James C. McKusick, Green Writing: Romanticism and Ecology

James C. McKusick, Green Writing: Romanticism and Ecology. New York: Palgrave/St. Martin's Press, 2000. x + 261pp. $49.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-23448-1).

Reviewed by
Kevin Hutchings
University of Northern British Columbia

James C. McKusick is one of the pioneers of Green Romanticism, an emerging critical movement investigating Romantic literature in relation to the histories of ecological thought and environmental activism. His most recent book, entitled Green Writing: Romanticism and Ecology, is among the important contributions McKusick has made to literary scholarship as an author of ecocritical articles, a guest editor of special periodical issues on Romanticism and Ecology, and co-editor of a significant new anthology of nature writing. What sets McKusick's work apart from that of Jonathan Bate and Karl Kroeber, the earliest and most widely cited advocates of English Green Romanticism, is its avoidance of an overtly polemical basis for the establishment of ecological literary criticism. This difference in critical approach is a crucial one, for Bate's and Kroeber's heated dismissals of New Historicist and poststructuralist critical perspectives have arguably done as much to impede the cause of Romantic ecocriticism as to encourage its advancement. By rejecting the ground-breaking insights of Alan Liu, Jerome McGann, Marjorie Levinson, Marilyn Butler, and other socially minded Romantic scholars, Bate and Kroeber have not only helped to consolidate the view that contemporary literary theory and ecocriticism are dichotomously opposed and irreconcilable; whether deservedly or not, they have helped to perpetuate the stereotype that environmental studies scholars are reactionary anti-intellectuals whose work is idealistically naive and dangerously misanthropic (because somehow disengaged from fundamental issues of social justice). In an era wherein the editorial board of a mainstream journal no less important than PMLA has by its own admission unfairly characterized environmental criticism as critically "soft" "hug-the-tree stuff," Green Romanticism needs more advocates like McKusick, whose arguments are persuasive without being needlessly polemical, succeeding not by virtue of a negatively reasoned attack upon the established views of others, but on the solid constructive basis of their own intellectual rigor and critical merit.

Mark S. Lussier, Romantic Dynamics: The Poetics of Physicality

Mark S. Lussier, Romantic Dynamics: The Poetics of Physicality. Romanticism in Perspective Series. Basingstoke, U.K.: Macmillan, 2000. ix + 220pp. $59.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-22671-3).

Reviewed by
Alan Bewell
University of Toronto

In this book, Mark S. Lussier announces "physical criticism," a theoretical perspective that seeks to illuminate the productive interchange between literature and science, particularly the ways in which physical theory and poetic expression share similar models in their representation of the mind and physical world. Lussier's goal is to take criticism beyond the mechanistic and dualistic models of mind and universe that continue to influence contemporary thought—the world of Bacon, Descartes, Locke, and Newton—toward a theoretical perspective that responds to the far more complex and dynamic models of the mind in relation to the physical world that emerged with Romanticism and are now being renewed in contemporary science, especially in biology, ecology, and theoretical physics. Quantum theory has undercut the Newtonian absolutes of space and time. The stabilities of matter in the Newtonian cosmos have been replaced by indeterminacies and relativity, and the meaning of time, always a flexible concept, has been transformed. Since Heisenberg it has been difficult for scientists to employ naively the Lockean model of experience, in which the mind passively registers the sensory data supplied to it by the outside world. Scientists can no longer be said to be removed what from they observe, something that has not been lost on social constructivists. Ecological criticism has insisted even more powerfully upon the crucial necessity for human beings to recognize that they exist in nature and that they need to develop new, less destructive ways of interacting with it. Lussier's "physical criticism" synthesizes ecology and physics in order to provide an alternative to the cultural legacy of mechanistic philosophy. He uses the term "dynamics" to describe this more complex and holistic conception of the interaction of the mind and the physical world. In his view, Romantic poetry not only anticipates these developments, but has played an important role in providing "physical criticism" with the language and metaphors needed for representing this new world.

Alan Bewell, Romanticism and Colonial Disease

Alan Bewell, Romanticism and Colonial Disease. Medicine and Culture Series. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. xviii + 374pp. illus: 17 line drawings, 2 halftones. $45.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8018-6225-6).

Reviewed by
Timothy Morton
University of Colorado at Boulder

"As a study of the geographical dimension of disease during the Romantic period, Romanticism and Colonial Disease examines the role played in the making and unmaking of national identities by ideas about the geographical distribution of diseases and what kind of people were susceptible to them" (17). This is a modestly stated plan. But Alan Bewell's project, while posed as the recovery of empirical information, has a grander view than this: it is a strong work of ecocriticism.

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