Art for Earth's Sake

Dana Phillips

in The Truth of Ecology

Published in print May 2003 | ISBN: 9780195137699
Published online September 2007 | e-ISBN: 9780199787937 | DOI:
 Art for Earth's Sake

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Ecocriticism in its early years was more appreciative than truly critical. It was hostile to literary theory, which it found overly skeptical and needlessly abstruse, and against which it urged a revival of literary realism. Ecocritics argued for the realism of verbal representation of the natural world, and called for nature writing (both poetry and prose) to be taken seriously as an art form, one with its own tradition of greatness, especially in the United States. Ecocritics focused their attention on the typical features of American nature writing, such as its celebration of subjectivity, and especially of individual sensory experience or, more narrowly, of perception; its attempts to merge culture with nature; and, paradoxically, the conviction of many of its authors (and readers) that culture and nature are separated by a gulf that poses a grave ontological and epistemological obstacle, one cutting human beings off from the natural world. Ironically, in their attempts to make sense of these features of American nature writing while avoiding the traps set by contemporary academic culture, ecocritics inevitably had to rely on terms and concepts that were either implicitly or explicitly theoretical, which some of them were trying very hard to avoid having to do. The bulk of this chapter (which closes with a reading of Petersons field guide to birds, ostensibly a realist text) is devoted to a critique of ecocritical monographs by Joseph Meeker, John Elder, and Lawrence Buell, monographs in which notions borrowed from scientific and literary theory including notions of adÈquation, evolution, ecosystem ecology, the pastoral, poetics, epiphany, prophetic speech, landscape, place, and mimesis are used, generally unsuccessfully, to shore up some flawed though well-intentioned arguments on behalf of environmental literature.

Keywords: adÈquation; adaptation; ecocriticism; ecosystem; literary realism; literary theory; mimesis; pastoral; place; representation

Chapter.  26698 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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