Introduction: The Function of Ecocriticism

Introduction: The Function of Ecocriticism

7 Pages · 2013 · 160 KB · English

This ecocritical experiment surely forces us to ask an obvious but no less difficult Knowing this, bearing in mind that, we, the organizers of this special issue of the Journal of Ecocriticism, still . argue, that with even more political will we might return CO2 levels to a reasonable 350 ppm. Ye

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Journal(of(Ecocriticism(4(2)(July(2012(((The(Function(of(Ecocriticism((1;7)((1(Introduction:+The+Function+of+Ecocriticism;+or,+Ecocriticism,+What+Is+It+Good+For?+William+Major"(University"of"Hartford)"and"Andrew+McMurry+(University"of"Waterloo)*"Abstract+How( effectual( is( ecocriticism( at( practically( addressing( our( most( pressing( and(poignant( global( environmental( issues?( What( hope( through( words?( We(organized(this( special( issue( of( the( Journal( of( Ecocriticism( to( consider( the(application( and( relevance( of( our;kind;of;thing,( this( marriage( between( words,(texts,(and(earth;(between(criticism(and(trees;(between(the(library(carrel(and(the(Greenland( ice( sheet( Tasked( to( consider( how( such( a( project( operates( within( the(strictures( of( ephemeral( literary( criticism( while( simultaneously( considering( what(happens( on( the( ground,( “The( Function( of( Ecocriticism”( demands( that( its(contributors( juggle( the( competing( burdens( of( rhetoric( and( activism,( and( reflect(on( whether( the(modus( operandi(of( the( former( has( any( purchase( on( the( ethical(demands(of(the(latter(We(fear,(however,(that(our(efforts(in(this(endeavor(come(to( more( of( the( same:( words( upon( words,( while( elsewhere( the( fearsome( and(composed(economic(imperatives(that(brought(us(to(this(place(at(this(time(charge(ever( onward( This( ecocritical( experiment( surely( forces( us( to( ask( an( obvious( but(no( less( difficult( question:( Are( we( also( part( of( the( problem?( Each( contributor( to(this( volume—like( all( ecocritics—must(tackle(the(inevitable:(What(is(to(be(done?(That( they( do( so( in( such( disparate( ways( points( to( the( lively( welter( that( is(ecocriticism,( as( well( as( to( the( white( noise( of( ecocide( that( hums( in( the( not;so;distant(background((We" convene" these" essays" in" a"spirit" of" desperate" optimism" Knowing," as" most" readers" of" this"journal" do," that" the" course"of"global" environmental" health" arcs"steadily"downward" (with"requisite" nods" toward" some"progress" in" some" jurisdictions"on"some"charismatic"environmental"issues:"water" and" air" quality," recycling," local" food," renewable" energy)," and"bearing" in" mind" that"even"as"some"communities"appear"to"lessen"their"ecological"footprints,"the"broad"view"indicates"that"planetary"sustainability"is"so"distant,"so"improbable,"that"industrial"civilization"now"looks"to"have"been" nothing" more" than" our" species’"elaborate" and" protracted" endgame" Knowing" this,"bearing" in" mind"that,"we," the" organizers" of" this" special" issue" of" the" Journal" of" Ecocriticism," still""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""""*"William"Major"([email protected])"and"Andrew"McMurry"([email protected])" ((Journal(of(Ecocriticism(4(2)(July(2012((The(Function(of(Ecocriticism((1;7)(((2(prefer"to" hope"there" is"value"in" the" work"we" do," that" our" contributors" do," that" you" do," as"ecocritics"Literary"critics" have" long"known" (if" not" always"acknowledged)"that"criticism"is"most"relevant"within"the"secure"confines"of"academic"specializations,"but"they"also"imagine"that"this"relevance"can" ripple" outward"via" teaching," publication," and" other" modes" of" dissemination"to" the" broader"culture"and," perhaps," to" the" bosses," policy" makers," and" managers" who" shape" the" contours" of"our" future" Still,"we" can’t" help" but" note" that"those" able" to" leverage" their" work" beyond" the"narrow" ambit" of" literary" studies"have" been" rare" indeed"At" the" risk" of" belaboring" the" argument"over" whether" or" not" humanistic" scholarship"has"any" real" world"relevance"at" all—a" particularly"decayed" question" that"nevertheless"bedevils" us" like" an" underfed"dog—the" urgency" of" the"moment" suggests" that" ecocritics" must"reflect" upon," when" it" comes" to"the" effectuality" of" their"product,(the(character( and( quality( of( their( ecological(engagement" Notwithstanding" Simon"Estok’s" and" Serpil" Opperman’s" call" for" more" theorizing" in" light" of"what"Estok"calls"ecocriticism’s"“activist" ambitions”" (205)," direct" engagement"would" seem"to" task" ecocritics"with"fewer( words,(more( action" But"what"this"latter"formulation" might" mean"for" those" whose" primary" materials"and"methods"are"exactly"words"and"the"analysis"of"words,"well,"that"is"what"we"have"convened"this"special"issue"to"consider"For" the"planetary" tragedy" plays" on," and" it" is"well"into"its"third"act"As" the" principle" players"strut"and"fret,"the"land,"the"water,"the"air,"the"entire"nonYhuman"host,"are"also"taking"their"turns,"and"they"can"no"longer"be"mistaken"for"mere"stage"dressings"or"props"in"the"human"pageant"We"see"them"now"as"the"primary"personae"they"have"always"been,"made"all"the"more"poignant"because"their" appearance" at" center" stage" is" underscored"by" their" imminent" departure" out" the" wings"That"exeunt"will"bring"the"final"curtain"on"what"we’d"foolishly"thought"was"our"production""One" of" the" unstated" requisites" for" becoming" a" scholar" of" the" literature" is" that" you" must,"on" a"professional"level,"give"up"the"notion"that"you"are"working"in"a"biosphere"You"come"to"believe,"quite"organically"think," that" because" you" are" for" the" most" part" producing" texts" about" other"texts,"the"orders"of"meaning"and"representation"take"precedence"over"the"orders"of"matter"and"energy" You" tend" to" imagine," for" example," that"the"nightingales" in" Keats" or" the" albatrosses" in"Coleridge" are" more" substautoal" than" the" noisy" birds" at" your" feeder" (They" are" starlings," by" the"way," introduced" by" literary" societies"into" North" America" in" the" nineteenth"century" to" ensure"that"the"New"World"would"boast"all"the"Old"World"birds"named"by"Shakespeare)"These"textual"entities" are" your" bread" and" butter," and" though" the" real" ones" are" raucous"and" colorful," in"your"daily" regime" of" reading" and" writing"they" do" not" figure;" or," if" they" do" figure," they" do"so" quite"literally" apart" from"your"business"of"criticism"In" the" all" the"ways"that"literary"studies"bind"us"to"shared" practices" of"meaningYmaking" and" exchange," the" starlings" massing" in" your" maple" are"beside"the"point"At"least,"they"have"been"Long" before" the" advent" of" the" digital" computer," philologists" were" immersing" themselves" in" the"hot" bath" of" information"In" fact," nothing" much" has" changed" since" the" time" of" the" Babylonian"scribes"Signs"took"on"powers"and"substance"beyond"the"mundane"world"of"dirt"and"wind"Could"dirt"sing"the"deeds"of"gods"and"heroes?"Could"the"wind"style"the"lineage"of"kings"or"number"the"bushels"of"wheat"in"the"granaries?"No"Words"and"pictures,"representation"of"all"kinds"attracted"the" attention" of" a" certain" type" of" thinker," and" very" powerful," abstract" modes" of" cognition"emerged" Aesthetics,"rhetoric," history," metaphysics," to" name" but" a" few,"all" rely" on" a" coding" of"material"reality"into"system"of"signs,"which"can"then"be"articulated"in"ways"no"longer"beholden" ((Journal(of(Ecocriticism(4(2)(July(2012((The(Function(of(Ecocriticism((1;7)(((3(to" any" objective" reality"This" is" liberating" in" its" own" way"But" this" type" of" science—speculative,"inferential,"introspective—always"runs"the"risk"of"the"echo"chamber"effect,"whereby"texts"come"to" talk" to" texts" alone," never" getting" outside" the" room" for" a" breath" of" fresh" air"Even" ecocritics,"who" are" fully" aware" of" this" creeping"selfYabsorption—who"have," indeed,"defined" a" field" to" help"overcome" it—are" not" immune" to"the"autopoietic"pressures" of" the" literary" system," which"programmatically"shunts"aside"the"real" world"(yes," we" said" it)"in" favor" of"the" systemYsustaining"gravy"train"of"textual"communication"This"gives"us"pause"If"we"are"being"too"elliptical,"let"us"offer"an"example"We"recently"received"a"call"for"papers"from"an"environmental"humanities"conference"Ostensibly,"the"conference"should"have"been"a"dream"come" true" for" ecocritics" like"

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