Eco-Consciousness in American Culture
Imperatives in the Age of the Anthropocene
The chapters by individual authors reflect the topics both from a theoretical and from an ecocritical perspective. In the former case, they analyze effects of the present ecological crises (i.e. climate change and pandemics), the emergence and development of environmental humanities, posthumanism, ecocriticism, ecofeminism, and ecotheology. In the latter case, they offer readings of American literary texts of the 20th and 21st centuries as significant case studies.
Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Introduction: Eco Imperatives and Their Echoes in American Studies
- Part I: Eco-Consciousness: Politics, Policies, Theories
- The Eco-System of US Politics
- The Great Reset and Its Pandemic Narratives
- Posthumanism and Climate Change: Why Theory Matters
- American Indians and Developing Eco-Consciousness
- Matter, Objects and Nature Knowledge in William Byrd II’s Histories of the Dividing Line betwixt Virginia and North Carolina
- Material Ecotheological Implications of Food Eating
- Part II: Eco-Consciousness and Eco-Activism
- Remapping The Waste Land and Climate Change
- Transatlantic Perspectives on Urban Environments in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and William Carlos Williams’s Paterson
- Re-Imagining The Waste Land: Infertility, Barrenness and Ecocatastrophe in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale
- “Is this the house you want to live in?” Fictional Warnings from a Feminine Eco Consciousness
- Ecopoetics in Diane di Prima’s Revolutionary Letters
- Ecodramaturgy Meets the Arctic: Chantal Bilodeau’s Sila and Forward
- Part III: Ecocritical Readings
- “Time kept them there and time would let them leave”: An Ecocritical (Re)Consideration of James Webb’s Fields of Fire
- “Not the glow of red or green as in picture-book terror wolves, but a dullish, perversely dignified human gold.” An Eco-Critical Reading of Hold the Dark by William Giraldi
- Ecological Consciousness and Environmental Migration through Animal and Machine Tropes in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath
- Uncanceling the Future: Cyberpunk, Solarpunk, and the Rebellion of Eco-Optimism
- Rednecks Gone Wild: Ecodefense and Edward Abbey’s Monkeywrenching
- Ecological Thinking in Fantastic Literature. Symbolism of New Heroes: A Case Study of 21st Century American Vampire Narrative
- The Authors
Apparently, such concepts as the environment and ecology are to be perceived as “purer” than environmentalism and various forms of ecologism. A long Enlightenment tradition has associated what we now call environment studies and ecology with “objective” science, while the associated “isms” show militant, ideologically driven movements. Some people in the “hard sciences” might still think of mathematics as “pure,” and of ecofeminism as “impure,” political, etc. As a response to this long Enlightenment tradition, there is a growing trend to see many of the concepts which appeared to be “pure” as ideologically tainted. Space is now “tainted by power” in geopolitics, while culture is no longer merely elite, high culture, but also popular culture, treading the “muddy” ground of ordinary daily experience. So it goes with environment and ecology.
A reliable source, such as an Environmental Encyclopedia, appears to support such a claim: “Etymologists frequently conclude that, in English usage at least, environment is the total of the things or circumstances around an organism – including humans” while ecology “is focused on studying the interactions between an organism of some kind and its environment” (Young 467). In his entry in the above-mentioned encyclopedia (“Environment”), Young shows an “impure,” ideological bias that most of us share: the environment is what is around humans, so human beings are central, while ecology equally appears (although less obviously) to be anthropocentric. If one can disagree with the second claim, as soon as one adds an -ism to ecology, its ideological, “impure” dimension is made clear, with the more striking ecoterrorism as a good example. Equally, when eco is followed by other fields thus acquiring an environmental or ecological turn, the militant, engaged orientation becomes visible: ecodrama or ecodramaturgy is another example. There will be many twists and turns in the current volume, with diversity as its main “ecological” feature.
Among the many turns in the human sciences that have animated scholarship over the last decades, the environmental turn has acquired particular prominence lately. The problematic, stringency, imperatives of ecological and environmental issues justify the publication of the current volume as well. Environmental and ecological concerns feature prominently in the human sciences as a whole, clearly including the literary and cultural studies.
Back in 2014, Sverker Sorlin, while acknowledging the existence of the environmental turn in the human sciences, referred further back to ecologist William Vogt (The Road to Survival, 1948), but also to novelist Rachel Carson (Silent Spring, 1960). Carson’s sinister “elixirs of death” in Chapter 3 drew attention to the devastating effect of pesticides, such as DDT, creating a powerful response among American audiences, raising people’s awareness. Since then, an eco-consciousness has been made even more conspicuous due to a perception shared by ever larger groups of people concerning rising atmospheric and water pollution, loss of biodiversity, climate change, both local and global crises of environmental degradation, with far reaching economic, political and geopolitical implications as well (Sorlin 2014).
The issues addressed by the essays in this volume, written by scholars from various parts of the “global academic eco-system,” so to speak, are far ranging, while also showing diversity of opinion and approach, thus evincing the diversity of an ever growing interdisciplinary field of environmental and ecological concerns ranging from the natural sciences to the humanities. Are eco-systems harmonious, balanced, stable? As a rule, in the long, biological run, the answer is negative, the dinosaurs bearing testimony to this. Nevertheless, a certain stability is preferable when it comes to humankind’s impact on what has come to be called the Anthropocene. In environmental and ecologically driven approaches, the term “has emerged as a hot topic of discussion across the full gamut of academic disciplines” Jamie Lorimer notes (Lorimer 117) while promoting, interestingly enough, the alternative spelling of anthropo-scene, probably in order to stress the dramaturgic dimension of the environmental show going on in the biosphere, in which humans have assumed center stage position. On the environmental scene in the Anthropocene, humans can choose to play the heroes or the arch villains in the contexts of a growing eco-consciousness. We humans have bitten from the tree of environmental knowledge and what follows is largely attributable to human agency.
If such environmental stressors as earthquakes, typhoons, volcanic eruptions, high levels of UV radiation on mountain tops are inevitable, human made pollution, deforestation, desertification, environmental-friendly energy policies can be addressed by concerted action worldwide. If humans exploit the biosphere, they should also be more instrumental in maintaining ecological integrity, a key environmental concept, but much more than that, a vital eco imperative.
In interdisciplinary fields like the ones taking shelter under the shadow of contemporary eco imperatives, the concepts and the views expressed by various voices from different backgrounds might need clarification, which is usually facilitated by placing them in identifiable contexts. Otherwise, they might lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretations, to failure of effective communication. In these fields having to do with important issues such as the survival of humankind and of the biosphere on Earth, words and statements have other functions than those ascribed by some to poetic language and its “forest of symbols,” as in Baudelaire’s famous “Correspondances” in his Les fleurs du mal: “La nature est un temple ou de vivants piliers/ Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles/ L’homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles/ Qui l’observent avec des regards familiers (Baudelaire 19). Taking issue with Baudelaire, more prosaic environmentalists from the human sciences might admire the forest of symbols, while paying attention that its theoretical pillars are unambiguous concepts that are to be exchanged in scholarly debates. These prosaic environmentalists might try to make these confusing words clearer, thus facilitating debate at the risk of killing the spirit of poetry, others will claim.
The essays in this volume are largely meant, in addition to addressing stringent environmental and ecological issues, to stimulate debate, to be proved “wrong,” whenever possible. Controversies are sometimes conducive to deeper understandings of complex phenomena, benefiting both the “wrong” and the “right” side of an argument, scholarly or otherwise. Let them be read and dealt with as such.
The first environmental concept evoked in the volume is the American political eco-system. It is obvious from its very title that the focus of Philip Davies’s “The Eco-System of US Politics” is not the world’s great outdoors and the challenges the natural environment and the environmental activists face. However, what happens in what the author calls the American political eco-system is likely to have considerable impact on subsequent environmental policies of a world in which the US is a major player. Philip Davies examines the current eco-system of the American polity, recent developments and possible future trends. At a time when eco-consciousness appears to be growing, in response to multiple threats to the health and equilibrium of the planet and its inhabitants, there is a confrontation embedded in political culture ongoing in the USA that is likely to produce echoes, for the better or for the worse, for a decade or more. While showing some reservations, the author makes pertinent observations with a view to placing eco-consciousness, such issues as climate change and renewable forms of energy in relation to the emerging trends of the eco-system of US politics, and the opportunities liable to promote the nation’s ability to convert a growing eco-consciousness into a significant eco-policy. All this is to be seen while acknowledging that an eco-system, including political eco-systems, would involve a great deal of equilibrium, which in politics would involve negotiation, debate, reasonable compromise of the competing “political organisms” of the overall body politic. However, the tendency in American politics over the previous decades, but especially since the success of disrupting forms of populism, such as those promoted by Donald Trump, is to see politics as war, which runs counter to democratic (“eco-friendly”) values and practices. Will the American eco-system get better as the next Presidential elections are drawing near, especially if one possible candidate’s fervor to win may trump the political card game?
In his “American Indians and Developing an Eco-Consciousness,” Roger L. Nichols chronicles developments over the last half century which have shown how the demonstrations conducted by some American Indians against federal and state actions which were threatening their cultural and religious sites have both been supported by, and have also contributed to, other groups involved in awareness-raising concerning ecological issues of widespread interest. The Native Americans militated for their cultural practices and religious rites to be recognized as legitimate, leading to debates, disputes and even clashes with federal agencies overseeing much of the federal land in the West, specifically when federally approved measures affecting the environment interfered with tribal religious sites or rites. When the U.S. tended to dismiss American Indian claims for religious freedom in special consecrated sites, tribal people moved toward the promotion of environmental arguments that turned out to enlist the sympathy and the wide support of a series of organizations, both ecologically aware and religious. This combination went on to show how alliances were made, which otherwise might not have supported tribal demonstrations relying on purely religious grounds only.
The theoretical background of Dragos Osoianu’s “Material Ecotheological Implications of Food Eating” harks back to Material Ecocriticism and Ecotheology. The latter, the author claims, integrates both a panentheistic and a pantheistic vision of post-systematic theology. Starting from the symbolic ritual of the holy Communion as consecrated by Christianity, from a material ecotheological point of view, Osoianu thinks, there is a balance of exerting agentive power between the epistemic subject and the ontic object, with the human being consuming the materiality of nature and, at the same time, the environmental others. Apparently, the urge to engage in the holy communion discriminates between the moral categories of good and evil, but the binary opposition does not belong itself to the material world, because nature is good per se in a Christian ecologically minded consciousness.
In “The Great Reset and its Pandemic Narratives,” Eduard Vlad starts from conceptualizations and events that became visible in what one might call “the Covid-19 age,” or the age of “the pandemic narratives of the Great Reset.” The essay places Klaus Schwab and Thierry Malleret’s controversial Covid-19: The Great Reset in relation to the various contexts in which it was published, for a better understanding of the outrage that it occasioned, while also giving rise to a host of conspiracy theories as the raw materials and the pins and bolts of what are called here “pandemic narratives.” Since a bewildering array of things become viral these days, pandemic-like, rather than network-like, a pandemic narrative is a suitable visualization of discourse displaying extreme connectivity and contagion, but also involving “contradictory pluridirectionality,” as it were, often wreaking havoc largely by means of the sensationalist messages disseminated by influential voices in the social media. Contamination, containment, and resistance to it, as well as conspiratorial elite circles will nevertheless feature prominently in the Covid-19 age, which explains why pandemic narratives and conspiracy theories help each other invade the many global pathways of information, misinformation, disinformation. In the opinion of Eduard Vlad, the host of conspiracy theories imagined by influential social media figures as diverse as J.P. Sears and Russell Brand is largely due to a certain (mis) understanding of a famous Great Reset slogan, which will be duly contextualized in the essay.
In “Posthumanism and Climate Change: Why Theory Matters,” Daniel Clinci starts from the basic assumption that a theory for what some environmentalists call the Anthropocene must consider and examine climate change, but also engage critically the whole underlying system of global domination and inequalities. A theory for the Anthropocene is very much necessary, as it may provide a framework not only from the points of view of philosophy or ontology, but also from those of politics, society, and economics. In this sense, Clinci notes, theory matters, even if it seems to be currently exiled, in his opinion, to the margins of both academia and activism. A note of reservation and hesitation is, however, voiced, as the author wonders whether pessimistic theories will be confirmed and societies will collapse under the weight of an unjust system, or they will re-frame and re-construct the trans-species communities that we have always been functioning in. Critical theory matters as the indispensable tool in the process of re-thinking the world in terms of dealing with the anthropogenic climate change and attending significant human impacts on the planet’s eco-systems from an engaged, involved, active perspective with posthumanism as one of the newly emerged approaches to the Anthropocene.
In her essay, “Matter, Objects and Nature Knowledge in William Byrd II’s Histories of the Dividing Line betwixt Virginia and North Carolina,” Loredana Bercuci goes back well beyond the time communities became distinctly eco-conscious, to early 18th century colonial America. William Byrd II’s text and its attending conceptions of the self and of nature are worth examining in terms of their historicity and the light the document sheds on one particular episode in the development of what would be eco-consciousness as more than a worldview at individual and group level toward distinct policies at higher ranks of social and political levels. Bercuci is intent on investigating, through her own eco-conscious, material ecocritical perspective, the intersections between environmental knowledge, race, and objects in order to show how the objectification of the boundary line works to objectify non-white races, as well as nature, and to conceal whiteness in colonial America.
- ISBN (PDF)
- ISBN (ePUB)
- ISBN (Hardcover)
- Publication date
- 2023 (November)
- climate change ecocriticism ecopoetics geocriticism ecotheology ecofeminism
- Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2023. 306 pp.