1000 Books In 10 Year; Vol. 202: The Greening of Literary Scholarship, by Steven Rosendale

The Greening of Literary Scholarship is a collection of essays edited by Steven Rosendale.  An insightful foreword from Scott Slovic speaks to the notion that when it comes to ecocriticism, the ultimate goal is to reach, as David Quammen calls it ‘the great unwashed’.  But the reality is, as Slovic points out, that even the best performing ecorcritical books only sell about 200 copies!  But Slavic is optimistic, and cites Charles A Reich’s The Greening of America, which states: “A revolution is coming.  It will not be like revolutions of the past.  It will originate with the individual and with culture, and it will change the political structure only as a final act.  It will not require violence to succeed, and it cannot be successfully resisted with violence…  Its ultimate creation will be… a renewed relationship of man to himself, to other men, to society, to nature, and to the land”.  I, of course, take issue with the patriarchal bias in that piece… ‘a renewed relationship of man to himself’?  How about humanity with itself?  Still, as Slovic points out, “Literary Scholarship is an acquired taste, a taste that will remain unfamiliar to the average reader or television watched or SUV driver”. I love the selection of the “SUV driver”.  Yes… the great unwashed.  If you would like to hear a little from the great unwashed, please check out this video from Louis CK.  If you laugh out loud at all during this clip, you are officially a member of the great unwashed:

In the introduction, Rosendale quotes Glen A. Love who says we need to step out of our  “narrowly anthropocentric view of what is consequential”.  In other words, we must replace “anthro’ with “eco”.  He has four was of doing this:

1:  elevation of western American nature-writing  over human centered canons

2: Realism over poststructuralism/nihilism

3:  supplanting the nationalist with global/ecocritical perspective

 

The first  article is titled: SAVING ALL THE PIECES (The Place of Textual Editing in Ecocriticism): Michael P. Branch and speaks to endangered texts and the process of textual editing, which he defines as: “the scholarly work of preparing unpublished materials for publication, recovering the texts of works that have appeared in corrupted editions, or presenting particularly obscure or inaccessible works in editions that make the work comprehensible and useful to a nonspecialist audience.”  Nature writing can include; sermons, settlement narratives, government reports, personal essays, autobiography, diary and  Letters or scientific report.   Obviously some of these are outside of the realm of typical literary criticisms, but Branch suggest we need a “widening [of] the ecocritical focus”.  The flaw of the article is of course that Branch calls only for “reconstruction of America’s literary environmental history” which of course puts a nationalist twist on a global issue.  And in ecocriticism, THERE IS NO ROOM FOR NATIONALISM!!!!!  He goes through several examples of textual editing to articulate his point, the most impressive of which is perhaps; Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca; La Relacion (Adventures in the Unknown Interior of America), which was originally published in 1542… in Spanish.  Subsequent publications were madea s well as English translations and abridge versions.  The textual editor, Cyclone Covey (sweet name by the way… I wish I had been named after a natural disaster… very appropriate for ecocriticism) went through the original Spanish texts and re-translated them (and the initial English translator skewed the text with an American/English bias).  The next impressive instance of this textual editing was perhaps  Cotton Mather’s  The Christian Philosopher (1721), which was edited by Winton U. Solberg.  Solberg goes through all of Mathe’s 415 citations!  415 books! YIKES!  This he turns into a 50-page ‘biographical register’, he added 300 endnotes and a 134 page introduction!  That, is a lot of work!  The of the interesting pages from the work include Mather’s observation that “the natural world can and should be studied as evidence of the Creator”.   He also speaks to “Saint Anthony preaching to the fishes”, but he wants to, as he says;  “reverse of a the Fable, and hear the Fishes preaching to me, which they do many Truths of no small importance”.  He also notes that  “the whole World is indeed a Temple to GOD, built and fill’d by that almight Architect”.  And we all know that god wants us to take care of his temple.  An Ecocritical Christain! So refreshing… so many Christian I know just figure that since God is going to eventually return and make this world a paradise (on Earth as it is in heaven) that they don’t have to worry about taking care of things.  Besides, John’s book of Revelations predicts quite a poorly kept Earth when he describes the second coming of Christ!  We are certainly on our way to fulfilling his prophecies!  The least impressive instance of textual editing is Branch’s own!  He essentially just typed up the journal of John Muir and published it.  Not cool translations of Spanish or 300 footnotes and 130+page introduction.

The next essay is: LE PAGE DU PRATZ’S FABULOUS JOURNEY OF DSICOVERY (Learning about Nature Writing from a Colonial Promotional Narrative), by Gordon Sayre.  It details the journals of Le Page du Pratz, Frenchman travel west of Louisiane (Histoire de la Louisiane).  This guy presents his travel journal as fact, but it is CLEARLY fiction!  He describes crystals  sticking out of one land, and when his native assistants (he hired a number of natives, not as guides, since he was only interested in exploring the unexplored) tried to pick up some crystals he told them to drop them, saying:  “The crystal will become valuable only through the application of labor and surplus value.  If nothing can cut it, it is doomed to remain as a diamond in the rough”.  He of course is sure to pick one up when they are not looking, though he never produces it upon his arrival home?  Curious!

Then there is: ECOCRITICISM, NEW HISTORICISM AND ROMANTIC APOSTROPHE; Helena Feder.

The APOSTROPHE!  And no, I am not talking about the apostrophe that you see in ‘it’s’, but the literary tool in which a person speaks to an inanimate object.  Feder claims that critics usually gloss of instances of apostrophe or ignore them altogether.  “Apostrophe, particularly in a romantic context, is more than merely a poetic device; it is nothing less than a practice of awareness that emphasizes the processes of human perception, the interconnectedness of all things…  Inherent in any invocation of the natural world is a recognition that reciprocity is embedded in the very interconnectedness of all things”  In the essay Feder  expresses “ecocriticism’s deep concern with the effects of capitalism and globalization” and speaks to how the use of apostrophe encourages “the interconnectedness of all things on Earth (poems, people, factories, and forests)” .  As an example we have the following poems:

To The River Duddon (Wordsworth)

O mountain Stream! the Shepherd and his Cot
Are privileg’d Inmates of deep solitude:
Nor would the nicest Anchorite exclude
A Field or two of brighter green, or Plot
Of tillage-ground, that seemeth like a spot
Of stationary sunshine: thou hast view’d
These only, Duddon! with their paths renew’d
By fits and starts, yet this contents thee not.
Thee hath some awful Spirit impell’d to leave,
Utterly to desert, the haunts of men,
Though simple thy Companions were and few;
And through this wilderness a passage cleave
Attended but by thy own voice, save when
The Clouds and Fowls of the air thy way pursue.

 

 

Valedictory Sonnet to the River Duddon

 

I   THOUGHT of Thee, my partner and my guide,

As   being pass’d away.—Vain sympathies!
For,   backward, Duddon! as I cast my eyes,
I see   what was, and is, and will abide;
Still   glides the Stream, and shall for ever glide;

5

The   Form remains, the Function never dies;
While   we, the brave, the mighty, and the wise,
We Men,   who in our morn of youth defied
The   elements, must vanish;—be it so!
Enough,   if something from our hands have power

10

To   live, and act, and serve the future hour;
And if,   as toward the silent tomb we go,
Through   love, through hope, and faith’s transcendent dower,
We feel   that we are greater than we know.

 

Feder asks: “why isn’t it possible that the poet is at once addressing nonhuman nature and humans as well?  Of course rivers and spots of greenery are not great readers of romantic poetry; however the poem originated from real, intense involvement with the natural world and is an expression of interconnectedness with it”    She notes that the use of apostrophe attempts to “join together the ‘subject’ and ‘object’ that modern intellection had put asunder” and also claims that “apostrophe’s connection to the pathetic fallacy is their common assumption of interconnectedness.”  She then starts getting into a conversation about time-space, or space-time, or whatever you want to call it, which frankly seems a little outside the realm/scope of the essay: “Apostrophe resists narrative because its now is not a moment in a temporal sequence”.  This is followed by Feder’s observation that “to perceive full is to experience space-time, to be in and of the world… whether ‘time’ and ‘space’ are really as distinct as I was taught to believe”.  I was reading Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History Of Time, and he spoke to another professor about the fact that only three people in the world understand space-time, to which the other professor said; “Who’s the other one?”  Apparently Feder was.  Feder does finish off with an idea I liked a lot, saying: “there is really no ‘deep’ difference between social justice and ecological justice, between ecological and human rights.  Apostrophe makes these connections explicit”

Upton Sinclair

Next up was Rosendale’s own ecocritical essay: IN SEARCH OF LEFT ECOLOGY’S USABLE PAST (The Jungle, Social Change and the Class Character of Environmental Impairment.  The Jungle is one of my favorite books, so I was a little excited to get to read this.  He quote Sinclair I believe, saying: “When it comes to genius, to beauty, dignity, and true power of mind, I cannot see that there is any chance for them to survive in the insane, hurly-burly of metropolitan life.  If I wanted qualities sich as these in human beings, I would surely transfer them to a different environment. “  There is certainly something to that.  It reminds me of the idea of the noble savage, how at peace man was with nature, in the Americas at least, before the Europeans came along and tainted everything!  Oh how I wished the Europeans still thought the world was flat!  He touches again upon Glen A. Love idea of how “narrowly anthropocentric view of what is consequential in life” is the key flaw to man’s thinking of nature.  If you have read Sinclair’s work, then you would know that at its heart The Jungle is a Marxist book, about class and the ending, which some have viewed as the only flaw in the book, is one where socialism presents itself as the heir apparent.  The flaw with that, in terms of ecocriticims, is that it doesn’t matter if the class structure is Marxist or capitalist, democratic or communist, if the system of production remains the same, because at the end of the day the environment doesn’t care how you distribute the wealth of the world, it cares only about what you have done to the environment.  As Rosendale puts it: “We have an economic style whose dynamism is too great, too fast, too reckless for the ecological systems that must absorb its impact.  It makes no difference to those systems if the oil spills, the pesticides, the radioactive wastes, the industrial toxins they must cleanse are socialist or capitalist in orgin; the ecological damage is not mitigated in the least if it is perpetuated by a ‘good society’ that shares its wealth fairly and provides the finest welfare programs for its citizens…both capitalism and socialism have been driven by a commitment to unlimited production”.    One is reminded of The Who song; “Meet the new boss.  Same as the old boss.”  Rosendale writes: “Although a socialist takeover might result in a redistribution of wealth [it would]… continue its devastation of the environment under new management.”  So where is the ecocrtical reading?  Rosendale openly admits that “environmentally minded readers are likely to object to Sinclair’s central metaphor- the jungle- which often uncritically seems to reinforce and antipathy toward nature”, but he says there is more to the text.  Rosendale claims that text exemplifies that where “Marxism has traditionally regarded the technological basis of production (even under capitalism) as neutral, it must now revise its model of the transition to socialism to account for the necessity of transforming (rather than simply re-managing) the technological basis of production itself.”  Rosendale takes credit for this though, closing the essay with the following:   “While it is doubtful that Sinclair had anything so sophisticated in mind as the creation of a literary form uniquely capable of articulating this simple political ecology, in fact that is just what he created.”  It seems Rosendale is taking credit for projecting this sophisticated creation of a literary form.

The next essay (RIVERS, JOURNESY, AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF PLACE IN NINETTENTH-CENTURY ENGLISH LITERATURE, by Allison Byerly) didn’t really strike me as literary criticism, more simply an historical article.  Apparently, back in the day, before they had movies,  they hahad these things called “Panorama”, which were essentially canvasses that were miles long and had scenic scenes painted on them and they would roll these scenes through in a theatre and it was supposed to emulate a trip down an exotic river or some such thing.    It does touch on the Thames and how polluted it had become during the industrial revolution and how, though it once was an symbol of London and British commence, he had become a symbol of pollution, or as she says more eloquently; “But the image of the Thames was forever changed.  No longer a shining symbol of British commerce and culture, it became a mirror of public health, reflecting generalized concerns about pollution and disease that were raised by industrial development throughout the nineteenth century.”  She uses reference to the work of Charles Dickens (notably David Copperfield where a prostitute named Martha stopped by the ‘polluted steam… as if she were part of the refuse it had cast out, and left to corruption and decay’.  Pretty grim stuff.  But not only had the Thames become polluted with industrial waste, but also human waste as London, while he slowly developed indoor plumbing, dumped everything into the Thames!  YIKES!  We can seems similar themes in some poems by William Blake and North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell.

The Thames

Next up: LOCATING THE URANIUM MINE; Place, Multiethinicity, and Environmenal Justice In Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony, by James Tarter.  Interesting piece.  I had actually read Silko Ceremony some years before, though I honestly remember little of it.  Silko writes, after the advent of nuclear weapons that; “From that time on, human beings were on clan again, united by the fate the destroyers planned for all of them, for all living things; united by a circle of death that devoured people in cities twelve thousand miles away”.  Tarter notes that “Silko’s novel consistently constructs environmental justice as emerging from responsibility to places as sites and culture” and goes onto say that “all the living things the destroyers kill are shown to be things they consider to be already dead, including both living things and things like rocks and river that Westerners do not consider to be alive”.  In the novel, which follows a man of mixed ancestry who is trying to work through emotional issues developed after serving in WWII,  Uranium found on native lands where he lives, and these very same Native lands are of course to be used as a dumping ground.  The essay speaks to how the lands of marginalized peoples are often used as a dumping ground and because these people don’t have any political agency, they have no way of defending themselves.

Next up:  LANDSCAPE IN DRAG: The Paradox of Feminine Space In Susan Warner’s The Wide, Wide World, by Andrea Blair.  I think this was supposed to be a eco-feminist hybrid, but it didn’t wash with me, and the source text was the key problem.  In Susan Warner’s The Wide Wide World a young woman, Ellen, is orphaned and raised by several people, all of them men who teach her to yield to men.  She grows up and then becomes yielding to men and even marries one of the men who was responsible for raising her, which kind of reeks of incest to me, especially since she referred to him as brother in the book.    Anyways, as a reward for being so yielding he gives Ellen her very own room, an allowance which she can spend in any way she pleases, and hired a domestic servant so that she doesn’t have to do any chores around the house.  Moral of the story?  Yield to men and you will be rewarded with autonomy.  Yes… and I’m sure all the working class women who read it though; WOW!  I’ll just marry some guy and he’ll give me an allowance and my own room and hire a domestic to take care of the chores.  Needless to say, not a very good ‘moral’ to the story, and certainly not one any woman outside of the nobility could take advantage of, and even if they did I’m sure they would find many men not as accommodating as Ellen’s “brother”!  But, nature is presented in not an entirely feminine way as it has both masculine and feminine traits.   There is one see where “At Alice’s prompting, her brother had cut down the trees that were blocking the view.  ‘I should grow melancholy if I had that wall of trees pressing on my vision all the time.’”  Yes… destroy nature to appreciate nature… no problematic ecocrtical implications to that passage at all!

 

The next essay (yes, there are a lot of essays in this book) is: SPACE IS A FRAME WE MAP OURSELVES IN; The Feminist Geographies of Susan Howe’s Frame Structure, by Elean Hersey.  This essays speaks almost entirely on architecture and not really the environment, or at least not the natural environment.  Not very useful as ecorcriticism is concerned and I think a poor selection for the collection.  But what do I know, I am but a novice ecocritic.

Then we have my favorite essay in the collect: OF WHALES AND MEN: The Dynamics of Cormac McCarthy’s Environmental Imagination, by James D. Lilley.  I was so excited to read this because I am such a huge fan or Cormac McCarthy, but when I started reading it I realize it was studying a piece by McCarthy that I have NOT read, and I thought I had read them all.  Apparently there is an unpublished screenplay which he penned during the 80’s  called Of Whales and Men, which James D. Lilley had access to but which I do not!  I spent an hour Googling this thing!  I want a copy of Of Whales and Men damn it!  If anybody can hook me up with that… PLEASE!!!!! Contact me!

Cormac McCarthy

From Of Whales and Men: “But why do we feel so alien in this world?  Isn’t it in a very real sense because we are no longer here?  Language is a way of containing the world.  A thing named becomes that named thing… We were put into a garden and we turned it into a detention center.”  Brilliant! No?  How about this: “More and more language seemed to me to be an aberration by which we had come to lose the world.”  Or how about this one:  “The case is that the whale has no need for momuments because the whale has no history… Our history-which we are at such pains to preserve and which we imagine contains out freedom- is exactly what enslaves us… There is no book where the world is written down.  The world is that book.”  Dana Phillips says: “The world of nature and the world of men are parts of the same world.”  And it would seem that McCarthy agrees, but alas, language has separated man from nature.   Lilley pulls from McCarthy’s the Orchard Keeper, a scene where a tree grows around a fence, and from Blood Meridian: “Only nature can enslave man.”  Judge Holden, one of the characters of Blood Meridian encapsulates the capitalist/imperialist mentality:  “This is my claim, he said.  And yet everywhere upon it are pockets of autonomous life.  Autonomous.  In order for it to be mine, nothing must be permitted to occur upon it save by my dispensation…. The freedom of the birds is an insult to me.  I’d have them all in zoos.”  Man… there is just so much to dig into on this one.   Lilley also touches of the anthropocentric views of man in this one saying: “anthropocentric words cannot help but betray our… discourses”.  This one was the most interesting for me by far… I wish there was an entire monograph written on this one!

Next up: ARTICULATING THE CYBORG: An Impure model for Environmental Revolution, but Louis H. Palmer III.  Please note that Louis H. Palmer has included “III” with his name.  He is “The third”!  He sets up a high bar with this one: “The stakes: The ultimate survival of life on earth!”  This one goes over some of the same ground as Rosendale’s piece.  Palmer notes: “we support an economic system that floods the world media with images of consumption unimaginable to many of the world’s human population….. Marxist theorists in the West still tend to advocate humans-first policies… a human-centered culture that will continue to squander resources, pollute, exploit and cause extinctions.”  Palmer speaks of a Michael Pollan who is essentially a rich guy on a farm who says he’s adopted a ‘garden’ model, but as Palmer notes, it is a harmony which “few of us can afford”.  But Palmer cites Frederick Turner who notes that: “We are, like it or not, lords of creation”.   Palmer encourages the cyborg model, where nature and humanity become one interconnected being;  “As cyborgs, we generate knowledge that are collective and horizontal, and we are above all implicated, articulated, connected.”  In order to reach this model though we need to  first, as Donna Haraway notes: “give up the trappings of male-dominated Western thought.”  Indeed!  Men having been trying to run this shit for millennia now… I think it’s time we start listening to women!  With this move toward interconnectedness we must move away from the cult of the individual (and this is me talking).  I am reminded of the film Contact (based on the novel of the same name by Author C. Clarke) where the alien race who contacts us ultimately decides not to start a relationship with humanity because it is still too concerned with the individual.  We must learn to start talking as “we” and not “I”.  Palmer writes: “Other species and cultures can no longer be seen as other”.  We must see ourselves as one with nature.

William Faulkner

Then he uses Faulkner as an example! SCORE!!!!   He used The Bear, one of my favorite pieces by Faulkner.  Palmer notes that: “Despite the narrator’s claims about the value of fellowship, and talk among men, the boy’s most important experiences are solitary moments far from the company of others, where the presence of the bear… provides an opening to a magical world.”  I think it’s also important to note that in the novel, which Palmer touches on, the boy grows up and finding out that his grandfather had rapes one of the slave and impregnated her and eventually raped the daughter he spawned and impregnated her as well, he wants nothing to do with his inheritance.  The boy see accepting the fruits of this sin as accepting the sin as well, and he wants nothing to do with it.  We to must be willing to rescind the fruits we are to inherit if we are to create a new working relationship with nature (though, in The Bear I believe it’s more about creating a new relationship between Blacks and whites, and not accepting the fruits of slavery).    Palmer notes:  “we must not be limited by habits of mind that are based on structures of racial, national, class and gender bias, however well hidden behind claims for liberty, equality and fraternity. … we need not only to find new tools, but new ways to use the old ones.”  This reminds me of Said’s Orientalism in that we are projecting a cultural and social context and language onto nature, much the way Europeans project the same onto Asians.  Ultimately I am reminded of a quote from Martin Luther King which I recently saw on my Pinterest board;  “We must learn to live together as brothers, or we will perish together as fools.” I don’t like the patriarchal bias of that quote, but the spirit of it works for me.  Perhaps if we could change it to “We must learn to live together as family, or we will perish together as fools”.  Or perhaps as an ecosystem instead of a family.

Still with me?  Only two more essays to go.  SURVEYING THE SUBLIME; Literary Cartographers and the Spirit of Place, by Rick Van Noy.  This one, again, is a little outside of the scope of literary criticism and looks at maps of all things?  Van Noy notes early in the piece: “Far from being an objective record of natural world, the writing of these surveyors is generated by existing cultural and personal formations”.  This, I think, brings us back to Said and Orientalism.  Again we are project a human construct onto nature, trying to define something outside of our culture through our culture.  He goes through several mappers, Thoreau, Clarence King and John Wesley Powel and after he gets through them he jumps into something a little more literary in Shelley’s ‘Mont Blanc’, which is the most interesting part of the essay, though I have a very different reading on the poem than does Van Noy.  Shelley writes:  “In the lone glare of the day, the snows descend/Upon that Mountain; none beholds them there….Rapid and strong, but silently!… The voiceless lightning in these solitudes”.  For me, the key is the phrase ‘none beholds them’.  Things are described after this as being silent.  Rapid and strong but silently?  Voiceless lightning?  Is this an example of “If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound?”  According the Shelley, the answer seems to be: No, it doesn’t.  My answer though is; FUCK YEAH!  Of course it makes a sound. Nature exists outside of human existence and does not need a human presence to quantify it.

 

Sorry… this was a long one.

Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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