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Activism, Apocalypse, and the Avant-Garde.

The fifth biennial

conference for the Association for Study of Literature and the
Environment (ASLE), The University of Edinburgh, 10-13th July 2008.

Page Name 35 Pilla

Page Name
1 Bergthaller
2 Raglon 36 Beebee
3 Rowley 37 Deckard
4 Paplow 38 O’Brien
5 Öhman 39 Barat
6 Danielsson 40 Feder
7 Dunkerley 41 Vander Meer
8 Gifford 42 Wheeler
9 Wood, B 43 Costin
10 McKechnie 44 Wiedner
11 Miller 45 Sultzbach
12 Allen 46 Fremantle
13 Westling 47 Poetzsch
14 Coope 48 Been
15 Hildyard 49 Yang
16 Mabon 50 Kluwick
17 Mason 51 Domke
18 Goldberg 52 Whitlock
19 Hansson 53 Ingram
20 Booth 54 Jones
21 Matthewman 55 Gairn
22 Campbell 56 Borthwick
23 Niblett 57 Philip
24 [] 58 Court
25 Bellarsi 59 Somerville
26 Hewitson 60 Bristow
27 Swain 61 Bealer
28 Taneja 62 Middleton
29 Yeow 63 Filipsson
30 Edney 64 Allenrandolph
31 Cooper 65 Wood, S
32 McMullen 66 Kerridge
33 Winton 67 Goodbody
34 Hsu 68 Thear
69 Bracke
[70 Garrard]

ASLE08 Edinburgh 2
Hannes Bergthaller (National Taipei U of Technology)

‘A Pax Germanica of the Agricultural World’: Anti-totalitarian

Rhetoric and Popular Ecology in Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac.

For scientific facts to capture the public imagination, it is not

enough for them to be established as scientifically true – they must
also be made to resonate with the narratives which society relies on
to explain its own workings. In the U.S., these narratives are
largely those of what intellectual historian Louis Hartz refers to as
the “liberal tradition.” As ecological science is retooled for
consumption by a non-scientific audience, it is configured into an
allegory of liberal society, producing what I call popular ecology.
In this paper, I will trace this process in one of the founding
documents of the modern environmental movement, Aldo Leopold’s A Sand
County Almanach. In the Almanach, the “land community” is assumed to
function like a liberal market economy where all members, by pursuing
their self-interests, involuntarily contribute to the welfare of the
whole. By arrogating to themselves the function formerly fulfilled by
the ecological “invisible hand,” humans step into a role equivalent
to that of a dictator. Both with respect to the structure of his
argument and in the choice of political analogies used to underscore
his environmentalist message, Leopold’s critique closely parallels
that levelled at the progressivist Left by the New Liberals – perhaps
most famously in Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s book The Vital Center,
published in the same year as the Almanach. In a move that was as
problematic as it remains instructive for contemporary
environmentalism, Leopold thus harnessed the rhetorical force of the
incipient discourse of anti-totalitarianism for the environmentalist

ASLE08 Edinburgh 1
Rebecca Raglon (University of British Columbia)

From My First Summer in the Sierra to Nature Noir: Writing for the
New Post Natural Wilderness

Wilderness and the literature celebrating wild places, over the past
decade have faced numerous bold critiques, which collectively imply
that the era of “unproblematic” celebration of natural places found
in texts like John Muir’s My First Summer in the Sierra is passé.
Wilderness is now described as incarcerated, socially constructed,
gendered, politically fraught, and anything but pure and pristine.
But while these critiques may have helped forge a better
understanding of human interrelationships, it is less evident that
they have been successful in developing an alternative paradigm,
capable of preserving and protecting vulnerable life from continued
human intrusion and “development”. This paper examines a number of
contemporary U.S writers and their works (Janisse Ray’s Ecology of a
Cracker Childhood, Jordan Fisher Smith’s Nature Noir, Robert
Sullivan’s Meadowlands) which revivify the idea of wilderness in
unexpected places. In addition to journeying into new kinds of “wild
areas”, these writers have attempted to forge a new, tougher, less
romantic language to describe the anthropogenic nature found in over-
used parkland, junkyards, suburban back yards, and clear cuts.
Surprisingly, in the process of developing a description of a new
“post natural wilderness,” the core concerns of nineteenth and
twentieth century wilderness preservation have been both rigorously
defended and renewed.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 2
Rosemarie Rowley (Independent)

Yeats and Environmental Ethics in a Time of Apocalypse

My paper will look at some examples of the avant-garde, particularly

at modernists, eliciting the example of Yeats who has left us such
striking apocalyptic poems such as “Byzantium” and “The Second
Coming”. Yeats, and other modernists strove to place art above
nature as an answer to the intellectual crisis of scientific
materialism that is now having its apogee in our own day. Since
Hiroshima, the world is indeed living in an existential crisis, but
if a poet like Yeats chose intellectual order as the only reality, we
might ask as to how this distancing from nature has affected our most
significant apocalyptic vision of today – the destruction of nature.
A study of these key texts of Yeats’ show how his dedication to the
life of the mind mirrored the loss of contact with the natural
world. I hope to show that in an early poem “The Song of Wandering
Aengus” that in developing an antithetical self, Yeats was at
significant times not only opposed to Nature intellectually and
spiritually, but also emotionally. The privileging of the life of the
mind over the animal self, has played in his own life and in his
influence what may have been a costly division.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 3
Thorsten Päplow (Mälardalen, Sweden)

Place and Narrative: The 'Mines of Falun' Motif in Selected

Nineteenth-Century German Literary Texts.

In 1719 the perfectly preserved body of a miner, who had died 42

years earlier, was found in the mines of Falun in central Sweden. On
being brought up to the surface the body started to disintegrate
rather quickly. For obvious reasons, this occurrence attracted a lot
of interest at the time and, although the story of the Falun-miner
seems to have reached the German speaking areas with a ninety year
delay, also inspired a considerable number of literary adaptations.
For the last 200 years it has been a theme or motif in German
literature that has received quite a lot of critical attention. One
aspect that has been consistently overlooked or underestimated in
these scholarly reading is the importance of place for the different
adaptations, accounts or texts. This paper will therefore explore the
aspect of place in the first narratives that feature the Falun-miner
or the mines of Falun, mainly von Schubert’s Viewpoints on the dark
side of the natural sciences (1808), Hebel’s Unhoped-for Reunion
(1811) and Hoffmann’s The mines of Falun (1819).

ASLE08 Edinburgh 4
Marie Öhman. (Mälardalen, Sweden)

The Natural Ape, or Aping the Natural: Imitation and Serious Play in
Peter Høeg´s The Woman and the Ape.

The Danish writer Peter Høeg’s fifth novel, The Woman

and the Ape (1996), revolves around an unnatural ape, significantly
called Erasmus and in certain respects the most human character in
the novel. Erasmus encounters a scientist searching for the missing
link and subverts his mission by imitating a human imitating an
ape, making the natural seem strange. Like the ape, Høeg is also
fond of imitation. Drawing on contemporary cultural clichés, he
suggests that civilization and cultural imitation have replaced
“nature.” The Scandinavian reception of The Woman and the Ape was
mixed. Some critics focused on the novel´s exploration of boundaries
between animal and human and pointed out its potential as a
critique of Western culture and civilization. Others approvingly
stressed the author´s skilful play with literary generic
traditions, but implied that stylistic playfulness risked taking
the edge off the novel´s critical dimension. My paper brings these
two perspectives together by suggesting that “the ape” certainly is
an embodiment of philosophical and ethical questions about the
nature-culture dichotomy, but also serves as a metaphor for the
literary strategy, by which these questions are conveyed to the
reader. A starting point for my discussion is Aristotle’s statement
about imitation and mankind in Poetics: “Imitation is natural to
mankind from childhood on: Man is differentiated from other animals
because he is the most imitative of them.”

ASLE08 Edinburgh 5
Karin Molander Danielsson (Mälardalen, Sweden)

Norris’s Buckskin Mare: Natural, Cultural and Apocalyptic.

The inner, metaphorical, animal in Frank Norris’ characters, such

as the “animal in the man” in McTeague (283) or the brute of
Vandover and the Brute, has been the object of many studies. As
Pizer, Feldman and others have shown, Norris was much influenced by
the teachings of Joseph LeConte, a geologist and evolutionary
theorist at Berkeley who taught, e.g., that the inner animal was not
an “essential evil to be extirpated” but a “useful servant to be
controlled.” (qtd in Feldman 177). However, unlike the metaphorical
animals, Norris’ many actual animal characters have been largely
overlooked. One of them is Annixter’s high-spirited buckskin mare in
The Octopus, a complex character with a symbolic as well as a
narrative function.

This paper explores how the horse in Norris’s fiction manifests

itself at once as a potent natural force—testing the determination
and courage of the characters involved,—while also assuming various
symbolic roles—of the West, of women and of apocalypse. From an eco-
critical vantage, the horse in Norris’s work proves to negotiate the
bridge between nature and culture in various notable ways; it
portrays nature, tamed and subdued by feminine and masculine
cultures, but also culture, ruptured by the primal and wild. In The
Octopus a horse also serves Norris as a narrative vehicle for his
story, and as a powerful symbol of his apocalyptic vision.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 6
Hugh Dunkerley (Chichester)

Poetry and Unknowing: Contemporary Approaches to the Wild

In the last few years there has been a resurgence of poetry about the
natural world. Alongside books by poets such as Kathleen Jamie, the
anthologies Wild Reckoning and The Thunder Mutters have collected
more familiar poems next to new work. In this paper I will analyse
the work of a number of recent poets writing about nature in terms of
two approaches. Using the terminology of Christian mysticism, I will
show how the categories of the Positive and Negative Ways can be used
to clarify two contemporary approaches to describing the otherness of
nature. Faced with anxiety about both human domination of nature and
the restructuring of the wild by language itself, poets have adopted
different strategies. While some have reacted to the otherness of
nature by celebrating diversity, by multiplying the names, others
work by cancelling out names, by suggesting another language beyond
the human. In this second approach, there is an ascesis, a holding
back, a refusal to name when names could all too easily draw the
subject into the web of human concerns.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 7
Terry Gifford (Chichester/Alicante)

Earth Shattering: Another Textbook or Radical Intervention?

There have been a number of anthologies of green/nature/

environmental poetry published over the last decade, but Neil
Astley’s Bloodaxe anthology Earth Shattering (2007) claims to be
different. The Bloodaxe enterprise is largely funded by the success
of its anthologies as educational set texts and this book appears to
be clearly aimed in that direction. Yet its claims are as much for
its commentary as for its selection of poems, seeking to frame them
in ‘an ecological and literary perspective’ (18). Drawing upon
canonical texts of ecocriticism, this book’s commentary attempts to
turn an anthology into a radical intervention in education and the
culture of British poetry. To what extent is it successful and what
theoretical observations can be made from the process of evaluating
this book as ecocritical intervention?

How satisfactorily does the book answer my question about the

integrity of the category ‘green poetry’ in Green Voices (1995) as
Astley suggests that it should (17)? What contribution does the book
make to the notion of ‘ecopoetry’ that has evolved in the work of
Bryson (2002), Scagij (1999), Bate (2000) and Rasula (2002) since
Green Voices? What are we to make of Astley’s observation that living
British and Irish poets are absent from the work of Buell and other
American ecocritics, such as Elder’s Imagining The Earth (1996 2nd
edition), just as ‘most Americans are absent from recent British
anthologies and critical studies’ (16)? How radical is this book in
contributing to the ecocritical debate about the nature of ecopoetry
when Astley admits to joining the critical shunning of the British
avant-guard of O’Sullivan, Prynne, Caddel, Clark and others that
Harriet Tarlo has called ‘radical landscape poetry’ (2007)?

ASLE08 Edinburgh 8
Briar Wood (London Metropolitan)

Crisis and Recovery in Contemporary Anglo Cornish Poetry

Amy Hale and Philip Payton argue in an Introduction to New Directions

in Celtic Studies that organic metaphors are integral to the
development of Celtic Studies in the C18th and C19th, Cornish
language writing and in the invented and reconstructed nature of
ideas about Celtic identity and tradition. Deconstructing the
organicism of this tradition, while recognising the significance of
environmental referents as an important aspect of ecocritism, Hale
and Payton also consider the importance of ‘an acute sense of place’
in writing about ‘identity and landscape.’ The way tropes about
identity and place intersect in some recent Anglo Cornish poetry, in
terms of the ‘ambiguities of Celtic culture’, as well as their
relationship to more general ecocritical paradigms about crisis
management will be addressed in this paper. Drawing on Greg Garrard’s
study of ecocritical metaphors and tropes such as nature, culture,
wilderness, cultivation, pastoral, apocalyptic, human, non-human I
will argue that recent Anglo Cornish poetry addresses ongoing themes
of crisis and recovery in historical and ecological terms and that
this can be relevant to global discourses about contemporary crisis
and ecocriticism. Contemporary Anglo Cornish poetry offers a long
term perspective on language decline and revival, economic
downshifting, dramatic swings in economic structures,
industrialization and a meditative and transmittable space to
contemplate ways of engaging in that search for a ‘ “third-way”
alternative to both mystico-spiritual ecology and technophiliac
embrace of cyborgian existence’.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 9
Claire Charlotte McKechnie (Edinburgh)

‘Has a Frog a Soul?’: Shaping Evolution in the Gothic Fiction of

Edward Bulwer-Lytton

This paper explores the ways in which Edward Bulwer-Lytton made use
of amphibiousness in his gothic science fiction fantasy narrative,
The Coming Race. T. H. Huxley’s essay ‘Has a Frog a Soul, and of What
Nature is that Soul, Supposing it to Exist?’ read at the meeting of
the Metaphysical Society in November 1870, revived the experiments of
Robert Whytt and Albrecht von Haller, who, more than a hundred years
earlier, had investigated the locus of the soul in animals. The frog,
as Huxley and Mivart articulate convincingly, conflates accepted
physiological traits of life and death and blurs species boundaries
to such a large extent that it becomes a biological chimera,
something in-between, a creature that is not complete; indeed, not
intact, seemingly subject to endless evolutionary change. The frog
occupied a liminal sphere in scientific practice to some extent
because it was the most popular animal for the purposes of
vivisection, but why did the frog fascinate physiologists so much?
When Mivart suggested in his study The Common Frog in 1874 that
batrachians may hold the key to the origin of humankind, he raised a
new question about man’s place in the evolutionary scale. In his 1871
science-fiction novel, The Coming Race, Bulwer-Lytton anticipates
Mivart’s evolutionary theory in a rather uncanny way, and these two
instances, amongst others, demonstrate the prevalence of the frog in
Victorian popular culture and evolutionary theory.

The suggestion that humans were linked biologically to frogs added

weight to the vivisectionists’ argument; it was becoming increasingly
clear that man belonged to, indeed was immersed in, the animal world.
This paper will examine the amphibious ‘other’ in gothic narratives;
like the tadpole’s metamorphosis to the frog, the Victorians were
gradually transforming themselves into modern scientific thinkers,
and it was the animals which man loved, hated and violently exploited
that paid the price for their new-found knowledge.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 10
John Miller (Glasgow)

Mutinous Tigers and Elephant Umbrella Stands

Writing in 1907 the British soldier Harry Storey in Hunting and

Shooting in Ceylon described the possible uses of elephant anatomy
for the successful sportsman. The feet, he commented, ‘make fine
footstools… or, if cut long in the leg, umbrella stands’; the ears,
meanwhile, could be ‘lined with cloth… and used as newspaper racks’.
Even an elephant’s toenails could be polished into ‘bon-bon dishes’,
as which, he added, they made excellent ‘wedding presents’.
Storey’s partitioning of elephant remains appears as a self-conscious
piece of imperial whimsy that nonetheless evokes a sizeable industry
and a complex ideological manoeuvre. The demand for ivory billiard
balls, above all, constructed elephants as a valuable resource for an
accelerating commodity culture. As such, elephants, in the terms of
Marx’s commodity fetishism, undergo a mystical transformation,
transcending their animal origins as they become invested with
‘relations of production’. Clearly, this movement is redolent with
the operation of colonial power: the elephant’s re-arrangement a
symbolisation of control that also emerged powerfully in contemporary
representations of tigers, especially in fin-de-siècle re-imaginings
of the 1857 Indian ‘mutiny’ in the novels of G. A. Henty and Flora
Annie Steel. Here tigers embody the intransigent opposite of the
assimilated animal: a cipher for political insurrection that requires
a firm hand.

This paper considers the implications of these significations of

animals for an emerging postcolonial ecocriticism and particularly
examines the (im)possibility in this context of reading animals not
just as metaphorisations of power but, in Erica Fudge’s words, ‘as

ASLE08 Edinburgh 11
Jude Allen (Bath Spa)

Metamorphosis in Garnett and Vercors: Is Being Foxy a Good Thing?

My paper shall focus on two texts; David Garnett’s Lady into Fox and
Vercors’ Sylva. Both are the stories of vulpine metamorphosis, the
first from a woman, Mrs. Tebrick, into fox and the second from fox
into a young woman named Sylva. Vercors’ story is a conscious
response to Garnett’s and as such mirrors the decline from human to
animal, offering a reverse scenario.

In Garnett’s text the metamorphosis from lady to fox is a negative

process which has degenerative repercussions for the husband, Mr.
Tebrick. As he follows his fox-wife around the countryside, it is
not acceptable for Mr. Tebrick to become fox or even seem to be fox
without being labelled as mad. In Vercors’ metamorphic reversal,
however, the change from fox to human – although not achieved without
a glimmer of a pastoral sense of loss – is a matter for celebration.
It is much better to become a human than to become a fox. I shall
consider how, particularly in Vercors’ text – which likens Sylva’s
transformation to a compressed evolution of mankind - the process of
being humanised constitutes a necessary rejection of the natural
world. Correspondingly, Mr. Tebrick’s embracement of the natural
world signifies a journey away from his human-ness. It seems as if
it is not possible to be a human without being isolated from one’s
environs. (221).

ASLE08 Edinburgh 12
Louise Westling (Oregon)

Stranded on the Ark

This paper considers Yann Martel's The Life of Pi as an allegory of

apocalyptic conditions for cross-species communication and
cooperation, as well as predation or even cannibalism. It engages
animality theory in Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Derrida, and Cary
Wolfe, together Vicki Hearne's Wittgensteinian concepts of language
games between humans and other animals to provide a context for an
examination of how Martel explores Pi Patel's efforts to listen to
and speak with animal others under extreme circumstances of
entrapment and environmental threat. Martel's novel eschews fantasies
of sentimental alliance to acknowledge the violence required for
nourishment as different species struggle to coexist on their
symbolic lifeboat in a huge, indifferent sea. Clearly the tiger
Richard Parker understands and cooperates with the discipline Pi
establishes on the lifeboat, in a language game radically different
from yet paradoxically similar to those used in the zoo of Pi's
former home in India. Pi and Richard Parker, their umwelten
unavoidably overlapping, remain estranged from each other's alien
ways of being but are forced to abide by an uneasy truce in order to
stay alive. If global climate change is indeed moving as fast as now
seems to be the case, radical forms of adaptation to geographical
impoverishment will be required of all creatures, who will have to
share smaller spaces and limited resources for survival.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 13
Jonathan Coope (Chichester)

Does Ecocriticism Help or Hinder Effective Climate Change


This paper begins by noting significant differences in assumptions

and theoretical orientation between contemporary research in the
public understanding of climate change and some recent works of
ecocriticism. This paper explores how such differences may highlight
shortcomings in ecocritical theory. It is noticeable, for example,
that the recent IPPR report Positive Energy: Harnessing People Power
to Prevent Climate Change (2007) underlines the need to draw upon far
more sophisticated understandings of human cognition, motivation and
behaviour than the ‘rational choice’ model upon which public
information campaigns have hitherto tended to rely (more
sophisticated psychological models have drawn upon cross-disciplinary
insights e.g., from anthropology, consumer research and environmental
psychology). Despite this, the ‘rational choice’ model still remains
the hegemonic psychological framework for some ecocritics, which
suggests that some versions of ecocritical theory may be
psychologically under-dimensioned. Furthermore, the ecocritical
priority given to disaggregated ‘comic apocalyptic’ narratives may be
at odds with the urgent need, identified by other researchers, to
prioritise a coherent ‘story on climate change’ which is meaningful
and compelling to broader publics. Until recently, the concern to
‘evaluate texts and ideas in terms of their coherence and usefulness
as responses to environmental crises’ has tended to be the preserve
of ecocritics. However, ecocriticism may now need to confront
potentially fruitful challenges from research in the public
understanding of climate change if is to be a help rather than a
hindrance in bringing about urgently needed changes in public
behaviours towards the environment.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 14
Rupert Hildyard (Lincoln)

Ecocriticism and The Theory of Poetry

Robert Pogue Harrison ends his ecocritical re-reading of the canon,

Forests, by talking, perhaps counter-intuitively for an ecocritic, of
the necessity of estrangement from nature. Heidegger famously
regarded poetry as essential to the disclosure of being and our
dwelling on earth. A long time ago Shklovsky talked of strangeness as
a constitutive characteristic of art. Much more recently the
contemporary critics Derek Attridge and Nicholas Royle have written
about the singularity of literature having to do with its relations
with otherness and the uncanny.

This paper seeks to make connections between these points and to use
those connections to produce an ecocritical perspective on the theory
of poetry.

One of the fundamental questions in the theory of poetry is to say

what is at stake in the reversal of the normal hierarchy of language
that is described by the slogan ‘the primacy of the signifier’. A
good many justly celebrated poems – about love, about death, about
memory, for example – have been seen as fundamentally about poetry
and language itself. If language is the most important sign system
we have, then poetry is the art of that sign system, the means by
which humans explore language and its limits, what it is to live in
the symbolic realm.

This paper seeks to give a specifically ecocritical twist to this

commonplace of poststructuralist literary theory.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 15
Leslie Mabon (Edinburgh)

Storytelling, Stimuli and Subarus: Narratives and Ecological Identity


This paper explores the possibility of using narratives to elicit or

express environmental values. Drawing on concepts of ecological
identity and environmental ethics, the potential positive utility of
research participants’ oral and written descriptions and stories of
environmental experience as a means of examining ecological identity
construction will be considered. Similarly, the deployment of visual
imagery or written narratives as stimuli to draw out such stories
will be discussed. More practically, the paper will then evaluate
how narratives may be put into practice in the context of the motor
sport community in Scotland. Guided by the theoretical principle of
environmental pragmatism, the aim of this case study is to identify
areas of common ground between the motor sport community and other
users of the natural environment. It will then be suggested (after
Satterfield, 2000) that if visual or written accounts can be deployed
in a non-confrontational manner to draw out a range of values, then
the potential exists to develop a broader understanding of how
members of motorsport participants (and non-participants) come to
negotiate their ecological identities. In turn, it may be possible to
begin to identify areas of common ground between different interest
groups. Finally, the possible broader theoretical and methodological
implications of a narrative-based approach in terms of fostering
environmentally-responsible practice and applying ideas from
environmental ethics will be discussed. Potential limitations and
shortcomings in such an approach will also be considered.

Keywords: ecological identity, environmental pragmatism, place

values, applied environmental ethics, narrative.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 16
Lucy Mason (Edinburgh)

Deconstruction and Reaffirmation of Hierarchical Dualisms in

'Activist' Literature

This paper will focus on the tension in the relationship between

ecocriticism, postmodern theory and environmental advocacy. Through
an analysis of works of non-fiction 'activist' literature, including
'Do or Die' journals and texts produced by the CrimethInc collective,
such as 'Days of War, Nights of Love' and 'Recipes for Disaster',
terms such as 'activist', 'state' and 'authority' will be
scrutinised. The potential for literature to operate as environmental
advocacy will be analysed, with particular attention to
ecocriticism's uneasy relationship with postmodern language theory.
Ecocriticism's simultaneous dependence on poststructuralist
challenges to dualisms in order to explode linguistic hierarchies and
a more 'modernist' grand narrative of environmental degradation under
ever-expanding capitalism will be interrogated in relation to
ecocriticism's political agenda.

This grand narrative has led to the justification of state

legislation in works of non-fiction. It is this deconstruction and
reaffirmation of hierarchical dualisms in 'activist' literature which
will be examined with particular reference to such texts' inclusion
of anti-militaristic and militaristic language, and their negotiation
of the state's role in environmental degradation. How these texts are
simultaneously useful and damaging to ecological activism will be
considered, in a broader analysis of how the traditional rhetoric of
literary analysis limits the scope which ecocriticism can have.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 17
Myshele Goldberg (Strathclyde)

Telling Mythologies: Pasts and Possible Futures in Activist


Our perceptions of the past shape our expectations for the future,
which in turn shape our present actions. This paper examines the
mythological dimensions of activist literature, to better understand
its vision, as well as the possible futures it holds. In particular,
it questions whether the stories implicit in activist literature
match the stated goals of “the movement.” By focusing on tone as well
as content, I identify three interlocking core mythologies which were
recounted explicitly or implicitly in a selection of books identified
through an activist survey: Fall From Grace: Hierarchical cultures
have “fallen” from an ideal indigenous state, with social, economic,
and ecological conditions becoming steadily worse, eventually leading
to armageddon. Activists must prevent armageddon by creating utopia.
Entrapment: We are trapped in an oppressive cultural system, which
constricts our choices and turns circumstances to its own advantage.
Activists must either destroy the system or escape it. The Great
Battle: Activists struggle against oppressors to determine the fate
of the world. “The masses” are unaware of this struggle, but must be
saved from the oppressors and won to the side of the activists.

These stories reflect familiar mythological themes, but have roots in

fear and inaction, fundamentally obstructing the politics of
liberation that most activists consciously support. To counteract
this tendency, activist writers must be more aware of the
mythological dimensions of their work. If they are fearless and
visionary in telling radical stories, they can inspire activists to
build the positive futures they desire.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 18
Petra Hansson (Uppsala)

What Does It Mean To Read Nature?

In the context of environmental or sustainability literacy, it is

essential to scrutinise the meaning of ”reading nature”. Without
doubt, ecocriticism is an influential field when it comes to the
study of representations of nature in literature. Hence,
environmental literacy is in one way or another, related to
ecocriticism. The aim of this paper is to clarify the contribution of
ecocriticism to environmental literacy as being one objective of
education for sustainable development (ESD).

First, the meaning of environmental literacy as it is understood

within ESD is discussed. Second, given this specific meaning of
environmental literacy, i.e. the ability to read nature in a
pedagogical context, an analysis of different meanings of reading
nature within ecocriticism is carried out. This includes answering
the following questions: Which views of nature are represented in the
ecocritical field? How can representations of nature be read? What
skills do students need in order to read nature? Third, the
contribution of ecocritical readings of nature in texts, i.e.
ecocritical “literacy”, to environmental literacy in the context of
ESD is clarified.

This paper relates theoretical assumptions of the meaning of reading

nature within ecocriticism and ESD to students’ responses to
ecocritical texts and focuses on understandings of students’
responses to nature in texts and the students’ ideas of how
literature can contribute to the development of environmental
literacy within ESD.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 19
Sherry Booth (Santa Clara)

Why Apocalypse Doesn’t Work: Pedagogy and Undergraduate Education

In his book Earth in Mind, David Orr argues that the kind of
education that has led to current ecological crises won’t solve the
problems that we face—and that our students are going to have to
solve. The question for me is not whether the apocalypse looms for
humans and many species, environmentally, but how to engage, educate,
and motivate the next generation to work toward sustainability.
My paper will examine three sites of ecocritical work, each different
from the others and requiring different approaches, both theoretical
and practical. The first site is an interdisciplinary workshop for
university faculty at our institution which has the goal of embedding
sustainability across the curriculum. For this faculty group,
ecocritical theory is largely inaccessible—and seemingly irrelevant.
But environmental education philosophy is central, a sturdy branch
that surely belongs on the ecocritical tree. The second site is the
7th floor of a residence hall full of student researchers we call
SLURPers—young (undergraduate) researchers into sustainability in
residence life. The work these students undertake crosses academic
disciplines and is grounded in basic research questions which they
design and then test. The last site directly involves the
undergraduate classroom: teaching a humanities two-course sequence,
“Nature in the Imagination.” The last location is targeted to help
students understand how we have come to the
beliefs about nature we hold, and that how we represent nature in
myth, art, and literature has large implications for the way we live
now and in the future.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 20
Sasha Matthewman (Bristol)

From Apocalypse to Ecopolis: Hopeful Heuristics for Urban Poetry

This paper explores questions of ‘ecocritical pedagogy’ in relation

to poetry about urban environments. It was prompted by a recent
school assembly in which Peter Porter’s poem Your Attention Please
was declaimed to a soundtrack of REM’s ‘It’s the end of the world as
we know it’, accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation of various
ecological disasters. These images of a coming ‘apocalypse’ betray a
lack of faith in people’s ability to deal with ecological crises.
While this may be justified in terms of personal belief, there are
pedagogical problems with enacting a ‘pedagogy of despair’.
Accordingly, this paper seeks to explore the potential of poetry to
offer ‘resources of hope’.

The paper will focus on the ethics of teaching pessimism and despair
in relation to poetic visions of urban futures. It will draw upon
recent work in urban studies that seeks to recognise and foreground
the relations between natural processes and cultural factors, and
which suggests possible models for future sustainability. Heuristics
may be developed from these theories which are based on understanding
the city as ‘ecopolis’: an ecosystem of human, non-human, natural and
cultural forces. The paper explores how these ‘hopeful heuristics’
can inform critical readings of city poems (by poets such as
Armitage, Auden, Eliot and Fuller) which contain the possibilities
for re-visioning the city as a sustaining habitat.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 21
Chris Campbell (Queen Mary, London)

Illusions of Paradise and Progress: An Ecocritical Perspective on

Earl Lovelace.

This paper constitutes an exploration of Earl Lovelace’s figuring of

the natural world and his careful, caring situation of human
characters within it. As such, it is concerned with Lovelace’s
critique of notions of rural paradise and, equally, with his
uncovering of the costs - social, cultural, environmental - of
promises of political progress and an apparently all-consuming thirst
for economic development. It will attempt to situate the work of
Lovelace within recent developments in ecocritical, and postcolonial
literary theories, arguing that a study of Lovelace’s writing could
mediate between perceived schisms and apparent incompatibilities and,
more generally, exemplifies how a Caribbean approach to ecocriticism
might successfully define itself.

Throughout his work, Lovelace has privileged discussions of the

tensions between urban and rural living, often exploring feelings of
displacement and of personal and environmental alienation. Alongside
this, and associated with cultivating a sense of belonging in place,
the importance of a responsibility towards human community and the
natural world is readily apparent. Starting with Louis James’s
insight that the ‘real hero’ of The Schoolmaster is the village of
Kumaca itself, this paper will examine the presentation of a
problematised ‘paradise’, addressing recent postcolonial and
ecocritical discussions concerning the history and future of the
pastoral mode in Caribbean literature. The novel will also be
considered as a valuable contribution to eco-literary reflections on
the effects of road-building programmes across Trinidad, as Lovelace
here strikes up meaningful dialogue with the work of his
contemporaries Sam Selvon and Derek Walcott.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 22
Michael Niblett (Warwick)

“A Field of Islands”: Regionalism and Political Ecology in Caribbean


This paper will explore how the overlap between ecological and
political issues in the circum-Caribbean intersects with the
construction of a regional identity. The need for some form of
regional unity is a theme that has arisen throughout the history of
the Caribbean in connection with a desire to break the ties of
external dependency. However, in Ideology and Caribbean Integration,
Ian Boxill suggests that support for regionalism is weak due to the
lack of a coincident ideology bound to popular practices and
perceptions. This paper will examine how the environmental history
depicted by the writers Eric Walrond, Wilson Harris, and Édouard
Glissant becomes also a pan-Caribbean history, one that foregrounds
sustainable development. Not only is the landscape (and seascape)
shown to be a means of conceptualising the colonially-balkanised area
as a whole; in addition, the ‘migration’ of material relationships to
the land indicates the role of the environment as a mediating factor
that can create linkages between states, or at least between their

Walrond’s short stories of the 1920s detail socio-ecological

exploitation, but also uncover a potential for regional solidarity
tied to an approach to nature that breaks its objectification under
capitalism. The paper will compare this to how Harris unearths an
alternative history from within the landscape. Finally consideration
will be given to the project Glissant has proposed for the creation
of an economic ‘green zone’ that would encourage a re-orientation of
Caribbean trade practices.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 23

ASLE08 Edinburgh 24
Franci Bellarsi (Université Libre de Bruxelles)

“Apocalypse of Nature and Self:the Deep Ecology of Allen Ginsberg’s

The Fall of America”

As a volume of anti-war poetry, Allen Ginsberg’s The Fall of America

(1965 - 1971) offers an extended, apocalyptic psycho-geography
chronicling the betrayal of Whitman’s hopes for the American nation.
In its protest against the combined destruction of the primitive
wilderness and the “garden” of a bygone agrarian America, the volume
psychologizes environmental desecration and decodes it in terms of
“self-hatred.” With rare pastoral interludes, the poet repeatedly
criss-crosses a bleak (post-)industrial landscape of highways,
interchanges and military installations. The “ecological fall”
thereby revealed epitomizes a “diseased” nation not only at war with
Vietnam, but also, and far more fundamentally, at war against itself
from within. However, already heavily marked by Ginsberg’s interest
in Buddhism and its “ecology of mind,” The Fall of America also
represents an intensified attempt at perceptual purification. The
peculiar writing technique uncovers an entirely different mode of
presence to the real. Indeed, Ginsberg produces a field of energy on
the page that dynamically counters the falsely dualistic
consciousness responsible for the nation’s “fall from grace” as
translated into the defilement of its natural habitat. The Fall of
America thus constitutes a paradoxical and insufficiently recognized
work of deep ecology in which the attentively observed “wilderness of
the mind” becomes superimposed on the suburban and industrial chaos
encroaching upon an ever receding natural wilderness. If Ginsberg
presents a world and self traumatized by the accelerating “end of
Nature,” he nevertheless also sees human consciousness as the last
“remnant of Nature” from which healing may still proceed.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 25
James Hewitson (Tennessee)

Environmental Management and the Technological Apocalypse: Mark

Twain’s Life on the Mississippi and A Connecticut Yankee in King
Arthur’s Court.

Mark Twain’s writings often describe technological enchantment and

its capacity to reorient perceptions of the environment. In Life on
the Mississippi, for example, he describes the thrill of riverboat
piloting and the challenge of keeping pace with the changing
Mississippi River. Becoming a pilot involved an intense period of
apprenticeship in which he was trained to “read” the river
environment, memorizing all of the islands, bends, points and banks;
and learning to recognize environmental alterations as indicating
changing water levels, as well as the formation of new bars, chutes
and reefs. Such considerations preclude other apprehensions of the
environment: “the romance and beauty were all gone from the river” as
it was reduced to data. Because of their need to collect, pool and
compare technical information, moreover, pilots were effectively
separated from the larger society: as a union they guarded their
knowledge, effectively controlling river traffic. In his Connecticut
Yankee, Twain extends this analysis of environmental management.
Hank, the Yankee, a nineteenth-century arms manufacturer and
mechanical savant, is transported to Camelot, where he proceeds to
rapidly modernize Arthurian society. Because of his obsession with
progress, those who resist his changes are considered sub-human; when
his efforts are frustrated he and a small cadre of technicians use
advanced weapons to massacre the forces arrayed against them. Hank’s
solution to resistance by this “primitive society” is analogous with
nineteenth-century imperial practices; it further illustrates how
such forms of domination produce a dehumanizing fixation on order and
efficiency ultimately expressed in apocalyptic violence.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 26
Kelley Swain (Randolph-Macon Woman's College)

Literary Tryworks: How Melville Renders Poetry from Blubber

"Literary Tryworks" looks at the works of naturalists from whom

Melville took much of his information on cetology for Moby-Dick. The
scientists William Scoresby, Thomas Beale, and Frederick Bennett
wrote early natural histories of whales, but upon examination we can
see that the "natural" history comes straight from the destructive,
consumptive whale fishery.

The first image printed in the first English book on Sperm Whales
(Beale's Natural History of the Sperm Whale) is not an anatomical
diagram, but sections of the whale, divided based on where to find
the best oil. This paper looks at "early awareness and early denial"
by these naturalists of the havoc wreaked upon whale populations,
then moves to a comparison of their observations with a few sections
of Moby-Dick, where, it can be argued, Melville himself exhibits
early environmental awareness of cetaceans.

Can Melville be considered an early "whale-hugger" for his time? If

so, why? This paper addresses these questions and suggests potential
answers. In an 1850 letter to Richard Henry Dana Jr., Melville writes
(of Moby-Dick,) "It will be a strange sort of book, tho', I fear;
blubber is blubber you know; tho' you may get oil out of it, the
poetry runs as hard as sap from a frozen maple tree..." Melville
tried to render a book (his "poetry") from blubber (the subject of
whales), and with the environmental awareness question in mind, this
paper points out a few of the finest points in Moby-Dick where
Melville renders poetry from blubber.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 27
Payal Taneja (Queens)

Revelations of a Post-apocalyptic Ontology in the works of D.H.


D.H. Lawrence in Apocalpyse expresses nostalgia for “a hint of the

old cosmic wonder” towards different forms of existence, human and
nonhuman, so that the instrumentalist ethos of modernity can be
superseded by an ecological consciousness promoting greater
sensitivity towards nature. To replace the logic of utility and,
even worse, hostility, towards nonhuman things, his utopian ontology,
I contend, hinges on overcoming not only anthropocentric, but also
androcentric perspectives. My paper explores the ways in which
Lawrence dismantles the tropes of domination mobilized against
natural things – mountains, rivers, seas, and animals – that are
feminized in the Book of Revelation. Because Lawrence
anthropomorphizes nonhuman entities in his revaluation of apocalyptic
images, he makes us question the deep ecologist repudiation of
anthropomorphism. Instead of promoting the masculinist and
imperialist desires of attaining mastery over nature, such forms of
anthropomorphism neither efface the differences among human and
nonhuman things, nor overstate their disjunctions.

Such self-conscious uses of anthropomorphism, while suggesting the

possibility of mutually sustaining relations among human and nonhuman
animals and their shared environments, defy the more nihilistic
strains of apocalyptic discourse, according to which the destruction
of natural resources is imminent. The genre of apocalypse, I argue,
functions not only as an “ecocritical trope” deployed by Lawrence,
but also as a utopian project aimed towards imagining new forms of
embodiment for human beings, without which the possibility of
overcoming the destruction of nature remains an elusive fantasy.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 28
Agnes S. K. Yeow (Malaya)

Visions of Apocalypse in Selected Malaysian Poetry in English

In Malaysia, where tropical explorers from the West and local

environmental activists continue to decry widespread deforestation
and environmental degradation, there is an ideological schism between
the conservationist camp and the camp which subscribes to the catch-
up development imperative of a third-world nation which aspires to
achieve developed nation status in the year 2020. In the clamour of
contesting voices, the poet's prophetic role in relation to tropical
nature asserts itself in a myriad of creative and interesting ways.
This paper seeks to examine representations of environmental
wastelands in selected English-language Malaysian poetry. It argues
that although, as a rule, the apocalyptic trope and imagery in
Malaysian poetry have ostensibly more to do with the ruin of
civilization and the imaginative rebirth of a new era of socio-
cultural and spiritual wholeness and possibility than with eco-
apocalypse, ecological concerns are very much embedded within the
discourse. Notably, writers like Shirley Geok-lin Lim, Wong Phui Nam
and Cecil Rajendra approach the notion of world's end from very
different perspectives and along seemingly dissimilar trajectories.
This paper will mainly be interested in showing that, among these
diverse voices, there is a common call ringing with eschatological
urgency for environmental justice and sustainability.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 29
Sue Edney (Bath Spa)

The Radical Language of Everyday Life in Robert Burns and John Clare,
and Why We Should Still Read Thomas Carlyle for a True Sense of the

In his essay 'signs of the Times' (1829), Thomas Carlyle wrote: 'The
time is sick and out of joint'. In 1946, George Orwell complained
about the 'slovenliness' of English, pointing out, in the manner of
Carlyle, that 'if thought corrupts language, language can also
corrupt thought'. When thought and language fail to make sense of
each other: 'the concrete melts into the abstract'. Carlyle's concern
was that there was too much emphasis on 'mechanism'. He urged his
heroes, among whom were poets, to make a difference to 'the
Mechanical Age'. I would like to examine how working class poetry of
Carlyle's period begins to construct models of identification with
place that make effective use of concrete language, especially
dialect, to express and re-vivify abstract connections. I will look
specifically at Robert Burns's poem 'To a Mouse', and John Clare's
'The Mouse's Nest' and 'The Lament of Swordy Well' to show how
everyday speech offers fresh interpretations of the balancing act
humans have to manage between concrete and abstract. The nineteenth-
century labourer's world was small; their apocalypses were also
local. Clare's distress at the loss of fields and heaths inspires a
radical language of the everyday that surpasses the merely political.
Although the time is always sick and out of joint, it's possible to
adjust the focus of our apocalyptic lens so that we can express
clearly what we really see.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 30
David Cooper (Lancaster)

"Every man his own pathmaker": Coleridgean Movement, Mapping &

Notetaking in the Work of Sean Borodale

In August 1802, Samuel Taylor Coleridge undertook a nine-day

‘circumcursion’ of the Lake District. Nearly two hundred years later,
the contemporary psychogeographer, Sean Borodale, embarked on a
similar journey, following a route mapped out by Coleridge and
Wordsworth in their Lake District tour of 1799. This paper focuses on
texts by both Coleridge and Borodale to explore the complex
relationships between writer, place, maps, note-taking and reader.
The first half of the paper draws upon the spatial theory of Michel
de Certeau to show how Coleridge’s account continually oscillates
between the phenomenological and the cartographical. That is to say,
his text moves between the articulation of embodied experience and
the impulse to map the Cumbrian topography. Alongside this,
Coleridge’s documentary account raises questions regarding texts and
textuality. Does site-specific note-taking allow the writer to
encapsulate the complexity of spatial experience? How does the reader
handle this kind of text?

The paper then moves on to argue that such issues, or tensions, are
foregrounded in the generically-hybrid work of Sean Borodale. The
relationships between text and mapping, and text and reader, are
explored in the book, Notes for an Atlas (2003). These preoccupations
can also be located in the earlier work, Walking to Paradise (1999),
in which Borodale conceives the Lake District landscape as a site of
spatial intertextuality. Borodale’s textual mappings expose the gap
between the phenomenological experience of place and the written
account of that spatial experience; what is more, his three-
dimensional artwork suggests a privileging of the map over text.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 31
A. Joseph McMullen (Bucknell)

A Layered Landscape: The Function of Place-names as Land Genealogy in

Early Irish Myth

Throughout early Irish mythology exists an enveloping trope of the

value of the landscape and the necessity for origin stories to
describe how the land has changed over time. From Acallam na
Senórach (Tales of the Elders of Ireland) to the Metrical
dindshenchas—we find works devoted to place-name lore. This emphasis
on the land is often manifest within arguably “ecocentric” narratives
of interactions with the Otherworld. The Otherworld, a realm of
liminal connection to the earthly world, exists both within and
without of the natural topographical features of the textual early
Ireland. Primarily accessed through síde—the Neolithic mounds which
acted as portals to the Otherworld—the Otherworld existed as a
separate realm to be entered but located within the temporal earthly

This layering of Otherworldly landscape with the temporal is

textually translated as a layering of land and place-names within
early Irish narrative. Land is often changed or recreated within the
myth in emphasis of a theme. For example, in Tochmarc Étaíne (The
Wooing of Étaín) the land is reformed and reshaped during
transactions and lawful exchange of possession. When the land is
recreated by Otherworldy beings, the myth becomes a type of
cosmogony. The origin of the land develops into a type of land
genealogy—a landscape layered with both mythic and contemporary
meaning. This layered landscape signals not only an emphasis on
place-names and their societal function but also, more importantly,
the formation of an early Irish “land ethic.”

ASLE08 Edinburgh 32
Tracey Eve Winton (Waterloo)

In quotidian experience of the urban landscape, imaginary space plays

an important role, and storytelling is its key feature. Our
sensitivity to place is predicated on meta-physical layers of
spatialized percepts like memory, ethics and poetics. Rome’s
disabitato, an historical existence of abandoned, quarried, razed or
unbuilt urban spaces adjacent to consolidated areas of the city, is
approached through Sola-Morales’ concept of terrain vague as sites
pregnant with something radically and essentially urban. These
functionally indefinite locales, lacking in street address and
population, existing in an array of in-between states, nurture a
black market in spirituality and metaphysical speculation that falls
below the threshold of consciousness in the coding and plans of the
contemporary city. In such landscapes we recognize powerful symbols
of temporality, vital forces, and metamorphic processes. These
ecologies call for us to revisit the city in its entirety:
acknowledging urban settings as poetic landscapes resonant with human
meanings and stories, restoring a cultural grounding to lived
experience in the contemporary city. This paper visits one such site,
central to Rome's foundation myth.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 33
Hsu Li-hsin (Edinburgh)

Going Further: Emily Dickinson, China, and Migration

This paper proposes to investigate Emily Dickinson’s embracing of

cultural and geographical diversity through her contact with China.
Travel and migration are a significant motif for Dickinson to linking
the self with the foreign, the occident with the oriental, and
conformity with transgression. Through the experience of
displacement, Dickinson articulated her poetic revision of oriental
otherness, embodied in Asiatic exuberance, or the Lacanian surplus
that the “romantic illusion” of China represented. Being a reluctant
traveller, Dickinson’s encounter with China only went as far as
Boston Chinese Museum visit and travelogue reading. Nevertheless,
both forms exposed her to borderlines beyond her New England
environs. Foucault’s heterotopias, and Mary Louise Pratt’s “contact
zone,” demonstrated in John Peters’ Chinese museum, endowed Dickinson
with the role of a tourist, possessing the power of
“defamiliarization” that Denis Porter suggests is a therapeutic
process in travel. Furthermore, the Asiatic images in her poems, such
as “His oriental heresies,” contain a dynamic interaction between two
continents, subverting colonial and human-centric subjugation, and
regenerating an ecosystem with mutations and adaptation. This paper
will be in three parts. The first part will discuss American contact
with China through imperial expansionism encoded in travel writing
and curiosity-collecting in the nineteenth-century. The second will
analyze Dickinson’s tourist role, correlating her Chinese museum
visiting with the aesthetic experience of dislocation and
foreignhood. The third will examine Dickinson’s periodical reading in
relation to her Asiatic images of “exhilaration,” delineating the
poet’s interaction with the oriental to reconstruct new geopolitical

ASLE08 Edinburgh 34
Eleni Pilla (Royal Holloway)

The Significance of Psycho-Geographies in two Cinematic Adaptations

of Shakespeare's Othello

Deriving from my completed interdisciplinary PhD on the Renegotiation

of Space in Screen Versions of Othello, this paper compares and
contrasts the use of Psycho-Geograhies in two well-known cinematic
adaptations of Shakespeare's Othello by Orson Welles (1952) and
Oliver Parker (1996). The paper begins by exploring how the
depiction of the two central spaces in Shakespeare's play, Venice and
Cyprus, articulates perspectives on the relationship between humans,
culture and the environment. The paper proceeds to a comparison and
contrast of the notion of psycho-geographies in Welles's film noir
and Parker's erotic thriller. The discussion will explore the
representation of Venice and Cyprus, the storm, the sea and how they
coincide with each director's vision of the film. A diverse range of
material will be invoked in the discussion such as: production notes,
criticism of the play and the films, and historical material on the
relationship between Venice and Cyprus during the Venetian occupation
of Cyprus. Theories of space such as: Henri Lefebvre's The Production
of Space, Michel Foucault's "Of Other Spaces" and Gaston Bachelard's
The Poetics of Space will also be employed to explore the characters'
relationship to culture and the environment.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 35
Fay Beebee (Essex)

Beyond the Myth: Language of Environmental Urgency in William J.

Lines’s A Long Walk in the Australian Bush and Eric Rolls’s From
Forest to Sea.

Contemporary Australian nature writers William J. Lines and Eric

Rolls do not merely portray a history of Australian flora and fauna
in A Long Walk in the Australian Bush (1998) and From Forest to Sea
(1993); instead it is my intention to illustrate how Lines and Rolls
interweave their epic journeys into Australian’s once “pristine
forests” in order to challenge Western environmental exploitation. I
cite Scott Slovic’s article “‘Be Prepared for the Worst’: Love,
Anticipated Loss, and Environmental Valuation” from the journal
Western American Literature (Fall 2000), to illustrate that language
can be a powerful tool to communicate environmental urgency if it is
used to its full potential. Equally, in A Long Walk in the
Australian Bush, Lines adopts emotive, challenging language to
explore how colonisation, capitalism and the desire to control nature
have rapidly transformed the continent. Similarly, in From Forest to
Sea, Rolls uses a persuasive discourse to communicate the legacy of
colonisation and the continuing affects of “controlling” nature.
Here, Lines’s epic walk takes him along 400 mile of the Bibbulmun
trail in southwestern Australia. While Rolls explores the Tanami
Desert in central Australia. Poignantly, both witness large-scale
logging, animal habitat destruction and the decline of endangered
species. Lines identifies that the language of capitalism lies at the
heart of Australia’s irreversible degradation. Collectively, both
Lines and Rolls argue that people in today’s society need a
“fundamental shift in consciousness” towards appreciating the natural

ASLE08 Edinburgh 36
Sharae Deckard (Warwick)

Another Fragile World Forever Altered”: Post-colonial Apocalypse in

Romesh Gunesekera’s Heaven’s Edge

Sri Lankan writer Romesh Gunesekera’s third novel Heaven’s Edge

(2002) combines generic elements of postcolonial utopia, romance, and
ecological thriller in order to excavate the neocolonial discourses
and historical processes which have produced cyclical violence,
social corruption, and environmental degradation in contemporary Sri
Lanka. The novel is set in a dystopian future after the island’s
environment has been nearly destroyed by an apocalyptic nuclear
event, and as such reflects Gunesekera’s attempt to construct an
effective “ontology of the present” by performing an augury of the
future: the dystopic, post-apocalyptic Sri Lanka which will occur if
the dominant political, economic and environmental policies of the
present war-ridden state continue unaltered. However, invoking tropes
of apocalypse and paradise and re-working plot elements from W.H.
Hudson’s Green Mansions, the novel also gestures towards the
emergence of post-national eco-topia through the character of eco-
warrior, Uva, only to shatter this utopian possibility at the
conclusion of the narrative, when the last of Uva’s eco-havens is
destroyed: “another fragile world forever altered.” Through the prism
of Fredric Jameson’s theory of utopia as “archaeologies of the
future” and eco-critical critiques of apocalypse, this paper will
investigate the limits and possibilities of apocalyptic and
millenarian rhetoric within Gunesekera’s narrative to delineate the
links between environmental and political crisis in contemporary Sri
Lanka, to dismantle the false utopias of nationalist and secessionist
race-based discourses, and to imagine a viable alternative to tragic
environmental apocalypse.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 37
Susie O'Brien (McMaster)

Things Keep Falling Apart: Ecological Resilience in Postcolonial


Apocalyptic thinking is in the air days, permeating everything from

environmentalist discourse on climate change to George Bush's
speeches about the Middle East. In this context, human ecologist
Joseph Meeker's book, The Comedy of Survival: In Search of an
Environmental Ethic (1972) makes curious reading. Meeker argues that
comedy provides a template for life on earth. By this he means not
just that comedy bolsters the health of human and natural
environments, but also that ecological processes are inherently
comic, that evolution “proceeds as an unscrupulous, opportunistic
comedy, the object of which appears to be the proliferation and
preservation of as many life forms as possible”. In this paper I
take Meeker's theory of comedy as a starting point for analyzing the
theme of resilience (the capacity to survive and adapt in the face of
trauma or adversity) in postcolonial fiction. I suggest that novels
by writers such as Chinua Achebe, Arundhati Roy, and Amitav Ghosh
explore how tragic/apocalyptic thinking (dominated by larger-than-
life human heroes, absolutist moral codes and drive for
transcendence) informs practices of colonial oppression and
environmental destruction. However they also suggest the limitations
of comedy, whose conservativism, emphasis of balance and will-to-
reconciliation are inadequate to a world in which “transformation is
the rule of life” (Ghosh). Drawing on the critical insights of
Elizabeth Grosz and Thomas Homer-Dixon, I look to these novels to
find alternative imaginative strategies for living--if not laughing—
in the face of apocalypse.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 38
Urbashi Barat (Rani Durgavati Vishwavidyalaya)

Finding the way with the Hungry Tide: Wayfinding and the Ecotone in
Amitav Ghosh and Modern Bengali Literature

To find the way, to navigate the path of discovery, is an integral

part of human subjectivity and human agency, and in the work of
Amitav Ghosh in particular, whose characters are perpetual
travellers, also a postcolonial interrogation of place, time and
identity. But finding the way is never simply a human act, as
Ghosh’s Hungry Tide shows: it is an inextricable part of a larger,
‘non-human’, wayfinding in nature, whether it is the hungry tide that
continually destroys and restructures land, sea, river,
relationships, the transhumant travels of the river dolphins or the
tiger’s hunt for its prey. This wayfinding confirms, then, that human
existence is deeply embedded within the ‘non-human’ environment, that
human histories and stories are profoundly implicated with natural
ones, and that the environment itself is a process, a search, rather
than simply a framing device for a ‘human’ one.

Appropriately, the wayfinding here occurs in an ecotone: the great

Gangetic delta of the Sunderbans, with its constantly shifting edges
of land and water, its volatile, unpredictable natural world, which
has always represented to the Indian imagination both the fragility
and uncertainty of all existence and the perpetually peripatetic
instinct that drives all life. Indeed, Ghosh’s environmental concerns
belong to the long tradition of Bengali environmental literature, in
which the Sunderbans has been an integral part. This paper reads The
Hungry Tide with a few exemplary modern Bengali texts (Tagore’s The
Shipwreck, Manik Bandopadhyay’s The Boatman of the River Padma,
Dilara Hashem’s Hamela, and Jibanananda Das’s poem “Suchetona”) to
suggest the importance of including a contemporary non-Western
approach to the ecological crisis the world is facing today.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 39
Helena Feder (East Carolina)

Ecocriticism, Biology, and Animal Cultures

Lewis Thomas, Glen A. Love, and others have called on the humanities
to pay attention to biology. By doing just this, by turning to
biology, we will find the broader and more nuanced notion of culture
necessary for a materialist ecological literary criticism. While the
human experience of nature is to varying degrees culturally mediated
and constructed, culture is itself a product of nature. This
realization, alive and well in the biological sciences, places human
culture firmly in the realm of nature, as one of many cultures in the
material world. Nature and other prominent journals have published
the findings of dozens of studies demonstrating that many species,
including apes, dolphins, birds, and rats, learn socially and pass on
traditions, skills, and knowledge. Writing on animal cultures in
2003, primatologist Frans de Waal exclaimed, “one cannot escape the
impression that it is an idea whose time has come.”

The binary of nature and culture is only properly “undone” by

reframing it as a set of co-mediating or dialectical relations. To
argue that culture mediates nature (as a one-way process) or to
assert that everything is nature (in a simplistic or undifferentiated
way) erases the political relations between human and nonhuman
beings. The social networks and practices of myriad species transform
the material conditions of life for themselves and the other
inhabitants of the planet everyday. Not only is everything and
everyone interconnected, we all materially, culturally impact each

ASLE08 Edinburgh 40
Elizabeth Vander Meer (Edinburgh)

The Language of Biodiversity Conservation: Developing a “Feeling for

the Organism”

The mainstream language of biodiversity conservation, as expressed in

the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), characterises nonhuman
organisms in particular ways and in so doing influences the ways in
which we relate to and value them. This language is replete with
instrumental and utilitarian characterisations, while also harkening
back to the days of Victorian conquest over nature and the
collector’s gaze. Certainly, there has been progress when it comes
to the ways that conservation describes and attempts to remake human
relationships with other organisms and their contexts. But, this
progress has been more keenly felt on the periphery, rather than
embraced in mainstream conservation of biodiversity.

This paper will present examples of the limiting effects of the CBD’s
vocabulary on relationships between humans and nonhumans, while also
exposing the values that lie beneath understandings espoused through
the Convention’s text. I then suggest use of a different language
based on the notion of “a feeling for the organism”, which abandons
instrumental characterisations of nonhuman beings and the
objectifying collector’s gaze for characterisations based on care and
the naturalist’s relationship with subjects of study. This approach
can be found most profoundly in the scientific writings of Charles
Darwin and Barbara McClintock, as well as in a plethora of nature
writing and poetry. I focus on Darwin and McClintock because of
their importance in shaping a science that can successfully undergird
efforts to protect nonhuman organisms and allow for continuing

ASLE08 Edinburgh 41
Wendy Wheeler (London Metropolitan)

Signs of Science, Signs of Grace: Creativity and the Biosemiotic Self

In this paper I suggest a model of the self, biosemiotically

understood, which can help us understand why creative aesthetic being
is both closely tied to ethical being and has also, with the decline
of religious and magical world views in the West, become the model of
creative life in a secular world. Deploying C.S. Peirce’s semiotics
of logic, I shall argue that phenomenological openness to the world
depends upon Peirce’s most primarily creative logic of abduction, or
abductive inference. I shall ask why abductive inference is occluded
in the rise of European modernity, such that only deduction and
induction alone are taken to be logical procedures for the production
of new, especially scientific, knowledge. I shall argue that the
cause of such phenomenological occlusions lies deep in the theology
of the Protestant Reformation, and in the newly freed reader’s
conflicted encounter with interpretation and faith. Finally, I shall
suggest that the growth of ecocritical consciousness represents an
attempt to rethink the nature, and culture, of the modern liberal
Enlightenment self.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 42
Jane Costin (Exeter)

Walking a Different Path: D.H. Lawrence and the Avant Garde

This paper will look at D.H. Lawrence's relationship with the

landscape of Cornwall and, in particular, an ancient pathway known as
the Zennor Churchway, and will consider the connections between the
topography of the area and evidence of the occult. This paper will
argue that Lawrence's interpretation of the landscape of this area of
Cornwall, specifically in terms of pre-Christian religion, Druidry
and blood sacrifice, constructed his identity of Cornwall as a place
of primitivism, which was a significant influence in developing his
thinking about spirituality.

Lawrence's well known interest in the occult reflected the

preoccupations of his age. Yet, as Leon Surrette has observed, there
is a reluctance to discuss the influence of the occult on canonized
authors. By examining biographical, geographical and historical
evidence this paper will situate Lawrence, not in the tradition of
high modernism, but as part of the other tradition of the Avant
Garde, which comes out of spiritualism and develops into the British
Occult Avant Garde.

This paper will then explore some of Lawrence's later writing to

demonstrate the influence that his relationship with the landscape
around Zennor had on his work and will conclude that Lawrence's
relationship with the landscape of this area was pivotal to his later
thinking and writing.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 43
Chad Weidner (Utrecht)

Animal Empathy in William S. Burroughs’ The Cat Inside

William Burroughs (1914 – 1997) was a core member of the Beat

Generation, a postwar literary movement that developed in the United
States. A prolific and inventive writer, Burroughs made a significant
contribution to American letters. Scholars and critics have commonly
described his work as a reaction to Cold War fears and mid-century
economic and moral homogeneity. Such a connection between his work
and social tensions is not surprising. Indeed, much of his early
published pieces did chronicle doom in the form of bureaucrats,
police machinery, drug addiction, or organized religion. However,
viewing his work as a reflection of the Cold War has limited recent
reception of his work, and unjustly places it in the past. Can a
green rereading of Burroughs' "The Cat Inside" show that the onetime
urban addict was really ecologically conscious? This paper will
examine how human and animal suffering is represented in the work.
The interactions between humans and animals will also be investigated
in the text. What can a green rereading of Burroughs tell us about
his continued relevance in a time of environmental crisis?

ASLE08 Edinburgh 44
Kelly Sultzbach (Oregon)

Apocalypse Averted in Virginia Woolf’s “Time Passes”

Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, and the “Time Passes” section in

particular, have generally been analyzed as an elegiac commentary on
the apocalyptic crisis of World War One. Christine Froula asserts
that “Time Passes” “evokes a world emptied of life,” and “foreshadows
death’s oblivion” (153-54). Julia Briggs claims that it represents
the characters’ “dreams of chaos and violence [that] generate the
communal madness of war” (175). Though valid in part, these analyses
overlook the complexity of Woolf’s efforts to depict the non-human
world in this remarkable section of the novel. I contend that
Woolf’s vision of human experience depends on a dialectic that has
despair and loss as one pole, but unity and hope as the other. The
absence of humans as “a thistle thrust itself between the tiles of
the larder” in “Time Passes” isn’t necessarily dismal. Woolf’s work
consistently engages with the non-human world as the epitome of the
kind of unacknowledged life that Woolf’s “Modern Fiction” champions.
Non-human life is distinct from human concerns, and yet participates
in and responds to the same events and stimuli. “Time Passes”
rejects a romantic “oneness”—a belief that nature exists to serve
humans, or mirror their emotions—in favor of this kind of
intertwining. An ecophenomenological study of environmental imagery
in this passage reveals that there is an ever-present tension between
dark impulses of apocalypse, and the invigorating potential of
breaking down the past and letting something else grow in its

ASLE08 Edinburgh 45
Chris Fremantle (Independent)

Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison: Storytelling for the


Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, the eminent conceptual and
ecological artists, have prophesied environmental crisis and imagined
alternative futures since the early 70s. Their work is storytelling
for the future. Starting with the questions “How big is here?” and
“How long is now?” the Harrisons, imagine ways of living which
consider the eco-cultural wellbeing of the whole ecology. Their work
is underpinned by extensive knowledge of many disciplines. It always
involves contributions from experts and lay people. It is
underpinned by whole systems thinking, and yet operates at one level
as conversation. The Harrisons have influenced town planning policy
in Holland, and their recent work Greenhouse Britain has been funded
as part of DEFRA’s Climate Challenge Fund.

Fremantle will examine the role of the artist, with particular

reference to the Harrisons, in environmental policy. This paper
will consider the multiple strategies at work within the Harrisons’
practice including the verbal, the visual and the dialogic.
Fremantle will draw on the theoretical framework provided by Grant
Kester (Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern
Art, University of California Press, 2004).

ASLE08 Edinburgh 46
Markus Poetzsch (Wilfrid Laurier)

From Eco-Politics to Apocalypse: The Contentious Rhetoric of

Eighteenth-Century Landscape Gardening

My paper is centered on the factious debate between landscape

gardeners, like Humphrey Repton, and theorists of the picturesque
(principally Richard Payne Knight and Uvedale Price) over the proper
“improvement” and ornamentation of the English countryside in the
early 1790s. Set against the backdrop of England’s military and
ideological campaigns against revolutionary France, the debate is
permeated by anti-Jacobin rhetoric and the politicization of
aesthetic principles, with nature becoming a site not of possible
pleasure merely but of revolutionary upheaval. Knight’s critique (in
The Landscape, A Didactic Poem) of Repton’s practice of “leveling”
trees and shrubs in the creation of shaven, manicured lawns and
Repton’s rejoinder that the system of picturesque embellishment
fosters an ungovernable wildness unsuitable to the ideals of a
constitutional monarchy (“Letter to Mr. Price”) similarly betray the
fear that extreme policies in environmental practice not
only coincide with but in fact encourage the most dire political
consequences. Ironically, what this debate highlights is the
resistance of “nature” as an ecopolitical construct to the kinds of
instrumental appropriations (or wars) practiced by eighteenth-century
landscape improvers. Indeed, nature’s capacity to accommodate
contesting appropriations and thus in effect to resist
‘commodification’ (Budge iv; Bate 127) at the hands of picturesque
theorists and practitioners speaks to its transcendent status in the
discourse of Romantic ecology.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 47
Mary Been (Lake Superior)

Marrying model to content: Rewriting “Argument as War” into “Argument

as Conversation” in First-Year Writing Students’ Papers on

When composition teachers teach argumentation, they must cope with

the detritus of negative and even violent notions of “argument.” The
models students encounter in popular culture posit argumentation as
adversarial: students believe they must defeat the opposition and win
the battle. But scholars who suggest reframing argument as non-
adversarial ask students to think of their argument as a contribution
to a long-running conversation; before they reply, they must first
listen, understand, and be able to summarize the points others have
raised. With this reframing, students move from a metaphor of
“argument as war” to a metaphor of “argument as conversation.”

Recently, as I have developed “sustainability” as a theme in my

writing classes, I have found that the conversational model of
argument is a natural fit to sustainability. The premises of
sustainability, in many ways, are the result of protracted and
extremely difficult conversations between stakeholders in positions
that have long been adversarial: environmentalism/conservationism and
industrialism/development. Yet sustainability offers a framework for
those stakeholders to identify needs and craft solutions. In
sustainability, industrialism is not a foe to the environment if
industry is managed with sustainable principles. Likewise,
development need not be antithetical to conservation if the
development is resituated, for example, not as sprawl but as urban

The rhetoric of sustainability as mutual solution is a natural match

to the rhetoric of argumentation as conversation. This paper outlines
this marriage of rhetorics and the results as generated in student
papers and comments.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 48
Wei-Yun Yang (Yuan Ze)

Reading Doris Lessing’s Mara and Dann

This paper employs the concept of critical dystopia to examine Doris

Lessing’s futuristic novel, Mara and Dann. According to the
definition presented in Dark Horizons: Science Fiction and Dystopian
Imagination, critical dystopias still maintain a utopian impulse. The
new critical dystopias allow both readers and protagonists to hope by
resisting closure. In Lessing’s science fiction, characters learn how
to survive from the onslaught of ecological disasters. But more
importantly, the disasters provide the protagonist, Mara, a chance to
sharpen her consciousness into a more objective perception into the
difficult situation. The novel was written just a year before the
millennium, which seemed to usher in a new urgency reminding the
reader of the disastrous effect of the global warming and wars in
different forms. Mara and Dann portrays a hazardous adventure of a
sister and brother, Mara and Dann, who want to escape from the
terrible drought in the future Africa. Their adventure leads them to
the north, where the hope of water and food lies. Confronted with
many dangerous life-threatening situations, Mara survives through a
game she learned from childhood, “what do you see.” Seeing things
clearly and objectively empowers Mara to become a more integrated
survivor. My analysis shows that Mara and Dann as a critical
dystopia not only gives warning to the possible pessimistic future,
but also keeps the hope for a better future, which is realized at the
end of the story.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 49
Ursula Kluwick (Berne)

Performing the Paradigm Shift: Re-reading the Relationship Between

Humanity and Nature in Shakespeare

When Titania confronts Oberon with the apocalyptic disaster that

threatens the earth as a result of their quarrel, she demonstrates an
astounding ecological sensitivity, drawing an impressive picture of
the interconnection of all things natural and cultural. She
sketches an ecosystem in which disturbances in one part have dire
consequences for the whole, and where ecological change entails both
economic and social change. As A Midsummer Night’s Dream progresses,
however, Titania’s own actions demonstrate a
striking lack of respect for the balance of the ecosystem, and she
relates to the environment in a decidedly hierarchical manner,
commanding her fairies to violate the animals of the forest for her
own pleasure. With the gradual invasion of the wood by inhabitants of
the city, we witness a more varied spectrum of attitudes towards
nature, but are faced with similar ambiguities. As they seek refuge
in nature from social disaster, the young Athenians are not quite
prepared for the kind of interaction they will be forced to enter in
the forest. In their attempts to negotiate their relationship with
nature, they resemble other characters from Shakespeare’s plays, such
as the courtiers in As You Like It and King Lear and Edgar,
whose utterances about nature teem with contradictions. This paper
suggests that Shakespeare’s characters, torn between pastoral
expectations and exploitative urges in their relationship with
nature, reflect, but by staging also help implement, a
paradigmatic shift occurring in the early modern period, which was to
permanently transform humankind’s relation to the natural

ASLE08 Edinburgh 50
Rebecca Domke (Glasgow)

Global Warming, Natural Catastrophes, and Apocalypse in Mary

Shelley’s The Last Man

Mary Shelley, best known for her first novel, Frankenstein - one of
the first science fiction novels- set her forth novel, The Last Man,
in the end of the 21st century. The main themes of this novel are
love, friendship and sticking together against a common foe. Shelley
tries to build a monument for her dead husband and Lord Byron. As a
result, there are hardly any science fiction elements in the novel,
except for air travel and not further specified machines that provide
for daily necessities. However, descriptions of nature and natural
catastrophes throughout the novel seem to coincide with phenomena we
are able to observe today.

The Last Man is an apocalyptic novel in which Shelley describes the

outbreak of the plague and its progress until there is only one man
left alive. During the cause of the novel, Shelley describes nature,
storms that suspend air travel, floods that destroy a town and all
the ships on its shore (similar to what is expected to happen when
the polar ice caps melt) as well as a flood wave that is reminiscent
of the tsunami in Indonesia (2004). Shelley also mentions spring
temperatures in winter (an indication of global warming). These
descriptions are used to create an apocalyptic atmosphere, a sense of
depression. This is what I would like to discuss in more detail. Let
us hope that Mary Shelley’s final prediction - that in 2100 there
will only be one human being left on our planet - will not come true.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 51
Katie Whitlock (California State)

Junkyard Utopia: Environment and Apocalypse in Digital Games

The landscape of digital games contains multiple environments

referencing worlds both recognizable and extraordinary. These
fictional places blend concepts of savage natural beauty with a
modernity bloated by sterile technological innovation. Games use
environmental issues in multiple ways, sometimes pointing to the
environment as thematic referent, sometimes as a focus for resource
management issues, and continually as a visual landscape for
players. A common thread emerges— a cautionary tale of worlds
destroyed by powerful corporations and/or leaders determined to mine
and deplete all natural resources leading to disaster, often
apocalypse. This often leads to the birth of monsters, demons, etc.
that seek to devour humanity. Humans must then fight to heal the
damage done, returning the world to its original state. Using the
‘tropes’ identified by Greg Garrad, this paper examines game
landscapes through an ecocritical lens, reexamining the ‘pastoral’,
‘wilderness’, ‘dwelling’, etc. Focusing predominantly on role-
playing games from Japan, what emerges is a stark view of the natural
world often in the aftermath of an apocalypse. The work of Shin
Megami Tensei (Digital Devil Saga) and Hironobu Sakaguchi (Final
Fantasy Series) in particular presents images and narratives of the
environment that resonate with current critical perspectives. From
the stark vistas of a demolished green planet in which nature has
become an adversary to desolate abandoned cityscapes haunted by
monsters and demons, games present a myriad of images that present
possible futures of our world even if in fantastical realities.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 52
David Ingram (Brunel)

Music, Deep Ecology and New Age Speculations

Music plays a central role in deep ecological and New Age

speculations on the relationship between human beings and the rest of
the natural world. A recurrent claim is that, for reasons of
ontology, music is the art form best suited to raising ecological
awareness. For these ecophilosophers, the sense of hearing overcomes
the alienating dualism of visual culture, and enacts thereby the
supposedly fundamental ecological principles of holism and monism.
From a deep ecological perspective, musicologist Charles Keil, in his
recent Web-publication Born to Groove (2006), argues that educating
children in drumming and dance will foster a concern for both
cultural and biodiversity.

The theory of ‘entrainment’, or the mutual phase-locking of two or

more oscillating bodies, recurs in such speculations. Scientists
propose the theory to account for the physiological changes that take
place in both musicians and audiences alike when engaged in music-
making. New Age ecophilosophy conflates 'entrainment’ with the notion
of music as cosmic vibration derived from the ancient Aruveydic
belief in energy fields.

‘World music’ plays a key role in disseminating these McLuhanite,

‘One World’ ideologies of quasi-mystical, ecological
interconnectedness, themselves a product of economic and cultural
globalisation. The paper ends with a consideration of Planet Drum
(1991), by ex-Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart. Citing notions of
entrainment and the sacred, Hart dedicated his album to the San
Francisco bioregionalist organization from which he derived its
title. His music enacts Keil’s idea that concerns for biodiversity
and cultural diversity are part of the same ecological vision.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 53
Melanie Jones (Glasgow)

The Organic, the Mechanical and the Radioactive: Watchmen and the

Unidentified red liquid spills overtop a yellow clock. The frames

pan out, revealing a mass of bodies, casualties of a giant octopus
type creature created to bring about “A Stronger Loving World.” Alan
Moore is infamous for such endings, a sarcastically juxtaposed frame
where text and image are quite literally at war with each other.
Nowhere is this style more revealing, more startling than in
Watchmen, a collaborative effort with Dave Gibbons, where
superheroes, vigilantes, intentionally genetically modified beings
and accidental casualties of radiation play out Moore’s and Gibbons’
fantasies and worst nightmares of the upcoming age. The comic is a
literary space unique in its ability to lend itself to addressing
predictions of the future in that the form implies a youth, an
innocence and an optimism. Watchmen is not interested in these
implications. Moore and Gibbons call into question the sanity and
legitimacy of former superheroes, the logic behind the merging of the
organic, the mechanical and the radioactive, and through pastel-
colored, mostly uniformed frames march towards the logical
conclusion: the end of the world. It is these eerily pastel frames,
Moore’s sarcastic story telling and the postulations of various
characters in the form of articles, both academic and journalistic,
which makes the story of Watchmen both preventable and unavoidable.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 54
Louisa Gairn (Edinburgh)

Strange Lands: Ecologies of Stravaiging and Storytelling in the Work

of Robert Louis Stevenson

The Scottish poet and theorist of ‘geopoetics’ Kenneth White has

noted the challenge of reconciling home and travel, asking whether it
is possible ‘to conceive of a “great residence” that would reconcile
movements and things, removing and remaining, stravaiging and
staying?’. Robert Louis Stevenson suggests that such ‘stravaiging’ is
an essential characteristic of the writer or poet, while both his
biographical and fictional writings reflect this desire for movement
and adventure. Rejecting novels like The Master of Ballantrae as
‘box[es] of tricks’, White finds in Stevenson a ‘yearning for
something other and greater than just spinning a yarn’, contending it
is only in non-fiction works such as Travels with a Donkey in the
Cevennes where he takes the ‘high line’, in which ‘history, culture,
religion . . . [are] finally transcended’. While recognising
affinities between White’s intellectual nomadism and Stevenson’s
walking theories, I suggest that storytelling is, for Stevenson, part
of that ‘something other and greater’, a way of being-in-the-world.
Drawing a parallel between wayfinding and the telling of tales,
Stevenson attempts to reconcile self and other, familiar and foreign
– reflected in Benjamin’s theory of the storyteller; an inherent
duality ‘embodied in the resident tiller of the soil’ and in ‘the
trading seaman’. Stevenson’s outlook attempts to reconcile
‘stravaiging and staying’, suggesting a sensitive, responsible global
consciousness - ideas central to the mode of Scottish ecological
thought developed by John Muir, Patrick Geddes, and later Scottish
writers seeking to reconcile the local and global, the human and
natural world.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 55
David Borthwick (Glasgow)

‘The Alchemy of Studied Absence’: John Burnside’s Novels and Failed


In The Three Ecologies, Félix Guattari outlines the case for a new
form of ecological awareness: ecosophy, a conception of ecology that
encompasses social and personal ecologies, a means of reuniting human
subjects with the earth, of allowing the individual to enact an
authentic process which can ‘capture existence in the very act of its
constitution, definition and deterritorialization.’ Ecosophy runs
counter to the imperatives of global capitalism which, according to
Guattari, seek to ‘capture’ the individual, interpellating him into a
state of homogeneity, a supine consumer.

Protagonists in novels by John Burnside evade any such capture,

enacting instead the liberating processes of ‘subjectification and
singularization’ that Guattari describes, ‘manifesting themselves as
their own existential indices, processual lines of flight’. Despite
their liberation from alienating discourses, these protagonists’
immersion in nature merely augments their sense of alienation. They
cannot achieve any sense of ecosophical unity, their otherness
anathema to social and personal relationships. As Alina notes of her
brother in Living Nowhere: ‘in Jan’s world there were trees and birds
and running water, but there were almost no human beings.’
Burnside’s protagonists may opt out of anthropocentric, capitalist
discourses, but this allows them to enact and also to become victim
to, terrible acts of violence and cruelty. Situated in dystopic
environments—from steeltowns to hostile backwaters—Burnside’s
protagonists are slowly removed of their very humanity. This paper
will examine Burnside’s novels as examples of failed ecology, where
immersion in nature leads to solipsism and malignity.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 56
Martin Philip (Edinburgh/Open University)

'Contending joyfully’: Agency and Environment in the Honest

Imperialism of John Buchan.

John Buchan’s work encapsulates a central dilemma in the ecocritical

movement: the contention between deep ecologists and the more
anthropocentric environmentalists. In Buchan’s novels we are forced
to question whether any form of environmental management is
exploitative. Specifically, Buchan will be discussed as an ‘honest
imperialist’ through an ecocritical assessment of his novel Prester

Buchan perceives the relationship between the human and the non-human
as a ‘joyful contention’. In Prester John the power struggles of all
human agents within the colonial context are ultimately resolved in
the common subjugation of the non-human other. In this sense, Buchan
is completely honest with regard to the exploitative nature of the
relationship between human and other – regardless of the fact that
his perception of justified exploitation is now insupportable.

He perceives the landscape as a theatre in which contending powers

play out their dramas, yet this anthropocentrism belies a sense of
the natural world as a powerful agent in its own right. The
intervention of the non-human other and indeed the landscape itself
within the central conflict of the novel is decisive.

Despite the shift in our moral context, we cannot dismiss the high
priority and complexity which Buchan accords to the relationship
between humanity and the natural world. Maturity, in Prester John,
is an acknowledgement of human beings as entities within the natural

ASLE08 Edinburgh 57
Andrew Court (Edinburgh)

Criticism, Humanism, and Darwinism: A Short But Not-So-Sweet History

This paper provides an historical perspective on the place of

Literary Darwinism in modern criticism and literary theory.
Particular attention is given to the question of a viable Darwinian
Humanism. By exploring how Darwinian ideas have been appropriated by
literary critics throughout the twentieth century, and the reactions
for and against such appropriations, the contributions of Literary
Darwinism can be clearly delineated. Literary critics in the first
six decades of the twentieth century tended to reject literary
appropriations of Darwinism, and indeed the appropriations of all
scientific theories, as conceptually inappropriate for a criticism
conceived as being concerned with questions of aesthetic and human
value. With the rise of Theory in the latter half of the century came
a reaction against the coupling of criticism and humanism. Here the
assault on science continued in different terms, taking the form of a
rejection of perceived hegemony. This appears to provide polemical
grounds for a Darwinian criticism which in a double move would
legitimate a new humanism while rejecting Theory. But have the
problems in the relations between human values and scientific
theories been resolved? Can Darwinian Humanism really provide the
conceptual and theoretical bases for literary criticism? To answer
this question (a definitive answer is not guaranteed!) we need a
clear picture of the kind of theory of criticism required by critics
and teachers of literature. I will sketch some possible outlines and
discuss parameters by which to assess the relevance of Literary
Darwinism to the needs of the profession today.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 58
Erin Somerville (Reno)

Postcolonial Ecocriticism?: Environmentality in V.S. Naipaul’s


Ecocriticism has a methodological problem. While theories such as

feminism and postcolonialism have a clear stance to read from, no
ecocritic is willing to suggest he/she can accurately speak on behalf
of the Other. You may speak as an environmentalist, but your language
is necessarily anthropocentric; you cannot, as Aldo Leopold
encourages, think like a mountain. The response to this conundrum
has been what Scott Slovic labels ‘narrative scholarship,’ a
methodology that seeks to embed literary criticism within real-life
encounters with nature. The tone is personal and the emphasis on
allowing nature to inspire/influence academic scholarship. This
methodology, inspired by early American nature writers and their
descendents, makes perfect sense when considering texts written by
people who commune with nature. But what happens when you study
writers who don’t commune with nature? What happens when you apply
narrative scholarship to writers who descend from communities
historically and systematically denied nature? What about
postcolonial writers that, instead of depicting the environment in
the realistic ways favoured by American nature writers, translate
their distance from the physical world into literary, imaginative and
symbolic depictions of nature?

This paper considers the challenge of a simultaneous ecocritical and

postcolonial reading of a text to offer a new green methodology—
environmentality in textuality. Instead of a frustrated search for
mimesis in postcolonial texts, this paper engages with the form of
V.S. Naipaul’s work to argue textuality, or the way the texts are
written, is essential to understanding how Naipaul understands and
presents the physical world.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 59
Tom Bristow (Edinburgh)

Towards Interdisciplinary Environmental Criticism

Drawing from: (i) advances made in Earthographies: Ecocriticism and

Culture New Formations 64 (2008) in light of ecocritical anthologies
of a decade earlier; and (ii) the findings of the Edinburgh based
Embodied Values Project -– an exploratory and critical study of
reciprocal transfers of spiritual, aesthetic and ethical values
between humans and environments -- I shall forward a methodology that
combines philosophy of the environment, human geography, and literary
criticism (particularly ecocriticism). These three disciplines are
brought together as means to interrogate interdisciplinary advances
upon literary theory, and to suggest new conceptions of and
approaches to ‘texts’. An initial inquiry into flexible and open
literary studies i.e. post-structuralism, eco-criticism and
comparative literature does promote interesting parallels in
methodology with contemporary debates in environmental values (within
the philosophy of the environment and within human geography). The
use value of these parallels, and their development into an
interdisciplinary methodology, is of crucial importance to the
Humanities in the twenty-first century University. I seek to develop
several platforms to enable a clear discourse upon the contribution
environmental thought can bring to literary studies.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 60
Adele Bealer (Utah)

The Charm and the Terror: Rearticulating Ecosocial Crisis

In the inaugural issue of Environmental Communication: A Journal of

Nature and Culture, Robert Cox advocated that environmental
communication define itself as a “crisis discipline,” a posture that
would require the acknowledgement of an ethical duty which he
summarized as “the obligation to enhance the ability of society to
respond appropriately to environmental signals relevant to the well-
being of both human communities and natural biological systems.” This
paper rejects this proposal and refutes the notion that an
appropriate apocalyptic ethic can or should be enunciated. My
methodology is grounded in the cybernetic epistemology of Gregory
Bateson, whose prescient vision for ecological holism clearly warns
of the trauma inherent in purposive and ad hoc intervention in
biocontexts whose interconnectivity may be little perceived when
surgically pinned to the flattened plane of a linear and causal
landscape. The dangers of rhetorically limiting the semantics of
environmental communication to a heuristic rather than a holistic
approach will be further explored using the work of Deleuze and
Guattari. Their extension of Bateson’s plateaus of nonprogressive
change would challenge the crisis machine, articulating instead a
multiplicity of noncompeting perspectives. Finally, turning to the
work of Alain Badiou, I argue for a disinterested activism and an
evolutionary ethic of truths, one that evolves not from the hubris of
an external and humanitarian obligation but rather as an organic
fidelity to a procreative set of immanent truths. This paper provides
a discursive and multicritical space for the exploration of the
interface of these texts.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 61
Michael Middleton (Utah)

Global Trauma/Grassroots Activism: Ecologies and Bodies in the Age of


The trauma of globalization traces its consequences both on the

bodies it assimilates and the ecologies it disrupts. This paper
suggests that in order for activism to respond to the evolving
intersections of global economy, environment and bodies it must
articulate critical perspectives and political practices grounded in
what French philosopher Alain Badiou articulates as an ethic of
truths. Thus, the paper explores the ways in which apocalyptic
trauma traces itself on environments and bodies in the service of
globalization and attempts to identify responses emerging from the
texts, practices, and performances of communities experiencing these
traumas. In doing so, this analysis turns to Esteva and Prakash’s
notion of grassroots postmodernism to develop the grounds on which to
base an immanent critique of globalization’s apocalyptic relationship
to ecologies and bodies which accounts for their intersections and
avoids the pitfalls of mainstream approaches. Taking the Zapatista’s
1992 pleas of “Basta! (Enough!)” and their subsequent practices of
resistance, from the aesthetic to the digital, as an example, I
contend that only through considering the unnamed intersections
between capital and economy in ways that account for the singular
instances of their confluence can ecologically sound forms of
activism be articulated. Consequently, this paper offers a number of
insights for scholars attempting to interrogate both the foundations
of humanistic inquiry in relation to efforts aimed at social or
environmental justice and the ways in which the exclusion of
vernacular, or subaltern, practices of resistance limit the
transformative potential of contemporary mainstream activism.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 62
Karin Filipsson (Växjö)

Eco-warriors in a Postcolonial Age: A Study of the Relation between

the Environmental Crisis and Globalization in modern South Asian

How is the representation of nature and the environment in the novels

portrayed in relation to globalization and the effects of
colonization and neo-imperialism?

My focus in this study is to explore how the portrayal of nature and

the interaction between humans and non-human nature (including
animals) are placed in relation to the effects of colonization and
neo-imperialism as well as to the anti-globalization movement. Do the
novels represent nature from an ecocentric perspective or do
anthropocentrism prevail in the texts? Do the texts open up an avenue
for a non-dichotomised view of nature and environmental problems or
do they simply suggest a reversal of binaries and a subversion of
present power structures? How do the texts relate to the anarchist,
violent or non-violent, anti-civilization movement and its analyses
of possible solutions to environmental problems? In what ways do the
texts explore the connection between the inequities of power between
men and women, the coloniser and the colonized, and humans versus
non-human nature? How do the novels relate to the binary consisting
of scholarly knowledge/science versus indigenous knowledge/activism
as an extension of the traditional dichotomies of mind-body, master-
servant, civilized-barbarian et cetera?

Key words: India/Sri Lanka, colonization, ecofeminism,

anthropocentrism, resistance, activism, environmental problems,
animals, biosphere, humans, globalization. Amitav Ghosh, Romesh
Gunusekera, Mahasweta Devi.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 63
Jody Allenrandolph (Independent)

The Problem with Paradigms: From the Postcolonial to the Planetary in

Caribbean, Irish and South African Poetry

Much of the current comparative work in literary studies is focused

on the breaking down of paradigms. Over the past ten years we’ve seen
the intense fragmentation of familiar fields into exciting but
unfamiliar areas of study. Many different facets coming from breakup
of older ideas like postcolonial are now finding new exciting
fragmentations in areas like Diaspora and Anglophone. Driving this
fragmentation of older paradigms is the momentum that has gathered
behind the concept of "globalization," which from mid-1990s onward
began to replace postcolonialism as the central category for
theorizing contemporary cultures and literatures. As globalization
widened the conceptual territory, scholars began to think beyond the
national and transnational links set by postcolonial geography to the
rapidly changing environments and entangled cultural products of a
planetary paradigm.

Advocated by Gyatri Spivak in Death of a Discipline (2003) and Paul

Gilroy in After Empire (2004), this shift from a postcolonial to a
planetary imaginary re-imagines the way we conceptualize world
literature in an era of expanding global capitalism, widening
environmental degradation and rapid communications technology. The
plane for such imagining for Spivak is not the globe, but the planet.

In this paper I offer a practical reading that applies some of the

ideas at stake in this paradigm shift and the questions those ideas
raise for our understandings of Anglophone poetry. Using the frame of
a paradigm shift from postcolonial to planetary criticism, and
focusing specifically on the ecocritical strain of planetarity, I’ll
look at five poems from the Caribbean, Ireland and South Africa that
orient their readers around changing meanings of landscape either
national or planetary.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 64
Stephen Wood (Liverpool John Moores)

The Ecological Poetics of Pat Barker

This paper will constitute a green re-reading of the work of Pat

Barker. I re-evaluate the transgression of hierarchical boundaries
between self and other, nature and culture, body and context which
has always been seen as part of the obvious feminist direction of her
work, as a developing, unified ecological poetics.

I intend to show how seriously Barker’s writing takes nature: as a

term that is always in question, as ecological discourse, and as a
presence worthy of attention and respect, which according to Kate
Soper, exists independently of our cultural constructions, even
though it is always necessarily experienced in a mediated form.
The paper will be structured as follows. I will start by drawing
together what I consider certain key ecological reference points in
Barker’s work, then, making reference to the work of Val Plumwood, I
will reflect on how representations of nature in Barker’s fiction
constitute a protest against the logic of dualism. I will go on to
outline how Barker’s ecological poetics integrate with her literary
themes, for example, the representation of trauma and recovery, and
the ongoing critique of masculinities.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 65
Richard Kerridge (Bath Spa)

Slow Food, Slow Reading

Slow Food is the international movement of resistance to Fast Food

and everything Fast Food entails. Broadened out, the principles of
Slow Food include craft rather than industrial production, deep
knowledge of the whole chain of production rather than oblivious
consumption at the tip, ecological holism rather than
compartmentalisation, and a merging of creative making and creative
appreciation rather than a rigid separation of production and
consumption or work and leisure. How can all this be applied to
literature and reading? In any case, is advocating 'slowness' the
right response to a crisis of such urgency? My paper will
investigate several aspects of these questions, focusing on
Modernist literary form as a means of slowing down reading, on close
reading techniques in the classroom, on implications for
interdisciplinarity, and on slowness as exclusive connoisseurship.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 66
Axel Goodbody (Bath)

The Problem with Postmodern Apocalypse: Kitsch and Profundity in the

Novels of Christoph Ransmayr

Ransmayr is one of Austria’s most successful contemporary writers –

translated into 26 languages, and awarded the European Union's
Aristeion Prize together with Salman Rushdie for his third novel, The
Dog King in 1995. His trademark bleak landscapes and scenarios of
heroic but doomed individuals and societies pitted against the
elements have fascinated an international reading public for the past
twenty years. His narratives (The Terrors of Ice and Darkness, 1984,
and The Last World, 1988) can be read both as political allegories
and as commentaries on our relationship with the natural environment.
Ransmayr’s most recent book, The Flying Mountain (2006) is an as yet
untranslated verse epic on the attempt of two brothers to climb an
uncharted peak in the Himalayas. Critics have been divided over its
qualities, describing it variously as mythical and sublime, and as
bordering on kitsch. Ransmayr’s postmodern apocalypses differ from
the activist apocalyptic scenarios of environmentally committed
writers. I will ask in this paper to what extent they represent a
particular category of apocalyptic writing in Germany, a country
which has revealed a propensity for apocalyptic thinking in political
fantasies on the Left and the Right, and in literary visions of the
future, throughout the twentieth century. I will seek to evaluate
them by exploring intertextual references and the legacy of
Romanticism, and by locating them in the broader field of apocalyptic
writing, using concepts and perspectives derived from Frederick Buell
and Greg Garrard.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 67
Gwilym Thear (Cardiff)

What Comes After: Contemporary Apocalyptic Narrative and


Apocalyptic narratives have been integral to environmental thought

since at least the days of Rachel Carson and today the apocalypse
remains as central a trope in discussions about climate change as it
was in Silent Spring. That the apocalypse is both a uniquely powerful
and highly problematic form has been widely recognised – while
powerful in its ability to command attention, problems such as the
widespread expectation of disconfirmation mean that the means and
effects of such rhetoric’s reception are anything but predictable.
This paper will argue however that there is a more urgent problem
inherent in deploying the use of apocalyptic rhetoric: that
apocalyptic narratives in contemporary popular culture are not the
traditional scenarios of closure and extinction but narratives of
change and survival. Far from fulfilling the soterial role of the
biblical jeremiad and inspiring a change in world-view and behaviour,
it will argue that contemporary apocalyptic narratives frequently
assert a passive assurance of survival and can, in fact, be more
appealing than appalling. Drawing upon the work of Kermode, Derrida
and Ricoeur, as well as cosmology, narrative psychology and theories
of temporality, this paper will attempt to delineate the contours of
the apocalyptic narrative in contemporary culture and, through
looking both at audience responses to apocalyptic drama and public
attitudes to climate change, consider some of the serious
implications it has for environmental activism.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 68
Astrid Bracke (Leiden)

Images of Post-Apocalyptic Nature in David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas

As Lawrence Buell writes in The Environmental Imagination,

“apocalypse is the single most powerful master metaphor that the
contemporary environmental imagination has at its disposal” (285).
However, little sustained attention has been paid to the master
metaphors employed to describe post-apocalyptic nature. The proposed
paper aims to approach these images from the point of view of
cultural memory, through a discussion of David Mitchell’s 2004 novel
Cloud Atlas. This work consists of six different narratives that are
loosely connected and move from nineteenth-century imperialism to a
post-apocalyptic, post-industrial future.

Cultural memory refers to the shared past that a society preserves

and from which it derives its identity, values, concept of history
and myths (see Jan Assmann, “Collective Memory and Cultural
Identity”). As will be argued in the proposed paper, the images that
we use to describe nature are also rooted in our cultural memory.
Cloud Atlas serves as an apt example of the intersections between
ecocriticism and cultural memory, as it employs images which are
clearly rooted in our cultural memory. An example of this are the
nature descriptions in the sixth part of the novel – “Sloosha’s
Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After” – which draw on for example nature as
either a wilderness or a paradise. Strikingly, the novel also refers
back to itself through the use of images which echo images employed
in the earlier narratives. The proposed paper, then, will examine not
only post-apocalyptic nature but also the relations between cultural
memory and ecocriticism.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 69
Greg Garrard (Bath Spa)

All Praise to the Great Web? Globalisation, Ecopiety and Evolution.

In ecocriticism in general, and in ecopoetics in particular, the

notion of a 'great web of life' has become the central fetishised
object of green piety. 'Everything is connected to everything else',
Barry Commoner assures us. But is it? And if so, in what sense? How
can the great web coexist with the Darwinian notion of the struggle
for survival, and the reality of natural extinction? By way of
contrast, I examine Ursula Heise's reflections on those other great
webs with which we are, if anything, far more familiar: of global
economics and communication.

ASLE08 Edinburgh 70