Coloniality”; and Claire Jean Kim, Dangerous Crossings (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015).
70. Adams, Sexual Politics of Meat, 40.
71. Adams, Sexual Politics of Meat, 42.
72. Adams, Sexual Politics of Meat, 43.
73. Stacy Alaimo, Undomesticated Ground: Recasting Nature as Feminist Space (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000); Kim, Dangerous Crossings; and Lindgren Johnson, Race Matters, Animal Matters: Fugitive Humanism in African America, 1840–1930 (New York: Routledge, 2018).
76. Haraway, When Species Meet, 69–93.
77. Haraway, When Species Meet, 22–29.
78. John Berger, “Why Look at Animals?,” in Berger, About Looking (London: Pantheon, 1980), 1–26; Alexander Wilson, The Culture of Nature: North American Landscape from Disney to the Exxon Valdez (Toronto, ON: Between the Lines, 1991); and Susan Davis, “Touch the Magic,” in Cronon, Uncommon Ground, 204–217; Berland, Virtual Menageries.
79. Deborah Bird Rose and Thom van Dooren, “Introduction: Unloved Others—Death of the Disregarded in the Time of Extinctions,” Australian Humanities Review 50 (May 2011): 1–4; and Stacy Alaimo, Exposed: Environmental Politics and Pleasures in Posthuman Times (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016).
80. Randy Laist, ed., Plants and Literature: Essays in Critical Plant Studies (Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2013); Myra Hird, The Origins of Sociable Life: Evolution after Science Studies (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009); Nigel Clark, Inhuman Nature: Sociable Life on a Dynamic Planet (London: Sage, 2011); Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015); and Alaimo, Exposed.
82. Tsing, Mushroom at the End of the World, 14.
83. Tsing, Mushroom at the End of the World, 22.
84. Ann B. Shteir, Cultivating Women, Cultivating Science: Flora’s Daughters and Botany in England, 1760 to 1860 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999); and Laist, ed., Plants and Literature; Michael Marder, Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013).
85. Molly Wallace, “Will the Apocalypse Have Been Now? Literary Criticism in an Age of Global Risk,” in Criticism, Crisis, and Contemporary Narrative: Textual Horizons in an Age of Global Risk, ed. Paul Crosthwaite (New York: Routledge, 2011), 15–30.
86. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, “FAQ,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (website), 2020.
88. Joseph Masco, “A Notebook on Desert Modernism: From the Nevada Test Site to Liberace’s Two-Hundred-Pound Suit,” in Histories of the Future, ed. Daniel Rosenberg and Susan Harding (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009), 27.
90. Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake (New York: Random House, 2003); Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood (New York: Anchor Books, 2010); and Margaret Atwood, MaddAddam (New York: Anchor Books, 2014).
91. Joseph Masco, “Terraforming Planet Earth,” in Global Ecologies and the Environmental Humanities: Postcolonial Approaches, ed. Elizabeth DeLoughrey, Jill Didur, and Anthony Carrigan (New York: Routledge, 2015), 310; Barbara Rose Johnston and Holly M. Barker, Consequential Damages of Nuclear War: The Rongelap Report (Walnut Creek, CA: Routledge, 2008); and Nixon, Slow Violence, 7.
92. Nixon, Slow Violence, 7.
93. Masco, “Terraforming Planet Earth,” 310.
94. Masco, “Terraforming Planet Earth,” 310.
95. Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962).
96. Stephen Mark Gardiner, “A Perfect Moral Storm: Climate Change, Intergenerational Ethics, and the Problem of Corruption,” in Climate Ethics: Essential Readings, ed. Stephen Mark Gardiner, Simon Caney, and Dale Jamieson (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 87–98.
97. Fredric Jameson, The Seeds of Time (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), xii.
98. Wallace, “Will the Apocalypse Have Been Now?,” 16.
99. S. Ravi Rajan, “Bhopal: Vulnerability, Routinization, and the Chronic Disaster,” in The Angry Earth: Disaster in Anthropological Perspective, ed. Anthony Oliver-Smith and Susanna M. Hoffman (New York: Routledge, 1999), 380.
100. Nixon, Slow Violence, 2.
101. Nixon, Slow Violence, 2.
102. Nixon, Slow Violence, 2.
103. Nixon, Slow Violence, 7.
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118. Bullard, ed., Quest for Environmental Justice.
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126. Cronon, “Trouble with Wilderness”; Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands and Bruce Erickson, “Introduction: A Genealogy of Queer Ecologies,” in Mortimer-Sandilands and Erickson, Queer Ecologies, 1–47.
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138. Wilson, Culture of Nature.
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140. Williams, Keywords, 153–157.
141. Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. 1, ed. Frederick Engels, trans. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling (New York: International Publishers, 1992).
143. Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women; Diana Fuss, Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature and Difference (New York: Routledge, 1989).
144. Soper, What Is Nature?
145. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, 43.
146. Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women, 149–181.
147. Haraway, Companion Species, 3.
148. Haraway, Primate Visions, 4.
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152. Haraway, Modest_Witness, 33.
153. Descola, In the Society of Nature; Latour, We Have Never Been Modern.
154. Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, 11.
155. Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, 6.
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160. Latour, Politics of Nature, 17, 35.
161. LeMenager, Living Oil, 104.
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163. LeMenager, Living Oil, 6.
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170. Jason Moore, ed., Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History, and the Crisis of Capitalism (Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2016), 6.
171. Donna J. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016), 206, n. 5; and Moore, Capitalism in the Web of Life.
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174. Soper, What Is Nature?, 4.
175. Soper, What Is Nature?, 3.
176. Soper, What Is Nature?; and Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature.
178. Alaimo, Undomesticated Ground, 2.
179. Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature; and Merchant, Death of Nature, xvi.
180. Bowerbank, Speaking for Nature.
181. Mortimer-Sandilands and Erickson, eds., Queer Ecologies.
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185. Simpson, As We Have Always Done.
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190. Rigby, “Earth, World, Text.”
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192. Farrier, Anthropocene Poetics.
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194. Wilson, Culture of Nature.
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198. Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History”; LeMenager, Living Oil.
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202. Haraway, When Species Meet.
203. Cary Wolfe, ed., Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003); Berger, “Why Look at Animals?”; Erica Fudge, Renaissance Beasts: Of Animals, Humans, and Other Wonderful Creatures (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004); and Fudge, Brutal Reasoning.
204. Hird, Origins of Sociable Life.
205. Tsing, Mushroom at the End of the World.
206. Laist, ed., Plants and Literature; and Marder, Plant-Thinking.
207. Shteir, Cultivating Women, Cultivating Science.
208. Philip E. Steinberg, The Social Construction of the Ocean (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Mentz, Shipwreck Modernity; Alaimo, Exposed; and Epeli Hau’ofa, We Are the Ocean: Selected Works (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2008).
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