Nature, Nation, Consumption

by Yi-Peng Lai (Author)
©2018 Thesis 196 Pages


This study focuses on the relationship between environment, history, politics, and rhetorical discourses in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Delving into different aspects of Joyce’s use of nature and linguistic discourses in orchestrating a specific dynamic of eco-politics, it adopts an interdisciplinary approach that includes cultural politics, historiographical poetics, and genetic criticism with close reading of the text. The first of the two sessions of the book addresses the environmental questions of land and consumption through discussions on co-operative politics, garden city movement, and the eco-politics of waste. The second section moves to examine the diverse ways in which nature and nation are (re)imagined exemplarily in Joyce’s composition of the forest and the marketplace.
By examining several thematic environmental issues addressed in Ulysses with the evidence of historical and archival resources, this study has demonstrated that Joyce is after all a writer with the environment in mind, and that the imagination of nature in Ulysses is inseparable from that of the emergent nation of fin-de-siècle Ireland.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Dedication
  • Epigraph
  • Acknowledgment
  • Contents
  • Abbreviations
  • INTRODUCTION: Toward an Eco-political Reading of Ulysses
  • EcoUlysses
  • Notes
  • 1 GARDENS: Irish Land Reform, Garden Cities and the Politics of Gardening
  • I.
  • II.
  • III.
  • IV.
  • Notes
  • 2 WASTE: Joyce’s “cloacal obsession” and the Eco-politics of Waste
  • I.
  • II.
  • III.
  • IV.
  • Notes
  • 3 TREES: History, Performance, and the Viconian Politics of the Forest
  • I.
  • II.
  • III.
  • IV.
  • V.
  • VI.
  • Notes
  • 4 PASTORAL: Social Languages, Politics, Nature and Nation
  • I.
  • II.
  • III.
  • IV.
  • V.
  • Notes
  • CONCLUSION: The Journey and Beyond
  • Note
  • List of Figures
  • Bibliography
  • Index


Toward an Eco-political Reading of Ulysses

In one sense, the Irish problem has persisted because of the power of geographical images over men’s minds.

—Oliver MacDonagh, States of Mind, p. 15

In praising the beauty of nature, poets and writers throughout time have never reached the limits of their language. William Wordsworth “could not but be gay/In such a jocund company”1 of the daffodils, while John Keats admires the never-dying “poetry of earth.”2 These Romantic verses, expressing naïve or sentimental admiration for an ancient pastoral tradition since the time of Theocritus, share a political “anti-urbanism” with its nostalgia for a simpler rural life. A century later, such evocation of nature is married with more political anxieties in the Irish context. W. B. Yeats, in “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” has the narrator claiming he “will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,/And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;/Nine bean-rows will [he] have there, a hive for the honey-bee;/And [will live] alone in the bee-loud glade.” In “Easter, 1916,” the ever-changing nature of “birds,” “stream,” and “shadow of cloud” elicits Yeats’ patriotic concerns for Ireland. In The Land of Heart’s Desire, the angelic presence of death, emerging with a song of nature, arouses the often depressive agricultural anxiety of Irish rurality.

This conflict between urban and rural, and between England and Ireland, induces modern anxieties for both national and individual consciousnesses. By imagining nature beyond the confines of Ireland’s insular geography, geographical formations and ecological writings together posit a struggling force against the urban, the civilized, the imperial, as well as the constructed ideology. In response to such modern development, Raymond Williams’ canonical study The Country and the City was probably one of the first and the most influential works devoted to the question of urbanization and the dynamics of such conflict in the English literary tradition after industrialization. As McDowell notes accordingly, “[l]‌andscape writing is permanently embroiled in this struggle. Typically a speaking voice goes out to encounter the landscape and all its elements, an ‘on the road’ pattern from at least the Odyssey onward”3.

The spatial dynamics of Ulysses, with the novel modeled after the mythological journey of Odyssey, thus conjure up topographical and geographical concerns as part of the epic backdrop. Beyond the “spatially real”4 urban setting of Dublin ←15 | 16→throughout Ulysses, the ecological imagining of rurality occasionally intrudes, offering an opposite type of locality to the metropolis of the capital. Such an urban-rural complex derives not merely from a colonial uneasiness within the cityscape, but also from the unsatisfactory desire for the Irish countryside as a result of agricultural5 development and Ireland’s complicated history concerning the land.

The problem of Ireland is the problem of land. As history unfolds, Irish nationalism and political movements initiate from the awakening of agrarian consciousness. The Great Famine and post-famine depressions from the mid-19th century had forced the already problematic landlordism to extremes, and peasant attachment to the land grew into nationalism as an inevitable result of the country’s colonial situation. Under the aggressive promotion of the Irish National Land League and Charles Stewart Parnell, Ireland went through several stages of land reform, which in turn led to the Land War (1879-1882), contributed to the growing Irish ownership of land and rural housings, and paved the way for the successive Home Rule Bills (1886, 1893, 1912-14).6

In his groundbreaking study of Irish culture, Heathcliff and the Great Hunger (1995), Terry Eagleton persuasively points out the political dynamics of the cultural imagination of Nature in the Irish context:

Indeed, as Eagleton indicates, it would seem more probable that, in Ireland, a landscape marked by the historical scars of famine, deprivation and dispossession, can never present itself to human perception with quite “the rococo charm of a Keats, the sublimity of a Wordsworth or the assured sense of proprietorship of an Austen”8. Nature in Ireland is instead moralized and sexualized, and, when transcendentalized, highly political in its portrayals. Heathcliff and the Great Hunger takes on much of the emerging critical colonial discourses in ←16 | 17→Irish studies and presents a refreshing study of Nature and Irish culture from a Marxist perspective. Two years after the publication of Heathcliff and the Great Hunger, the collection Nature in Ireland: A Scientific and Cultural History (1997) was published by the Lilliput Press. Edited and compiled by John Wilson Foster, this sizeable collection was possibly the first interdisciplinary book project attempting to bridge scientific studies and cultural studies of Ireland. As Foster comments in the Preface to this collection, one of the tasks Nature in Ireland hopes to perform is “to rehouse natural history in Irish culture, from which it has effectively been evicted for a century or so,” and it can be done only “when the systematic study of nature is put inside a cultural and intellectual setting broader than the history of scientific disciplines”9. This richly interdisciplinary volume contains chapters devoted to specific areas of study such as geology, woodland, botany, entomology, mammalogy, etc., as well as natural history, demesnes, naming, education, the culture of nature, and so on. Such a broad range of topics and contributors allows space for conversation: though few articles in this collection manage to make it very far in their so-called interdisciplinary approach, the wide range of academic voices on nature and Ireland in the very same volume opens up the possibility for the convergence of ideas and perspectives on nature and culture and is in itself revolutionary. Although the word “ecocriticism” is never mentioned in this collection, it has the same aim — the combined study of nature and culture — that “ecocriticism” as an interdisciplinary area of study purposes to accomplish.

In the introduction to The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology (1996), the first anthology of classical and cutting-edge writings in the emerging field of literary ecology, Cheryll Glotfelty defines ecocriticism as an area of study that “takes as its subject the interconnections between nature and culture, specifically the cultural artefacts of language and literature. As a critical stance, it has one foot in literature and the other on land; as a theoretical discourse, it negotiates between the human and the non-human”10. Although ecocriticism as a discipline was not recognised as a theoretical approach to cultural studies until the publication of The Ecocriticism Reader, the term “ecocriticism” was first introduced almost two decades earlier by William Rueckert in his 1978 article “Literary and Ecology: An Experiment in Ecocriticism” with an aim to “join literature to ecology”11. The Ecocriticism Reader collection, being the first of its kind in literary ecology, along with the founding of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment (ASLE) and the association’s allied journal Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment (ISLE), led to ecocriticism’s subsequent rapid growth. However, since the 2000s, in response to the challenging voices demanding definitions of terms like “nature,” “ecology,” ←17 | 18→and “culture,” a second-wave movement started to emerge. Lawrence Buell, a prominent eco-critical voice in both first-wave and second-wave movements, comments thus:


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (December)
James Joyce Ecocriticism Irish studies Environment Nationalism
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 195 pp., 11 fig. b/w

Biographical notes

Yi-Peng Lai (Author)

Yi-Peng Lai is Assistant Professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature at National Sun Yat-sen University, Taiwan.


Title: EcoUlysses