Ecocriticism joined our Seminar last fall thanks to Doctor Adrian Rainbow’s engaging class “Ecocriticism and Contemporary Literature”, and although the class is over, the effect of its ecocritical debate continues.
Ecocriticism teaches us to become more ecocritically aware of our environment. The key word is ecocritically as opposed to ecologically. While “eco” and “criticism” may both ring a bell, when combined, they don’t make up environmentalism. In fact, ecocriticism is a non-activist, literary version of environmentalism. Remember the green movement that incites us to stop supporting Nokia and Ferrari and start our own organic farm? That’s environmentalism. Ecocriticism has a diametrically different approach to the relation between our lives and planet Earth.
The “eco” in ecocriticism stands for a way of thinking. Ecocriticism does not veto our bad habits, nor does it prompt us to acquire good ones. It doesn’t tell you what to do for the environment — it asks you. Ecocriticism is patient. It cultivates your sensibility with discretion until questions form naturally within your own conscience.
The origins of ecocritical discourse can be found in the works of Romantic poets such as Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, and Blake. Their poetry is the embodiment of ecocriticism and of ecocritical discourse. Their message is to reconnect with nature. Also Thoreau’s Walden, a groundbreaking work that captures the true beauty and meaning of the human-nature relation, remains unequalled in its attempt to define ecocriticism. To this day, however, there is no definition of the ideal ecocritical text. Any text can be written or read ecocritically, even if the focus is on the Victorian proper lady in a Jane Austen novel or a lost lady in Willa Cather’s stories.
As times and the planet change, so does the discourse. Conveying the connection between humans and nature today, and questioning an anthropocentric view, is certainly more problematic than it was for the Romantics, yet postmodern ecocritical authors such as Margaret Atwood and Joseph Boyden have been successful in this enterprise. The images they present may spark our awareness by simply shocking us, but they bring thorny global issues to the table which can further the ecocritical debate.
Whichever the means, ecocriticism leads us to a better understanding of our planet, so that we can find ways to care for it constructively, and anyone can join this debate.