Romantic Circles Blog

Question up for comments: Ecology and Nostalgia

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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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Ash's etymology works on the

Ash's etymology works on the nostsos–nest part. How about the “algia”—that's pain, isn't it, as in neuralgia?

Ecology would then be nest-pain, home-pain. The intrinsically painful state of existing in an interconnected system.

When ecocriticism ignores this nest-pain it does so at its peril. It edits out pain and wishfully thinks the oikos towards essentialist value.

Then some home-pains become better than others: “natural” home-pain is better than the pain of living in an “unnatural” home.

Maybe it's just because I'm visiting my family (break between retreats), but home and pain appear inextricable to me!

You can't leave cos your heart is there
But sure you can't stay cos you been somewhere else
(Sly and the Family Stone, “Family Affair”)

Surely part of the pain of

Surely part of the pain of home is the un-homely quality of home—the Unheimlich or Uncanny of Sigmund Freud.

This means that home is painful all the way down. It's not as if there's an un-painful home that then becomes painful as a result of other causes and conditions.

The pain of leaving your parents' nest. The pain of constructing your own home (against what Lévinas calls “the element”—yet made out of it, so that it contains the very outside it wards off).

I've moved house and moved countries often enough to know that this experience is intrinsically painful. And uncanny. Speaking English means that Americans are comprehensible to you when you arrive—and thus, on another level, incomprehensible. And now, when I go back to my “homeland,” I feel like a tourist with an English accent...

Home is strangely familiar and familiarly strange. Gobalization only makes us aware of what was already true.

I wonder how cuckoos and their hosts feel?

Tim is right, of course about

Tim is right, of course about the un-canny, but the uncanny only makes sense because of the canny. The sense of strangeness of new places is only a function of the sense of heimlich in old places. So I sit in my old chair, or I turn the corner and see the old view, or I wander the fields where I walked as a child (mine have mostly been paved over, I fear), and I then get a canny feeling that makes me relax as opposed to tensing up. When I moved recently into an 1829 house that I had never seen until the fall of last year, the house gave off all sorts of canny feelings--as opposed to uncanny--in part because it was so well situated in terms of the land it has occupied for almost two centuries. I get most of my uncanny feelings on the West Coast, I suppose because my canny world is all about the deciduous and softly rolling green hills as opposed to evergreens and harshly jagged rocky hills. Shudder! AN

Ecocriticism is definitely

Ecocriticism is definitely nostalgic in its longing for a green language where words meant what they said and said what they meant. (I'm one of those people who think that not only is this language strictly nonexistent, but also that this longing is the ideological mode of modernity.)

Ecocriticism in this sense is a recent version of F.R. Leavis's and T.S. Eliot's “dissociation of sensibility.” For them, literature lost the plot during the English Revolution (surprise surprise). Before then, especially in the so-called “metaphysical poets,” thinking and sensing were organically intertwined.

In effect, this form of ecocritical nostalgia performs two things:
(1) A “return to nature” not just as a return away from modern ennui and artifice, but also as a return to a moment “before” literary theory (you know, the dreaded deconstruction) had occurred. The bugbear here is “postmodern theory”—a phrase that almost defines ecocritical texts as such.
(2) A return to a moment just before socialism was articulated as such—the Romantic period.

Ecocriticism thus sustains the possibility of living in a non-socialist relationship to present social relations, a relationship that is at best mildly critical. Perhaps the environmentalist attitude could be added to the humanitarianism and animal rights that Karl Marx describes in the Communist Manifesto as “bourgeois socialism”:
“The Socialistic bourgeois want all the advantages of modern social conditions without the struggles and dangers necessarily resulting therefrom. They desire the existing state of society, minus its revolutionary and disintegrating elements. They wish for a bourgeoisie without a proletariat. The bourgeoisie naturally conceives the world in which it is supreme to be the best; and bourgeois Socialism develops this comfortable conception into various more or less complete systems.
...
It is summed up in the phrase: the bourgeois is a bourgeois—for the benefit of the working class.”

PPS—a paragraph from my

PPS—a paragraph from my previous:

Ecocriticism in this sense is a recent version of F.R. Leavis’s and T.S. Eliot’s “dissociation of sensibility.” For them, literature lost the plot during the English Revolution (surprise surprise). Before then, especially in the so-called “metaphysical poets,” thinking and sensing were organically intertwined.

I should have added:

For ecocriticism, the period before the Fall is the Romantic period. This was the moment, ironically, at which for many philosophers poetry became decisively sentimental (i.e. ironic—Schiller) or philosophical-reflexive (Hegel). The moment at which it mourns a forever-lost naiveté.

Ecocritical nostalgia is thus recursive: it expresses a nostalgia for nostalgia.

Nostalgia just isn't what it used to be.

What Marx could not have

What Marx could not have predicted was a capitalist democracy is which a worker--in this case a professor--works until May 11 each year before he sees a single centime of his salary. So wealth undergoes redistribution not through worker ownership of the means of production but through a capitalist government's willingness to impose "social" taxation of all sorts up to the point where over a third of a worker's earnings disappear into the mysterious maw of government spending. In a related way, the "capital" of personal experience (memory, nostalgic moments ["I hope I never forget this day"], the sense of the contents of memory as "mine") is an illusion created, as Hume taught us, by the random bundling of one set of sense-data within one mind-brain. But my memory is no more "mine" than my house is "mine." When the state wants to build a highway, my private property disappears into the socialist good of condemnation. Likewise, when the state of "nature" (with Tim's reservations about this word) wants to take back the "home" of personal identity, it does so. When the oxygen stops flowing smoothly to my brain, my memories stumble, then fade, and then completely disappear. My selfhood stops as soon as my synapses stop firing, even if my body--my self's material capital--last for decades. Nostalgia ain't what it used to be because it never "was" in the first place. Just another illusion of the ever-acquisitive bourgeois dream factory. --A.N.

Okay--I was haunted by the

Okay--I was haunted by the uncanny...

Respect to Ash--but our man Freud specifically says that the "canny" is itself uncanny. German heimische means unheimlich in certain senses. That's the point.

What is most intimate is most strange.

I'm almost tempted to translate into Rumsfeldian: un-canny = un-known.

Un-known, hence unknown known. The un-conscious.

Things we know--but we don't know we know them.

These are the strange strangers. (I abstain from using "animal" or even "life form" at this level.)

We know them--we are them. DNA: You are 98% chimp--also 35% daffodil...(dancing with them and as them).

So nostalgia would be what?

How about this: a yearning for a safe comfortable distance from these strange strangers. A warding off of intimacy.

Craving an essence, a whole, an organicism above ands beyond organisms.

I would argue then that ecology is fundamentally anti-nostalgic.

Therefore nostalgic environmentalisms are anti-ecological. Wow.

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