Expostulations and Replies

Dana Phillips

in The Truth of Ecology

Published in print May 2003 | ISBN: 9780195137699
Published online September 2007 | e-ISBN: 9780199787937 | DOI:
 Expostulations and Replies

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First-generation ecocriticism often originated in an epiphany, which tended to occur when desk-bound professors of literature suddenly rediscovered the natural world and found it not only refreshing, but also morally superior to, and more real than, texts and ideas. Ironically, this epiphany only led many of those who experienced it to feel a renewed concern with verbal representation, which soon emerged as a central issue in ecocriticism as many ecocritics embraced some version of literary realism or another, and as they rejected outright the skeptical insights about mimesis offered by contemporary literary theory and the philosophical tradition. This was a mistake, since figuration and not representation is essential to literature, especially to the pastoral, which some ecocritics argued ought to be revived in order to counter the corrosive influence of postmodernism. Yet because environments are not spaces (or landscapes) but hyperspaces (which contain innumerable niches or “multidimensional hypervolumes”), the world described by ecological science is, at least in this one aspect, more like the vertiginous world of hyperreality described by postmodernism than first-generation ecocritics realized. An eclectic pragmatism, one taking its cues not only from William James and other philosophers but also from cultural critics like Umberto Eco and Bruno Latour, offers a way to make use of the ideas of seemingly opposed parties in the debate over “the truth of ecology” and the fate of “nature-culture”, and to do so without resorting to long-discredited ideas about the relation of words to the world.

Keywords: ecocriticism; hyperreality; landscape; literary theory; mimesis; nature-culture; pastoral; postmodernism; realism; pragmatism

Chapter.  20648 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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