August 2008

Romantic Ecomorphism

Global warming may be the first environmental crisis to affect all life on earth at the same time, in equally dramatic ways. The Romans apparently raised the level of airborne lead-and subsequently the lead level in soil and waterways-because of the amount of lead smelting they practiced. But before global warming, every earlier environmental crisis had an impact on relatively small groups of creatures or species in relatively small geographic areas. Think Love Canal or Three Mile Island.

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Little fly

Okay--I'm on this silent retreat and I shouldn't even be writing this, but what the hey.

So I'm sitting in the meditation hall today and this small house fly lands on my hand. It puts its little proboscis down onto me. I can feel it going a little into my flesh. Yuck. And ouch! So after a few seconds I wave it off.

Of course everything I've said about the neighbor comes flooding into my mind. Not to mention Ash's post on Blake's fly. And lo, my thoughtless hand has indeed brushed it away...

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“Let it be”

I'm posting a miniaturized critique of Heidegger on my other blog, Ecology without Nature. I also posted recently on wind farms, and solar power.

Meanwhile, there's a very groovy discussion of nostalgia going on on the comments page of a very recent post by Ron Broglio. Thank you Ron. Very valuable stuff.

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Question up for comments: Ecology and Nostalgia

I'm hoping blog readers might be willing to post their take on this basic issue haunting ecological criticism: how susceptible is ecocriticism to the critique that it is a nostalgia? Follow up: in what ways might ecocriticism work outside of nostalgia?

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Ecomorphism and Ecoromanticism

Ecomorphism is the antithesis of anthropomorphism. Instead of seeing myself at the center of my world, I can now see my human activity—and yours—in terms of our connectedness to nonhuman life. For centuries the poets have said, “that mourning dove is singing a song as sad as I am sad” or “that cloud looks as happy the way I am happy as it skitters across the sky.” Now we need to reconsider both the tenor and the vehicle of such anthropomorphic metaphors. The vehicle is the subject—humans—from which the characteristic (sadness or happiness) is taken.

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The ecological thought—an eco-aesthetic intermezzo

So here we are. We've discovered the oozing, slimy core of the poem, an ooze with a face—not a primordial ooze, a naturephilosopher's Urschleim (what a fantastic word—protoplasm is good too I guess), life-to-be. Instead, this slime is caught between categories of life and death, life-in-death, and it induces a horror deeper than revulsion over matter in the wrong place—Life-in-Death is a person. We are not in the realms of vitalism—which is idealism's ground zero.

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The ecological thought, part seventh

“It is an ancient Mariner” (1.1); “The Night-mare Life-in-Death was she” (3.193); “ ‘There was a ship,’ quoth he” (1.10). Is the ship the Mariner first mentions to the Wedding Guest not his own ship, but her ship, the death ship? It would work in the structure we are elucidating here. The ship is presented in its sheer existence. Something about the terror, the urgency, with which the Mariner collars the Guest, as if the ship were all too present in his mind, causes the Guest to recoil. The Guest catches a glimpse of Life-in-Death in “his glittering eye” (1.13).

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textual-biological correspondences

Reading Derek Ratcliffe’s wonderful ornithological, corvi-cultural study, The Raven, returns me to a closing query of my previous entry: “What sort of animal meaning . . . does [the raven] present in Coleridge’s “The Raven”? Ratcliffe quotes one R. Bosworth Smith:

A bird whose literary history begins with Cain, with Noah, and with Elijah, and

who gave his name to the Midianite chieftain Oreb; whose every action and cry

was observed and noted down, alike by the descendents of Romulus and the ancestors of

Rolf the Ganger; who occurs in every second play of Shakespeare; who forms the subject

of the most eerie poem of Edgar Alan Poe, and enlivens the pages of the Roderick

Random of Smollett, of the Rookwood of Ainsworth, of the Barnaby Rudge of Dickens,

is a bird whose historical and literary pre-eminence is unapproached. (cited Ratcliffe 9)

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The ecological thought, part sixth

In Ecology without Nature I argued that it was the very idea of Nature itself that posed an obstacle to ecological thinking and praxis. Nature has recently received various upgrades, for example in the form of ecophenomenology, which insists that we are embedded (like Iraq War reporters) in a lifeworld. This language comes from Heidegger.

If the ecological thought is to tunnel back behind Heidegger, it must encounter the thinking of Emmanuel Lévinas.

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