Ecocriticism: Nature and Literature
Ecocriticism is the study of the relationship between literature and the natural environment. The publication of two seminal works in 1996 formally launched the field of ecocriticism – The Ecocriticism Reader, edited by Glotfelty and Fromm; and The Environmental Imagination, by Buell.
In their introduction to The Ecocriticism Reader, Glotfelty and Fromm describe the ecocritical approach: “. . . All ecological criticism shares the fundamental premise that human culture is connected to the physical world, affecting it and affected by it. Ecocriticism takes as its subject the interconnections between nature and culture, specifically the cultural artifacts of languages and literature, As a critical stance, it has one foot in literature and the other on land; as a theoretical discourse, it negotiates between the human and the non-human.”
They differentiate ecocriticism from other approaches to understanding literature by highlighting its intentional focus on the natural world and the systemic, interactional quality of all events that occur in that world. “Ecocriticism can be further characterized by distinguishing it from other critical approaches. Literary theory, in general, examines the relations between writers, texts, and the world. In most literary theory ‘the world’ is synonymous with society--the social sphere.
Ecocriticism expands the notion of ‘the world’ to include the entire ecosphere. If we agree with Barry Commoner's first law of ecology, ‘Everything is connected to everything else,’ we must conclude that literature does not float above the material world in some aesthetic ether, but, rather, plays a part in an immensely complex global system, in which energy, matter, and ideas interact."
Implicit in the ecocritical approach is the belief that literature has a responsibility to be accurate in its portrayal of the natural world; the natural world should not be discounted as if it is of no importance. Literature, in its mission of artistically representing the author’s Truth, thus is called to portray ecological realities, which can include taking note of the diminishment and degradation of nature.
The field of ecocriticism examines how we think about, and express artistically, the complexities of the natural world. It looks at the implicit assumptions about nature that are embedded in the invented worlds of literature through which the author aspires to speak deeper truths about the world in which we live. Ecocriticism holds that, since Nature is the underpinning of every world we can humanly imagine, it requires the same level of consciousness we bring to character and society and ideas.
The recommended books in the section on Nature Writing: Ecocriticism trace the development of the ecocritical model in literary criticism. Several volumes in particular describe the history and development of nature writing. Rich in complexity and thoughtful critique, these works will deepen our understanding of literature and the natural world.