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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ecocriticism is the study of literature and environment from
an interdisciplinary point of view where all sciences come together to
analyze the environment and brainstorm possible solutions for the
correction of the contemporary environmental situation. Ecocriticism was
officially heralded by the publication of two seminal works, both published
in the mid-1990s: The Ecocriticism Reader, edited by Cheryll Glotfelty and
Harold Fromm, and The Environmental Imagination, by Lawrence Buell.
In the United States, ecocriticism is often associated with
the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE),

which hosts biennial meetings for scholars who deal with environmental

matters in literature. ASLE publishes a journalInterdisciplinary Studies in

Literature and Environment (ISLE)in which current American scholarship
can be found.
Ecocriticism is an intentionally broad approach that is known by a
number of other designations, including "green (cultural)
studies", "ecopoetics", and "environmental literary criticism".
Evolution of ecocriticism in literary studies
Ecocritics investigate such things as the
underlying ecological values, what, precisely, is meant by the word
nature, and whether the examination of "place" should be a distinctive
category, much like class, gender or race. Ecocritics examine human
perception of wilderness, and how it has changed throughout history and
whether or not current environmental issues are accurately represented or

even mentioned in popular culture and modern literature. Other

disciplines, such as history, philosophy, ethics, and psychology, are also
considered by ecocritics to be possible contributors to ecocriticism.
William Rueckert may have been the first person to use the term
ecocriticism (Barry 240). In 1978, Rueckert published an essay
titled Literature and Ecology: An Experiment in Ecocriticism. His intent
was to focus on the application of ecology and ecological concepts to the
study of literature."[2]
Ecologically minded individuals and scholars have been publishing
progressive works of ecotheory and criticism since the explosion of
environmentalism in the late 1960s and 1970s. However, because there
was no organized movement to study the ecological/environmental side of
literature, these important works were scattered and categorized under a
litany of different subject headings: pastoralism, human ecology,
regionalism, American Studies etc. British marxist critic Raymond
Williams, for example, wrote a seminal critique of pastoral literature in
1973, The Country and the City.
Another early ecocritical text, Joseph Meeker's The Comedy of
Survival (1974), proposed a version of an argument that was later to
dominate ecocriticism and environmental philosophy; that environmental
crisis is caused primarily by a cultural tradition in the West of separation
of culture from nature, and elevation of the former to moral
predominance. Such anthropocentrism is identified in the tragic
conception of a hero whose moral struggles are more important than mere
biological survival, whereas the science of animal ethology, Meeker

asserts, shows that a "comic mode" of muddling through and "making

love not war" has superior ecological value. In the later, "second wave"
ecocriticism, Meeker's adoption of an ecophilosophical position with
apparent scientific sanction as a measure of literary value tended to
prevail over Williams's ideological and historical critique of the shifts in a
literary genre's representation of nature.
As Glotfelty noted in The Ecocriticism Reader, One indication of the
disunity of the early efforts is that these critics rarely cited one anothers
work; they didnt know that it existedEach was a single voice howling in
the wilderness.[3] Nevertheless, ecocriticismunlike feminist and Marxist
criticismsfailed to crystallize into a coherent movement in the late
1970s, and indeed only did so in the USA in the 1990s.
In the mid-1980s, scholars began to work collectively to establish
ecocritism as a genre, primarily through the work of the Western
Literature Association in which the revaluation of nature writing as a nonfictional literary genre could function. In 1990, at the University of
Nevada, Reno, Glotfelty became the first person to hold an academic
position as a professor of Literature and the Environment, and UNR has
retained the position it established at that time as the intellectual home of
ecocriticism even as ASLE has burgeoned into an organization with
thousands of members in the US alone. From the late 1990s, new
branches of ASLE and affiliated organizations were started in the UK,
Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand (ASLEC-ANZ), India (OSLE-India),
Taiwan, Canada and Europe.

In comparison with other 'political' forms of criticism, there has been

relatively little dispute about the moral and philosophical aims of
ecocriticism, although its scope has broadened rapidly from nature
writing, Romantic poetry, and canonical literature to take in film,
television, theatre, animal stories, architectures, scientific narratives and
an extraordinary range of literary texts. At the same time, ecocriticism has
borrowed methodologies and theoretically informed approaches liberally
from other fields of literary, social and scientific study.
Glotfelty's working definition in The Ecocriticism Reader is that
"ecocriticism is the study of the relationship between literature and the
physical environment",[4] and one of the implicit goals of the approach is
to recoup professional dignity for what Glotfelty calls the "undervalued
genre of nature writing".[5] Lawrence Buell defines ecocriticism ... as [a]
study of the relationship between literature and the environment
conducted in a spirit of commitment to environmentalist praxis.[6]
Simon Estok noted in 2001 that ecocriticism has distinguished
itself, debates notwithstanding, firstly by the ethical stand it takes, its
commitment to the natural world as an important thing rather than simply
as an object of thematic study, and, secondly, by its commitment to
making connections.[7]
More recently, in an article that extends ecocriticism to
Shakespearean studies, Estok argues that ecocriticism is more than
simply the study of Nature or natural things in literature; rather, it is any
theory that is committed to effecting change by analyzing the function
thematic, artistic, social, historical, ideological, theoretical, or otherwiseof

the natural environment, or aspects of it, represented in documents

(literary or other) that contribute to material practices in material worlds.

This echoes the functional approach of the cultural ecology branch of

ecocriticism, which analyzes the analogies between ecosystems and

imaginative texts and posits that such texts potentially have an ecological
(regenerative, revitalizing) function in the cultural system.[9]
As Michael P. Cohen has observed, if you want to be an ecocritic, be
prepared to explain what you do and be criticized, if not satirized.
Certainly, Cohen adds his voice to such critique, noting that one of the
problems of ecocriticism has been what he calls its praise-song school of
criticism. All ecocritics share an environmentalist motivation of some sort,
but whereas the majority are 'nature endorsing',[10] some are 'nature
sceptical'. In part this entails a shared sense of the ways in which 'nature'
has been used to legitimise gender, sexual and racial norms (so
homosexuality has been seen as 'unnatural', for example), but it also
involves scepticism about the uses to which 'ecological' language is put in
ecocriticism; it can also involve a critique of the ways cultural norms of
nature and the environment contribute to environmental degradation.
Greg Garrard has dubbed 'pastoral ecology' the notion that nature
undisturbed is balanced and harmonious,[11] while Dana Phillips has
criticised the literary quality and scientific accuracy of nature writing in
"The Truth of Ecology". Similarly, there has been a call to recognize the
place of the Environmental Justice movement in redefining ecocritical

In response to the question of what ecocriticism is or should be,

Camilo Gomides has offered an operational definition that is both broad
and discriminating: "The field of enquiry that analyzes and promotes
works of art which raise moral questions about human interactions with
nature, while also motivating audiences to live within a limit that will be
binding over generations" (16). He tests it for a film (mal)adaptation about
Amazonian deforestation. Implementing the Gomides definition, Joseph
Henry Vogel makes the case that ecocriticism constitutes an "economic
school of thought" as it engages audiences to debate issues of resource
allocation that have no technical solution.

Jump up^ Glotfelty & Fromm 1996, p. xviii


Jump up^ Glotfelty & Fromm 1996, p. 107


Jump up^ Glotfelty & Fromm 1996, p. vii


Jump up^ Glotfelty & Fromm 1996, p. xviii


Jump up^ Glotfelty & Fromm 1996, p. xxxi


Jump up^ 430, n.20


Jump up^ Estok 2001, p. 220


Jump up^ Estok 2005, pp. 16-17


Jump up^ Zapf 2008


Jump up^ Kate Soper, "What is Nature?", 1998


Jump up^ Barry 2009, pp. 56-58


Jump up^ Buell 1998


Barry, Peter. "Ecocriticism". Beginning Theory: An Introduction to

Literary and Cultural Theory. 3rd ed. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009.
Buell, Lawrence. The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature
Writing, and the Formation of American Culture. Cambridge, MA and
London, England: Harvard University Press, 1995.
Buell, Lawrence. "Toxic Discourse." Critical Inquiry 24.3 (1998): 639665 .
Buell, Lawrence. Writing for an Endangered World: Literature,
Culture, and Environment in the U.S. and Beyond. Cambridge, MA and
London, England: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001.
Cohen, Michael P. Blues in Green: Ecocriticism Under
Critique. Environmental History 9. 1 (January 2004): 9-36.
Coupe, Lawrence, ed. The Green Studies Reader: From Romanticism
to Ecocriticism. London: Routledge, 2000.
Cranston, CA. & Robert Zeller, eds. "The Littoral Zone: Australian
Contexts and their Writers". New York: Rodopi, 2007.
Estok, Simon C. (2001). A Report Card on Ecocriticism. AUMLA 96
(November): 200-38.
Estok, Simon C. (2005). Shakespeare and Ecocriticism: An Analysis
of Home and Power in King Lear. AUMLA 103 (May 2005): 15-41.
Forns-Broggi, Roberto. La aventura perdida del ecopoema
in Frnix 5/6 (2007): 376-394.(Spanish)
Frederick, Suresh. Contemporary Contemplations on Ecoliterature.
New Delhi:Authorpress, 2012.
Garrard, Greg, Ecocriticism. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Glotfelty, Cheryll and Harold Fromm (Eds). The Ecocriticism Reader:

Landmarks in Literary Ecology. Athens and London: University of Georgia,
Gomides, Camilo. 'Putting a New Definition of Ecocriticism to the
Test: The Case of The Burning Season, a film (mal)Adaptation". ISLE 13.1
(2006): 13-23.
Heise, Ursula K. Greening English: Recent Introductions to
Ecocriticism. Contemporary Literature 47.2 (2006): 289298.
Indian Journal of Ecocriticism
Kroeber, Karl. Ecological Literary Criticism: Romantic Imagining and
the Biology of Mind. New York: Columbia UP, 1994.
Marx, Leo. The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral
Ideal in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964.
McKusick, James C. Green Writing: Romanticism and Ecology. New
York: St. Martin's, 2000.
Meeker, Joseph W. "The Comedy of Survival: Studies in Literary
Ecology." New York: Scribner's, 1972.
Moore, Bryan L. Ecology and Literature: Ecocentric Personification
from Antiquity to the Twenty-first Century. New York: Palgrave Macmillan,
Nicolson, Marjorie Hope. Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory: The
Development of the Aesthetics of the Infinite. Seattle: Univ. of Washington
Press, 1959.
Phillips, Dana. The Truth of Ecology: Nature, Culture, and Literature
in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Rueckert, William. "Literature and Ecology: An Experiment in

Ecocriticism." Iowa Review 9.1 (1978): 71-86.
Rojas Prez, Walter. La ecocrtica hoy. San Jos, Costa Rica: Aire
Moderno, 2004.
Selvamony, Nirmal, Nirmaldasan & Rayson K. Alex. Essays in
Ecocriticism. Delhi: Sarup and Sons and OSLE-India, 2008.
Slovic, Scott. Seeking Awareness in American Nature Writing: Henry
Thoreau, Annie Dillard, Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, Barry Lopez. Salt
Lake City, UT: University of Utah Press, 1992.
Vogel, Joseph Henry. "Ecocriticism as an Economic School of
Thought: Woody Allen's Match Point as Exemplary." OMETECA: Science
and Humanities 12 (2008): 105-119.
Williams, Raymond. The Country and the City. London: Chatto and
Windus, 1973.
Zapf, Hubert. "Literary Ecology and the Ethics of Texts." New
Literary History 39.4 (2008): 847-868.

Ecological humanities
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The ecological humanities (also, environmental humanities)
are an interdisciplinary area of research, drawing on the many
environmental sub-disciplines that have emerged in the humanities over
the past several decades (in particular environmental philosophy,
environmental history and environmental anthropology).
The ecological humanities aim to help bridge traditional divides between
the sciences and the humanities, and
between Western, Eastern and Indigenous ways of knowing the natural
.world and the place of humans in it (Rose 2004)
The ecological humanities are characterised by a connectivity
ontology and a commitment to two fundamental axioms relating to the
need to submit to ecological laws and to see humanity as part of a larger
.living system
Connectivity ontology
One of the fundamental ontological presuppositions of ecological
humanities is that the organic world and its inorganic parts are seen as a
single system whereby each part is linked to each other part. This world
view in turn shares an intimate connection with Lotka's physiological
philosophy and the associated concept of the "World Engine".[1] When we
see everything as connected, then the traditional questions of the

humanities concerning economic and political justice

become enlarged, into a consideration of how justice is connected with
our transformation of our environment and ecosystems. The consequence
of such a connectivity ontology is, as proponents of the ecological
humanities argue, that we begin to seek out a more inclusive concept of
justice that includes non-humans within the domain of those to whom
rights are owing. This broadened conception of justice involves "enlarged"
or "ecological thinking", which presupposes the enhancement of
knowledge sharing within fields of plural and diverse knowledges. This
kind of knowledge sharing is called transdisciplinarity. It has links with the
political philosophy of Hannah Arendt and the works of Italo Calvino. As
Calvino put it, "enlarge[s] the sphere of what we can imagine". It also has
connections with Leibniz's Enlightenment project where, the sciences are
simultaneously abridged while also being enlarged.[2]
The situation is complicated however by the recognition of the fact
that connections are both non-linear and linear. The ecological humanities
therefore, require both linear and non-linear modes of language through
which reasoning about justice can be done. Thus there is a motivation to
find linguistic modes which can adequately express both linear and non.linear connectivities
Axioms of ecological humanities[edit]
: There are three axioms of ecological humanities

The axiom of submission to ecosystem laws;


The axiom of ecological kinship, which situates humanity as

participant in a larger living system; and


The axiom of the social construction of ecosystems and ecological

unity, which states that ecosystems and nature may be merely convenient
conceptual entities (Marshall, 2002).
Putting the first and second axioms another way, the connections
between and among living things are the basis for how ecosystems are
understood to work, and thus constitute laws of existence and guidelines
for behaviour (Rose 2004)
The first of these axioms has a tradition in social sciences (see Marx,
1968: 3). From the second axiom the notions of ecological embodiment/
embededness and habitat have emerged from Political Theory with a
fundamental connectivity to rights, democracy and ecologism (Eckersley
.1996: 222, 225; Eckersley 1998)
The third axiom comes from the strong 'self-reflective' tradition of all
'humanities' scholarship and it encourages ecological humanities to
investigate its own theoretical basis (and without which, ecological
.humanities is just 'ecology')
Contemporary ideas[edit]
Political economic ecology
See also: Political ecology

Some theorists have suggested that the inclusion of non-humans in

the consideration of justice links ecocentric philosophy with political
economics. This is because the theorising of justice is a central activity of
political economic philosophy. If in accordance with the axioms of
ecological humanities, theories of justice are enlarged to include
ecological values then the necessary result is the synthesis of the
concerns of ecology with that of political economy: i.e. Political Economic
Energy systems language
The question of what language can best depict the linear and nonlinear causal connections of ecological systems appears to have been
taken up by the school of ecology known as systems ecology. To depict
the linear and non-linear internal relatedness of ecosystems where the
laws of thermodynamics hold significant consequences (Hannon et al.
1991: 80), Systems Ecologist H.T. Odum (1994) predicated the Energy
Systems Language on the principles of ecological energetics. In ecological
energetics, just as in ecological humanities, the causal bond between
connections is considered an ontic category (see Patten et al. 1976: 460).
Moreover as a result of simulating ecological systems with the energy
systems language H.T.Odum make the controversial suggestion that
embodied energy could be understood as value, which in itself is a step
.into the field of Political Economic Ecology noted above


^ S. Kingsland (1985). Modeling Nature. The University of Chicago

Press. Chapter 2.


^ L.Courtart translated by D.Rutherford, R.T. Monroe (2002). The

Logic of Leibniz. Chapter 5.

Italo Calvino, On Fourier, III: A Utopia of Fine Dust, The Literature

Machine, Picador, London.

R. Eckersley (1996) Greening Liberal Democracy, in Doherty, B.

and de Geus, M. ed.Democracy & Green Political Thought: Sustainability,
Rights and Citizenship, Routledge, London, pp. 212236.

R. Eckersley (1998) The Death of Nature and the Birth of Ecological

Humanities,Organization and Environment, Vol 11, No. 2, pp. 183185.

R. Eckersley (2001) 'Symposium Green Thinking from

Australia', Environmental Politics, Vol.10, No.4, pp. 85102.

J.B. Foster and P.Burkett (2004) Ecological Economics And Classical

Marxism,Organization & Environment, Vol. 17, No.1, pp. 3260.

B. Hannon, R.Costanza and R.Ulanowicz (1991) A General

Accounting Framework for Ecological Systems: A Functional Taxonomy for
Connectivist Ecology, Theoretical Population Biology, Vol. 40, 78-104.

A. Marshall (2002) The Unity of Nature: Wholeness and

Disintegration in Ecology and Science. London: Imperial College Press.

J. Martinez-Alier (1987) Ecological Economics, Basil Blackwell.

K. Marx (1968), in Karl Marx: 1818/1968, a collection of essays, Inter

Nationes, Bad Godesberg.

H.T. Odum (1994) Ecological and General Systems: An Introduction

to Systems Ecology, Colorado University Press, Boulder, Colorado.

B.C. Patten, R.W.Bosserman, J.T.Finn and W.B.Cale (1976)

Propagation of Cause in Ecosystems, in Patten, B.C. ed. Systems Analysis
and Systems Simulation in Ecology, Academic Press inc. New York.

S. Podolinsky (2004) Socialism And The Unity Of Physical

Forces, Organization & Environment, Vol. 17, No. 1, pp. 6175.

D. Rose and L. Robin (2004) 'The Ecological Humanities in Action: An

Invitation', Australian Humanities Review, 31-2

D.R. Weiner (2000) Models of Nature: Ecology, Conservation and

Cultural Revolution in Soviet Russia, University of Pittsburgh Press, U.S.A.


1994 Western Literature Association Meeting
Salt Lake City, Utah--6 October 1994
The word "ecocriticism" traces back to William Rueckert's 1978
essay "Literature and Ecology: An Experiment in Ecocriticism" and
apparently lay dormant in critical vocabulary until the 1989 Western
Literature Association meeting (in Coeur d'Alene), when Cheryll Glotfelty
(at the time a graduate student at Cornell, now Assistant Professor of
Literature and the Environment at the University of Nevada, Reno) not
only revived the term but urged its adoption to refer to the diffuse critical
field that heretofore had been known as "the study of nature writing."
Cheryll's call for an "ecocriticism" was immediately seconded at that same
WLA meeting by Glen Love (Professor of English at the University of
Oregon) in his Past President's speech, entitled "Revaluing Nature: Toward
an Ecological Literary Criticism." Since that meeting in 1989, the term
"ecocriticism" has bloomed in usage, so that now one finds it appearing
with some frequency in calls for papers, critical articles, and indeed
academic job descriptions. Indications are that acceptance of the term is
But there's a problem, which came to the fore at the 1993 WLA
meeting in Wichita. Trouble arose on the last day of the conference, at the
end of a session entitled, "Ecocriticism: Reimagining the Way We Write

about the West," a session that, unfortunately, was left without time for
discussion at the end. As people were gathering up their belongings and
streaming toward the doors, an older gentleman, still in his seat, clearly
befuddled, tried to raise his voice above the haste: "But what IS
ecocriticism?" It seems that few people heard him but those who did
recognized a voice crying out in the wilderness. O'Grady and Branch
immediately exchanged looks of: "Hey, that fellow deserves an answer-"!we all do
And thus was born the idea for the session at the 1994 WLA meeting
in Salt Lake City, "Defining Ecocritical Theory and Practice." Gathered here
are one-page position papers by sixteen "younger" scholars, all of whom
are pondering the question posed by the good man in Wichita: "What is
ecocriticism?" Rather than provide the definitive answer, the point of
these papers is to foster an awareness of the varied uses (or non-uses!) to
which scholars are putting the term. In addition, the writers were asked to
consider how our present understanding might lead to future
developments, both in scholarship and in pedagogy. Please use this
material as a working document, a point of departure from which to
".ponder your own stance toward "ecocriticism
Michael P. Branch, Florida International University [now at the
University of Nevada, Reno]
Sean O'Grady, Boise State University

Position Papers
Ralph W. Black, What We Talk About When We Talk About
?Christopher Cokinos, What Is Ecocriticism
?Nancy Cook, What Is Ecocriticism
?Harry Crockett, What Is Ecocriticism
?Thomas K. Dean, What Is Eco-Criticism
?Cheryll Glotfelty, What Is Ecocriticism
Ian Marshall, The Ecocritical Heritage
?Kent Ryden, What Is Ecocriticism
?Stephanie Sarver, What Is Ecocriticism
Don Scheese, Some Principles of Ecocriticism
Mark Schlenz, Survival Stories: Toward an Ecology of Literary Criticism
Scott Slovic, Ecocriticism: Storytelling, Values, Communication, Contact
Stan Tag, Four Ways of Looking at Ecocriticism
?David Taylor, What Is Ecocriticism
?David W. Teague, What Is Ecocriticism
?Allison B. Wallace, What Is Ecocriticism

by Cheryll Glotfelty
Simply defined, ecocriticism is the study of the relationship between
literature and the physical environment. Just as feminist criticism
examines language and literature from a gender-conscious perspective,
and Marxist criticism brings an awareness of modes of production and
economic class to its reading of texts, ecocriticism takes an earthcentered approach to literary studies.
Ecocritics and theorists ask questions like the following: How is
nature represented in this sonnet? What role does the physical setting
play in the plot of this novel? Are the values expressed in this play
consistent with ecological wisdom? How do our metaphors of the land
influence the way we treat it? How can we characterize nature writing as a
genre? In addition to race, class, and gender, should place become a new
critical category? Do men write about nature differently than women do?
In what ways has literacy itself affected humankind's relationship to the
natural world? How has the concept of wilderness changed over time? In
what ways and to what effect is the environmental crisis seeping into
contemporary literature and popular culture? What view of nature informs
U.S. government reports, and what rhetoric enforces this view? What
bearing might the science of ecology have on literary studies? How is
science itself open to literary analysis? What cross-fertilization is possible
between literary studies and environmental discourse in related
disciplines such as history, philosophy, psychology, art history, and

Despite the broad scope of inquiry and disparate levels of

sophistication, all ecological criticism shares the fundamental premise that
human culture is connected to the physical world, affecting it and affected
by it. Ecocriticism takes as its subject the interconnections between
nature and culture, specifically the cultural artifacts 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
Ecocriticism can be further characterized by distinguishing it from
other critical approaches. Literary theory, in general, examines the
relations between writers, texts, and the world. In most literary theory
"the world" is synonymous with society--the social sphere. Ecocriticism
expands the notion of "the world" to include the entire ecosphere. If we
agree with Barry Commoner's first law of ecology, that "Everything is
connected to everything else," we must conclude that literature does not
float above the material world in some aesthetic ether, but, rather, plays a
part in an immensely complex global system, in which energy, matter,
and ideas interact.
Most ecocritical work shares a common motivation: the troubling
awareness that we have reached the age of environmental limits, a time
when the consequences of human actions are damaging the planet's basic
life support systems. This awareness sparks a sincere desire to contribute
to environmental restoration, not just in our spare time, but from within
our capacity as professors of literature. Historian Donald Worster argues
that humanities scholars have an important role to play:

We are facing a global crisis today, not because of how ecosystems

function but rather because of how our ethical systems function. Getting
through the crisis requires understanding our impact on nature as
precisely as possible, but even more, it requires understanding those
ethical systems and using that understanding to reform them. Historians,
along with literary scholars, anthropologists, and philosophers, cannot do
the reforming, of course, but they can help with the understanding. (The
Wealth of Nature: Environmental History and the Ecological Imagination
[New York: Oxford UP, 1993] 27; my emphasis)
Literary scholars specialize in questions of value, meaning, tradition, point
of view, and language, and it is in these areas that we are making a
substantial contribution to environmental thinking.
In my view, an ecologically focussed criticism is a worthy enterprise
primarily because it directs our attention to matters about which we need
to be thinking. Consciousness raising is its most important task. Ecocritics
encourage others to think seriously about the relationship of humans to
nature, about the ethical and aesthetic dilemmas posed by the
environmental crisis, and about how language and literature transmit
values with profound ecological implications.
Cheryll Glotfelty, University of Nevada, Reno

Ecocriticism is the study of the relationship between literature and
the environment. Various schools of literary criticism examine language
and literature from specific perspectives. Feminist criticism, for instance,
examines literature from the perspective of feminine gender, whereas
Marxist criticism examines literature from the standpoint of class structure
and production. Ecocriticism looks at literature from the perspective of the
It is believed that William Rueckert was the first to use the term
ecocriticism. Rueckert published an essay in 1978 entitled "Literature
and Ecology: An Experiment in Ecocriticism." This essay offered an outline
for the new discipline: "the application of ecology and ecological concepts
".to the study of literature
While environmentalism became a popular issue in the late 1960s
and 1970s, ecocriticism was not established as a genre until the mid1980s. This initiative was actualized through the work of the Western
Literature Association. In 1990, Cheryll Glotfelty of the University of
Nevada in Reno was the first to assume an academic position as professor
of Literature and the Environment. This institution is still considered the
.primary bastion for ecocritical thought
Ecocriticism is represented in the United States by the Association
for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE). This organization

holds biennial meetings for ecocritics. The official journal of the ASLE,
Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment (ISLE), represents
the latest in scholarship on ecocritism. As an ecocritic or theorist reads
particular texts, he or she will think about specific issues relating to the
ecology. Questions will arise: How is nature expressed in this piece? How
important is physical plant to the plot? Are the values represented in the
text consonant with "green" thinking? Do literary metaphors for land have
an impact on how we treat the land? What constitutes nature writing? If
class, race and gender are critical categories, shall place become another
such category? Are there differences in the way men and women write
about nature? Has literacy changed man's bond to nature? Is the crisis
with the environment represented in literature, and how has this affected
man's relationship to the ecology? Are United States government reports
influenced by a particular ecological view? How has ecology impacted the
?study of literature
Though these questions hint at a very wide area of inquiry on
different levels, there is a single basic premise in ecological criticism: that
all of human culture is linked to the physical world and is affected by and
has an effect on the natural world. The ecocritic's job is to negotiate
.between that which is human and that which is nonhuman
Another way to understand ecocriticism is by comparing it to other
literary criticism. Literary criticism looks at the relationships among
authors, writings and the world. The literary critic takes "the world" to
mean "society." Ecocritics expand on this notion so that "the world" comes

to include all of the ecosphere. According to Barry Commoner,

an American environmental scientist, the first law of ecology states,
"Everything is connected to everything else." Applying this concept to
literature, the ecocritic believes that literature is not an esoteric or
ethereal presence but one capable of playing a role in a complicated
global pattern where everything -- matter, energy and ideas -- can
Most ecocritics are driven by the idea that humans are nearing the
end of their environmental resources. They see everything as a
consequence of how humans have damaged the basic life-support system
of the planet. With this awareness at the forefront, the ecocritic yearns to
take part in restoring the environment not just from time to time but at all
.times, in every discipline, including the study of literature
Historian Donald Worster believes that scholars in the humanities
can play a significant role in this work. "Getting through the crisis requires
understanding our impact on nature as precisely as possible, but even
more, it requires understanding those ethical systems and using that
understanding to reform them," he says. "Historians, along with literary
scholars, anthropologists, and philosophers, cannot do the reforming, of
".course, but they can help with the understanding
Those immersed in the study of literature have the habit of delving
into point of view, language, tradition, meaning and value. Through
these perspectives, the literary scholar may use ecocriticism to further

awareness of the environment and the ecology. Ecocriticism focuses

attention on a matter that is acknowledged by most to be of critical
.importance in the modern world
Selected full-text books and articles on this topic
Greg Garrard.
Routledge, 2004
Read preview


Nature in Literary and Cultural Studies: Transatlantic

Conversations on Ecocriticism
Catrin Gersdorf; Sylvia Mayer.
Rodopi, 2006
Read preview


The Truth of Ecology: Nature, Culture, and Literature in

Dana Phillips.
Oxford University Press, 2003
Read preview


Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and


Joseph Carroll.
Routledge, 2004
Librarians tip: Chap. 8 "Ecocriticism, Cognitive Ethology, and the
Environments of Victorian Fiction"
Read preview


Theory from the Fringes: Animals, Ecocriticism,

Estok, Simon C.
Mosaic (Winnipeg), Vol. 40, No. 1, March 2007
Read preview


"Loving Ourselves Best of All": Ecocriticism and the Adapted

Easterlin, Nancy.
Mosaic (Winnipeg), Vol. 37, No. 3, September 2004
Read preview


The Greening of African-American Landscapes: Where

Ecocriticism Meets Post-Colonial Theory
Gerhardt, Christine.
The Mississippi Quarterly, Vol. 55, No. 4, Fall 2002
Read preview


Joe Moran.
Routledge, 2001
Librarians tip: "Ecocriticism and Science" begins on p. 170
Read preview


Key Concepts in Literary Theory

Julian Wolfreys; Ruth Robbins; Kenneth Womack.
Edinburgh University Press, 2006
Librarians tip: "Ecocriticism" begins on p. 121
Read preview


Ecocriticism and Nineteenth-Century Literature

Ecocriticism and Nineteenth-Century Literature Essay - Ecocriticism
and Nineteenth-Century Literature
Ecocriticism and Nineteenth-Century Literature
Ecocriticism and Nineteenth-Century Literature
Ecocriticism is the study of representations of nature in literary
.works and of the relationship between literature and the environment
Ecocriticism as an academic discipline began in earnest in the
1990s, although its roots go back to the late 1970s. Because it is a new
area of study, scholars are still engaged in defining the scope and aims of
the subject. Cheryll Glotfelty, one of the pioneers in the field, has defined
ecocriticism as the study of the relationship between literature and the
physical environment, and Laurence Buell says that this study must be
conducted in a spirit of commitment to environmentalist praxis. David
Mazel declares it is the analysis of literature as though nature mattered.
This study, it is argued, cannot be performed without a keen
understanding of the environmental crises of modern times and thus must
inform personal and political actions; it is, in a sense, a form of activism.
Many critics also emphasize the interdisciplinary nature of the enquiry,
which is informed by ecological science, politics, ethics, women's

studies, Native American studies, and history, among other academic

fields. The term ecocriticism was coined in 1978 by William Rueckert in
his essay Literature and Ecology: An Experiment in Ecocriticism. Interest
in the study of nature writing and with reading literature with a focus on
green issues grew through the 1980s, and by the early 1990s
ecocriticism had emerged as a recognizable discipline within literature
.departments of American universities
While ecocritics study literature written throughout history and
analyze its relationship to the environment, most scholarship
has focused on American and British literature from the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries. The nineteenth century especially saw a number of
developments in literature that ecocritics view as significant. American
and British Romantic writers took a particular interest in nature as a
subject; Victorian realists wrote about industrialization, which was
changing the natural landscape; explorers and natural historians began to
write about newly encountered places and wildlife; and pioneers and other
travelers wrote of their experiences with an emphasis on setting. Probably
the defining work of nature writing, and the ecologically oriented work
that has been the subject of most literary analysis, is Henry David
Thoreau's Walden (1854). This classic of American literature is a poetic
narrative describing the two months the author lived in a small cabin in
the woods near Walden Pond, in Massachusetts. In his work, Thoreau
observes all around him with a keen eye and a philosophical spirit,
describing the ordinary but remarkable creatures and happenings he

encounters in the natural world and discussing the meaning of living in

harmony with nature and one's soul. Some critics have argued that the
American tradition of nature writing stems from Thoreau's masterpiece.
Another landmark American nonfiction work about nature was Ralph
Waldo Emerson's Nature (1836). This essay is the writer's statement on
the principles of the philosophy of Transcendentalism, which he describes
as a hypothesis to account for nature by other principles than those of
carpentry and chemistry. In this work, Emerson talks about the mystical
unity of nature and urges his readers to enjoy a relationship with the
environment. Other American writers of the period whose work has been
seen as important by ecocritics include William Cullen Bryant, James Kirke
Paulding, James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Walt Whitman,
and a number of minor writers who wrote stories about the Wild West.
Some scholars have pointed out that much of the focus of ecocriticism has
been nature writing by white men. They note that the response toward the
landscape is far different in works by African-Americans (such as Frederick
Douglass), Native Americans, and women. A related but distinct field of
literary study, ecofeminist literary criticism, examines the representations
of nature by women and reveals how they often overturn dominant male
.images and attitudes toward the environment
Nineteenth century American naturalists and explorers are often
credited by ecocritics as having initiated the conservation movement.
These writers differ from literary authors because their work focuses
more on scientific descriptions and speculations about nature. However,

as many critics have shown, their writings are imbued with a poetic spirit
that makes their ideas accessible to lay readers. The two great nineteenth
century American naturalists, most critics agree, are John Burroughs and
John Muir. Burroughs's early work was influenced by Whitman, particularly
the essays collected in Wake Robin (1871) and Birds and Poets. (1877).
After reading Charles Darwin and John Fiske, Burroughs turned to scientific
speculation about nature and then later in life took a more spiritual view.
Muir, a native of Scotland, traveled extensively around the United States
and documented his observations in hundreds of articles and ten major
books. He also worked to prevent the destruction of the environment, and
he is credited with being primarily responsible for preserving the Yosemite
Valley in California, which became the second national park in the United
In Britain, in the nineteenth century, the Romantic poets reacted
strongly against the eighteenth century emphasis on reason and sought
new ways of expressing their thoughts and feelings. William Wordsworth,
considered by many to be the spokesman of the movement, celebrates
the beauty and mystery of nature in some of his most famous lyrics,
including Michael (1800), which portrays a simple shepherd who is
deeply attached to the natural world around him. Wordsworth's
autobiographical poem The Prelude (1850) records the poet's evolving
understanding of nature, and The Excursion (1814) is a long philosophical
reflection on the relationship of humanity and nature. The poetry of
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, Lord Byron, and Percy Shelley also

includes emotional descriptions of the natural world and features some of

the best-known nature verse in English. Shelley's Ode to the West Wind,
to cite one example, has been called the most inspired lyrical poem
describing nature in the English language. The Romantic interest in nature
is particularly significant to ecocritics because these poets were
revolutionary in their politics, and the preservation of the natural world
was one element of their radical thinking. A Romantic poet who used his
understanding of nature to protest against the new capitalist machinery
was John Clare, who, unlike the others, was himself a laborer and worked
on the land. Later nineteenth century English writers of note include
Thomas Hardy, in whose novels the sense of place always takes center
stage, and Matthew Arnold, whose love poem Dover Beach (1867) is
said to offer one of the finest descriptions of place in English poetry.
Victorian essayists who wrote about nature include John Ruskin and
Thomas Carlyle, both of whom lamented the destruction of the
.environment due to industrialization
While ecocriticism had its official beginnings as a discipline in the
1990s, important critical essays that fall into the ecocritical mold
appeared as early as the 1800s, many of them responding to works by
writers such as Thoreau and Emerson. Two important books of criticism
from the mid twentieth century include Henry Nash Smith's Virgin Land:
The American West as Symbol and Myth (1950) and Leo Marx's The
Machine in the Garden (1964). The latter work examines the tension
between the pastoral and progressive ideals that characterized early

nineteenth century American culture and is considered a classic text in

American studies. Such pioneering works show that ecologically
oriented criticism is not a new phenomenon but, like the literature it
analyzes, is a response to the urgent issues of the day. As critics have
pointed out, one of the reasons that ecocriticism continues to grow as a
discipline is the continued global environmental crisis. Ecocriticism aims to
show how the work of writers concerned about the environment can play
.some part in solving real and pressing ecological concerns
Representative Works
John James Audubon
Ornithological Biography (nonfiction) 1831 40
Matthew Arnold
Dover Beach (poetry) 1867
William Bartram
Travels (journal) 1791
William Cullen Bryant
Thanatopsis (poem) 1817
A Forest Hymn (poem) 1825
The Prairies (poem) 1833
John Burroughs
Notes on Walt Whitman as a Poet and a Person (criticism) 1867

Wake Robin (essays) 1871

Birds and Poets (essays) 1877
George Gordon, Lord Byron
Byron to Lord Holland, 25 Feb. 1812 (poetry) 1812
George Caitlin
Letters and Notes on the North American Indian (nonfiction) 1841
Thomas Carlyle
Reminiscences of My Irish Journey in 1849 (reminiscences) 1882
John Clare
Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery (poetry) 1820
The Village Mistrel (poetry) 1821
The Shepherd's Calendar (poetry) 1827
The Rural Muse (poetry) 1835
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Kubla Khan (poem) 1797
Frost at Midnight (poem) 1798
Rime of the Ancient Mariner (poem) 1798
James Fenimore Cooper
The Pioneers (novel) 1823

Frederick Douglass
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave
(autobiography) 1845
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Nature (nonfiction) 1836
The Young American (lecture) 1844
Thomas Hardy
Far from the Madding Crowd (novel) 1874
The Return of the Native (novel) 1878
The Mayor of Casterbridge (novel) 1886
Tess of the D'Urbervilles (novel) 1891
Jude the Obscure (novel) 1891
Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Scarlet Letter (novel) 1850
The Blithedale Romance (novel) 1852
John Keats
On First Looking into Chapman's Homer (poem) 1816
Ode to Autumn (poem) 1820
Ode to a Nightingale (poem) 1820
Clarence King
Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada (nonfiction) 1872

John Muir
The Mountains of California (nonfiction) 1894
James Kirke Paulding
The Backwoodsman (novel) 1818
John Ruskin
Modern Painters (criticism) 1843
The Eagle's Nest: Ten Lectures on Natural Science to Art: Given at Oxford
in 1872 (lectures) 1872
The Storm Cloud of the Nineteenth Century (nonfiction) 1884
Percy Shelley
Alastor (poem) 1816
Mont Blanc (poem) 1817
Lines Written among the Euganean Hills (poem) 1818
Ode to the West Wind (poem) 1819
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
In Memoriam (poetry) 1850
Henry David Thoreau
A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (nonfiction) 1849
Walden; or, Life in the Woods (nonfiction) 1854
The Maine Woods (nonfiction) 1864
Journals (journals) 1881 92

Mark Twain
Roughing It (novel) 1872
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (novel) 1885
Gilbert White
Natural History of Selborne (nonfiction) 1789
Walt Whitman
Specimen Days (nonfiction) 1882
Alexander Wilson
American Ornithology; or The Natural History of Birds of the United
States. 9 vols. (nonfiction) 1808 14
William Wordsworth
Lyrical Ballads (poetry) 1798
The Excursion (poetry) 1814
The Prelude (poetry) 1850
Criticism: Overviews
Karl Kroeber (essay date 1994)
Scott Russell Sanders (essay date 1996)
David Mazel (essay date 2001)
Criticism: American Literature: Romantics And Realists
James Russell Lowell (essay date 1865)

Fannie Eckstorm (essay date 1908)

Lewis Mumford (essay date 1926)
Henry Nash Smith (essay date 1950)
Perry Miller (lecture date 1953)
Leo Marx (essay date 1964)
Wilson O. Clough (essay date 1964)
Roderick Nash (essay date 1967)
Janice B. Daniel (essay date December 1993)
Daniel J. Philippon (essay date 1998)
Michael Bennett (essay date 2001)
Criticism: American Explorers And Naturalists
Paul Brooks (essay date 1980)
Michael Branch (essay date 1996)
Chris Beyers (essay date 1998)
David Mazel (essay date 2000)
Rick Van Noy (essay date 2002)
Criticism: English Literature: Romantics And Victorians

Jonathan Bate (essay date 1991)

Robert Pogue Harrison (essay date 1992)
Karl Kroeber (essay date 1994)
Richard Kerridge (essay date 2001)
Ralph Pite (essay date 2002)
John Parham (essay date 2002)
Further Reading
Applewhite, James. Seas and Inland Journeys: Landscape and
Consciousness from Wordsworth to Roethke. Athens: University of Georgia
.Press, 1985, 236 p
Attempts to evaluate the relationship between nineteenth century
Romantic texts and important literary works of the twentieth century,

.focusing on the subjective experience of landscape

Ard, Patricia M. Charles Dickens and Frances Trollope: Victorian
Kindred Spirits in the American Wilderness. Nineteenth Century American
.Literature and Culture n.s. 7, no. 4 (December 1993): 293 306

...Discusses the writings of Charles Dickens and Frances Trollope

by Thomas K. Dean
Eco-criticism is a study of culture and cultural products (art works,
writings, scientific theories, etc.) that is in some way connected with the
human relationship to the natural world. Eco-criticism is also a response to
needs, problems, or crises, depending on one's perception of urgency.
First, eco-criticism is a response to the need for humanistic understanding
of our relationships with the natural world in an age of environmental
destruction. In large part, environmental crises are a result of humanity's
disconnection from the natural world, brought about not only by
increasing technology but also by particularization; that is, a mentality of
specialization that fails to recognize the interconnectedness of all things.
In terms of the academy, eco-criticism is thus a response to scholarly
specialization that has gone out of control; eco-criticism seeks to reattach
scholars to each other and scholarship to the real concerns of the world.
Inherently, then, eco-criticism is interdisciplinary. In order to
understand the connectedness of all things--including the life of the mind
and the life of the earth--one must reconnect the disciplines that have
become sundered through over-specialization. Inherent in the idea of
interdisciplinarity is the wholistic ideal. Therefore, eco-criticism must
remain "a big tent"--comprehensiveness of perspectives must be
encouraged and honored. All eco-critical efforts are pieces of a
comprehensive continuum. Eco-critical approaches, thus, can be
theoretical, historical, pedagogical, analytical, psychological, rhetorical,
and on and on, including combinations of the above.

As a response to felt needs and real crises, and as an inherently

wholistic practice, eco-criticism also has an inherent ideological if
not moral component. A wholistic view of the universe is a value-centered
one that honors the interconnectedness of things. As the
interconnectedness of things is valued, so too is the integrity of all things,
be they creatures of the earth, critical practices, spiritual beliefs, or ethnic
backgrounds. For example, as eco-criticism invites all perspectives into its
tent in order to understand thehuman relationship to the universe, the
philosophies and understandings of different ethnic groups will be shared
by all. Eco-criticism can be, for individuals who choose to make it so,
socially activist or even spiritual. While some may criticize eco-criticism
for being undisciplined because of such comprehensiveness, it is that very
wholistic view that marks it off from the particularized critical approaches
of the past that have led to the types of disconnections that eco-criticism
seeks to heal.
Although eco-criticism can touch virtually any discipline, when it
translates into action, it generally comes back to its home ground--the
human relationship with the earth. Eco-criticism, then, can be, but need
not be, politically active, as it advocates for an understanding of the world
that works to heal the environmental wounds humans have inflicted upon
Thomas K. Dean, Cardinal Stritch College (now at University of Iowa)

Ecocriticism, also known as ecological or environmental literary
criticism, is an emerging subfield of English literature with American
origins. It is a diverse, interdisciplinary field, drawing on disciplines such
as environmental studies, ecology and biology, philosophy, history,
sociology, and cultural studies. Although most other humanities began to
develop environmental subfields in the 1970s, ecocriticism did not
become a recognized field until the 1990s.
Despite ecocriticisms relatively late establishment, literary scholars
have long maintained an interest in nature. Early work now associated
with ecocriticism was initially categorized under headings such as
American studies, regionalism, pastoralism, the frontier, human ecology,
science and literature, and landscape in literature (Glotfelty, 1996). Early
critics were generally unaware of others working on similar topics and
created their own environmental approaches to the study of literature
(Glotfelty, 1996). However, in 1989, Alicia Nitecki founded the American
Nature Writing Newsletter, an initial effort to unite the field (Glotfelty,
1996). University English departments soon began to offer programs in
environmental literature, and in 1990, the first academic position in
literature and the environment was created at the University of Nevada,
Reno (Glotfelty, 1996). In 1992, the Association for the Study of Literature
and Environment (ASLE) was founded, with Scott Slovic as its first

president. In 1993, the journal Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and

Environment (ISLE) was founded by Patrick Murphy and is now the main
journal for ecocritical publications. Ecocriticism soon began to be
recognized as a critical approach to the study of English literature
.(Glotfelty, 1996)
Defining the Field
The most widely quoted definition of ecocriticism was written by
Cheryl Glotfelty in 1996. It is intentionally broad and inclusive, defining
ecocriticism as the study of the relationship between literature and the
physical environment, (Glotfelty, 1996, p. xviii). Glotfelty (1996) explains
that ecocriticism takes an earth-centred approach to the study of
literature, in the same way that feminist criticism brings an awareness of
gender and Marxist criticism highlights production and economic class.
Early writers have also been influential in creating foundational
works shaping the field today. William Rueckert first coined the term
ecocriticism in his 1978 essay, Literature and ecology: An experiment in
ecocriticism, where ecocriticism denotes the application of ecology and
ecological concepts to the study of literature (Rueckert, 1996, p. 107).
Here Rueckert introduces an ecology of poetry, where ecological principles
are used to relate poems to the natural world, comparing poems to energy
.pathways and green plants

In The Comedy of Survival, written in 1972, Joseph Meeker used the

term literary ecology, meaning the study of biological themes and
relationships which appear in literary works (Meeker, 1972, p. 9). Meeker
(1972) views this work as an exploration of the connections between
human cultural production and the possibility of balanced ecological
Similarly, Leo Marxs early work The Machine in the Garden (1964)
and Raymond Williams The Country and the City (1973) have helped to
establish current ecocritical theory. Marx writes from an American
perspective, providing a cultural history of attitudes toward nature and
industrial technology in literature (Buell, 2005). Marx examines American
pastoralism, its use in interpreting American experience, and its interplay
with industrialism, seeking connections between literature and culture
(Marx, 1964). Williams, on the other hand, presents a British perspective
on nature and urbanism in literature (Buell, 2005). He looks at the
relationships between country and city, taking examples from British
literature and looking at images in relation to history (Williams, 1973).
Bates work in Romantic Ecology: Wordsworth and the Environmental
Tradition (1991) follows this British tradition of ecocriticism, as one of the
.first works to examine Romanticism from an environmental perspective
Emphasizing a more activist mode of ecocriticism, Glen Loves essay
(1990) provides a significant definition of purpose for ecocriticism
(Glotfelty, 1996; Rosendale, 2002). Love asserts that literary scholars
must respond to the environmental crisis by replacing anthropocentric

concerns with ecocentric ones (Love, 1990; Rosendale, 2002). He

advocates for three radical shifts in literary criticism: replacing the humancentred canon with more nature-oriented texts; using realism instead of
poststructuralism to evaluate nature in literature; and replacing nationalist
perspectives with global, ecological perspectives (Rosendale, 2002).
Furthermore, Love (1990) argues that ecocriticism may be the best way to
counteract the growing obscurity of English literary study. Loves ideas are
.still used in ecocritical studies today
These early works, and many others, have formed a foundation for
ecocritical study while also inspiring contemporary work. Today,
:ecocriticism asks basic questions such as

How is nature represented in this sonnet?

What role does the physical setting play in the plot of this novel?

Are the values expressed in this play consistent with ecological


How do our metaphors of the land influence the way we treat it?
(Glotfelty, 1996, p. xviii-xix)
:And more environmentally-focused questions such as

In what ways do highly evolved and self-aware beings relate to


What roles do language, literature, and art play in this relation?

How have modernization and globalization processes transformed


Is it possible to return to more ecologically attuned ways of

inhabiting nature, and what would be the cultural prerequisites for such a
change? (Heise, 2006, p. 504).
Such questions reflect only a small portion of the variety of inquiry
taking place in ecocriticism. Due to the diversity of the field, it can often
be difficult to define ecocritical work. Ecocritics have been careful to use
broad definitions, inclusive of many forms of work, so the field has
become heterogeneous (Estok, 2007). Estok (2007) explains that some of
the meaning of the term ecocriticism may have been lost in this
expansion, as the field has had trouble in defining its scope and goals and
is still seeking a central paradigm. Ecocriticism does not yet bring new
critical methods to the study of literature, but is instead united by a
common domain of inquiry and often an activist approach (Buell, 2005;
Heise, 2006). Ecocritics draw on a variety of critical methods in literary
study, such as realism, constructivism, poststructuralism, and narrative
scholarship. Some critics work in related areas such as ecofeminism, the
.ecosublime, ecocomposition, ecopoetics, and deep ecology
Many scholars agree that a broad range of work can be included in
the field, incorporating theory from diverse disciplines. Most also agree
that an activist approach is important to ecocriticism. From simple
definitions such as the study of literature as if the environment
mattered (Mazel, 2001, p. 1) to more complex iterations of the political

role of environmental concern in ecocriticism, scholars continue to refine

this aspect of the field. These ideas are based in a belief that human
culture and imagination are just as important to solving environmental
problems as are scientific research, technology, and legislation, that
literature and criticism can have an impact on environmental
.consciousness and culture at large (Buell, 1996; Buell, 2005)
Development and Trends
Early American ecocriticism has three initial phases (Glotfelty,
1996). The first is the study of how nature is represented in literature.
Critics identified stereotypes Eden, Arcadia, the virgin land, the savage
wilderness and absences of nature in literature. Topics of study included
nature in general as well as other ecological elements like animals, cities,
rivers, and mountains (Glotfelty, 1996). The second phase involved
rediscovering the genre of nature writing (Glotfelty, 1996). Scholars
studied nature-oriented nonfiction, which began with A Natural History of
Selbourne (1789), by Gilbert White. This study continues today with
American authors like Henry Thoreau, Rachel Carson, Annie Dillard, and
Barry Lopez. The final phase is theoretical, where scholars worked to form
frameworks like ecopoetics and addressed issues such as the construction
of humanity in literature (Glotfelty, 1996).

While many of the themes above continue to be studied today,

ecocriticism, as an emerging area of study, is constantly changing and
incorporating new ideas (Buell, 2005). Ecocriticism began with the study
of environmental texts, especially nature writing, but it has now expanded
to include the ecocritical reading of any text (Branch & Slovic, 2003; Buell,
2005). As such, all texts are considered to have environmental properties,
even those that do not explicitly address environmental concerns (Buell,
The ecocritical canon has similarly expanded to include works
beyond nature writing, twentieth-century American literature, and British
Romanticism (Heise, 2006). Fiction, poetry, drama, womens writing,
Native American/Canadian writing, African American literature, and
mainstream genres such as science fiction (works by authors like Ursula K.
Le Guin and Octavia Butler) have all become material for ecocriticism.
Furthermore, ecocriticism continues to expand beyond its American
beginnings, with work being done in Canada, the United Kingdom,
Australia, New Zealand, India, Japan, Korea, Europe, and India, among
others. However, there is still little work done in languages other than
English (Heise, 2006) and a survey of recent dissertations reveals that
.American critics continue to dominate the field
Ecocriticism has also modified its views of science, nature, and the
environment as it grows. Early ecocritics like Love and Rueckert looked to
science for critical models. Ecocritics initially expressed a desire for closer
alliances with environmental and natural sciences (Buell, 2005). Today,

science has a more indirect impact on ecocriticism, providing values and

ethics against which to evaluate texts but generally not providing critical
models (Buell, 2005; Heise, 2006). Ecocriticism now faces the challenge of
redefining the relationship between ecology and literature in the field
.(Heise, 2006)
At first, the term environment represented only the natural
environment (Buell, 2005). Nature was viewed as separate from and
victim to humanity (Heise, 2006). Today, however, the natural and urban
environments blend together as ecocritics consider the interplay of
anthropocentric and ecocentric issues (Buell, 2005). Urban environments
have increasingly become subjects of study in literature and ecocriticism
is now seen as both a product of modernization and a movement against
environmental degradation (Heise, 2006). These trends are exemplified in
the recent ecocritical interest in topics of environmental justice, social and
racial inequality, globalization, and human exposure to technological or
ecological risk (Heise, 2006). Furthermore, a poststructuralist approach to
ecocriticism has emerged, where the environment is examined as a
.cultural construct (Heise, 2006)
Finally, Buell (2005) highlights four challenges for the future of
ecocriticism. These include the challenge of organization, the challenge
of professional legitimation, the challenge of defining distinctive models
of critical inquiry, and the challenge of establishing significance beyond
the academy (Buell, 2005, p. 128). These are all works in progress in
.ecocriticism and will continue to develop as the field grows
Association for the Study of Literature and Environment
Association for Literature, Environment, and Culture in Canada
etc: Ecocriticism (Centenary College, Lousiana)
Planetary: Teaching the Environmental Humanities
General Ecocriticism
LC sections: PN98, PR143, PR468, PS163, PS169
Coming into contact : explorations in ecocritical theory and
practice PS169 .E25 C66 2007X
-Ingram, Annie Merrill, 1961

Ecocriticism PR143 .G37 2004

.Garrard, Greg
Practical ecocriticism : literature, biology, and the
environment PS163 .L68 2003X
-Love, Glen A., 1932
The greening of literary scholarship: literature, theory, and
the environment PN98 .E36 R67 2002X
.Rosedale, Steven
Beyond nature writing: expanding the boundaries of
ecocriticism PR143 .B49 2001X
.Armbruster, Karla
The green studies reader : from Romanticism to
ecocriticism PR468 .N3 G74 2000
-Coupe, Laurence, 1950
Reading under the sign of nature : new essays in
ecocriticism PS163 .R4 2000X
.Tallmadge, John
Native American Literature and Ecocriticism

LC sections: PS153
Ecocriticism : creating self and place in environmental and
American Indian literatures PS153 .I52 D74 2002
-Dreese, Donelle N. (Donelle Nicole), 1968
American Indian literature, environmental justice, and
ecocriticism : the middle place PS153 .I52 A33 2001X
-Adamson, Joni, 1958
British Literature and Ecocriticism
LC sections: PR275, PR3039
Greenery : ecocritical readings of late medieval English
literature PR275 .N3 R83 2007
Rudd, Gillian
Green Shakespeare : from ecopolitics to ecocriticism PR3039
.E35 2006
.Egan, Gabriel
Earlier Works (published before 2000)
LC sections: P48, PN81, PS163

The nature of cities : ecocriticism and urban environments

PS163 .N38 1999X
-Bennett, Michael, 1962
Reading the earth : new directions in the study of literature
and environment PS169 .E25 R43 1998X
.Branch, Michael P
Writing the environment : ecocriticism and literature P48
.W75 1998
.Kerridge, Richard
Milne, A. (2005). Ecocriticism. In M. Groden, M. Kreiswirth, & I.
Szeman (Eds.), Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism.
Retrieved February 28, 2008,
Foundational Texts
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Kolodny, A. (1975). The lay of the land: Metaphor as experience and

history in American life and letters. Chapel Hill: University of North
.Carolina Press
Kroeber, K. (1994). Ecological literary criticism: Romantic imagining
.and the biology of mind. New York: Columbia UP
Marx, L. (1964). The machine in the garden: Technology and the
.pastoral ideal in America. New York: Oxford UP
Nash, R. (1970). Wilderness and the American mind. New Haven, CT:
.Yale UP
Smith, H. N. (1972). Virgin land: American west as symbol and myth.
.Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP
Williams, R. (1973). The country and the city. London: Chatto &
Works Cited
Bate, J. (1991). Romantic ecology: Wordsworth and the
.environmental tradition. New York: Routledge
Branch. M. P., & Slovic, S. (Eds.). (2003). The ISLE reader:
.Ecocriticism, 1993-2003. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press

Buell, L. (1996). The environmental imagination: Thoreau, nature

writing, and the formation of American culture. Cambridge, MA: Belknap
.Press of Harvard University Press
Buell, L. (2005). The future of environmental criticism:
.Environmental crisis and literary imagination. Malden, MA: Blackwell
Estok, S. C. (2007). Theory from the fringes: Animals, ecocriticism,
.Shakespeare. Mosaic, 40(1), 61-78
Glotfelty, C. (1996). Literary studies in an age of environmental
crisis. In C. Glotfelty & H. Fromm (Eds.), The ecocriticism reader:
Landmarks in literary ecology (pp. xv-xxxvii). Athens, GA: University of
.Georgia Press
Heise, U. K. (2006). The hitchhikers guide to ecocriticism. PMLA,
.121(2), 503-516
Love, G. A. (1990). Revaluing nature: Toward an ecological
.criticism. Western American Literature, 25(3), 201-215
Marx, L. (1964). The machine in the garden: Technology and the
.pastoral ideal in America. New York: Oxford University Press
Mazel, D. (Ed.). (2001). A century of early ecocriticism. Athens, GA:
.University of Georgia Press
Meeker, J. W. (1972). The comedy of survival: Studies in literary
.ecology. New York: Scribner

Rosendale, S. (Ed.). (2002). The greening of literary scholarship:

Literature, theory, and the environment. Iowa City: University of Iowa
Rueckert, W. (1996). Literature and ecology: An experiment in
ecocriticism. In C. Glotfelty & H. Fromm (Eds.), The ecocriticism reader:
Landmarks in literary ecology (pp. 105-123). Athens, GA: University of
.Georgia Press
Williams, R. (1973). The country and the city. New York: Oxford
.University Press

Additional Works Consulted

Armbruster, K., & Wallace, K. R. (Eds.). (2001). Beyond nature
writing: Expanding the boundaries of ecocriticism. Charlottesville:
.University Press of Virginia
Estok, S. C. (2005). Bridging the great divide: Ecocritical theory and
.the great unwashed. English Studies in Canada, 31(4), 197-209
Parham, J. (Ed.). (2002). The environmental tradition in English
.literature. Hampshire, UK: Ashgate

Rozelle, L. (2006). Ecosublime: Environmental awe and terror from

.new world to oddworld. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press
Tallmadge, J. & Harrington, H. (Eds.). (2000). Reading under the sign
of nature: New essays in ecocriticism. Salt Lake City: University of Utah


by Evan Mwangi
The Nation (Nairobi) 24 October 2004.
The award of this year's Nobel Peace prize to African
environmentalist Wangari Maathai is a big boost to eco-criticism in the
study of the continent's literature. Eco-criticism, a relatively new approach
to literature, is the study of the inter-relationship between art and the
natural world.
An elated Wangari Maathai receives news of the Nobel Peace Prize:
"She was recognised for her environmentalist efforts."
Although African critics have over the years examined the
relationship between literature and other forms of social consciousness
such as morality, politics, psychology, pedagogy and philosophy, a more
conscious insertion of the study of environment in criticism would help us
understand literature better and appreciate the art's interaction with other
forms of human practice.
Prof Maathai is the first African woman to win the award, and
although she is not a literary personality, there are a few poems dedicated
to her and her "green" campaign.
For over three decades, she has been advocating the rights of
forests and women, the rights of the easily overlooked "other". Since postcolonial readings of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, the Western view
of Africa as a baffling space which, like a woman, has to be tamed and
controlled, has dominated cultural discussions on Africa.

African literature has responded to the views expressed by Conrad's

male characters, from whose perspective Conrad presents the story in
order to mock imperialists.
African texts, ranging from Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart to
Zakes Mda's Heart of Redness, have attempted to valorise the "forest" as
a possible site of development which didn't hear about civilisation for the
first time from the urbanised West.
Since the publication of William Rueckert's 1978 essay "Literature
and Ecology", eco-criticism has emerged as one of the fresh ways of
explaining the nature and function of art. Also called the "green theory",
eco-criticism entered rural universities in America in the 1980s and in
Britain in the 1990s. But it remains, like forests, in the margins of
mainstream literary theory. It is rarely practised consciously in the African
academy, although expressions like "man's struggle with the
environment" are often heard in literary essays.
In the West, eco-criticism focuses mainly on the 19th century
literature which celebrated nature and wildness. In Africa, it would be
more energetic because most of the literature has a rural setting or a
degenerate urban background that expresses a longing for the lost rural
It is no accident that the most widely read African text, Achebe's
Things Fall Apart, is set in a village called Umuofia which is the Igbo word
for "children of the forest".
"Reversing Conrad's male characters' view of the African forest as a
site of death," Things Fall Apart typifies African village life and its richness

as an organic self-sustaining forest which has almost everything that the

West - in its arrogance - claims to have come to introduce.
In the forests of Umuofia, there is a system of education, a rich
philosophy, and sophisticated art, not to mention a complex religion
and medical practice.
Similarly, the clarity of symbolism around which the main conflict is
built in Ngugi wa Thiong'o's The River Between, another African classic,
resides in the way the author opens the narrative with a meticulous
observation of the topography as he painstakingly describes Makuyu and
Kameno ridges and valleys.
Incidentally, even the most jocular of African art expresses this
deep interaction between literary imagination and the natural world. To
give but one simple example, despite the vulgarity in Wakimbizi's song
"John", the playful panegyric (praise song) to male genitals that seem to
have run away from duty indicates African respect for forests. In the song,
the enigmatic "John" is prefigured as the toast of womenfolk who hides in
a mysterious "msitu" (forest/bush).
Through sexual overtones, the Wakimbizi trio of Mr Filter (Henry
Masheti), Mariko (Morris Masheti) and Andre (Andrew Mbogo) present the
forest as the figurative site upon which self-protection, human
regeneration and most intense bodily pleasures are likely to occur.
More profound than Wakimbizi's exercise in sexual references is a
richer body of African verse that weaves the natural environment into its
themes to enhance the cognitive and political value of images of African
natural environment.

In her writing, Zimbabwean poet Kristina Rungano invokes the

environment in the form of grass, trees, butterflies, and the weather to
comment on political and social issues facing her nation and underline the
possibilities of the end of the prevailing confusion.
Written from a woman's perspective unlike Wakimbizi's malecentred "John", Rungano's verse is loaded with images of the life-giving
powers of nature which intersect with the resilience of the African woman
to widen human possibilities. The poet complexly conflates the beauties of
nature and the qualities of male and female love, to underline nature as
In a collection of poetry entitled A Storm is Brewing, Rungano
deploys images of turmoil succeeded by serenity and bounties from
nature to underline that the African environment wouldn't harm us despite
the enigma that it generates.
In the poem "After the Rain", Rungano captures a moment of
triumph in the afternoon sun after a storm. We see the flourish of nature
as "leaves bristled in the woods"; the earlier deaths are replaced by
peace, and images of "virgin clouds" replace the gloom that ruled life just
hours earlier. Human life still seems to fear the world because of the
tumult of the past, but the poem foresees absolute peace as people
anticipate "the same familiar beautiful Zimbabwe" where nature
(symbolised by lightning) is tame and friendly.
In the poem "This Morning", Rungano presents a female persona
recalling a moment of love with the cosmos (Dynamo, the ruler of the
night) who is personified as a potent man. The speaker longs for that

moment when she is interlocked with the life-giving forces of the

environment in complete harmony. As presented in the poem, nature is
caring in this act of the couple's bodily pleasure. "O gentle breeze/ o
fireflies that hovered over our nest in protective harmony." The whole
universe rejoices their love, as "flowers, the grass, even the little shrubs
bloom" to mark the union of the persona with the enchanting powers of
the environment.
Beyond love and romance, the African environment is political. If
forests served as the sanctuaries for freedom fighters, nature itself
seemed to presage and support armed struggle. Liberation African poetry
invokes nature to foreshadow the revolution that would rock the continent
when the oppressed rise up in arms against the oppressor. Maria Manuela
Margarido from Sao Tome, where the Portuguese army and a band of
white settlers massacred innocent people in February 1953, uses sharp
images drawn from nature to show the environment as sympathetic with
the fight for human rights. The land joins in the passionate condemnation
of colonial atrocities. In the poem "Landscape", she presents parrots that
"explode" as they fly. We experience figures of "tornados" "ploughing the
sky with mad/plumes". These symbols drawn from the environment
express the anguish of the people struggling against colonialism.
Yet, African literature doesn't blindly celebrate the forests. The
forests can be a source of death and impotence if used inappropriately.
When Lawino (Acholi for "woman") in Okot p'Bitek's Song of Lawino
laments that her husband's house is "a dark forest of books", the
metaphor of the forest is unflattering because the books, symbols of

Westernisation, that form the forest have rendered Ocol ineffective. The
poetry approves of forests only as life-giving natural forms that sustain
human development and liberation, not as a place of hiding from reality.
Literary studies are experiencing a crisis because of a "forest" of
theories that obscure human values. Then, wouldn't we be worsening the
situation by proposing eco-criticism, yet another theory among many
others, for the study of African literature? Yes, like "John" in Wakimbizi's
song and Ocol in p'Bitek's Song of Lawino, the African elite seize the
slightest opportunity to bolt to the forest, away from the realities of their
African surroundings. To echo the words of poet Miriam Were, critics want
to "run out of mud" and station themselves in sophisticated academic
spaces where they can theorise and abstract issues from reality.
Critics now hide in a forest of theories which, through very difficult
language, de-emphasise the link between art and the environment, thus
claiming that literature reflects itself as opposed to holding a mirror to the
world. While current theories would have us believe that the world is a
social construct that is primarily mediated through language, and that
everything is all but a fictional construct, eco-critics maintain the
environmentalist ethical emphasis on a world beyond the text and beyond
the reader.
In a word, Wangari Maathai's recognition by the world for her
environmentalist efforts gives African eco-criticism a much-needed shot in
the arm.


by Michael P. Cohen
.Environmental History 9.1 (Jan. 2004): 9-36
Standin' at the crossroads, risin' sun goin' down
got the crossroad blues this mornin', Lord, baby I'm sinkin' down . . .
Robert Johnson --

ENVIRONMENTAL HISTORIANS and ecocriticsscholars who combine

literary and historical criticism of texts about natureshare common
roots. Many writers who later would call themselves environmental
historians or ecocritics began by reading a few books after World War II
that opened both of these traditions of inquiry. Directed toward historians
and literary critics, these books pursued, simultaneously, a history and
.critique of American ideas of the West
Environmental historian John Opie traces his academic interest to
the intellectual historian, Perry Miller.1 I trace my interest in ecocriticism
also to intellectual historians. Out of Henry Nash Smith's Virgin Land
(1950), came an awareness of the disparity between the imagined,
symbolic West and the actualities, the limits of environmental factors. Out
of Leo Marx's The Machine in the Garden (1964), came the premise that
a culture sees its land according to its desires, and this is worked out by

following the pastoral ideal in American imagination. Out of William

Goetzmann's Exploration and Empire (1966), came the thesis that a
culture finds what it seeks. Out of Roderick Nash's Wilderness and
the American Mind (1967), came the idea that a structural link between
mind and land was drawn directly from discussions at the Sierra Club
wilderness conferences. Historians and literary critics share these books.
At the same time that these writers have explored how we imagine where
we live and what we have done to our living spaces, they and others
writing in this tradition also care to value and protect these spaces.2
Opie also remembers "interest in something definable
as environmental history," beginning for him with a long camping trip to
the West and wilderness. "Wilderness protection lacked an historical
perspective" then, as he later commented. When he organized sessions at
the AHA in 1972, 1973, and 1976, and at the American Studies
Association in 1975, he found colleagues in Donald Hughes, Samuel Hays,
.and Donald Worster
As historians and literary critics sometimes move beyond traditional
literary and historical studies of intersecting American nature and culture
toward the question of what it would mean to act wisely, many of us now
study to inform, that people may live well, and as we now say,
Like environmental historians, ecocritics read texts by Clarence King,
John Wesley Powell, John Muir, and Mary Austin. We read their lives too.
Scholars like Annette Kolodny added gender to the reading. The ecocritic

Cheryll Glotfelty, who studied Sarah Orne Jewett as a graduate student,

began to explore the different kinds of knowledge that compete in the
same places and result in diverging gendered values about those places.
Literary scholars, like historians, have reached out to other disciplines to
understand those different kinds of knowledge. This will require
What Ecocritics Do
ECOCRITICISM FOCUSES on literary (and artistic) expression
of human experience primarily in a naturally and consequently in a
culturally shaped world: the joys of abundance, sorrows of deprivation,
hopes for harmonious existence, and fears of loss and disaster.
Ecocriticism has an agenda. As a feminist film theorist says to an Israeli
semiotician in a recent novel of academic life, "Ecocriticism's new, still
finding its feet, but it offers a broad vision of life and our place in nature. It
could help you out of the bind you're in now, caught inside a self-enclosed
definition of culture that only mirrors your own obnoxious little selfregarding angst-ridden egomaniacal crypto-smugness." The response she
gets is not surprising: "Culture is a refuge from life in nature, not a part of
it . ..."

In ecocriticism, positions reveal themselves as persons. So the

voice of ecocriticism speaks as an American woman here, speaks as if she

were nature and as if speaking to culture. When culture dismisses her
position, and herself, the process would seem to be self-defeating. If you
want to be an ecocritic, be prepared to explain what you do and be
.criticized, if not satirized

Rather than defining ecocriticism at the first meeting of English 745:

Seminar in Ecocriticism and Theorythe required methods course for
students concentrating on literature and environment at the University of
:Nevada, RenoI ask several very basic questions
?What do ecocritics read
?How do ecocritics read
?What are the grounds of their methods
?Where do they acquire authority
?How do they write
?What contributions do they hope to make
?How do they accept critiques of their methods
I belabor these basics because entering into critical controversy
requires understanding where positions come from. Gerald Graff calls this
technique "learning by controversy" and says it may offer a partial
solution to the "angrily polarized debates of our time." He hopes this
strategy may become "a model of how the quality of cultural debate in our
society might be improved."

I am hoping that ecocriticism will learn by

So I claim that ecocriticism is not immune from the contemporary
arguments about culture. I gloss ethical inquiry with the work of Geoffrey
Galt Harpham.6 Ethics does not give answers easily, as Harpham points
out; we must build an ethical criticism as a site where we think. "Ethics is,
rather, the point at which literature intersects with theory, the point at

which literature becomes conceptually interesting and theory becomes

humanized." Consequently, "Ethics does not solve problems, it structures
them."7 By definition, or at least by etymology, ecocritical theory
structures discussions of environmental literature, drawing upon science,
history, and philosophy, while critiquing these sources. Otherwise,
ecocriticism would become a place where literature meets popular
prejudice and would have little more than sociological interest as the
unexamined views of literature professors who are also amateur
Personal Roots: The Example of Glen Love
WHEN GLEN LOVE, professor of English at the University of Oregon,
considers how he became a professional ecocritic, he recalls two books
that influenced him in the early 1960s: Leo Marx's The Machine in the
Garden (1964) and Rachel Carson's best selling Silent Spring (1962). Love
was frightened by the prophetic parable Carson introduced, that "The
People had done it to themselves," but he also was dismayed by Marx,
who sounded "a decidedly premature epitaph for the place of nature in
American thought and culture ... In the dying fall with which Marx's book
closes, the old pastoral idea is described as 'stripped ... of most, if not all,
of its meaning,' a victim of the inexorable 'reality of history.'"8
Love thought Marx "surely correct in delineating so memorably the
increasing domination of machine civilization in America." But Marx
announced the end of nature; Carson caught something deeper, "the

ecological complexity of nature, the impossibility of its complete control

by human beings, and the obstinacy with which Americans would resist
any dismissal into history and literary irony what Marx had rightly called
'the root conflict of our culture.'" Marx's book appeared in the same year
as the passage of the Wilderness Act, written in language that conceded
the "increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and
growing mechanization," yet also defined areas in the United States
"where earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where
man himself is a visitor who does not himself remain."9 Love believed, as
Carson had, that "The most important function of literature today is to
redirect human consciousness to a full consideration of its place in a
threatened natural world."10 This task demanded personal ethical
commitment, though he also felt Marx's intellectual method guiding parts
.of his professional life
Caught between thinking as Marx or as Carson, Love had no
immediate way out of this dilemma. Ecocriticism would offer that way, as
a literary inquiry that "encompasses nonhuman as well as human contexts
and considerations," on which it "bases its challenge to much postmodern
critical discourse as well as to critical systems of the past." 11 If the
postmodern insists that there is no privileged discourse, Love has been
.willing to privilege certain forms
Imagine that ecocriticism has evolved in a constrained design-space
that includes certain privileged discourses. Call this space the landscape
of ecocriticism. Imagine that this landscape was constructed not by

biologist Carson or ecologist Aldo Leopold, but by a tradition of American

literary studies that includes Marx, Henry Nash Smith, and Roderick Nash.
Marx himself inherited the pastoral as part of a discourse where there are
poles along a linear array of possible landscapes, from wilderness to
garden. Marx projected these as ideological positions from which speakers
emerged. For us these have become speakers from wilderness to
civilization, or alternately from nature to culture; as understood in political
terms, from preservation to conservation; or in philosophical terms, from
biocentric or ecocentric to anthropocentric; or as inherited from Frederick
.Jackson Turner, from the West to the East
Ecocriticism has been defined as the work of scholars who "would
rather be hiking." It grasped the language of Thoreau, especially as
invented in "Walking," to speak for nature, wildness, and the West, while
conflating these terms.12 Ecocriticism found its position by conflating
languages near the wild, natural, biocentric, and western pole. Like the
voice in "Walking," it found a position and a relation to an urban audience.
Topical considerations of gender, race, class, and ethnicity have fixed
themselves as positions within the design space, or, dare I say,
ecocriticism's inherited cultural construction.13 Until recently, ecocriticism
did not consider that other lines of reasoning would cross, and confront,
.its inherited interests
Many ecocritics have imagined also the evolution of the landscapes
they represent as having gone from nature to culture on a one-way path,
"to hell in a hand basket," as Dave Foreman, chief founder of Earth First!

would put it. Mind you, this trajectory may or may not be the true path of
history! My point is that it is an influential position within ecocriticism. To
dismiss it as declensionist or apocalyptic may be simplistic, given the
state of the world. Ecocriticism certainly sings something like the blues:
"... "My baby left me and run all over town ... Oh come back please
Glen Love's reminiscence reveals a major challenge for ecocriticism,
its ability to adhere to a social and political program while accepting
a critique of the way it structures ethical issues. A point I take from his
recognition of the importance of Marx is the simultaneity of the
appearance of modern (even if nostalgic) preservation proposals, for wild
and/or pastoral landscapes, with critiques of the ideologies behind these
proposals, and vice-versa. Within this structure of proposal and critique
one could pair Gary Snyder's The Practice of the Wild with William
Cronon's "The Trouble With Wilderness," and Simon Schama's Landscape
and Memory with Lawrence Buell's The Environmental Imagination. More
recently, Dana Phillips's The Truth of Ecology offers a panoramic critique
of ecology and criticism.14
In all disciplines, positions emerge in quasi-dialectical ways. Here,
an expression of the need for social action is met at inception by critique,
suggesting that ecocriticism must expect collisions of positions and
prepare to critique its own critical methodology and program, while not
paralyzing its own "real work."15

Already, ecocritics are becoming retrospective. An example might

be the introduction to Lawrence Buell'sWriting for an Endangered World.
To Buell's accurate statement I would make a much stronger case for
interdisciplinary work and for place-based case studies. Not that we
should think like scientists (or economists, or game theoreticians) but that
we should know how they think.16
Institutional Origins of ASLE
BORN OUT OF disparity, perhaps discordant harmony, between
inherited positions within the discipline(s) of literature, ecocriticism has
currency within The Association for the Study of Literature and
Environment (ASLE), established in 1992 at a special session of a Western
Literature Association conference in Reno, Nevada. ASLE now has groups
in Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Korea whose purposes
include sharing of facts, ideas, and texts concerning the study of literature
and the environment.17 ASLE publishes ASLE News (biannually) and, since
1993, Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment (ISLE), the
.official biannual journal
According to its official statement of editorial policy, ISLE "reflects the
rapid growth of ecological literary criticism and environmental scholarship
in related disciplines in the United States and around the world in recent
years, which in turn reflects the steady increase in the production of
environmental literature over the past several decades and the increased
visibility of such writing in college classrooms." ISLE "seeks to encourage
such scholarship, writing, and teaching, while facilitating the development

of a theoretical foundation for these activities. It also seeks to bridge the

".gaps between scholars, artists, students, and the public
ASLE's "Graduate Handbook" states that pursuing a degree in
literature and environment "implies investigating the body of literature
sometimes referred to as 'nature writing' or 'environmental literature'; or
examining literature through an 'ecocritical' lens."18
Methods include traditional author/work approaches: biographical
studies of nature writers.19 Studies often are defined in regional
("Contemporary Southwestern Environmental Literature"), historical
("Nature Writing of Nineteenth-Century New England"), or generic terms
(essays, poetry, fiction and other genres from a given region or time
In the discourse of ASLE, the terms "green" and "ecocritical" are
often synonyms for a particular set of approaches toward texts, as in
"green reading." Gioia Woods includes the following literary questions:
"How is nature represented in this text? How is wilderness constructed?
How is urban nature contrasted with rural or wild nature? ... What role
does science or natural history play in a text? What are the links between
gender and landscape? Is landscape a metaphor? How does
"?environmental ethics or deep ecology inform your reading
Most ASLE members pursue academic careers in English
departments. The ASLE web site notes that the six most prominent
graduate programs include Antioch New England, in environmental

studies; University of Arizona, Tucson, in comparative cultural and literary

studies; University of California, Davis, in English; University of Montana,
Missoula, in environmental studies and the environmental writing
institute; University of Nevada, Reno, in English; and the University of
.Oregon, Eugene, in English and environmental studies
ASLE has sponsored five major conferences since 1995. The last two
Biennial ASLE Conferences, in Flagstaff, Arizona (1923 June 2001) and
Boston, Massachusetts (37 June 2003), were organized so that
participants could follow sequential sets of "tracked" sessions on themes
or methods, including studies of "urban nature," places (such as literature
of the sea), environmental justice and postcolonial issues, Native
American literature, pedagogy, genre studies, and interdisciplinary
.studies, where evolutionary science has played a growing role
Recent plenary speakers have included Grace Paley, Sandra
Steingraber, E. O. Wilson, Lawrence Buell, Leo Marx, Sam Bass Warner,
Janisse Ray, Annette Kolodny, Gary Nabhan, Joseph Carroll, Maxine
.Sheets-Johnson, Ofelia Zepeda, and Simon Ortiz
The shape of these conferences is central to ASLE's agenda. A
remarkable informality at ASLE conferences makes them seem more like a
summer camp or retreat. In the evenings, people play guitars and sing
campfire songs. The idea borrowed from environmental organizations is
that informality fosters community. All this group harmony imports the
ideology of the environmental groups from which ASLE sprang and can

result in preaching to the chorus. Everyone is friendly, but what if people

are spending more time learning to play folksongs than learning literary
?methods? What if ecocritical thinking is fuzzy
A Branching Tree of Ecocritical Methods
CHERYLL GLOTFELTY, co-editor of a widely used introductory
textbook, The Ecocriticism Reader (1996), maps the methods of
ecocriticism. In "Literary Studies in an Age of Environmental Crisis," she
notes that ecocriticism asks a wide-ranging set of questions, and she
insists "all ecological criticism shares the fundamental premise that
human culture is connected to the physical world, affecting it and affected
by it. Ecocriticism takes as its subject the interconnectedness between
nature and culture, specifically the cultural artifacts of language and
literature. "[A]s a theoretical discourse, it negotiates between the human
and the nonhuman."21
Glotfelty's view is wider than that in William Rueckert's founding
essay of 1978, "Literature and Ecology: An Experiment in Ecocriticism,"
where he defines the "eco" in ecocriticism as "the application of ecology
and ecological concepts to the study of literature." Rueckert suggests that
the grounds of the method be acquired from the science of ecology. 22 This
premise has resulted in a great deal of trouble. Another foundational work,
Joseph Meeker's The Comedy of Survival (1972), has come under attack
recently because its versions of human evolution and ecology are now
dated.23 Ecocritics wrestle with constantly changing scientific paradigms

and findings; as I shall argue, these problems are only partially clarified by
historical studies and critiques of concepts of ecologyscientific and
Initially, ecocritics focused on "nature writing," in specifically
"environmental texts." Lawrence Buell's interest in "the nature of
environmental representation," allows him to set out a "checklist" of four
:points that characterize an "environmentally oriented work." They are
The nonhuman environment is present not merely as a framing
device but as a presence that begins to suggest that human history is
.implicated in natural history
The human interest is not understood to be the only legitimate
Human accountability to the environment is part of the text's ethical
Some sense of the environment as a process rather than as a
constant or a given is at least implicit in the text.25
Collecting Nature Writing in Anthologies
BUELL'S DESCRIPTION of the "environmental text" reveals the kinds
of questions the ecocritic wants to ask and also the roots of ecocriticism,
which sought its origins first among authors who were heirs to American
Romanticism and its tradition: Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, John

Burroughs, Mary Austin, Aldo Leopold, and Rachel Carson. Ecocritics

initially also gave some attention to origins in writers such as William
Bartram and John James Audubon, and more modern writers, including
Wallace Stegner, John McPhee, Edward Abbey, Gary Snyder, Annie Dillard,
Wendell Berry, Barry Lopez, and Terry Tempest Williams. These choices
constitute the core of early anthologies of "American nature writers."
Anthologizing continues to be a major project that shapes the questions
ecocritics ask.26
Cheryll Glotfelty frames the work of "canon-formation," as in
recovering "early" nature writing, using a broad analogy between
ecocriticism's aims and Elaine Showalter's model of feminist critical
aims.27 "In much the same way [as in the development of feminist theory],
ecocritics are rediscovering early writers, rereading the classics from a
'green' perspective and beginning to frame their subject in a theoretical
way," Glotfelty writes. Notable extended examples of recovery include
Rochelle Johnson and Daniel Patterson's editions of the writings of Susan
Fenimore Cooper, and Michael Branch's Reading the Roots: American
Nature Writing before Walden.28
Several university presses have brought out ecocritical monographs.
These include Georgia, Virginia, Utah, Arizona, Harvard, MIT, Oregon
State, SUNY, Iowa, Nevada, and New England. Milkweed Editions and
.Island Press also have substantial lists

Four anthologies of ASLE/ISLE critical essays have been published,

including the University of Illinois republication of ISLE 3.1 as Ecofeminist
Literary Criticism (1998). The ISLE Reader, celebrating the journal's tenth
anniversary, structures ecocritical interest as, 1) re-evaluations of authors;
of themes, including population and wilderness; and of genres; 2)
interdisciplinary studies of consumerism, gender, Romanticism,
environmental education, films, and 3) theoretical essays on activism and
bioregionalism, ecocriticism, reading, urban studies, feminism and
postcolonial theory.29 Journals similar to ISLE include Orion, Terra Nova,
.and Northern Lights
Representing Nature
NORMAN MACLEAN told a perhaps apocryphal story in the
acknowledgments of A River Runs Through It, and ecocritics often retell it
as an implicit argument behind canon formation. Maclean's book was
rejected by a publisher with the comment, "These stories have trees in
them." As told, the disdainful publisher locates himself in New York, "coolly
dismissing" the stories because they are western, because they have
nature in them, or for both reasons. The University of Chicago Press
rescued the western book. As Jennifer Price might invert the story, all
published or even manuscripted narratives have trees in them because
they are made of trees: Nature is always with us at home. But assuming
westerners can get their stories published, can "nature writers" represent

In the broadest terms, as Glen Love or Cheryll Glotfelty argue rather

pithily, the ecocritic says yes and speaks for literature as if it had trees in
it, for good reasons, and as if the nonhuman environment were an actor.
What does a literary critic mean by saying that environment acts in a work
of literature, when academic convention requires that literature be treated
as a humannot natural or divineconstruction? (In order to avoid
several possible clear absurdities, the critic must take some care with
questions of representation.)
More recently, positions on the relationship between environment
and literary representation have been refined and more widely dispersed
in academic conferences and publications. In the abstract to "What
Ecocritics Do: A Roundtable on Methods Useful to Environmental
Historians," presented at the 2001 ASEH conference, I introduced
:ecocriticism in the following way
The editors of a New Literary History special issue on Ecocriticism
find that "Ecocriticism challenges interpretation to own grounding in the
bedrock of natural fact, in the biospheric and indeed planetary conditions
without which human life, much less humane letters, could not exist."
Consequently, "Ecocriticism thus claims as its hermeneutic environment
nothing short of the literal horizon itself, the finite environment that a
reader or writer occupies thanks not just to culturally coded determinants
but also to natural determinants that antedate these, and will outlast
them." In this claim, the interests of ecocriticism and environmental
history are linked.31

In the Modern Language Association's "Forum on Literatures of the

Environment," Lawrence Buell writes, "Although the study of literature in
relation to physical environment dates back almost as far as literary
criticism itself, only in the 1990s has it assumed the proportions of a
movement." Buell multiplies the number of projects under the rubric of
:ecocriticism to include
consideration of the possibilities of certain forms of scientific (1)
inquiry (e.g., ecology and evolutionary biology) and social scientific
inquiry (e.g., geography and social ecology) as models of literary
reflection; (2) textual, theoretical, and historical analysis of the palatial
basis of human experience; (3) study of literature as a site of
environmental-ethical reflectionfor example, as a critique of
anthropocentric assumptions; (4) retheorization of mimesis and
referentiality, especially as applied to literary representation of physical
environment in literary texts; (5) study of the rhetoric (e.g., its ideological
valences of gender, race, politics) of any and all modes of environmental
discourse, including creative writing but extending across the academic
disciplines and (indeed even more important) beyond them into the public
sphere, especially the media, governmental institutions, corporate
organizations, and environmental advocacy groups; and (6) inquiry into
the relation of (environmental) writing to life and pedagogical practice.
These and other ecocritical projects are being produced both separately
and in combination, and by no means with one accord.32

As in environmental history, the American center of ecocriticism is

contested. In the expanded, published version of a forum that began as a
session at the 1998 annual convention of the Modern Language
Association, Ursula K. Heise, professor of comparative literature,
summarizes "the comparatist's perspective on ecocriticism." First,
"ecocriticism has nothing specifically to do with American literature. This
means, of course, not that ecocriticism does not or should not deal with
American literature but that it is not in principle more closely linked to
American than to any other national or regional literature." Second,
"ecocriticism has nothing specifically to do with nature writing. Again, this
does not imply that ecocriticism does not ever deal with nature writing;
clearly, it often does. But to suggest that it deals with nothing else is
comparable to claiming that feminism is only applicable to texts by or
about women." Third, "ecocriticism has nothing specifically to do with
nature writing."33
Clearly, ecocriticism can become a hot and contested topic in the
world of literary studies. But do ecocritics read, manipulate, and use texts
in a unique manner? The quick answer is that they are like other literary
critics "examining textuality, not just summarizing textual content." But
.there is an added component
Foundational Works, Interdisciplinary Studies
AS BECOMES CLEAR from a larger survey of critical methods in
articles published in the journal ISLE, some ecocritics sift texts as Buell

does, some believe all texts can be read as environmental texts, and
some take an intermediate position. The length of the ecocritical reach
depends, in individual cases, on certainty of critical approach, but even
more on certainty of the sources of authority. Hence the importance of the
"eco": By positing connection and relationship, it permits interdisciplinary
work to gain authority and analytic power from disciplines outside one's
own. At bottom, ecocriticism needs to import scientific authority in order
to combat two positions, 1) that culture can be a refuge from nature, and
.2) that nature is merely a cultural construction
Power and authority account for part of what ecocritics mean when
they invoke "interdisciplinary." There is also a real hope that a concerted
multidisciplinary effort can avert environmental disaster. How does one
become interdisciplinary? Because ecocriticism is interested in ecology
and other environmental sciences, it must cross disciplinary boundaries
and use the methods and findings of other disciplines when it asks, "What
is environment?" or "Why think in ecological or evolutionary ways about
Like history, ecocriticism asks, "How shall scholars deal with
continuities and discontinuities found in environmental history, social
history, and cultural history?" These questions are universal, raisedto
use two disparate examplesby ecologist Daniel Botkin in Discordant
Harmonies and by historian Patricia Nelson Limerick in The Legacy of

Open questions inside and outside of ecocriticism include the

following: Is "literature and environment" a sub-discipline of literary
studies, or an extension out of literary studies into environmental
sciences, or a practice largely within the paradigms of the humanities and
social sciences? This issue sounds abstract, but the derogatory term
"Standard Social Science Model" (SSSM) bruited about by an increasing
number of sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists has been cited
increasingly in ecocritical literature, perhaps because it places nature first
or in academic terms seems to allow a re-biologizing and consequent
hegemony of biological interpretations for human behavior, including
literary production.35
Closer to home, can literary critics historicize and theorize ecology
while keeping their own vision and agenda from becoming discordant?
How can they practice relationputting together history, ecology, literary
theoryin the study of literature? Some mainline literary critics who have
offered widely cited models for ecocritical method that moves beyond the
Smith/Marx/Nash landscape include George Levine and Gillian Beer on
Darwin and fiction; Leo Marx, Raymond Williams, Lawrence Buell, and
Terry Gifford on the pastoral; and Simon Schama and Robert Pogue
Harrison on cultural studies. Ecocritics read Annette Kolodny and Anne
Whiston Spirn on the cultural dimensions of landscape, Donna Haraway
and perhaps Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, as feminist historians of science; and
Jennifer Price on the relationship between nature and culture.36 A wide
variety of approaches to Thoreau demands its own bibliography.37 Major

writers that ecocritics would like to claim as forebears (always a

questionable practice since it assumes a strange historical rationale) are
included in David Mazel's A Century of Early Ecocriticism, whose highlights
include John Burroughs, Mabel Osgood Wright, Norman Foerster, Aldo
Leopold, Lewis Mumford, F. O. Matthiessen, Perry Miller, Sherman Paul,
and, somewhat prematurely considering his recent activity, Leo
Marx.38 One might add, in an interdisciplinary way and on the Aristotelian
principle that literature falls between history and philosophy, J. Baird
Callicott, Holmes Rolston III, Roderick Nash, Max Oelschlaeger, and Val
To speak in general terms, the environmental historians who
regularly influence ecocritical discourse tend to be "naturists" like Carolyn
Merchant, Donald Worster, Donald Hughes, and Dan Flores. Unfortunately
the ecocritic's reading list rarely includes urban historians like Martin
Melosi. Though Alfred Crosby, William Cronon, and Richard White are
powerful influences, many of the more technical and complicated
historical arguments in works like Nature's Metropolis or The Measure of
Reality, Remembering Ahanagran, or The Middle Ground are less known.
Ecocritics are partial to narratives that include a great deal of first person
story-telling, like those of William deBuys.40
Major critics closely associated with ASLE appear in Glotfelty and
Fromm, in the special ecocriticism edition of New Literary History, and two
anthologies of critical essays: The Green Studies Reader, edited by

Laurence Coupe, and Writing the Environment, edited by Richard Kerridge

and Neil Sammells.41
Sometimes the preference for a specific author by an ecocritic
reveals shared foundational ideology, as in the case of a favorite like
David Ehrenfeld, whose Arrogance of Humanism rails against
"anthropocentrism," or George Sessions and William Devall, whose Deep
Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered speaks for ecocentrism by
presenting a rigid ideology and somewhat simplified "life-style" doctrine.
On the other hand, David Rothenberg's more nuanced analysis of deep
ecology has been most influential in ASLE circles.42
How Ecocritics Read
WHAT CAN HISTORIANS learn from the way ecocritics read? All
literary critics are taught to practice close readingpay attention to
language, its genealogy, complexity, ambiguity, the way it carries
intended and unintended meaning, and creates expectations on the part
of the reader. Trained as literary scholars, ecocritics read and write
differently than historians, but not very differently. Rhetorical strategy is
important to the literary critic, while the rational structure of argument is
likely to catch the attention of the historian. The kinds of questions literary
critics ask and the kinds of thesis statements they are likely to write are
".most easily revealed in a "close reading
Consider two essays on wilderness, for example. Though lawmakers
may be interested in legal language, managers may be interested in the

language of policy, and journalists interested in the most recent

controversy, students of literature and environment are interested in the
.discourses of wilderness
A standard literary exercise, invented by Ian Watt, is to ask what the
"style" of the introduction to an imaginative work reveals about its
possible directions.43 Literary critics have been taught, Ezra Pound style,
to read for similarities and differences. We immediately notice that the
language of William Cronon's "The Trouble With Wilderness: Getting Back
to the Wrong Nature" (1995), is and is not the same as the language of
Robert Marshall's "The Problems of the Wilderness" (1930).44 We wonder
immediately whether the former title alludes to the latter, but more than
.that, we notice the difference in strategies of discourse
Noting the differences in the dates of the essays does not mean that
we might imagine any kind of "progress" in conceptions of wilderness, as
Roderick Nash seems to in Wilderness and the American Mind, but we do
notice the likely differences in the contextscultural, biographical, and
.linguisticof these essays
Our attention is not simply toward diction, though both essays begin
with an argument from definition; one that takes up the first paragraph of
Marshall's essay and lasts a bit longer in Cronon's. Marshall refers to Dr.
Johnson, and to Webster's New International Dictionary. Cronon is more
wily, by which I mean no disrespect. Marshall's mode of discourse is
direct, and establishes a kind of earnestness, as he goes on to craft an

elaborate definition by enumeration in his second paragraph, but Cronon

complicates his term by calling into question appearance and reality, and
creating mirrors, paradoxes, and other self-referential tropes in his first
paragraph. In doing so, he also complicates the tone and persona of the
narrator. Indeed the essay is highly self-referential, and the narrator
admits by the third paragraph that his argument about wilderness may be
taken by many readers as "absurd or even perverse." After all, how can
there be something called "the Wrong Nature"?45
Let me go back and explore the shades of meaning between the
titles: First of all, Marshall's suggests plurality, and possibly the ability to
deal with problems one by one. Cronon's trouble is singular, as is "the
wrong nature" in the subtitle of his essay. Also, Marshall speaks of the
wilderness, where Cronon removes the defining article, thus removes the
discreteness indicated by Marshall, and the defining article of a proper
name: The Wilderness Society. We begin to see that the languages of the
two essays reveal that Marshall's problems cannot be the same as
Cronon's trouble; consequently they cannot mean the same thing by
wilderness. Problems may be difficult, but they invite solutions, and the
solutions, suggested by connotation, are likely to be rational, scientific,
and even mathematical. Trouble suggests a condition of distress, worry,
anxiety, or danger, quite possibly a disease, or a situation in which
something mechanical or electronic is not functioning or operating as it
should. Marshall uses the language inherited from the Enlightenment,

while Cronon's modernist language is more appropriate for an "Age of

Both essays make allusions to historical information, and both call
into question the idea of progress. Cronon does so with a statement,
which he wants readers to interpret as ironic: "For many Americans
wilderness stands as the last remaining place where civilization, that all
too human disease, has not fully infected the earth. It is an island in the
polluted sea of urban-industrial modernity." Marshall's irony goes in a
different direction: "The philosophy that progress is proportional to the
amount of alteration imposed upon nature never seems to have occurred
to the Indians."46
It is difficult for us not to notice that Cronon's language reveals that
his essay has absorbed the "toxic discourse," as Lawrence Buell has called
it, of the age of Rachel Carson, whereas Marshall's language, diction, and
syntax, are more closely related, derived from, and extracted directly from
the romantic and fertile primitivist prose of Willa Cather: "The land and all
that it bore they treated with consideration; not attempting to improve it,
they never desecrated it."47
One could go on. Marshall appeals to a crisis in time: "Within the
next few years the fate of the wilderness must be decided." We can
contrast the shape of his opening sentence with Cronon's: "The time has
come to rethink wilderness."48 Cronon appeals to thought, to rethinking,
Marshall to a plan of action. Hearkening back to Glen Love's distinction,

one paradox is that the shape of Cronon's prose finally follows the position
.of Leo Marx, while borrowing from the language of Carson
So why is this kind of reading important or useful to historians? First,
literary critics believe the mode of articulation matters: It is a part, if not
the central part, of how texts mean. Style is a part of the cultural work.
Ecocritics believe that part of the problems of or trouble with the
wilderness, is a result of language and rhetoric. There may or may not be
such a thing as wilderness, but it is certainly constructed with words in
essays. Second, literary critics remind us that we are part of a tradition of
discourse that itself has a history. Third, and not least, literary critics
remind us that we should write well and with good effect, while knowing
.as writers that our language reveals our times
How Ecocritics Write
A DESIRE to integrate personal narrative and critical analysis has led
to such publications as John Elder's Reading the Mountains of Home,
William L. Fox's The Void, The Grid, & The Sign, and Playa Works, Ian
Marshall's Story Line and Peak Experiences, and Rebecca Solnit's Savage
Dreams and Wanderlust. (And perhaps, in the dark abysm of time, my own
The Pathless Way.)49 The form of these books insists that field study is
integral and essential to understanding literary and aesthetic
representations of landscape. They also establish a trend that has
generated more sophisticated techniques for teaching field studies

courses.50 This method of writing has been termed "narrative criticism" by

Scott Slovic.51
As reviews of admirable literature, as anthologies, or as promotions
of a genre, many ecocritical essays lack focus, because the argument is
by sequenceone exemplary book after another, as one sees often in the
writing of Nash or Buelland does not create an analytical structure. It
distracts the reader while claiming to show multiple perspectives on an
.environmental problem
Such unmoored comparisons and accumulations of texts emerge
from the canonization and anthologizing work of ecocriticism. Because
they are accumulative rather than analytic, they still work within the
prison house of language. They fail to go to grounds, and they fail to reach
.their object, which is outside the world of words
In its enthusiasm to disseminate ideas, a certain version of narrative
ecocriticism might be better described as praise than criticism. I call this
version of ecocriticism the "praise-song school." As characterized by the
writings of critics like John Elder, the purpose seems to be to seek and find
hope and comfort, and to offer both to readers, wherever they are, even in
history. In Reading The Mountains of Home, Elder chooses one Frost poem,
"Directive," and uses it for "hiking a poem and reading a wilderness." He
writes: "Out of the openings and limitations of my own experience, I offer
this contribution to what [Leslie Marmon] Silko calls the 'ancient
continuous story composed of innumerable bundles of other stories.'" This

premise allows Elder to "identify with the losses and recoveries, the
migrations and returns, that are the living circulation of our family's place
on earth."52
In a forthcoming work focusing on the ideas of George Perkins
Marsh, Elder does not look for cultural difference in the definitions of such
key ideas as "restoration," in the way environmental historians like Marcus
Hall do.53 He prefers not to see the history of forests as contested terrains
the way environmental historians see them, and he does not distinguish
European and American ideologies on conservation as split at the root.
.Instead, Elder wishes to draw communal threads together
In style, much so-called "narrative scholarship" is not sharply
analytical but gracefully meditative; in homage to Thoreau, perhaps, it
includes the first person. Narrative scholars look at landscapes not as
fields for argument, but as scenes for reconciliationof the wilderness
ethic with the stewardship ethic, of nature with culture. Such lyrical,
nearly religious work approaches a timeless harmony, and seems to be
beyond rational scrutiny.54
The praise-song school also sees nature writing as a progressive
historical tradition, seminal writers of the past leading to our
contemporary ways of thinking. In the hands of critics like Elder, the
progressive view of literary history"This is where we have been going all
along"uses the standard list of popular modern nature writers to create
a parable of the development of finer environmental consciousness.

Sometimes these critics write as if they return to timeless values, yet they
neglect discussion of the principles of inclusion in and/or exclusion of
.writers in the canon
Early writers are imaginedas Roderick Nash imagined Aldo Leopold
as "prophets." Major voices like Gary Snyder often are treated as gurus
or icons rather than as writers. Local writers are praised for their
provinciality under a claim for their "deep roots," thus further confusing
.life, genealogy, and literature
Narrative scholarship is fraught with dangers. These include: 1)
Such books are always turning into travelogue.55 2) Discussions of
environmental topics like fast food and organic farming are based more on
journalistic accounts than on rigorous scholarship, and are in danger of
being clichd. 3) Critical prose sometimes shifts to lessons on "the kind of
life worth living" that are testimonial, as when Elder takes Frost to be such
a model. Certainly historians, even Cronon, are not immune to this third
problem in narrative scholarship: "I think of a November evening long ago
when I found myself on a Wisconsin hilltop in rain and dense fog, only to
have the setting sun break through the clouds to cast an otherworldly
golden light on the misty farms and woodlands below, a scene so
unexpected and joyous that I lingered past dusk so as not to miss any part
of the gift that had come my way."56 There is always a danger of such
.prose seeming like sermonizing

The praise school is in danger of forgetting that the critical task, at

its best, requires an open inquiry. Reading is not simply a consumer
activity: Interesting critics do not simply choose ideas and authors that
best fit a pre-arranged interior cognitive dcor. The purpose of subjecting
texts and authors to critical inquiry is not simply to search for authority to
buttress an argument or perspective. Criticism is not the same as
sermonizing; it must be able to entertain ideas as they are established.
Not simply descriptive, it requires making judgments, positive and
negative, about the texts under inspection and about the critical
perspective being used. Nevertheless, many ecocritics continue to value
celebration. The Credo Series, published by Milkweed Editions and edited
by Scott Slovic, is such a celebration, praised by SueEllen Campbell
because "for many of the rest of us, the most powerful current may be the
one that moves us through the shadow of loss toward love and care,
toward cherishing."57
However, narrative scholarship also suggests something positive:
that criticism and "nature writing" can merge and sing together if the
writing is good enough. At the ASLE conference in 2003, Sandra
Steingraber said that when she read Terry Tempest Williams's Refuge, the
personal narrative opened up possibilities that allowed her to write Living
Downstream.58 It is the nature of this vital literary tradition that writers are
seduced by the way others read and write landscape and literature
together. At the same time, an analytical critic, like me, is bothered by the
idea that the modes of reading texts and reading biological or cultural

systems can be collapsed into a single activity, without testing the

.differences between these methods
Will the Real Ecocritic Stand Up?
A PERUSAL of the book reviews in ISLE reveals no negative review of
any book. Why? A central question might be whether ecocriticism is
capable of creating its own critique of environmental literature, or whether
it is only capable of praising certain modes of it. In the meantime, the
wider public may have a very incomplete idea of what ecocriticism is. One
reads the following on the World Wide Web: "After scholars such as
William Cronon, Timothy Luke, and J. Baird Callicott introduced 'ecocriticism' to the scholarly and popular publics, various environmental
activists and thinkers have struggled to articulate a response."59
At ASLE, these scholars would not be called ecocritics. But the ranks
of ecocriticism are larger than the membership lists for ASLE. It will be a
step toward maturity for the literature and environment community when
ecocriticism welcomes its own most trying critics into its ranks. Otherwise,
the complacency of the praise songs and the denial of real contesting
positions will mean slow stagnation. Virtually all positions create their own
antitheses, and when critique goes unheard, it probably is being
suppressed. Cronon's recent contribution to Orion bodes well for
I believe that the future of ecocriticism will rely on a more analytical
method in three ways: It will focus on place and region, it will adduce

science in a way not unlike Cronon's Changes in the Land, and it will
include critique of global paradigmsscientific and culturalas they fit in
.discussions of local place and possible future environmental outcomes
Ecocriticism must question more closely the nature of environmental
narrative, not simply praise it, as it has too frequently.61 Maybe it is
unreasonable to expect ecocritics to begin to treat historical narrative or
place as the poststructuralists like Hillis Miller or Stephen Greenblatt
do.62 Because of resistance to post-structural theory, ecocritical work is
more likely to look like Cronon's "A Place for Stories," but hopefully it will
reach beyond Cronon's strictly Aristotelian rationalism in the treatment of
narrative structure.63 Two examples of recent sophisticated theoretical
work are David Mazel, American Literary Environmentalism(2000), and
Louise Westling, The Green Breast of the New World (1996).64
Critiques and Controversies from Within ASLE
FOR SOME YEARS, ASLE has not been just about the discourse of
American wilderness, but there are still traces of these roots, as in ASLE's
motto, "I'd rather be hiking." The inclusion of people who would rather not
be hiking, but whose concerns ought to be the concerns of ASLE
precipitated a crisis in 1999. As a result, ASLE scholars are spending more
effort not simply on the literary language established by the wilderness
culture but also on the public language and discourse of environmental
issues as they appear in institutional contexts.65

As I argued during that crisis, Roderick Nash was wrong. America's

important contribution to global environmental protection is not
wilderness or national parks. The National Environmental Policy Act with
its provisions for Environmental Impact Statements, more than any other
U.S. statute, has been widely emulated (in over eighty countries now). As
Lynton Keith Caldwell has pointed out, the promise of NEPA is still
unfulfilled.66 It will not be fulfilled until people like ecocritics demand
better nature writing in Environmental Impact Statements, because this is
where much of the real writing of nature occurs today. Ecocritics must
enter the public arena by encouraging and facilitating writing of the most
.important single literary genre, the letter to a governmental agency
NEPA's intention to establish interdisciplinary teams that include
social sciences and "environmental design arts other than engineering" for
the writing of Environmental Impact Statements, Caldwell shows, "could
bring considerations of equity, ethics, and environmental justice into the
decision process and could enlarge the basis for mediation when values
.conflict." The promise is there but we have yet to give it substance
Critique (and regulation) of ecocritical practiceas expressed in the
previous two paragraphshave been local (looking inward), but they are
becoming more global (looking outward).67 The Caucus for Diversity has
.created the most powerful reform within ASLE to date
Environmental Justice, Institutional Language

THE CAUCUS for Diversity was formed in June 1999. It presented a

letter to the executive council of ASLE citing "clear evidence of growing
interest in environmental and social justice issues, and in intersections of
race, class, gender, sexuality, and nature. The time has come to expand
these efforts, and in response to this need, we have formed a Caucus for
Diversity."68 The caucus asked that a majority of "plenary speakers should
be representative of nondominant viewpoints," and asked for a conference
"addressing diverse perspectives involving the intersections of
environment with human differences of race, class, gender, and sexuality,
as well as considerations of what texts and what genres are appropriate
for investigation." The letter writers also hoped to see "more
interdisciplinary diversity as well," including "science, dance, music, and
performance art." They wanted "conferences more closely connected with
the communities in which they are held," connecting with "local
environmentalists and environmental justice activists, inviting their
".participation in the conference planning and presentations
The caucus has changed ASLE conferences. Several important and
collaboratively created publications have come from continuing
discussions, most recently The Environmental Justice Reader: Politics,
Poetics, & Pedagogy, edited by Joni Adamson, Mei Mei Evans, and Rachel
Stein. This elaborate book refuses to adhere to the limiting categories of
literary analysis, offers "new case studies including cultural analysis of
environmental justice arts," and asserts "that both teaching and making
art are intrinsically political acts."69The book puts ethnically diverse urban

and rural inequalities into conversation, and asks about the directions of
the causality of injustice. In one conversation, Terrell Dixon says, "I
emphasize that what we can call the toxicity chain is not only physical,
that the way we have degraded our environment, our own bodies and
those of other citizens, also creates a web of mistrust [and] deep divisions
along lines of class, ethnicity and gender."70 A good deal of ecocritical
work on so-called "urban nature" has as a result acquired clearer
focus.71 While not attempting a comprehensive view of globalization, these
critics speak of "proactive scholarship" that will empower those who are
.being affected by it
Among young scholars one sees special interest in these kinds of
cultural studies. As an example, Erica Valsecchi, of Italy, a graduate
student at the University of Nevada, Reno, focused for her M.A.
examinations on "Social Struggles in Nature: Exploring The Connections
between Environmental Justice and Environmental Literature:" "The link is
oftentimes obscured or understated on both sides by activists, engaged in
diverse environmental policies and campaigns, and by literary scholars,
involved in the reformulation of concepts of nature and redefinition of the
role of literary study in envisioning a responsible commitment towards the
environment." Valsecchi is keen to critique environmentalism from the
margin: "Stemming from marginalized cultures and traditions in the
United States and elsewhere, alternative views to typical
environmentalism are often labeled either as essentialist, 'feminine' and

ultimately unpractical relationships between human and nature, or worse

they are ignored and discarded on racist assumptions."72
Representation, Ecocentrism, and Stewardship
QUESTIONS OF representation have become productively
complicated and contested primarily in two ways. First, it is the
occupational hazard of those who study literature that they absorb the
epistemology and style of their favorite books, fictional and non-fictional.
The danger is in becoming merely a "fan."73
Traditionally, students of American Romantics have allowed
themselves to believe the principles of representation of their favorite
writersfor instance, Emerson's idea of "correspondence." Critics find
themselves writing as if they were Emersonian ideologues. Under such
.circumstances, the critical act becomes an affirmation and a religious act
Nowhere is this limitationof uncritically accepting and using the
traditionmore obvious than in the ecocriticism's conceptual landscape,
shaped by the critics of the pastoral. There are multiple constraints here
that limit discussions of literature and environment. Even more
pronounced and perhaps limiting is ecocriticism's acceptance of the
discourse of wildness that it has imported from the writings of its own
.canonThoreau, Muir, and Leopold, for example
More than one critic has noted that much of American nature writing
is built on the model of the conversion narrative.74 It would be a huge

mistake if ecocritics were simply "converted" by what they read in other

"nature writers" and found themselves writing conversion narratives,
twice removed. Also, imaginative writers may not have to ask hard
questions about representation and cognition, but critics do. This is why it
can be dangerous to follow the practice so frequently found in
ecocriticism, of taking established nature writers to be reliable theorists
on nature writing, and of importing their language into the critical
As a result, contention over strategies of representation and the
underlying ideologies that create them are likely to provide unending
discussions that no doubt will be shaped by the unfolding of cognitive
studies.75Because literature is about human expression, all theories of
representation must be about human strategies and therefore
"anthropocentric." Ecocritics constitute an interpretive community whose
".work focuses primarily on literature, not "nature
At about the summer solstice of 1999, Leo Marx ignited a
controversy still running in ecocritical circles by attacking ecocentrism.
"Ecocentrists are the Puritans of today's environmental movement," he
argued, they are "critical of anyonewhether an environmentalist or a
despoilerwho assumes that the chief reason for protecting the
environment is its usefulness to human beings. 'No intellectual vice is
more crippling,' writes the Harvard sociobiologist and outspoken
ecocentrist E.O. Wilson, 'than defiantly self-indulgent

In the context of the debates about ecocentrism, several established

ecocritics like John Elder or Glen Love have moved away from the
wilderness-based or preservationist outlook and toward an outlook often
".portrayed as "stewardship
Elder's most recent manuscript, Valambrosa, interests itself in
George Perkins Marsh, and expresses a clear desire to find a EuroAmerican ethic of stewardship. Love's Practical Ecocriticism leans this way
too, as he describes his shift away from an "aggressive antianthropocentrism" characterizing his earlier critical writings, that needs to
make way for an exploration of "what it means to be human."77
Love attributes his strategic move to the re-biologizing of human
nature going on in the life sciences over the past few decades. It was not
the debate among ecocritics about ecocriticism that forced this shift. It
also was a response to politics, especially the environmental justice
movement, which reminded ecocritics of the way traditional users have
been marginalized from the natural world and from the benefits of
SO, ONCE upon a time, ecocriticism was born out of the perceived
disjunction between business as usual in the university and the

environmental crisis. The crisis was and is real, and ecocritics proposed to
meet that crisis, using the skills that literary studies possess. At that
moment, simple and straightforward positions and strategies seemed
possible. Since then, the perceived dimensions of environmental crisis
have enlarged and spread from local to global. Scientists have responded
with ideas like island biogeography, terms like biodiversity, and disciplines
like conservation biology. Social activists have also responded with terms
like environmental justice, globalization, and cosmopolitanism. Using such
.terms puts critics inside specific arguments
I have said in years past that, "by definition,
ecological literary criticism must be engaged. It wants to know but also
wants to do. ... Ecocriticism needs to inform personal and political actions,
in the same way that feminist criticism was able to do only a few decades
ago."78 I have not changed this view, but have come to see its
One purpose of environmental literature, as literature, is to express
not just the joy of the wide-open spaces, but also what it feels like to be
"nuked" in southern Utah, be a victim of toxics, be deprived of an
ancestral place in the sun. The responsibility of ecocritics includes valuing
these experiences when they become literature. But literature also must
.bear scrutiny and make sense under the lens of interdisciplinary study
I have come to recognize more acutely the degree to which
informed political action requires taking advice from others with greater

expertise. Like environmental history, ecocriticism must seek authority

from perspectives outside itself, including those outside academia,
including victims, because it engages and applies insights, methods, and
theories that are outside the authority of literary criticism. That is the
reason for, and insistence upon, interdisciplinary activity. Because it
wishes to be informed, and wishes to create alliances with other workers
in other disciplines, as well as with other members of other communities,
to meet the crisis. Because the modern world and the nature of the crisis
.demand it do so
Crisis always includes the dimension of perception: Do we perceive
crossed intentions and possibilities accurately? No movement can operate
successfully and healthily unless it takes account of and absorbs critique.
Otherwise, the result easily can become "doing or advocating the wrong
thing for the right reason." Environmentalists have been accused of this
An already historical case in point might be the storm over Cronon's
"The Trouble," not merely because so many ecocritics followed their
leaders, nature writers like Gary Snyder and Terry Tempest Williams, in
responding negatively and often ad hominem to Cronon's argument.
Cronon argued strenuously against the ecocentrist position advocated by
deep ecology. Because deep ecology is widely supported by ecocritics,
.Cronon, like Leo Marx, had been taken by some to be an opponent

Something similar seems to be happening with Dana Phillips's

recently published The Truth of Ecology. Phillips argues that "ecocriticism
ought to be less devoted to pieties: that it ought to offend." Yet speaking
for the wild requires civility and this is no paradox. Even when making
interesting points, Phillips defeats himself by acting the wild man, in a
bad-tempered savaging of canonical writers of ecocriticism and
contemporary American nature writing. He adds a gratuitous attack on the
work of environmental historians Donald Worster and Carolyn Merchant,
for good measure. I believe that the institutional culture of ASLE must
bear part of the responsibility for the tone of the Phillips critique. ASLE's
design space, or landscape, has no place within for voices of critique, and
.can expect more rhetoric that storms its culture, from outside
Consequently, the response to the Phillips book is shaping up to be
one measure of the maturity of the ecocritical community. In a recent
review published in Orion, Scott Slovic, editor of ISLE, admits that more
people than Phillips believe "the community of nature writers and
ecocritics has become too chummy and self congratulatorytoo selfsatisfied and self righteous." Slovic argues, unfortunately, given his
misunderstanding of the experience or the science behind chemotherapy,
that "Reading The Truth of Ecology is like enduring a dose of
chemotherapyif it doesn't kill you (or your spirit), it will make you
stronger." Slovic does not answer the challenge, except to say "that words
including nature writing and ecocriticismhave the potential to be
nourishing and therapeutic." Does this nourishment apply to the reader or

the writer? In a review published by ISLE, Sean O'Grady condescendingly

argues that the book "misbehaves ... [Y]et, like a bright, refractory child, it
is not without merit."79
I hope I express my point more gently. Phillips is more frequently
accurate and acute than most ecocritics seem to be able to bear. He offers
a challenge. A healthy ecocriticism should be capable of accepting critique
and using it constructively, because it speaks within a cultural context.
What Lawrence Buell calls praxis, and most of us call activism will
continue to resist critique: In an age of environmental crisis, nothing is
more depressing than the prospect of environmentalists fighting
interminably among themselves. But the story within environmental
organizations should be a caution to scholars. The fallout from David
Brower's resistance to criticism when he was executive director of the
Sierra Club should be a reminder of what happens when people fail to
A Return to Roots?
SURELY THE crisis within ecocriticism was born of its peculiarly
American conception, as it canonized American writers (Thoreau and Muir
and their tradition) and American critics (Leo Marx, Roderick Nash, Joseph
Meeker, Annette Kolodny, Lawrence Buell, and their traditions), but the
roots of its crisis of ideology are historically deeper. Perhaps some
ecocritics still desire to say "Look for nature, in all literature, at every
reasonable opportunity, externally, toward environment, and internally,

toward human nature!" But to what extent does accepting such a

universal or panoramic priority of nature over culture translate an idea of
?Alexander Pope into modern critical terms
,Unerring Nature! Still divinely bright
One clear, unchang'd, and universal light
,Life, force, and beauty must to all impart
At once the source, and end, and test of art.80
As "source, and end, and test," and as the form of his couplets
signal, Pope's theory expresses a desire for an all-purpose model that
gives congruent answers and closure to all questions of representation, of
external and human nature, of the purpose of literature, of modes and
.sources of literary production, and of the critic's mission
To put this another way, in Pope the transactions of representer and
represented are shaped by a mystified union of human mind, human
language, and human culture, and are based on an essentialized version
of the "external world." This view is not unknown in the writing of some
.ecocritics, but it is an unstable grounding for the future
The really big question might be how to continue the tradition,
confront a complex, global crisis, critique the Pope positionand other
unexamined positions in ecocriticismwithout going through a period of
internecine battle, where Young Turks displace the old dogs, and without
producing an academic discourse so arcane it has no readers in the real

How can ecocriticism be more analytical without becoming less

politically efficacious? As the young critics disdain the loose thinking of
some of their elders, shall ecocriticism replace the Thoreauvian father
with other fathers, or better yet, with mothers, or read Thoreau more
carefully? Can ecocriticism be re-grounded in ecofeminism or postcolonial
studies to meet racial and ethnic inequalities? What about globalization?
Where do the roads of inquiry meet and where do they diverge; what
happens at these crossroads? One thing is certain: traditional theories of
representation are under attack because of the narrowness of their
interests and especially because younger critics have become suspicious
of personal narratives about nature produced from privileged positions of
.gender, class, and ethnicity
Some English professors decided to follow a decidedly not-majority
path in their careers. As we used to say, "If you are not part of the
solution," well, we know the rest. Ecocritics wish to be part of some
solution, or at least part of the dialogue about possible solutions. They
wish to avoid certain risks of academic business as usual, where research
is driven by the market and by the need for professional advancement.
They face risks in giving autonomy to those in other disciplines, especially
when the information and methods of those other disciplines are rapidly
changing. But the worst risk is of speaking only to themselves, or of dying
.out, like frogs from the Sierra Nevada
I have spent most of my career examining textual strategies,
including those produced through institutional rhetoric, for preserving wild

lands and biological diversity. I consider that much of this work falls
almost exactly midway between environmental history and ecocriticism,
and I consider this a productive place for both literary scholars and
environmental historians to work. Of one thing I am certain: Good writing
is more effective and important for these purposes than bad writing, but
what is good is not such a simple matter. Books are tools for seeing the
world: Which tools help perception is a question to be answered partly by
.those who specialize in the literary structure of books
One begins literary analysis by decomposing texts into their
constituent parts. What goes into green writing that is indispensable? Part
of the goal is to recompose the writing. How can these elements be
composed more successfully, made more powerful, for the purposes of
making a better world? The role of the ecocritic is not only to celebrate,
but it is also not only to disassemble. The goal is to facilitate clearer
thinking about human transactions with environments, and to facilitate
better nature writing in the future. This role seems remarkably congruent
.with the role of environmental history
Perhaps Robert Johnson didn't have to sell his soul to the devil at the
crossroads to learn how to play that mean guitar. "Poor Bob," as Johnson
called himself in his song, went home and practiced. Ecocritical practice
will not be as enjoyable as we had once hoped, but it will determine what
.kind of music we make

Michael P. Cohen's books are The Pathless Way: John Muir and
American Wilderness (1984), The History of the Sierra Club 1892
1970 (1988), and A Garden of Bristlecone Pines: Tales of Change in the
Great Basin (1998). More recently he has embarked on a study of the
groundings of ecocriticism in the historically changing ideas of ecology,
evolutionary theory, and the politics of wilderness. He is a visiting
.professor of literature and environment at the University of Nevada, Reno
.ASEH News 12 (Summer 2001): 2.1
Henry Nash Smith, Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol .2
and Myth (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1950); Leo Marx, The
Machine in the Garden, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964); William
H. Goetzmann, Exploration and Empire: The Explorer and the Scientist in
the Winning of the American West (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966);
Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind (New Haven, Conn.:
.Yale University Press, 1967)
Annette Kolodny, The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience .3
and History in American Life and Letters (Chapel Hill: University of North
.Carolina Press, 1975)
David Damrosch, Meetings of the Mind (Princeton: Princeton .4
.University Press, 2000), 126

Gerald Graff, Beyond the Culture Wars: How Teaching the .5

Conflicts Can Revitalize American Education (New York: W.W. Norton,
Geoffrey Galt Harpham, "Ethics," in Critical Terms for Literary .6
Study, ed. Frank Lentriccia and Thomas McLaughlin (Chicago: University of
.Chicago Press, 1995), 387405
.Ibid., 400, 404 .7
Glen A. Love, Practical Ecocriticism: Literature, Biology, and the .8
Environment (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2003), 112; Rachel
.Carson, Silent Spring (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962)
The Wilderness Act, sec 2 a., c.: PL 88577, 88th Congress S.4., 3 .9
.September 1964
Glen A. Love, "Revaluing Nature: Toward an Ecological Criticism," .10
in The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology, ed., Cheryll
Glotfelty and Harold Fromm (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1996),
.Love, Practical Ecocriticism, 1 .11
Henry David Thoreau, "Walking," in Excursions and Poems, ed. .12
Bradford Torrey and Francis H. Allen (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1906).
Note that the third chapter of Gary Snyder's The Practice of the Wild (San

Francisco: North Point Press, 1990) uses the language of Thoreau to place
.itself within a tradition
.See Kolodny, The Lay of the Land .13
Snyder, The Practice of the Wild; William Cronon, "The Trouble .14
with Wilderness, or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature," in Uncommon
Ground: Toward Reinventing Nature, ed. William Cronon (New York: W.W.
Norton, 1995), 6990; Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory (New York:
Alfred A. Knopf, 1995); Lawrence Buell, The Environmental Imagination
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995); Dana Phillips, The Truth of
Ecology: Nature, Culture, and Literature in America (New York: Oxford
.University Press, 2003)
I discuss this issue in "Resistance to Wilderness,"Environmental .15
History 1 (1996): 3342. The term "real work" is used by Gary Snyder in
the poem "I Went Into The Maverick Bar," Turtle Island (New York: New
.Directions, 1974), 9
Lawrence Buell, Writing for an Endangered World: Literature, .16
Culture, and Environment in the U.S. and Beyond (Cambridge: Harvard
.University Press, 2001), 129
See Michael P. Branch and Scott Slovic, "Introduction," in The .17
ISLE Reader: Ecocriticism, 19932003, ed. Michael P. Branch and Scott
Slovic (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2003), xiiixxiii; and the ASLE

Gioia Woods, Graduate .18

Scott Slovic, Seeking Awareness in American Nature Writing (Salt .19
Lake City: University of Utah Press: 1992); John P. O'Grady, Pilgrims to the
.Wild (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press: 1993)
These regional studies sometimes are called "bioregional .20
studies." See David Robertson, Real Matter (Salt Lake City: University of
Utah Press, 1997); David Robertson, West of Eden: A History of Art and
Literature of Yosemite (Berkeley, Calif.: Wilderness Press, 1984); For a nonliterary genre, see David Rothenberg, Sudden Music: Improvisation,
.Sound, Nature (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2002)
Glotfelty and Fromm, The Ecocriticism Reader, xix. Some basic .21
texts and anthologies of ecocriticism include Buell, The Environmental
Imagination; Richard Kerridge and Neil Sammells, eds. Writing the
Environment: Ecocriticism and Literature (London: Zed Books, 1998);
Michael P. Branch et al., eds. Reading the Earth: New Directions in the
Study of Literature and the Environment (Moscow: University of Idaho
Press, 1998); Patrick Murphy, Farther Afield in the Study of NatureOriented Literature (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2000);
John Tallmadge and Henry Harrington, eds. Reading Under the Sign of
Nature: New Essays in Ecocriticism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah
Press, 2000); and Karla Armbruster and Kathleen Wallace, eds., Beyond

Nature Writing: Expanding the Boundaries of Ecocriticism (Charlottesville:

.University of Virginia Press, 2001)
William Rueckert, "Literature and Ecology: An Experiment in .22
.Ecocriticism," in Glotfelty and Fromm, Ecocriticism Reader, 10523
Joseph W. Meeker, The Comedy of Survival: Studies in Literary .23
Ecology (New York: Scribners, 1972). For a superficial critique of ecology
.as ground for ecocriticism, See Phillips, The Truth of Ecology, 15365
Donald Worster, Nature's Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas, .24
2nd ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994); Anna Bramwell,
Ecology in the Twentieth Century: A History (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1989); Robert H. Peters, A Critique for Ecology (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1991); Daniel Botkin, Discordant Harmonies:
A New Ecology for the Twenty-first Century (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1990); David R. Keller and Frank B. Golley, The Philosophy of
Ecology: From Science to Synthesis (Athens: University of Georgia Press,
.Buell, The Environmental Imagination, 68 .25
Some anthologies of and about nature writing include John Elder .26
and Robert Finch, eds., The Norton Book of Nature Writing (New York: W.W.
Norton, 1990); Tom Lyon, ed., This Incomperable Lande (Boston: Houghton
Mifflin, 1989); Robert M. Torrence, ed., Encompassing Nature: A
Sourcebook (Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1998); and John Elder, ed.,

American Nature Writers, 2 vols. (New York: Charles M. Scribner's Sons,

1996). See also Lorraine Anderson, ed., Sisters of the Earth: Women's
Prose and Poetry about Nature (New York: Vintage, 1991); Scott Slovic and
John P. O'Grady, ed., Literature and the Environment: A Reader on Nature
.and Culture (1999)
Elaine Showalter, "Introduction: The Feminist Critical .27
Revolution," in New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature, and
Theory, ed. Elaine Showalter (New York: Pantheon, 1985), 317. See also
Elaine Showalter, "Feminist Criticism in the Wilderness," Critical Inquiry 8
.(Winter 1981): 179206
Susan Fenimore Cooper, Rural Hours, ed. Rochelle Johnson and .28
Daniel Patterson (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998); Susan
Fenimore Cooper, Essays on Landscape and Culture, ed. Rochelle Johnson
and Daniel Patterson (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2001); Michael
P. Branch, ed. Reading the Roots: American Nature Writing before Walden
.(Athens: University of Georgia Press, forthcoming 2004)
.Branch and Slovic, The ISLE Reader .29
Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It, and Other Stories .30
.(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), ixxiv
.New Literary History 30 (Summer 1999): 505 .31

Lawrence Buell, "Letter," PMLA 114 (October 1999) 10901. This .32
and other letters are collected under the title "Forum on Literatures of the
.Environment," PMLA 114 (October 1999), 10891104
.Ursula K. Heise, "Letter," PMLA 114 (October 1999): 10967 .33
Patricia Nelson Limerick, The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken .34
Past of the American West (New York: W.W. Norton, 1987). One also could
include Alfred Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Ecological Expansion of
Europe, 9001900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986) and
many other historical and scientific studies to show the ubiquity of this
.kind of question
Jerome H. Barkow, Leda Cosmodes, and John Toobey, The .35
Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture
(New York: Oxford 1992), 3148; Steven Pinker, Blank Slate: The Modern
Denial of Human Nature (New York: Viking, 2002); Joseph Carroll, Evolution
and Literary Theory (Columbia: University of Missouri, 1995); Robert
Storey, Mimesis and the Human Animal; On the Biogenic Foundations of
Literary Representation (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press,
George Levine, Darwin and the Novelists: Patterns of Science in .36
Victorian Fiction (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988); Gillian Beer,
Darwin's Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot and
Nineteenth Century Fiction (London: Routledge, 1983); Raymond Williams,
The Country and the City (London: Oxford University Press, 1973); Terry

Gifford, Pastoral (London: Routledge, 1999); Robert Pogue Harrison,

Forests: the Shadow of Civilization (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1992); Anne Whiston Spirn, The Language of Landscape (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1998); Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women:
The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991); Sarah Blaffer
Hrdy, Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human
Species (New York: Ballantine Books, 1999); and Jennifer Price, Flight
Maps: Adventures with Nature in Modern America (New York: Basic Books,
Recent reviews by Leo Marx included the following texts and .37
critical works on Thoreau: Elizabeth Hall Witherell, ed., The Writings of
Henry D. Thoreau, 5 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972
1983); Bradley P. Dean, ed., Faith in a Seed: The Dispersion of Seeds and
Other Late Natural History Writings (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1993);
A Year in Thoreau's Journal: 1851, with an introduction and notes by H.
Daniel Peck (New York: Penguin, 1993); Consciousness in Concord: The
Text of Thoreau's Hitherto "Lost Journal" (18401841) Together with Notes
and a Commentary, ed. Perry Miller (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1958);
George Sessions, ed., Deep Ecology for the 21st Century: Readings on the
Philosophy and Practice of the New Environmentalism (Boston: Shambhala
Press, 1995); Sharon Cameron, Writing Nature: Henry Thoreau's Journal
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985); Buell, The Environmental
Imagination; Laura Dassow Walls, Seeing New Worlds: Henry David

Thoreau and Nineteenth-Century Natural Science, (Madison: University of

.Wisconsin Press, 1995)
David Mazel, ed., A Century of Early Ecocriticism (Athens: .38
.University of Georgia Press, 2001)
J. Baird Callicott, In Defense of the Land Ethic (Albany: SUNY .39
Press, 1989); Beyond the Land Ethic (Albany: SUNY Press, 1999); Holmes
Rolston III, Environmental Ethics: Duties to and Values in the Natural World
(Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988), Roderick Frazier Nash, The
Rights of Nature: A History of Environmental Ethics (Madison: University of
Wisconsin Press, 1989); Max Oelschlaeger, The Idea of Wilderness: From
Prehistory to the Age of Ecology (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991);
Val Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature (London: Routledge,
William Cronon, Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West .40
(New York: W.W. Norton, 1991); Alfred Crosby, The Measure of Reality:
Quantification and Western Society, 12501600 (New York: Cambridge
University Press, 1997); Remembering Ahanagran: Storytelling in a
Family's Past (New York: Hill and Wang, 1998); The Middle Ground (New
York: Cambridge University Press, 1991). For environmental history read
by ecocritics, see Glotfelty and Fromm, Ecocriticism Reader, 393400;
William deBuys and Alex Harris, River of Traps: A Village Life
.(Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1990)

Laurence Coupe, ed., The Green Studies Reader (Routledge: .41

.London, 2000); Kerridge and Sammells, Writing the Environment
David Ehrenfeld, The Arrogance of Humanism (New York: Oxford .42
University Press, 1978); Bill Devall and George Sessions, Deep Ecology:
Living as if Nature Mattered (Salt Lake City, Utah: Peregrine Smith Books,
1985); George Session, ed. Deep Ecology for the 21st Century; David
Rothenberg, ed., Wild Ideas (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,
1995); Peter Reed and David Rothenberg, eds., Wisdom in the Open Air:
The Norwegian Roots of Deep Ecology (Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, 1993); Eric Katz, Andrew Light, and David Rothenberg,
eds., Beneath the Surface; Critical Essays in the Philosophy of Deep
.Ecology (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000)
Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel (Berkeley: University of California .43
Press, 1957). This exercise of reading was invented for the exploration of
fiction. But with such investigations as Hayden White, Metahistory: the
Historical Imagination in Nineteenth Century Europe (Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1973) and The Content of the Form: Narrative
Discourse and Historical Representation (Baltimore: John Hopkins
University Press, 1987), the mode of analysis has been applied to non.fiction
Cronon, "The Trouble with Wilderness," 6990; Robert Marshall, .44
."The Problem of the Wilderness," The Scientific Monthly 30 (1930) 14148
.Cronon, "Trouble with Wilderness," 69 .45

.Marshall, "The Problem of the Wilderness,"141 .46

.Cather quoted in Marshall, "The Problem of the Wilderness," 142 .47
Marshall, "The Problem of the Wilderness," 141; Cronon, "Trouble .48
.with Wilderness," 69
John Elder, Reading the Mountains of Home (Cambridge: Harvard .49
University Press, 1998); William L. Fox, The Void, The Grid, & The Sign:
Traversing the Great Basin (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2000)
and Playa Works: The Myth of the Empty (Reno: University of Nevada
Press, 2002); Ian Marshall, Story Line: Exploring the Literature of the
Appalachian Trail (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998) and
Peak Experiences (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2003);
Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams: A Journey into the Hidden Wars of the
American West (San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1994) and Wanderlust: a
History of Walking (New York: Viking, 2000); Michael Cohen, The Pathless
Way: John Muir and American Wilderness (Madison: University of
.Wisconsin, 1984)
Field studies are explored in David Orr, Ecological Literacy: .50
Education and the Transition to a Postmodern World (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY
Press, 1992); Gregory Smith and Dilafruz Williams, eds., Ecological
Education in Action (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 1999); John Tallmadge,
Meeting the Tree of Life: A Teacher's Path (Salt Lake City: University of
Utah Press, 1997); Hal Crimmell, ed., Teaching in the Field: Working with
Students in the Outdoor Classroom (Salt Lake City: University of Utah

Press, 2003); Corey Lewis, "'Reading the Trail,' Exploring the Literature of
.the Pacific Crest" (Ph.D. diss., University of Nevada, Reno, 2003)
Scott Slovic, "Ecocriticism: Storytelling, Values, Communication, .51
Contact," (paper presented at the annual meeting of the Western
Literature Association, Salt Lake City, Utah, 58 October 1994), discussed
in Marshall, Story Line, 78. When asked, one literary-critic colleague at
".the University of Nevada will say, "All criticism is narrative
.Elder, Reading the Mountains of Home, 26, 237 .52
John Elder, Vallombrosa: Pilgrimage to Stewardship (Cambridge: .53
.Harvard University Press, forthcoming)
Richard White warned against this problem, that a vision of .54
"transcendent nature" might "wash away the boundaries that time
creates" in imagining "a universal language shared by author and
subject." "American Environmental History: The Development of a New
.Historical Field," Pacific Historical Review, 54 (1985): 297304
See the review of Peter Matthiessen's The Birds of Heaven: .55
Travels with Cranes: Richard White, "The Natures of Nature Writing,"
.Raritan 22 (Fall 2002): 14561
Cronon, "The Trouble with Wilderness," 86. I will spare the reader .56
.my own indulgences into this kind of narrative voice

A few of the volumes in the Credo Series by Milkweed Editions .57

(Minneapolis, Minn.) include John Nichols, An American Child Supreme:
The Education of a Liberation Ecologist (2001), Rick Bass, Brown Dog of
the Yaak: Essays on Art and Activism (1999), Scott Russell Sanders, The
Country of Language (1999), John Elder, The Frog Run: Words and
Wilderness in the Vermont Woods (2001), Pattiann Rogers, The Dream of
the Marsh Wren: Writing as Reciprocal Creation (1999), Ann Haymond
Zwinger, Shaped By Wind and Water: Reflections of a Naturalist (2000),
and William Kittredge, Taking Care: Thoughts on Storytelling and Belief
(1999). Each contains a substantial profile of the author by Scott Slovic. In
addition, see SueEllen Campbell, "The Credo Series:
Language/Nature/Cherishing," Western American Literature 37 (Fall,
.2002): 3619
Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family .58
and Place (New York: Pantheon, 1991); Sandra Steingraber, Living
Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment (New
.York: Addison Wesley, 1997)
Paul Wapner, "Leftist Criticism of 'Nature': Environmental .59
Protection in a Postmodern Age,"
William Cronon, "The Riddle of the Apostle Islands," Orion 22 .60
(May/June 2003): 3642. Virginia J. Scharff, ed. Seeing Nature Through

Gender (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2003) comprises an

.excellent collection of ecocriticism by historians
Jim Cheney, "Postmodern Environmental Ethics: Ethics as .61
Bioregional Narrative," Environmental Ethics 11 (1989): 11734; Dan
Flores, "Place: An Argument for Bioregional History,"Environmental History
.Review (Winter 1994): 118
J. Hillis Miller, Topographies (Palo Alto, Calif.: Stanford University .62
Press, 1995); Stephen Jay Greenblatt, Renaissance Refashionings
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Stephen Greenblatt and
Giles Gun, Redrawing the Boundaries: A Transformation of English and
American Literary Studies (New York: Modern Language Association,
William Cronon, "A Place for Stories: Nature, History, and .63
.Narrative," Journal of American History 78 (March 1992): 134776
David Mazel, American Literary Environmentalism (Athens: .64
University of Georgia Press, 2000); Louise Westling, The Green Breast of
the New World: Landscape, Gender and American Fiction (Athens:
.University of Georgia Press, 1996)
In a session on "Lynching Trees" (as in the song, "Strange Fruit") .65
at ASLE in Boston, one scholar commented that in the African-American
community the pine tree logo used for Timberland Products was coded as
"!meaning: "Stay Away

Lynton Keith Caldwell, The National Environmental Policy Act: An .66

Agenda for the Future (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998), 55
See Simon C. Estok, "A Report Card on Ecocriticism," AUMLA: .67
The Journal of the Australasian Universities Language and Literature
.Association 96 (November 2001): 22038
The letter can be found .68
Joni Adamson, Mei Mei Evans, and Rachel Stein, eds., .69
The Environmental Justice Reader: Politics, Poetics & Pedagogy (Tucson:
University of Arizona Press, 2002), 7. See also Joni Adamson, American
Indian Literature, Environmental Justice, and Ecocriticism (Tucson,
University of Arizona Press, 2001); and Rachel Stein, Shifting the Ground:
American Women Writers' Revisions of Nature, Gender and Race
.(Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 1997)
Environmental Justice: A Roundtable Discussion with Simon " .70
Ortiz, Teresa Leal, Devon Pena, and Terrell Dixon," in The Environmental
.Justice Reader, ed. Adamson, Evans, and Stein, 2324
See Michael Bennett and David W. Teague, eds., The Nature of .71
Cities (Tucson: University of Arizona, 1999); Terrell F. Dixon, ed., City Wilds
.(Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2002)

Valsecchi's reading list and proposed questions for her M.A. .72
examination at the University of Nevada, Reno, included Adamson, Evans,
and Stein, The Environmental Justice Reader; Devon Pena, ed. Chicano
Culture, Ecology, Politics: Subversive Kin (Tucson: University of Arizona
Press, 1998); Robert D. Bullard, Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and
Environmental Quality (San Francisco: Westview Press, 1990); Cronon,
Uncommon Ground; Stanley Crawford, Mayordomo: Chronicle of an
Acequia in Northern New Mexico (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico
Press, 1993); Jose Rivera, Acequia Culture: Water, Land, Community in the
Southwest (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1998); Jimmie
M. Killingsworth and Jaqueline S. Palmer, Ecospeak: Rhetoric and
Environmental Politics in America (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University
Press, 1992); Kerridge and Sammels, Writing The Environment; Gloria
Anzaldua, BorderlandLa Frontera: The New Mestiza (San Francisco: Aunt
Lute, 1987); Sandra Cisneros, Woman Hollering Creek And Other Stories
(New York: Random House, 1991); and Val Plumwood, Environmental
.Culture: the Ecological Crisis of Reason (London: Routledge, 2002)
.Phillips, The Truth of Ecology, 138 .73
.Ibid., 185239 .74
Within evolutionary studies, Daniel Dennett, Consciousness .75
Explained (Boston: Little Brown, 1991) and Darwin's Dangerous Idea:
Evolution and the Meanings of Life (New York: Touchstone, 1995) have
gained some influence. Francisco J. Varella, Evan Thompson, and Eleanor

Rosh, The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience

(Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991) is pregnant with possibility. Andy Clark,
Being There (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997) tests the construction of
.various ecological models of representation
Leo Marx, "The Struggle Over Thoreau," New York Review of .76
Books 46 (24 June 1999); Leo Marx, "The Full Thoreau," NYRB 46 (15 July
15 1999); "An Exchange on Thoreau" with letters by Lawrence Buell, and
Leo Marx followed: NYRB 46 (2 December 1999). The protracted
discussion between Buell and Marx has reproduced, in print and in a
session at the 2003 ASLE conference, well-known basic philosophical
distinctions between the anthropocentric and biocentric positions that
found environmental ethics, as in Roderick Nash, The Rights of Nature: A
History of Environmental Ethics (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press,
1989), 910. But the discussion has made no progress. Steven Marx (no
relation to Leo) has pointed out that, rather than polarizing ecocentric vs.
homocentric, or nature vs. culture, Simon Schama's Landscape and
Memory claims that these categories overlap, and Schama mocks the
distinction in somewhat the same way that Cronon does in "The Trouble
.With Wilderness." (
.Love, Practical Ecocriticism, 6 .77
.Michael P. Cohen, "Letter," PMLA 114 (October 1999): 10923 .78

Phillips, The Truth of Ecology, 241. John P. O'Grady, review of The .79
Truth of Ecology, ISLE 10 (Summer 2003): 2789; Scott Slovic, review of
.The Truth of Ecology, Orion 22 (September/October 2003): 756
Alexander Pope, "An Essay on Criticism," in Vincent B. Leitch, et .80
al., eds., The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (1711, reprint; New
.York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2001), 442
See Donald Worster et al., "A Roundtable: Environmental .81
.History" Journal of American History 76 (March 1990), 10871147


By Simon C. Estok (Sejong University)

Published in AUMLA: The Journal of the Australasian
Universities Language and Literature Association 96 (Nov. 2001): 220-38.
It all began with a bit of a panic to describe itself, and even now, the
question about what constitutes ecocriticism remains a priority.[1]
Although ecocriticism began in the 1990s,[2] its roots stretch far down
into the soil of history. From ancient times to the present, various people
at various times and for various reasons have voiced concerns about the
natural world. Ecocriticism's unease about its nature derives from
precisely this history. How does ecocriticism distinguish itself from other
varieties of environmentally oriented reading? What are its goals,
methodologies, and objects of study? Where did it come from? Where is it
now? And where is it going? Certainly, in the primary literature on the
subject,[3] as I will show, ecocriticism has distinguished itself, debates
notwithstanding, first by the ethical stand it takes, its commitment to the
natural world as an important thing rather than simply as an object of
thematic study, and, secondly, by its commitment to making connections.
Ecocriticism may be many other things besides, but it is always at least
these two. It is also very young, and the rapid growth of this theoretical
youngster needs to be evaluated: as Kathleen R. Wallace and Karla

Armbruster so aptly put it, "the time has come for ecocritics to review the
field critically and ask what directions it might best take in the future."[4]
.It is report card time

Ecocritical Ethics
In The Ecocriticism Reader, Cheryll Glotfelty defines ecocriticism as
"the study of the relationship between literature and the physical
environment" (xviii)[5] and compares it with other activist methodologies
such as Marxist and feminist criticisms. The Ecocriticism Reader was the
first of its kind--an anthology of ecocritical essays devoted
to organizing an area of study whose efforts had, until the early 1990s,
not been "recognized as belonging to a distinct critical school or
movement" (xvi-xvii). Rather, as Glotfelty points out in the introduction,
many of the twenty-five essays collected in the reader had appeared
under headings as varied "as American Studies, regionalism, pastoralism,
the frontier, human ecology, science and literature, nature in literature,
landscape in literature" (xvii), and so on. Implied throughout the
introduction, and whispering behind almost every essay in the collection,
is the idea that "literary studies in an age of environmental crisis" (xv)
conceivably may do some good, may in some way ameliorate the crisis.
William Rueckert's essay, for example, compares biological and literary
activities, suggesting that poems, like plants, store energy from their
respective communities and that this energy can be used in the world
outside of where it is stored. The problem, in Rueckert's opinion, is in

figuring out how to turn the stored energy of literature into effective
political action in the real world. Sueellen Campbell's piece in the
collection is also concerned with effective and direct action, and her
identification of important similarities and differences between
poststructuralism and deep ecology argues that "both [literary] theorists
and ecologists ... are at core revolutionary" (127).[6]
In the same year that Glotfelty's collection came out, Lawrence Buell
published The Environmental Imagination, where he defines "'ecocriticism'
as [a] study of the relationship between literature and the environment
conducted in a spirit of commitment to environmentalist praxis" (430
n.20). Buell acknowledges that there is some uncertainty about what the
term exactly covers but argues that
if one thinks of it ... as a multiform inquiry extending to a variety of
environmentally focused perspectives more expressive of concern to
explore environmental issues searchingly than of fixed dogmas about
political solutions, then the neologism becomes a useful omnibus term for
subsuming a large and growing scholarly field. (430 n.20)
Buell's definition is valid, as far as it goes, and it continues both in
the increasingly interdisciplinary tradition of inclusiveness and making
.connections and in maintaining an ethical stand for effecting change
The 1998 collection entitled Reading the Earth goes a bit further and
is more specific in the matter of ethical commitment. As Michael P. Branch
,et al explain

Implicit (and often explicit) in much of this new criticism is a call for
cultural change. Ecocriticism is not just a means of analyzing nature in
literature; it implies a move toward a more biocentric world-view, an
extension of ethics, a broadening of humans' conception of global
community to include nonhuman life forms and the physical environment.
Just as feminist and African American literary criticism call for a change in
culture--that is, they attempt to move the culture toward a broader worldview by exposing an earlier narrowness of view--so too does ecological
literary criticism advocate for cultural change by examining how the
narrowness of our culture's assumptions about the natural world has
limited our ability to envision an ecologically sustainable human society.
In the following year, Michael Cohen asserts that "by definition,
ecological literary criticism must be engaged. It wants to know but also
wants to do. ... Ecocriticism needs to inform personal and political actions,
in the same way that feminist criticism was able to do only a few decades
Like any recently born thing, ecocriticism is experiencing
tremendous growth and development in these early years of its existence.
In the short time since it first appeared as a movement, some of the initial
concerns that marked its inaugural moments have already been
answered. Given the veritable explosion of interest in the field, Glotfelty's
concern in 1996 with the traditional failure of the literary profession to
address "green" issues, for instance, now seems something of a non-issue.

Glen Love, paraphrasing Glotfelty's point, argued in his contribution

to The Ecocriticism Reader that
race, class, and gender are words which we see and hear
everywhere at our professional meetings and in our current publications ...
[but] the English profession has failed to respond in any significant way to
the issue of the environment. (226)[8]
That was then, and, as Love knows, things are changing: the English
profession is responding. Love has recently noted that "the study of
literature and the environment and the practice of ecocriticism has begun
to assume an active place in the profession" (65).[9] Indeed, the changes
in the way that ecocriticism is received are so dramatic that it emboldens
Patrick Murphy to write in 1999 that "every department in which MLA
members hold tenure ought to include an ecocritic among its ranks"
(1099). [10]
Of course, and it is almost tedious to make such an insipid
comment, some things haven't changed over the years. One of these is
the relationship between literature and world, the age-old business of the
Ivory Tower. If the matter of applying social history to literature is, at best,
problematic, a constant sore spot for serious New Historicism, then doing
it the other way around is no less difficult: petitioning real world issues
with literary theory, in fact, seems even more demanding. Though
ecocritics with the very best intentions want to change things, there are

important questions waiting for our answers about how literary theory
.might cause such changes
"Without Spinning Off": Balancing Theory And Practice
Although, as John Tallmadge and Henry Harrington correctly point
out in Reading Under the Sign of Nature, theory has taken the front seat in
early ecocritical writing (largely because theory, it seems, can authorize
and validate the approach), there are some misgivings about and distrust
of theory among ecocritics. Hence, we hear Tallmadge and Harrington
promising to give adequate theory but "without spinning off into
obscurantism or idiosyncrasy" (xv), and Lawrence Buell pledging to avoid
what he terms "mesmerization by literary theory" (111). Given that
ecocriticism is something that is supposed to change things, a healthy
scepticism toward theory of the sort that spins off madly or that
mesmerizes, theory that would, in a word, neuter ecocriticism, seems
.perfectly valid
Buell's approach, however, is to avoid the complexities of theory
entirely, it seems, and to bridge the gap between what he does, in fact,
acknowledge as a theoretical problem: the relationship between text on
the one hand and world on the other. He calls this bridge an "aesthetics of
dual accountability" (98), which will satisfy "the mind and the ethological
facts" (93). The way to achieve it, he maintains, is through a revival of the
claims of realism. "The claims of realism," he argues, "merit reviving ... so
as to enable one to reimagine textual representations as having a dual

accountability to matter and to discursive mentation" (92). One has to

wonder, though, if there is no more productive way of dealing with
poststructuralist challenges to the transparency of language than simply
ignoring them and falling back on problematic suppositions about the
.merits of realism
One of the more promising examples of such an attempt to deal
directly with the problems of representation comes from Gretchen Legler's
essay in the 1998 anthology, Writing the Environment.[11] Legler raises a
number of deconstructionist questions about the markings of language
in Walden that strike me as being fairly important--at least, if we are to
make the kinds of interconnections among structures of oppression that
ecocriticism seeks to make. There are a number of ugly threads hanging
behind Walden that Buell simply does not offer to view. To reverse the
tapestry, as Terry Eagleton remarks in Against the Grain, "to expose in all
its unglamorously dishevelled tangle the threads constituting the well
heeled image it presents to the world," is to deconstruct a text.[12] Legler
deconstructs Walden briefly but effectively by noting how Thoreau
:represents the natural environment
Nature in Thoreau's work is constructed as a place that nurtures
[the] white masculine aesthetic and as a place that is not suitable for the
nurturance of other bodies--the bodies of Native Americans, immigrants
and white women. (75)

Legler helps to connect issues such as race, class, gender, and

sexuality in theoretical terms with questions about the environment.[13]
Nonetheless, Tallmadge and Harrington are certainly accurate in
observing a defensiveness toward theory that characterizes early
ecocritical monographs.[14] The presumption of "a skeptical, if not hostile,
reader" (ix) largely remains with ecocritical monographs, partly because
ecocriticism has still not found its own voice and continues to speak
through the mouths of other theories, continues, as Tallmadge and
Harrington argue, to be "less a method than an attitude, an angle of
vision, and a mode of critique" (ix). Glen Love, too, voices a concern about
the theoretical standing of ecocriticism. He seems to feel some unease
about "what that place [of ecocriticism in the profession] is to be,
particularly in its theoretical and methodological base" ("Science" 65).
Stephanie Sarver goes even further in expressing her worries about
.ecocriticism's theoretical viability
Sarver contends that ecocriticism is not a theory at all but is more
:than anything a focus
Ecocriticism" is ... an unfortunate term because it suggests a new "
kind of critical theory. The emerging body of work that might be labeled
ecocritical is united not by a theory, but by a focus: the environment. This
ecocritical work draws on a variety of theories, such as feminist, Marxist,
post-structuralist, psychoanalytic and historicist.[15]

In a sense, Sarver has a point, but it is a point that may be applied

to any kind of theory, indeed, the very theories she mentions as being
theories per se: feminism, Marxism, poststructuralism, psychoanalysis,
and historicism. All of these draw heavily on other theories that preceded
them. Such borrowing, however, is exactly what goes on in the articulation
of a new critical practice. All theories are a synthesis, and Sarver fails to
recognize this fact. Still, the argument Sarver is making is valid in so far as
it calls ecocriticism to task for not being theorized enough and for being
.heavily thematic
We need to understand why ecocriticism has had problems in
getting its theoretical footing. Richard Kerridge perceptively suggests that
one reason is that
unlike feminism, with which it otherwise has points in common,
environmentalism has difficulty in being a politics of personal liberation or
social mobility ... environmentalism has a political weakness in
comparison with feminism: it is much harder for environmentalists to
make the connection between global threats and individual lives.[16]
Perhaps one of the reasons for this problematic is that the terms of
engagement are less defined with environmental issues than they are with
social ones. If we are going to talk about terms of engagement, then we
need first to recognize at least two reasons why such well-established
terms as misogyny, racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism provide
enabling frames of discussion in literary criticism: first, in each case the

estranged and disaffected subjects are concrete things that we can name
with increasing confidence, things that walk among (often as a threat to)
fully franchised subjects; and second, the terms themselves (by the very
fact that they offer a name) authorize discussion and description of
a recognized topic--"misogyny" is hatred of women; "racism," of racial
difference; "homophobia," of non-procreative sexualities; and "antiSemitism," of Jewishness and Jews. But what should we call a fear and
contempt for the environment? We have terms to describe what we
perceive as hostile geographies--Horace's terras domibus negata
(1.22.22),[17] for instance--but we do not have any terms describing the
mechanism for the fear that produces such environments. We have a
litany of terms to describe socially oppressive systems of thinking and the
social objects of fear and hatred they produce, but when the object is the
natural world, there is no single term with which we can begin an
organized and informed discussion. A term such as "ecophobia"[18] would
allow us to label fear and loathing toward the environment in much the
same way that the term "homophobia" marks fear and loathing toward
gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. Admittedly, there is too much jargon
polluting the world of theory, but some kind of terminology and
theorization is necessary; otherwise, ecocriticism risks becoming just an
.empty buzzword
It is probably accurate to claim that no one has done more in
helping ecocriticism onto solid theoretical ground than Patrick D. Murphy,
whether or not we agree with his kind of theory. As Murphy complains, the

problem with ecocriticism is that too much of it "remains theoretically

unsophisticated. Too often, there remains an anti-theoretical, naive, realist
attitude expressed in" the work of ecocritics. [19] Arguably, the criticism is
as valid today as when it was first made in 1995. In place of theoretically
unsophisticated stances, Murphy offers a Bakhtinian "dialogical
orientation," which, he maintains, "reinforces the ecofeminist recognition
of interdependence and the natural need for diversity" (22).[20] Sarver
,would argue that this is simply not good enough. In her own words
Literary scholars who are environmentalists seem not to be creating
a new critical theory; rather, they are drawing on existing theories to
illuminate our understanding of how human interactions with nature are
.reflected in literature
A dialogic answer might be that such borrowing is exactly what goes
on in the articulation of a new critical practice. If nothing else, Murphy
succeeds in taking ecocriticism out of the hands of the theoretically
unsophisticated. Yet if Murphy is to be critiqued, it is for the theory he
chooses rather than for the choosing of theory. We might debate the
usefulness of Bakhtinian dialogics, for instance, but that is not part of my
.project here
In his most recent book, Murphy discusses the differences between
ecofeminist literary criticism and what he calls "postmodernist negative
critique," arguing that the former offers "a viable theory of agency"
(Farther Afield 94) and that the latter does not. Murphy also stresses the

idea that the diversity and heterarchy that characterize healthy

ecosystems also characterize ecofeminist practice and thinking. As far as
it goes, the theory is fine, but it does not add very much to the existing
theory or take us much beyond what we already know. Nonetheless, it is
.explicitly and unreservedly feminist, and that is a positive start
(Feminist) Ecocriticisms
he hatred of women and the hatred of nature are intimately [T]
connected and mutually reinforcing. Ynestra King [21]
Since there are, as Karen Warren (among many others [22])
cogently notes, "important connections between how one treats women,
people of color, and the underclass on one hand and how one treats the
nonhuman natural environment on the other" ("Introduction" xi), it seems
senseless to conduct ecocritical investigations outside of feminist
frameworks, especially when ecocriticism prides itself on making
connections. Again, however, terminological questions arise. Nol
Sturgeon's question about "what's in a name" remains germane,[23] as
does her suggestion for a plurality of ecofeminisms. Nevertheless, one is
tempted to agree that the very term "ecofeminism," whether plural or
singular, might "only be transiently useful within our history" (Sturgeon
168), though I would hesitate to suggest that we are anywhere near
.having exhausted its usefulness
Granting that there are ecofeminisms and ecocriticisms, we might
venture some broad generalizations about the two spheres of

investigation.[24] Both often do very much the same work, but they are
not synonymous terms. Why no scholars have taken the time and effort to
explain the differences at length is, perhaps, a matter for some
speculation, but we may be certain that there are very real consequences
that we need to be aware of when we do consider the differences. One of
these consequences is that in drawing a distinction between ecocriticism
and ecofeminism, we immediately seem to establish an agonistic
discourse that sets ecofeminism and ecocriticism against each other as
competing voices, perhaps even as a sort of gender war writ small in the
rarefied airs of competing theoretical discourses. It is not an argument
that I particularly want to develop, since it is far less productive than
building on the strengths of each approach, looking at ways that they
complement each other, and working toward defining more fully what
each approach envisions. Another problem is that differentiating between
ecofeminism and ecocriticism lands us in a bit of a Catch-22: in choosing
ecofeminist approaches, we privilege the social; in choosing ecocritical
approaches, we subordinate feminism and make it a topic for inclusion
rather than a primary topic. Nevertheless, there remain unexamined
.differences between the two approaches
When Ynestra King argues that "in ecofeminism, nature is the
central category of analysis" ("Healing" 117), she is surely mistaken. Mary
Mellor explains that "although ecofeminists may differ in their focus,
sex/gender differences are at the centre of their analysis" (69; emphasis
added). Most ecofeminist scholars agree in the primacy of sex/gender

differences over nature as "the central category of analysis." It is more the

case that nature is included in the discussion. In spite of prioritizing nature
in ecofeminism, King seems to agree with this position when she argues
that "ecofeminist movement politics and culture must show the
connection between all forms of domination, including the domination of
nonhuman nature" ("Toward" 119; emphasis added)--including, but not
beginning with it. As Greta Gaard and Patrick Murphy observe, this
inclusionary view has been "generally embraced as a sound orientation"
.("Introduction" 3)
So even though "eco" comes first in both terms, in "ecofeminism" it
is the second part of the term that has ontological priority. This emphasis
means that ecofeminism is first a social theory, a human-centred
approach; ecocriticism tries to be something else, to move away from
homocentric models, to put the puzzle of which humans are part before
the piece. I would also propose that ecocriticism done well is always a
feminist issue: as Warren argues, "what makes something a feminist issue
is that an understanding of it contributes in some important way to an
understanding of the subordination of women" ("Toward" 142).
Ecocriticism that does not look at the relationship between the domination
of women and the domination of the natural environment quite simply
fails in its mandate to "make connections" and is quite simply not
ecocriticism. What Murphy calls "nonfeminist ecological criticism" (Farther
Afield 92) is simply that: nonfeminist ecological criticism. It isn't
.ecocriticism, and the distinction needs to be made and maintained

Expansions And Connections

Bringing together many diverse and important themes and issues of
ecocritical research, The Ecocriticism Reader, the first major collection of
ecocriticism, was a tremendous accomplishment, and it is not an
exaggeration for Glotfelty to claim that "these are the essays with which
anyone wishing to undertake ecocritical scholarship ought to be familiar"
(xxvi). The comment is as true now as it was in 1996. Still, as with all
things in an imperfect world, the collection is not without flaws. It suffers
from a slightly narrow, Americanist focus and a strong partiality for texts
.about nature and the natural
By 1998, though, while the commitment to praxis remains strong,
the parameters of ecocriticism are expanding rapidly, as evidenced in the
collection by Richard Kerridge and Neil Sammells, entitled Writing the
Environment: Ecocriticism and Literature. In the introduction, Kerridge
the ecocritic wants to track environmental ideas and
representations wherever they appear, to see more clearly a debate which
seems to be taking place, often part-concealed, in a great many cultural
spaces. Most of all, ecocriticism seeks to evaluate texts and ideas in terms
of their coherence and usefulness as responses to environmental crisis. (5;
emphasis added)
Indeed, Writing the Environment shows a refreshing extension of the
scope and possibilities of ecocriticism, with essay discussions ranging

from biblical to children's literature, thus opening important ecocritical

opportunities for research well outside of the genre of nature writing. This
.was a surprisingly rapid development in ecocriticism
Two years later, the collection, Reading under the Sign of Nature:
New Essays in Ecocriticism, documents a continued commitment to
critical and cultural diversity. The approaches include postmodern,
feminist, bioregional, and phenomenological methodologies that are
informed by a healthy mix of racial, ethnic, and cultural perspectives, and
offer material ranging from Pueblo and Navajo wisdom to Buddhist
understandings of the world. Undeniably, ecocriticism is maturing,[25] but
it is still very young: it has a lot of growing yet to do, and the diversity in a
book such as Reading under the Sign of Nature is not reflected in the sea
of mostly white faces at the ASLE meetings.[26]
Still, the unflagging vigor of ecocriticism's development is wildly
encouraging. Armbruster and Wallace'sBeyond Nature Writing is the most
recent example. This twenty-essay collection takes up the call for
expanding the boundaries of ecocriticism to include works not necessarily
interested in the natural world, a call voiced repeatedly in the 1999 PMLA
"Forum on Literatures of the Environment."[27]
One thing that distinguishes Beyond Nature Writing from books on
ecocriticism published earlier is the zest and consistency with which it
examines writing that falls outside of the fairly well defined contours of
"nature writing." The reason why this is such difficult work, why it hasn't

been done to any great degree relative to the work that has been done on
writing that has "environmentally focused perspectives," is that, from a
theoretical standpoint, the goals and visions of ecocriticism have been
fairly loose and inclusive. I do not mean to imply that this is a bad thing,
and, assuredly, "a vast amount of work," as Cheryll Glotfelty has
remarked, "remains to be done ... theoretical, activist-oriented, AND
thematic."[28] Moreover, examining nature writing is one of the things
ecocriticism does, and does well; but when nature writing constitutes the
sole purview of ecocriticism, the lack of diversity in the theoretical gene
pool, conceptual in-breeding, and a weakening of contacts with the wider
literary world will spell disaster for the approach. Focusing exclusively on
nature writing wrongly suggests an essential link between ecocriticism as
a methodology and nature writing as the object of its inquiry.
Thematicism, though it may provide an important base from which to
begin ecocritical discussions, cannot be the goal of informed ecocriticism.
Thematicism runs against the grain of ecocriticism. It buttresses "nature
studies" and ecological literary criticism, neither of which is, technically
speaking, ecocriticism. This point brings us back to the question: what is
Images of nature, or aspects of the natural environment, have been
the topic of scores of treatises on such canonical favorites as Shakespeare
and Chaucer, but one might wonder at exactly what point cluster counting

or commenting on an author's dexterity at weaving together image

.patterns and themes becomes ecocritical
Though a great variety of voices do not always speak about
ecocriticism in complete harmony, there is substantial agreement on
some key issues. One of these, as I have mentioned, is that ecocriticism is
committed to changing things. Another is that it makes connections. It is
in its ability to make connections that ecocritical readings of, say,
Shakespeare would distinguish themselves from other readings of
Shakespeare that have looked at nature, the natural, and so on.[29]
Ecocriticism at its best seeks understandings about the ways that
dynamics of subjugation, persecution, and tyranny are mutually
reinforcing, the ways that racism, sexism, homophobia, speciesism, and
so on work together and are, to use Ania Loomba's term, interlocking.[30]
This is not conspiracy theory; it is the logic of complementarity, and
ecocriticism can be instrumental in helping us to understand it and to do
.something about the crises we have created
We have been moving toward those kinds of understandings with
each new book on ecocriticism that has come out since 1996, but the
latest, Beyond Nature Writing, takes us the closest so far. Beyond Nature
Writing, with its startlingly diverse mix of commentaries that expand the
boundaries of ecocriticism (both in terms of the applications that it offers
and the theory that it develops), unfurls into brave new worlds--Chaucer,
Milton, Johnson, Hardy, Morrison, Nevada test sites, scifi, cyber spaces-and broadens our understandings of "how," as Lisa J. Kiser explains in her

contribution, "modern cultural assumptions about the environment have

developed from their originary ... roots."[31] As it continues to unfurl,
ecocriticism promises to offer more connections, deeper scholarship, and,
.if we do it properly, better effect in this troubled world
The topic came up in a number of panels at the 2001 ASLE [1]
conference in Flagstaff, Arizona. In one, the ASLE-Overseas panel, the
discussion grew into a debate about whether or not ecocriticism has to be
based on personal commitment to environmental matters. The debate
was inconclusive. What was surprising was that there even was a debate.
It is difficult to imagine an ecocriticism that lacks personal and political
.(however we define these terms) commitment
Ecocriticism" really has three birthdays: one for the term, one " [2]
for the critical school, and one for the beginning of ecocritical publishing.
William Rueckert coined the term "ecocriticism" in "Literature and Ecology:
An Experiment in Ecocriticism," Iowa Review 9.1 (Winter 1978): 71-86; rpt.
in Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm, ed. The Ecocriticism Reader:
Landmarks in Literary Ecology (Athens and London: University of Georgia
Press, 1996), 105-23. With the establishment of ISLE: Interdisciplinary
Studies in Literature and Environment in 1993 by Patrick Murphy,
"ecological literary study," Glotfelty contends, "had emerged as a
recognizable critical school" (Ecocriticism Reader xviii). In 1996, with the
appearance of The Ecocriticism Reader and Lawrence Buell's The

Environmental Imagination, the term and the school began to receive

.serious attention among scholars
In this essay, I offer partial and provisional comments that in no [3]
way aspire to totalizing visions nor pretend to cover all of the important
topics raised in primary sources I discuss. These sources include Glotfelty
and Fromm, ed. The Ecocriticism Reader; Lawrence Buell, The
Environmental Imagination(Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard
University Press, 1995); Richard Kerridge and Neil Sammells, ed.Writing
the Environment: Ecocriticism and Literature (London and New York: Zed
Books, 1998); Michael P. Branch et al, ed. Reading the Earth: New
Directions in the Study of Literature and the Environment(Moscow, Idaho:
University of Idaho Press, 1998); Patrick Murphy, Farther Afield in the
Study of Nature-Oriented Literature (Charlottesville and London:
University of Virginia Press, 2000); John Talmadge and Henry Harrington,
ed. Reading Under the Sign of Nature: New Essays in Ecocriticism (Salt
Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2000); and Karla Armbruster and
Kathleen Wallace, ed. Beyond Nature Writing: Expanding the Boundaries
of Ecocriticism (Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press,
2001). When necessary, of course, I draw on the healthy and growing
.library of material outside of these primary objects of concern
Karla Armbruster and Kathleen Wallace, "Introduction: Why Go [4]
.Beyond Nature Writing, and Where To?" in Beyond Nature Writing, 1

Introduction: literary studies in an age of environmental crisis," " [5]

.in Ecocriticism Reader, xv-xxxvii
The Land and Language of Desire: Where Deep Ecology and " [6]
.Poststructuralism Meet," in Ecocriticism Reader, 124-36
.Letter," PMLA 114.5 (October 1999): 1092-93" [7]
Revaluing Nature: Toward an Ecological Criticism," " [8]
.in Ecocriticism Reader, 225-40
Science, Anti-Science, and Ecocriticism," ISLE: Interdisciplinary " [9]
.Studies in Literature and the Environment 6.1 (Winter 1999): 65-81
.Letter," PMLA 114.5 (October 1999): 1098-99" [10]
Body Politics in American Nature Writing: 'Who may contest for " [11]
.what the body of nature will be?' " inWriting the Environment, 71-87
.Against the Grain: Essays 1975-1985 (London: Verso, 1986), 80 [12]
In addition to what the essays cover in this AUMLA Special [13]
Issue, there has been much progress made elsewhere connecting
environmentally oppressive structures with social ones. Discussions
looking at dynamic similarities between the representation of women and
animals are extensive. See particularly Carol J. Adams and Josephine
Donovan, ed. Animals and Women: Theoretical Explorations (Durham and
London: Duke University Press, 1995); Carol J. Adams, ed., Ecofeminism
and the Sacred (New York: Continuum, 1993); Carol J. Adams, Neither Man

Nor Beast: Feminism and the Defense of Animals (New York: Continuum,
1995); Carol J. Adams, The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian
Critical Theory(New York: Continuum, 1991); and Donna J.
Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New
York: Routledge, 1991). There is also a growing body of work that looks at
women and geography: Gillian Rose, Feminism and Geography: The Limits
of Geographical Knowledge (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,
1993); Doreen Massey, Space, Place, and Gender (Minneapolis: University
of Minnesota Press, 1994); and Annette Kolodny, The Lay of the Land:
Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters (Chapel
Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975). A flurry of greatly diversified
discussion has recently appeared linking racism and fear and contempt for
the natural environment; see Buell 53-82; Gretchen Legler; Anna
Bramwell, Ecology in the Twentieth Century: A History (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1989); Janet Biehl and Peter Staudenmaier, Ecofascism:
Lessons from the German Experience (Edinburgh: AK Press, 1995); and
Richard H. Grove, Green Imperialism (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1995). Discussions that draw links between ecophobia (see note 18)
and homophobia, on the other hand, are more difficult to locate; see
Barbara White, "Acts of God: Providence, the Jeremiad and Environmental
Crisis," in Writing the Environment, 91-109; and Greta Gaard, "Toward a
Queer Ecofeminism," Hypatia 12.1 (Winter 1997): 114-37. Links between
geographies of exclusion and dissident sexualities are raised by many of
the essays in David Bell and Gill Valentine, ed. Mapping Desire:
Geographies of Sexualities (London and New York: Routledge, 1995).

Despite all of this, mountains of work remain. As Jonathan Levin succinctly

observes, "nature and culture are mutually entangled in complex and
inherently elusive ways": "Letter," PMLA 114.5 (October 1999): 1098. If
ecocriticism is to stand on its own, clearly distinguishable from "nature
.studies," then how it relates to social matters matters
Tallmadge and Harrington include Joseph Meeker's Comedy of [14]
Survival: Literary Ecology and a Play Ethic, 3rd ed. (Tucson: University of
Arizona Press, 1997) and John Elder's Imagining the Earth: Poetry and the
Vision of Nature (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985) among these
early monographs. I would propose a clarification of terms and suggest
that anything before 1996 is proto-ecocritical; otherwise, we run the risk
.of being anachronistic
What is Ecocriticism?" . Further references to Sarver's work are" [15]
.to this paper
.Introduction," in Writing the Environment, 2, 6" [16]
The Odes and Epodes of Horace, ed. and trans. Joseph P. Clancy [17]
.(Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1960)
I first used the term in "Environmental Implications of the [18]
Writing and Policing of the Early Modern Body: Dismemberment and
Monstrosity in Shakespearean Drama," Shakespeare Review 33 (Spring
1998): 135. By "ecophobia," I mean irrational and groundless hatred of the
natural world, or aspects of it. A comparison with misogyny makes the

term clearer. Rape, as an example of misogyny, has more to do with

violence than sexuality. Sexualization of landscapes has more to do with
visualizing power and indifference than with allegorizing sexuality or
desire. The experience of early American landscapes, Annette Kolodny
argues, is variously expressed through an entire range of images, each of
which details one of the many elements of that experience, including
eroticism, penetration, raping, embrace, enclosure, and nurture, to cite
only a few (150). In conceptual terms, there is a kind of equation between
women and the land; in material terms, women are raped and butchered
like the land. The mentality that sees women as environmental
commodities is one that does not blanch at prospects of violence to either
the natural world or the women who live in it. As rape implies misogyny,
sexualized landscapes imply ecophobia. But we can take this a bit further.
I was cited and fined in 1995 by the city sanitation board for not cutting
my grass. Their logic (and I lost on appeal) was that long grass causes a
public menace by allowing introduction of "vermin" and "pests" into the
city. It didn't make sense to me, and I thought I might soon be cited and
fined for my hair (which was relatively long at the time). My clean long
grass posed no threat to anyone. The mania for cutting grass strikes me
as ecophobic, as do notions about personal cleanliness, the military
passion for cutting hair, the preference for perfumes over natural bodily
odours, and so on. Ecophobia is a subtle thing that takes many forms, and
.it is time we started to look at it

Literature, Nature, and Other: Ecofeminist Critiques (Albany: [19]

.SUNY Press, 1995), 165
See also Murphy's "Anotherness and Inhabitation in Recent [20]
.Multicultural American Literature," inWriting the Environment, 42
Toward an Ecological Feminism and a Feminist Ecology," " [21]
in Machina Ex Dea: Feminist Perspectives on Technology, ed. Joan
.Rothschild (New York: Pergamon, 1983), 118
The body of ecofeminist theory and commentary is vast, and a [22]
thorough bibliography of it would constitute a manuscript-length volume.
Some of the influential titles include No l Sturgeon, Ecofeminist Natures:
Race, Gender, Feminist Theory and Political Action (New York and London:
Routledge, 1997); Fran oise d'Eaubonne, "The Time for Ecofeminism"
(trans. Ruth Hottell), in Key Concepts in Critical Theory: Ecology, ed.
Carolyn Merchant (New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1994), 174-97; Ynestra
King, "Feminism and the Revolt of Nature," in Key Concepts in Critical
Theory, 198-206; Ynestra King, "Healing the Wounds: Feminism, Ecology,
and the Nature/Culture Dualism," in Reweaving the World: The Emergence
of Ecofeminism, ed. Irene Diamond and Gloria Feman Orenstein (San
Francisco: Sierra Club, 1990), 106-21; Ynestra King, "Toward an Ecological
Feminism" and Val Plumwood, "Ecofeminism: An overview and discussion
of positions and arguments," Australasian Journal of Philosophy,
Supplement to Vol. 64 (June 1986): 120-39; Val Plumwood, "Ecosocial
Feminism as a General Theory of Oppression," inKey Concepts in Critical

Theory, 207-19; Val Plumwood, "Nature, Self, and Gender: Feminism,

Environmental Philosophy, and the Critique of Rationalism," Hypatia 6.1
(Spring 1991): 3-27; Elizabeth Carlassare, "Essentialism in Ecofeminist
Discourse" in Key Concepts in Critical Theory, 220-34; Lee Quinby,
"Ecofeminism and the politics of resistance," in Reweaving the World, 12227; Marti Kheel, "Ecofeminism and Deep Ecology: Reflections on Identity
and Difference," in Reweaving the World, 128-37; Michael E. Zimmerman,
"Deep Ecology and Ecofeminism: The Emerging Dialogue," in Reweaving
the World, 138-54; Greta Gaard and Partick Murphy, "Introduction,"
in Ecofeminist Literary Criticism: Theory, Interpretation, Pedagogy, ed.
Greta Gaard and Patrick Murphy (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois
Press, 1998), 1-13; Patrick Murphy, Literature, Naure, and Other; Maria
Mies and Vandana Shiva, ed. Ecofeminism (London and New Jersey: Zed
Books, 1993); Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology
and the Scientific Revolution (New York: HarperCollins, 1990); Carolyn
Merchant, "Ecofeminism and Feminist Theory," in Reweaving the World,
100-5; Mary Mellor, Feminism and Ecology(New York: New York University
Press, 1997); Judith Plant, "Searching for Common Ground: Ecofeminism
and Bioregionalism," in Reweaving the World, 155-61; Freya Mathews,
"Ecofeminism and Deep Ecology," inKey Concepts in Critical Theory, 23545; Karen Green, "Freud, Wollstonecraft, and Ecofeminism: A Defense of
Liberal Feminism," Environmental Ethics: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Dedicated to the Philosophical Aspects of Environmental Problems 16.2
(Summer 1994): 116-34; Rebecca Raglon and Marian Scholtmeijer,
"Shifting Ground: Metanarratives, Epistemology, and the Stories of

Nature,"Environmental Ethics: An Interdisciplinary Journal Dedicated to

the Philosophical Aspects of Environmental Problems 18.1 (Spring 1996):
18-38; Deborah Slicer, "Is There an Ecofeminism-Deep Ecology
'Debate'?"Environmental Ethics: An Interdisciplinary Journal Dedicated to
the Philosophical Aspects of Environmental Problems 17.2 (Summer
1995): 150-69; Connie Bullis, "Retalking Environmental Discourses from a
Feminist Perspective: The Radical Potential of Ecofeminism," in The
Symbolic Earth: Discourse and Our Creation of the Environment, ed. James
G. Cantrill and Christine L. Ovarec (Lexington: University Press of
Kentucky, 1996), 123-48; Josephine Donovan, "Ecofeminist Literary
Criticism: Reading the Orange,"Hypatia 11.2 (Spring 1996): 161-184; Ariel
Salleh, "Class, Race, and Gender Discourse in the Ecofeminism/Deep
Ecology Debate," Environmental Ethics: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Dedicated to the Philosophical Aspects of Environmental Problems 15 (Fall
1993): 225-44; Ariel Salleh, Ecofeminism as Politics: Nature, Marx and the
Postmodern (New York and London: Zed Books, 1997); Karen J. Warren
"Feminism and Ecology: Making Connections," Environmental Ethics: An
Interdisciplinary Journal Dedicated to the Philosophical Aspects of
Environmental Problems 9.1 (1987): 3-20; Karen J. Warren, "Introduction,"
in Ecofeminism: Women, Culture, Nature, eds. Karen J. Warren and Nisvan
Erkal (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1997), xixvi; Karen J. Warren, "Toward an Ecofeminist Ethic,"Studies in the
Humanities 15.2 (December 1988): 140-56; Karen J. Warren and Jim
Cheney, "Ecological Feminism and Ecosystem Ecology," Hypatia 6.1
(Spring 1991): 179-197; Douglas J. Buege, "Rethinking Again: A defense of

ecofeminist philosophy," in Ecological Feminism, ed. Karen J. Warren and

Barbara Wells-Howe (London and New York: Routledge, 1994), 42-63;
David Kenneth Johnson and Kathleen R. Johnson, "The Limits of Partiality:
Ecofeminism, Animal Rights, and Environmental Concern," in Ecological
Feminism, 106-119; Jim Cheney, "Nature/Theory/Difference: Ecofeminism
and the reconstuction of environmental ethics," in Ecological Feminism,
.158-178; and Kolodny. Many other texts could be added to this list
.See Sturgeon 167-96 [23]
While we must, of course, be wary of making generalizations, [24]
we also do well to consider arguments Jean Howard puts forward in a
forthcoming collection of essays, claiming that "an almost obsessive fear
of falling prey to a reductive 'master narrative' has severely inhibited the
range and character of narrative being written about the [early modern]
period": "Material Shakespeare/Materialist Shakespeare," inShakespeare
Matters: History, Teaching, Performance, ed. Lloyd Davis (Newark:
University of Delaware Press, forthcoming 2002). Howard goes on to
maintain that a narrative of interconnections is not necessarily a "master
narrative," in the sense of aspiring to universal truth claims of the sort
discredited by critiques of Enlightenment epistemologies. Rather,
narratives of interconnection can be offered as alternatives to local and
topical analyses, but alternatives whose usefulness can be judged only in
terms of their greater explanatory power and fidelity to the facts as they
are known than in terms of their absolute, supra-historical truth claims.
This kind of argument can apply to discussions about methods of inquiry

as much as to discussions about historical periods, at least in its disavowal

of aspirations to reductivism and totalizing explanations. My purpose is to
provide the partial and provisional comments Howard discusses, but for
.two general theoretical camps: ecofeminism and ecocriticism
I would suggest that the "maturation of the field" (x) of which [25]
the editors speak is perhaps best seen as a process of maturation rather
than as a state of completion following a long journey of development. I
.do not mean to imply that the editors meant otherwise by the phrase
At the third biennial ASLE conference in Kalamazoo, a group of [26]
ASLE members got together on June 4, 1999 to address the lack of
diversity within the membership. The result was that we formed the
.Caucus for Diversity. Lack of diversity, however, remains a problem
As Elizabeth Dodd correctly notes, "Ecocritics have dedicated [27]
much of their attention to nature writing," and this has precluded
attention to cultural diversity among the authors considered:
"Letter," PMLA 114.5 (October 1999): 1094. My own piece argues that a
singular focus on American nature writing will lead to a disciplinary
xenophobia that could ultimately ruin ecocriticism (or, at the minimum,
prevent it from effecting wider social changes) and that ecocriticism and
nature studies are not necessarily the same thing: "Letter,"PMLA 114.5
(October 1999): 1095-96. Ursula K. Heise argues in a similar vein that
"ecocriticism has nothing specifically to do with American literature ...
[with] nature writing ... [or with] literature: "Letter,"PMLA 114.5 (October

1999): 1097. When ecocriticism does lift its head outside of

environmentally-oriented writings, the results are inspiring, as Louise
Westling remarks: "The new fields of environmental literature and
ecocriticism are already exploring the possibilities of ... [textual]
reevaluation, and they provide immensely fruitful results that intersect
with feminist theory, postcolonial theory, cultural studies, and indeed
basic readings of every kind of literary text: "Letter," PMLA 114.5 (October
.1999): 1104
Cheryll Glotfelty, "Re: CFP: The Nature of Shakespeare (11/3; [28]
.3/1/01-3/3/01) (fwd)," personal email (14 July 2000)
There is no shortage of books and articles that look at the [29]
representations of natural environments in Shakespeare. In general, these
books and articles fall under two categories: the formalist camp and what
I would call the proto-ecocritical group. The formalists have looked at
birds, plants (especially flowers), gardens, the relationship between
Nature (as a general theme) and genre, the way the natural environment
could be seen to fit into cosmic patterns, and so on. The difference
between the group I am calling proto-ecocritical and the earlier group is in
the kind of analysis that is being undertaken. While the former is
structuralist (concerned primarily with enumerating instances of thematic
clusters, with comparing such clusters, with trying to get idealist pictures
of the English Renaissance, and so on), the latter is poststructuralist in its
various movements toward theoretical analysis of the ways that thinking
and talking about the natural world interrelate with other early modern

discourses. Jeanne Addison Roberts in The Shakespearean Wild:

Geography, Genus, and Gender (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press,
1991), "marks the stages in the evolution of Shakespeare's ideas" about
the Wild (84), in a largely formalist attempt to analyse discursive
relationships, "how the construction of Culture and Wild [in Shakespearean
literature] shapes our perceptions of females" (12). John Gillies,
in Shakespeare and the Geography of Difference (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1994), relying heavily on detailed discussions about the
influence of classical texts on Shakespeare, elegantly maps the
coordinates linking geographical difference with social exclusion and
otherness; Richard Marienstras, a proto-new historicist, tries, among other
things, to unearth early modern environmental laws, the background
against which Shakespeare wrote; see his New Perspectives on the
Shakespearean World, trans. Janet Lloyd (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press; Paris: Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l'Homme,
1985). Linda Woodbridge looks at interconnected representations of land
and body, penetration and pollution, at how sexualized landscapes form
part of semiotic systems she calls "the discourse of fertility" (159), and at
ways that this discourse overlaps and interacts with discourses of magic;
in particular, see "Protection and Pollution: Palisading the Elizabethan
Body Politic," and "Green Shakespeare," in The Scythe of Saturn:
Shakespeare and Magical Thinking (Urbana and Chicago: University of
Illinois Press, 1994), 45-85, 152-205. Certainly a lot has been written
about the environment in Shakespeare, and while none of it explicitly aims
at offering ecocritical readings, much of it provides very useful bases on

which such criticism might found itself. The most promising recent gesture
vowing to link ecocritical approaches and Shakespeare texts came in
March 2001 in Toledo, Ohio at the "Ohio Shakespeare Conference." This
conference, entitled "The Nature of Shakespeare," took as its focus the
relationships between "Nature" and Shakespeare and showed a
remarkable openness to discussions that ranged far outside the
.thematicism that has so long dominated other similar discussions
On the very first page of her influential Gender, Race, [30]
Renaissance Drama (Manchester and New York: Manchester University
Press, 1989), Loomba promises to talk about the "interlocking of these
various [race, class, and gender] structures of oppression" (emphasis in
original), and it is a promise that the rest of the book largely keeps. Queer
theory complicates the trinity of race, class, and gender by adding
another angle: sexual behaviour/identity. Any serious queer theory will
always look at issues of class or gender or race or all three of them.
Ecocriticism complicates the nexus of race, class, gender, and sexuality by
adding a new angle: views toward the natural world. My point here is a
simple one: oppressive social structures are often dynamically intertwined
with our views about the natural world. We know this intuitively when we
hear men equating women with nonhuman animals (bitch, cow, chick,
bunny, and so on); when we hear environmental behaviour defined in
violent sexual (usually heterosexual) terms (raping the land, ploughing the
virgin field); when we hear anti-Semites calling Shylock a dog, thirty-nine
times; when we hear the urban poor referred to as dirt; and so on. But if

we know these things on a gut level, being able to talk about them on a
.theoretical level is a completely different matter
Chaucer and the politics of nature," in Beyond Nature Writing, " [31]
This essay originally appeared in a special ecocritical issue of
AUMLA: The Journal of the Australasian Universities Language and
Literature Association No. 96 (November 2001): 220-38. For further
information about this issue, please contact the AUMLA editor, Lloyd
Davis, at Posted with permission to the
ASLE Web site. This article may not be published, reposted, or distributed
without permission from AUMLA .

Nature 101
Gazing at crows, pondering Thoreau, counting the needles ofpines-it's all part of an academic adventure known asenvironmental studies.
by Joan Hamilton
On a balmy September afternoon, about a hundred students at one
of the finest public universities in the nation are gathered under a
sprawling Monterey pine. "What kind of tree is this?" a professor asks.
Silence. "How many of you don't know any more than that it's a tree?"
Most students raise their hands. They can converse knowledgeably about
chlorofluorocarbons and the ozone hole, but most can't tell a pine from a
fir, or even an oak. The professor is perturbed. "I don't think we have a
chance of changing our relationship to the natural world if you don't know
what's around you," he says. "The point is to pay attention."
It's the second week of environmental studies class at theUniversity
of California at Berkeley. In this brief venture outdoors, Professor Robert
Hass is trying to get these brainy kids away from abstractions so they can
really look at their surroundings. "They've read too much systems theory,"
he says. "They've learned to see the environment as diagrams and
feedback loops."
Back in the classroom, though, the genial former U.S. poet laureate
coaches and coaxes, respectfully eliciting student comments, finding
a particle of profundity in each. Hass teaches the literary half of the
course while pony-tailed Professor Greg Gilbert, an expert on forests and
fungi, teaches the science. The reading list includes everything from

stodgy peer-reviewed papers to swaggering Edward Abbey. At the end of

one lecture, a confused student comes to the podium to ask Gilbert,
"What is this class about?"
College courses in environmental literature, nonexistent 30 years
ago, are immensely popular in the United States today, numbering at
least 200 in 1998. "This is a new place in the curriculum," said Brown
University English professor Barton St. Armand in the New York
Times Magazine. "Students like it because it taps into some very basic
concerns, and teachers of literature like it because they're bored with
theory. Literary theory wasn't real. Nature is tangible." A professional
organization has arisen, too, the Association for the Study of Literature
and Environment, with 1,200 members, primarily in the United States. For
the most devoted, studying environmental literature is a grand adventure,
says Utah State University English professor Thomas J. Lyon, "a halting
journey toward understanding the world, and ourselves in it, as one
In this class the journey begins with a name and a number on the
chalkboard: "Walden, 1854." Hass has arrived a bit late, his thinning white
hair disheveled. Born in San Francisco in 1941, Hass attended Catholic
schools just across the bay in Marin County. For a while he toyed with the
idea of writing essays or novels, but the work of authors like Theodore
Roethke, T. S. Eliot, Sylvia Plath, Ezra Pound, Allen Ginsberg, and Gary
Snyder convinced him to turn his life to poetry. He was a success from the
start, winning the Yale prize for younger poets in 1973, then a MacArthur

fellowship and two National Book Critics Circle awards before he was
named poet laureate in 1995.
The title and the evocative descriptions of the Californialandscape in
Hass's first book, Field Guide, might land the slim volume on the
bookstore nature shelf. But his work encompasses far more than birds and
burnished hillsides. Hass is a "plein air poet" whose natural world includes
food and wine, film and painting, says playwright Brighde Mullins. "He
sharpens our senses on the whetstone of his noticing."
In one of his first lectures, Hass tries to ease the fears of those
unaccustomed to studying literature. Sometimes picking up a book can
feel like coming into a room at a party where you don't understand what
people are talking about, he explains. Knowing a little history can help.
Nature has played a central role in poems and stories spanning all of
human history. Nature was an intrinsic part of ancient Chinese, Japanese,
and Indian literature, as well as Western classics such as Homer's Iliad and
Odyssey, oral epics first written down in the 8th century B.C.
But none of these works is considered "nature writing" today. That
genre developed in the last couple of centuries in Europe and the United
States--an unintended by-product of the Industrial Age. Only when
mechanization began to sever our ties with nature did writers invent new
forms to try to repair the damage.
After Henry David Thoreau graduated from Harvard, he decided to
spend a couple of years in a cabin he built on the outskirts of Concord,
Massachusetts: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,
to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it

had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."
The thoughts Thoreau penned in his journal became Walden, the book that
planted the seeds for the hardy new genre.
"It's hard for us to understand the originality of Walden," Hass says.
Romantic poetry had touched on the same themes of divinity in nature
and mechanization of society. Classic explorations like William Bartram's
1791 Travels (in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina) had cast just as
close an eye on the nonhuman world. But Walden offered a nature essay
that was more intensely personal than anything that had come before.
There are no Thoreaus in this California classroom (at least not yet),
but the students are keeping journals. They are supposed to write in them
every couple of days, to observe as accurately as scientists and as
creatively as poets. Word choice is crucial. A seemingly serviceable phrase
like "the bird sings," Hass explains, masks vast human ignorance about
bird behavior. That so-called singing could mean that humans have
invaded a bird's territory and it would like to peck their eyes out. A starling
sounds like a rusty hinge, but sloppy writers call that "singing" too.
The first week, students pick a plant and observe it for 30 minutes.
They draw the plant and describe it both scientifically and poetically.
Another week, they watch a bird for 5 minutes or so and describe its
doings. A robin reminds one student of a ping pong ball: "It seems to
bounce from one place to another so lightly." Another student spots a
crow: "I saw Corvus americanus perched on the branch of some tree. (Yes,
I don't know which tree! Don't laugh.)"

When Hass was an undergraduate studying biology at Saint Mary's

College, just east of Berkeley, he was given a pair of binoculars and told to
read Aristotle's Physics and Darwin on evolution, watch birds for six hours
a week, and write a paper on whether classification was knowledge. "It
was great," he says. "The class never met."
Hass is offering Wednesday bird-walks at 7 a.m. "Is there any way of
doing it a little later?" one girl pleads. "We could," Hass says. "But then
there wouldn't be many birds." The class will roam nearby Mt. Tamalpais
State Park and Stinson Beach on Labor Day. "There might not be
swimming," Hass says, "because there's a great white shark offshore. But
what a great thing you'd have to write about if you got attacked by a great
white shark!"
When Hass taught this course a year earlier he assigned his
students all 228 pages of Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac,
published in 1949. Reading the book's mix of natural history and
philosophy as a young person had been a life-changing experience for
him. Last year, though, most of the students were underwhelmed by the
environmental classic--maybe because they haven't spent much time
outdoors, Hass speculates. Leopoldian declarations such as "The chance
to find a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech" don't
mean much if you've never felt the joy of spotting this pale purple flower
poking out of barren soil at the end of a long winter. So this year Hass is
pushing the journals and field trips, while requiring only three chapters of
Leopold. The class will read less and look more.

Students respond readily to Leopold's ideas about a "land ethic," the

notion that we should view nature not as a commodity but as part of our
community. But it's more difficult to teach what Hass sees as the
"bedrock" Leopoldian way of looking at the world. "It is a habit of mind
that goes with environmental biology," he says. "When you see
something, you ask, why is it here and how did it get to be the way it is?"
Leopold's way of thinking can yield a story, even literature, with nature
serving not as the backdrop for human drama, but as the big story itself.
The Leopoldian melding of science, philosophy, and literature in this
class attracts a diverse mix of students (whose names have been changed
for this article). In one weekly discussion section, Sarah, who grew up in
rural California, speaks longingly of starry nights and avocado groves.
Louisa, back from a year living in the Middle East, has discovered, "I'm
much more bored in the middle of civilization than in the middle of
nowhere." Heather admits that she's an eccentric: Years ago she shocked
her elementary school classmates by kissing banana slugs and collecting
bugs. Many of the others, though, see nature as something alien. Rachel,
a sharp-tongued young woman with close-cropped black hair pulled back
in a bandana, calls it an "alternate reality." When the graduate assistant
sums up by saying that most of us lack close connections to nature,
David, one of a handful of African-American students in the class, objects.
"Whether we know it or not, we are all connected," he says. "We are
radically changing the planet."
With a bold "VEGAN" patch on his backpack, David is the most
visible class activist, especially after he dyes his hair green in October.

When he arrives for class with the new look, Hass walks over to admire it.
"My goodness," the poet says appreciatively, while
Professor Gilbert murmurs something about "growing ecological
consciousness." For David, who leads class field trips and writes papers on
fishery decline and the virtues of vegetarianism, environmental studies is
not just a step toward graduation. It's revolution--a way of thinking that
could change the world.
That puts David squarely in the nature-writing tradition. People may
not think of Thoreau as an activist. But "Thoreau read Wordsworth, Muir
read Thoreau, Teddy Roosevelt read Muir, and you got national parks,"
Hass says. "It took a century for this to happen, for artistic values to
percolate down to where honoring the relation of people's imagination to
the land, or to beauty, or to wild things, was issued in legislation."
Sitting next to David in the section is Laura the aesthete, with
dreamy dark eyes and long dark hair. The class gives her inspiring
quotations for her calligraphy. When the students read "Daybreak,"
Galway Kinnell's poem about starfish moving across a muddy shore like
stars traversing the night sky, Laura declares, "That's beautiful!" A stern
English major interrupts: "We can't just say 'that's beautiful,' " she
reminds her.
Nature writing has a happy, wholesome aspect that gives it a bad
name in literature departments more accustomed to neurosis and angst.
The genre displays "a painfully limited set of responses," says novelist and
Princeton professor Joyce Carol Oates: "Reverence, awe, piety, mystical
oneness." Hass will agree that there are some treacly and preachy tomes

"that offer moral uplift over science and reason and thought." He'll even
admit that "a lot of nature writing is predictable and not very instructive."
But, he adds, "you could say that about the writing in any genre." Good
nature writers, Hass says, "model whole new ways of seeing," through
meticulous, well-informed descriptions of the world and all its creatures.
Author Gary Nabhan has half-seriously suggested that what we now call
nature writing should simply be called "literature," while all the other
writing in recent decades should be called "urban dysfunctional writing."
By the first week in November, the class has taken two midterms.
On the first, they did better on the science than the literary portions. Hass
is initially gentle: "It takes time to learn what questions to ask when
reading literary texts." But he bristles when he finds that most students
haven't done the reading for the day's lecture. "You are brilliant students
at a great public university," he scolds. "You have got to do the reading.
This stuff is going to be in your hands for the next 50 years."
They had problems on the second test, too. "There were some
especially creative suggestions on the question about who the Secretary
of Interior is," Hass notes. "But I'd like to clarify: The answer is not Bill
Gates, Smokey Bear, or the guy Dave who does the Wendy's commercials.
And it is not Gifford Pinchot. At the moment we don't have a dead
Secretary of Interior . . . though it has been known to happen."
The assigned reading is voluminous and, at times, perplexing. To
help the class read Gary Snyder's Myths and Texts, Hass passes out
several pages of notes and offers this advice: "Don't be uptight about
understanding every little bit of it. Try to get the drift and the feel."

Written half a century ago by a man Hass calls "our best poet of nature,"
Myths and Texts uses techniques drawn from modernist art. There's
sometimes no clear narrative or argument on the page, but rather ideas
scattered like the parts of a collage. "I sit without thoughts by the logroad/ Hatching a new myth/watching the waterdogs/the last truck gone,"
Snyder writes in "first shaman song." In discussions, students seem to
enjoy spinning wild theories about the poet's intent. Snyder's "this poem
is for bear" mentions huckleberries and blackberries. Is the poem about
fertility? Fecundity? Feminism? The students never quite decide, but they
exhibit far more intellectual flexibility than author Jack Kerouac, who
reportedly told Snyder, "I know what all the words mean, but I don't know
what the hell you're saying."
By late November, the students no longer need Hass's help to
understand the conversations at the nature-writing party. With finals
approaching they have begun reading diligently and broadly, sampling
works written over a span of 150 years, including those of Henry David
Thoreau, John Muir, Mary Austin, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Wallace
Stegner, Robinson Jeffers, Edward Abbey, Gary Snyder, Ann Zwinger,
Wendell Berry, and Barry Lopez. Finally the class picks up the most recent
work on the reading list, Terry Tempest Williams's Refuge, published in
1991. Refuge was an "instant classic," Hass says. Its naturalist author has
read all the books the class has read, and builds on them to offer
something new. She tells the story of her mother's struggle with cancer
("one of the most protracted deaths in modern literature," Hass admits) as
well as the tale of the catastrophic flooding of the Bear River Migratory

Bird Refuge in the 1980s. Set in Salt Lake City, the book is a deeply
personal human drama, yet takes nature's struggles personally, too. "It's a
new kind of writing that reflects a broader awareness," Hass says.
The reviews in class are mixed. "I like the autobiographical
approach," says one quiet young woman. "I think this is the most
impressive thing we've read." But some think the story of a drowning
marsh and a heart-warmingly functional Mormon family is too tame. A
young man grouses, "Why do we have to read this boring stuff?"
Hass is philosophical about such comments. "If you teach the
nitrogen cycle, you just expect the kids to know it," he says. "But teaching
literature is like planting seeds deep in the ground. You never know when
your work will bear fruit."
Inevitably, some literature classes turn into lessons on life. Hass
urges his students to build "strong dreams," to make sure their ideals will
stand up to reality. Should they, like Thoreau, build a cabin and live alone?
Shed technology and become hunter-gatherers? Become happy, humble
farmers? "We don't want to tell ourselves sentimental stories, get scar
tissue, and get cynical," he says. He quotes W. B. Yeats on the Irish: "We
had fed the heart on fantasies,/The heart's grown brutal from the fare."
A strong dream for an environmentalist of our era might be different
from the ideals projected in earlier nature writing, Hass suggests. "It
would have something to do with cities. And it would allow for difference-not just the current multiculturalism, which can turn in a second to vicious
ethnic rivalry, but in values that appeal to all different kinds of people."

For settled, rooted people an environmental life might include

tending gardens and caring about community. ("Fighting to keep a chain
store out of your neighborhood is environmentalism, in my mind," Hass
says.) For more restless folk, it might mean artistic ventures and
explorations farther afield. "Can you have Wendell Berry's agricultural,
organic, and communitarian values and still have freedom, innovation,
disruptions of rhythms, surprises--what people love about cities?" Hass
muses. "Well, you can."
On the last day, Hass reaps part of the reward for good teaching.
Sure, there is the comatose kid in rumpled khakis, half-dozing behind a
blue and gray baseball cap. But half a dozen energetic scholars march up
front and rattle off dates and names and ideas to help students review for
the final. Another group describes its work helping the city of Berkeley
bring long-buried Strawberry Creek above ground near campus. David,
wearing a "No WTO" button on his cap, regales the class with his recent
adventures as a nonviolent demonstrator in Seattle. It was outrageous, he
says happily: He was tear-gassed by the police as he sat on the ground
meditating. When Hass comes back to the podium, he is beaming. "You
are inspiring. You look great," he tells the students. "You are going to be
standing in public forums many times in the future."
More satisfaction comes after class is dismissed, when Hass reads
the students' journals. Here is hard evidence of which ideas have (and
haven't) moved the students. "The environment theme is sort of a
constraint, really. A pain," complains one budding novelist. But there are
signs of growth. "I have been forced to address my own complicity with

the selfish, corporate forces in America," says another student. "Changing

my point of view is slow and uncomfortable." Students who didn't know a
pine from a pineapple at first have now made the acquaintance of at least
a few of the plants and animals that surround them on the Cal campus.
Some have hiked up the hill to the deer, frogs, and turtles of Tilden Park to
investigate a wilder place. Initial consternation about the muddling of
science and literature has morphed into pleasure in viewing the world as a
In one journal, a child of Chinese immigrants explains how nature
helps her straddle two cultures. She's not entirely comfortable in China
because she was born in the United States. But some people don't
consider her a real American, either, because of the way she looks. Out
among the redwoods, bays, and oaks of the Berkeley hills, however, she
feels totally, joyfully at home. "People will learn somehow or another," she
writes. "They will understand the importance of nature. Maybe not today,
and maybe not tomorrow, but one day."
Joan Hamilton is editor-in-chief of Sierra.

Nature's Finest
Would you, too, like to study environmental literature? Here are a
dozen classics.
A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold, 1949
Half a century ago, this book introduced the idea that wolves are good
and a "land ethic" is essential. Its graceful prose still helps crystallize
thoughts for nature lovers today. "I am glad I shall never be young
without wild country to be young in," Leopold says. "Of what avail are
forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?"
Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams, 1991
A keen-eyed naturalist embraces adversity in this moving account of her
mother's battle with cancer and the Bear River Refuge's struggle against
the rising waters of theGreat Salt Lake. Even after losing what she loves,
Williams writes, "There is no place on earth I would rather be."
Land of Little Rain by Mary Hunter Austin, 1903
"To understand the fashion of any life, one must know the land it is lived in
and the procession of the year." A hardy early feminist makes a
harsh landscape on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada come alive
through spare, powerful prose.
Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey, 1968
With humor, reckless ranting, and loving descriptions of the desert,
"Cactus Ed" chronicles his stint as a seasonal ranger in Arches National
Park and makes a strong case for the preservation of all wild places: "We
have agreed not to drive our automobiles into cathedrals, concert halls,

art museums, legislative assemblies, private bedrooms, and other

sanctums of our culture; we should treat our national parks with the same
deference, for they, too, are holy places."
Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, 1977
Tayo, a fictional World War II veteran, finds his home on the Laguna Indian
Reservation in New Mexico ravaged by alcohol and rage. Ancient
ceremonies, deeply rooted to the land, help him navigate the chaos.
Tayo's uncle Josiah tells him, "This is where we come from, see. This sand,
this stone, these trees, the vines, all the wildflowers. This earth keeps us
Walden by Henry David Thoreau, 1854
The current crop of nature writing is all rooted in this quirky personal story
about simple living, close to nature. "I wanted to live deep and suck out all
the marrow of life."
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, 1974
A young woman in 20th century Virginia tries to live like Thoreau, with
revelatory results: "In nature I find grace tangled in a rapture
with violence; I find an intricate landscape whose forms are fringed in
death; I find mystery, newness, and a kind of exuberant, spendthrift
Woman and Nature by Susan Griffin, 1978
An edgy feminist classic argues that Western religion andphilosophy have
promoted the power of men over both women and nature. "These words
are written for those of us whose language is not heard, whose words
have been stolen or erased, those robbed of language, who are called

voiceless or mute, even the earthworms, even the shellfish and the
sponges, for those of us who speak our own language."
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, 1962
This book inspired a U.S. ban on DDT and added pollution to the
environmental agenda. Its lucid scientific lessons on the dangers of
pesticides conclude with a warning worth heeding today: "It is our
alarming misfortune that so primitive a science has armed itself with the
most modern and terrible weapons, and that in turning them against the
insects it has also turned them against the earth."
Practice of the Wild by Gary Snyder, 1990
With Sierra Nevada dust on his boots, one of America's finest poets of
nature uses the essay form to explore how people learn to feel at home in
the places they inhabit. Though full of wisdom from around the world, the
book is at times as pleasantly personal as a good conversation. "Do you
really believe you are an animal? We are now taught this in school. It is a
wonderful piece of information: I have been enjoying it all my life and I
come back to it over and over again, as something to investigate and
Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez, 1986
This learned history of the Far North probes the lives of narwhals, belugas,
polar bears, humans, and other life forms that have eked out a living in
this dazzling, difficult land. Of the Eskimos, Lopez says, "They have a
quality of nuannaarpoq, of taking extravagant pleasure in being alive; and
they delight in finding it in other people. Facing as we do our various
Armageddons, they are a good people to know."

The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich, 1985

Nature moodily takes center stage when a filmmaker from Los Angeles-the author herself--tries herding sheep on the windswept plains of
Wyoming. "Keenly observed, the world is transformed," Ehrlich says. "The
landscape is engorged with detail, every movement on it chillingly sharp.
The air between people is charged. Days unfold, bathed in their own
music. Nights become hallucinatory; dreams prescient."