Steven Rosendale, ed. The Greening of Literary Scholarship: Literature, Theory, and the Environment. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2002. xxix + 275 pp. $26.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-87745-803-6; $39.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-87745-802-9.
Reviewed by Deborah Vause (Department of English and Humanities, York College of Pennsylvania)
Published on H-Environment (October, 2003)
Wide Horizons: The Greening of Literary Scholarship
Wide Horizons: The Greening of Literary Scholarship
Through the course of its development, over the last several years, American ecocritical literary scholarship has focused primarily on contemporary nonfiction works about nature and books theorizing this relatively new subdiscipline. These have been logical steps, for--although the literary canon and literary scholarship of previous years has privileged both works of fiction and anthropocentric perspectives--its practices fall short of achieving the multidisciplinary vision of the organic whole that ecocritics share.
Steven Rosendale's essay collection The Greening of Literary Scholarship: Literature, Theory, and the Environment encourages all literary scholars (not just those already invested in ecocriticism), to explore this critical perspective. His focus is an illustration of the literary intersections between ecotheory and other theoretical traditions. And this anthology illustrates the ways in which ecotheory is reshaping the literary landscape rather than plodding along the same old routes. In addition to re-introducing lesser-known literary works such as Le Page du Pratz's Histoire de la Louisiane, published in 1758, to the critical eye, the essays examines a number of canonical fiction works, as well, such as Shelley's "Mont Blanc" and Faulkner's "The Bear," works that might be obvious selections for any scholar interested in the environment, but which reveal new depths when analyzed through a fresh theoretical perspective.
The true value of this collection, though, comes from its focus on ecotheory itself. Each contributor to the volume carefully defines his/her theoretical stance, before moving into their analyses. Rosendale's "Introduction: Extending Ecocriticism" establishes a theoretical context for each of these essays, by clearly explaining the role each plays within this text and within ecocriticism in general. This helpful beginning allows readers unfamiliar with ecocriticism or with particular traditions of literary criticism to understand the significance of each scholar's work.
The essays themselves are grouped into three sections based upon their critical focus. The first section, "Remapping Literary Histories," deals with past critical practices, and explores how an ecocritical stance can revive them for contemporary concerns. Thus, these essays cover a wide range, beginning with Michael Branch's "Saving All the Pieces: The Place of Textual Editing in Ecocriticism," a call for ecoscholars to make a new commitment to textual editing in order to both correct corrupted editions and to discover previously ignored texts. Steven Rosenburg's essay, "In Search of Left Ecology's Usable Past: The Jungle, Social Change, and the Class Character of Environmental Impairment," encourages ecocritics to address class and social justice concerns by exploring the cultural traditional of the American political left. Three of the other essays in this section, Gordon Sayre's "Le Page du Pratz's Fabulous Journey of Discovery: Learning about Nature Writing from a Colonial Promotional Narrative," Helena Feder's "Ecocriticism, New Historicism, and Romantic Apostorphe," and Alison Byerly's "Rivers, Journeys, and the Construction of Place in Nineteenth-Century English Literature" call for revaluing literary works from the past. Sayre focuses on a little-known travel narrative to reveal the "topographic fallacy," confusing the land itself with words written about the land, present in this colonial promotion text. Feder argues that the usually ignored Romantic trope of the apostrophe actually demonstrates the overlap between ecocriticism and new historical thought. And Byerly explores the use of the river-journey motif, pointing out that its appearance in Victorian popular culture privileges British colonialism of the time.
The second section, "Expanding the Subject in Ecocriticism," explores human-nature interconnections, arguing that human identity relies on interaction with specific places. Each essay, however, supports this thesis from a unique perspective. The titles of Andrea Blair's "Landscape in Drag: The Paradox of Feminine Space in Susan Warner's The Wide, Wide World" and Eleanor Hersey's "'Space is a Frame We Map Ourselves In': the Feminist Geographies of Susan Howe's Frame Structures" reveal both scholars' concern with feminist theory. Blair rejects conflicting feminist concepts and bases her critical stance on queer theory as she explores how a landscape, and subsequently a character, might subvert rather than support gendered cultural expectations. Hersey's essay links feminist geographies with postmodernism, arguing that since place and subject are not fixed, we must actively "map ourselves" as we negotiate an identity within our individual subjective experiences of places. The other three essays in this section suggest theoretical concepts to clarify the complex natural web within which a subject must exist. James Tarter's "Locating the Uranium Mine: Place, Multiethnicity, and Environmental Justice in Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony" argues that Silko models an effective ecocritical stance to affect social change as she portrays a character engaging with the contemporary issues of environmentalism, ethnicity and justice through that individual's commitment to a specific geographical place. In "Of Whales and Men: The Dynamics of Cormac McCarthy's Environmental Imagination," James D. Lilley explores the ways in which McCarthy's language carefully avoids identifying either human or nature as the subject and so erases perceived boundaries between humans and the natural world. In "Articulating the Cyborg: An Impure Model for Environmental Revolution," Louis H. Palmer III suggests that cyborg studies provide a model for understanding environmental interconnectedness while simultaneously escaping the need to privilege individuality within a hierarchy of race, nationality, class and/or gender.
The third section, "Rethinking Representation and the Sublime," explores various ways in which humans represent both the knowable and the unknowable in the environment, thus analyzing the role of language and identity. Rick Van Noy's essay "Surveying the Sublime: Literary Cartographers and the Spirit of Place" investigates the intersection between writing a literal map and then writing an apparently contradictory aesthetic account of an individual experience with nature by examining the work of three cartographers/nature writers: Henry David Thoreau, Clarence King and John Wesley Powell. In "'Mont Blanc': Shelley's Sublime Allegory of the Real" Aaron Dunckel asserts that Shelley's poem serves a "deictic" purpose, rather than a representational one because it directs readers toward the unknowable within the natural world. The final essay in this anthology, James Kirwan's "Vicarious Edification: Radcliffe and the Sublime" explains that only fictional literature can represent the sublime, because it lies beyond human consciousness. Ultimately, only fictional representation enables us to understand the human-nature relationship.
As with any anthology, some essays are stronger than others in meeting the collection's overall purpose. Here, for example, Gordon Sayre's "Le Page du Pratz's Fabulous Journey of Discovery: Learning about Nature Writing from a Colonial Promotional Narrative" and Eleanor Hersey's "'Space is a Frame We Map Ourselves In': the Feminist Geographies of Susan Howe's Frame Structures" both emphasize reading the chosen text over exploration of theory, while Steven Rosendale's "In Search of Left Ecology's Usable Past: The Jungle, Social Change, and the Class Character of Environmental Impairment" and James Kirwan's "Vicarious Edification: Radcliffe and the Sublime" emphasize exploring critical theory, using a specific text only for illustration. Any reader, though, will find enough diversity and intellectual depth to make this anthology valuable enough for multiple readings.
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Deborah Vause. Review of Rosendale, Steven, ed., The Greening of Literary Scholarship: Literature, Theory, and the Environment.
H-Environment, H-Net Reviews.
Copyright © 2003 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.