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Lawrence Buell

Lawrence Buell

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It is a critical review of Lawrence Buell's work.
It is a critical review of Lawrence Buell's work.

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Published by: Kerim Can Yazgünoğlu on Aug 08, 2011
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Kerim Can Yazgüno lu Prof. Dr. Serpil Oppermann IKA 718 Culture and Environment in Britain March 2011 ³Environmental Entanglement´: Buell¶s Account of Environmental Criticism Lawrence Buell carries out an exploration into the emergence of environmental criticism and its historical process in environmental and literary-cultural studies in The Future of Environmental Criticism, which vividly exemplifies the scope of environmental criticism, by pointing up the varied points of view regarding ³first-wave´ and ³second-wave´ environmental criticism. This paper sets out to go into what Buell highlights in the first chapter, ³The Emergence of Environmental Criticism,´ through shedding light upon the concepts like environmental criticism and ecofeminism. Buell, first of all, walks into the fact that ³[t]he environmental turn in literary and cultural studies emerged as a self-conscious movement´ (1), and environmental criticism has been expanding its horizons around the world, in particular, by referring to the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE), which is of great importance to make environmental criticism more widespread in literary and cultural studies. It is worth remarking that Buell regards ³ecocriticism´ as ³the commonest omnibus term for an increasingly heterogeneous movement´ (1); however, he is in favour of using the term ³environmental criticism´ in the book. Moreover, he contends that ³if environmental criticism today is still an emergent discourse it is one with very ancient roots´ (2) by pointing out that his aim is to draw attention to the fact that environmental discourse are of ancient roots and are varied throughout the history. He argues that it is claimed that the cause of ³western

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technodominationism´ emerged from Judaeo-Christian thought, and he gives some examples from Mayan mythography and Maori cosmology. Buell continues to argue that through the 1980s environmental issues have been taken into consideration, and Jonathan Bate poses the problem in his study on Wordsworth. Then, Buell explains the fact that the setting or place in fiction was ignored as an active agent in his times by giving example of US writer Eudora Welty. Furthermore, ³[w]hy do the discourses of environment seem more crucial today than they did to Welty in the 1940s?´ asks Buell. For instance, in 2011 a recent catastrophic breakdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant has occurred in Japan as a result of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami. It is pointed out that
[u]nderlying the advance has been a growing malaise about modern industrial society¶s inability to manage its unintended environmental consequences that Ulrich Beck, the Rachel Carson of contemporary social theory, calls ³reflexive modernization,´ meaning in particular the fear that even the privileged classes of the world inhabit a global ³risk society´ whose hazards cannot be anticipated, calculated, and controlled, much less escaped. (Buell 5)

What should interest us in this context is that we live in risk society, and Ulrich Beck points out that ³[r]isks are not the same as destruction. They do not refer to damages incurred. [...] However, risks do threaten destruction´ (³Risk Society´ 212-213). So, every disaster has great impact over the lives of human and nonhuman as seen in Japan. It might be true to say that environmental issues begin to be one of our primary concerns in the twentieth-first century because of global warming which directly affects the ways in which human and nonhuman live. In subtitled ³Fin-de-siècle Ferment: A Snapshot,´ Buell starts by providing an inquiry into how the conception of ecocriticism took shape in the 1980s and 1990s through the

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primary publications related to the ecocritical movement such as the American ISLE and the Green Letters. It is obvious to point out that ecocriticism has been an inter- and crossdisciplinary area
stretching the new movement¶s horizons beyond the academy and of provoking a self-examination of premises that has intensified as the movement has evolved beyond an initial concentration on nature oriented literature and on traditional forms of environmental education to take into account urban as well as rural loci and environmental justice concerns as well as nature preservation. (Buell 7)

It can be deduced from the abovementioned statements that environmental criticism is getting more and more inclusive and emerging. What is more important is that Buell remarks that ³self-evidently no human can speak as the environment, as nature, as a nonhuman animal´ (7). Hence, it is necessary to see humans as the part of ³the biotic community´ called by Aldo Leopold. So, if humans become environmentally embedded, then they can be more conscious of their environment and the nonhuman. Buell explains one of the main differences between first-wave and second-wave environmental criticism through the conception of ³biopolitics´ offered by Michel Foucault. For the second-wave environmental criticism, the sociocentric point of view is of great significance in terms of cultural, political and economic issues. For instance, for those who live in toxic areas, what should we do? It is obvious that this issue is multidimensional, and some precautions should be taken in order that humans might be saved from this toxicity. Besides, Buell provides some insights into how ³literary ecotheory´ has been evolved. It is said that British ecocritic Dominic Head offers a dialogue between environmental criticism and postmodern theory. Buell, then, explains why he prefers environmental criticism to ecocriticism by pointing out that ³the term implies a nonexistent methodological holism´ (12), and it is because of ³the implicit narrowness of the µeco¶´ (12). It refers to natural rather than ³built´ environment. It is important to note that ³environmental criticism¶s working conception of µenvironment¶ has broadened in recent years from µnatural¶ to include also the urban, the interweave of µbuilt¶ and µnatural¶ dimensions in every locale,

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and the interpenetration of the local by the global´ (Buell 12). It is obvious that the term is multifarious. In addition, in the subtitled ³From µNature¶ in Literature X to the Beginnings of Ecocriticism,´ Buell highlights two books which have great impact over environmental criticism. The first is Leo Marx¶s The Machine and the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in American Culture (1964), and the second is Raymond Williams¶ The Country and the City (1973). It is noted that Marx and Williams are concerned with the relations between cultural history and nature, urbanism and industrial technology in their books. The concepts like national myth, country, rurality and wilderness are said to be questioned in the books. It is said that Williams ³more closely anticipated later literature-and-environment studies in his keen interest in the facts of environmental history´ (Buell 15) and Marx was ³a technodeterminist who declared the demise of anti-establishment pastoral in the first half of the twentieth century´ (Buell 15). Scott Hess suggests ³the possibility of a µsustainable pastoral¶ that would not cater to consumerist passivity, but promote more self-conscious µaction and participation¶ through its cognizance of humanity¶s ongoing interaction with µthe non-human forces in which our lives are embedded¶´ (Buell 16). In short, Buell gives an overall picture of the emergence of environmental criticism. In the subtitled ³The Environmental Turn Anatomized,´ Buell starts with a questioning into the fact that ³µpalimpsest¶ would be a better metaphor than µwave¶´ (17). What makes environmental criticism more inclusive is that it can open up many novel ways of understanding ecocentric concerns in relation to environmental sciences. Joseph Carroll and Glen A. Love use evolutionary biology for the critique of environmental issues. Ursula Heise is preoccupied with risk theory in order to explain contemporary anxieties. N. Katherine Hayles is concerned with ³the prosthetics of environment information technology, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality´ (Buell 18) so as to display the transition from human to

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posthuman identities in technocultural societies. Besides, Buell remarks that ecofeminism is ³itself a multiverse´ (19) and ³a correlation between the history of institutionalized patriarchy and human domination of the nonhuman´ (Buell 19) is a source for the questioning of science. Carolyn Merchant and Donna Haraway, Val Plumwood and Karen Warren are so influential that their contributions have paved the way for new directions in ecofeminism in the late twentieth and twentieth-first centuries. Buell expresses that not all the ecofeminists are ³anti-science,´ and instrumental rationalism plays an important role in shaping modern science and technology. It is obvious that Val Plumwood is against instrumental rationalism in her work, Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason. Moreover, Buell points out that first-wave ecocriticism is concerned with ³natural environment´ and its aim is to try to protect the biotic community (21). For second-wave ecocriticism, natural and built environments are intertwined, thereby encapsulating cultural dimensions which play great part in social issues. It is noted that environmental justice is an important part of environmental criticism. Besides, it is through ³environmental entanglement´ that subjectivity is shaped, identity is redefined. In today¶s world, environmental concern is so important that it is seen as a crucial part of the human and the nonhuman. Buell remarks that canonical works begin to be scrutinised from novel critical perspectives due to the fact that new ways of understanding environmental criticism come into existence. The conclusion to be drawn from these abovementioned statements is not only an thought-provoking inquiry into the historical debates about environmental criticism, but also an examination of the ecotheoretical perspectives around the world. What is evident throughout the first chapter is that Buell provides an engaging analysis of first-wave and second wave environmental criticism and different understandings in this field. I have come to the realisation that literary-and-environmental studies will be significant field for twentyfirst-century humanities.

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Works Cited Beck, Ulrich. ³Risk Society Revisited: Theory, Politics and Research Programmes.´ The Risk Society and Beyond: Critical Issues for Social Theory. Eds. Barbara Adam, Ulrich Beck and Joostvan Loon. London: SAGE, 2005. Buell, Lawrence. ³The Emergence of Environmental Criticism.´ Chapter 1 of The Future of Environmental Criticism: Environmental Crisis and Literary Imagination. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005.

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