The last time I was purposefully academic was probably when I sat my finals. Even then, we were well-educated in the philosophical contexts of the writers we studied, but not in the theoretical context in which we ourselves were operating. Since then, I’ve taught at half a dozen universities at least, but always as a practitioner. Academically cutting edge I am not. The question ‘what is green criticism?’ is not rhetorical.
Around the time I did my English degree, there were some books emerging that used ecology as way to approach literature: Jonathan Bate’s Romantic Ecology springs to mind; I probably should re-read it. The aim of these books seemed to be to understand how writers related to nature: how ‘green’ they were. But that’s about ecology, not employing it as a critical tool. I wrote an extended essay in my third year. It was about depictions of landscape in landscape and painting at the time of the first generation Romantics. I was interested in the sublime and the beautiful, not out of any kind of swoony romanticism but because they suggest two ways of modelling our desire for the external. I don’t really want to get into this in any detail here, as I still haven’t got to the real point I want to make in this post. Suffice to say, I’d noticed how some writers saw nature as a force that transformed the tiny figures traversing its landscapes while some saw it as something that framed or provided a kind of extension to, or illustration of, heroic anthropocentrism. I was somewhat out on a limb, frankly. It probably wasn’t my best work.
So, what might real green criticism be? Is anyone writing about how ecology, or ecosocialism, or green thought (which are of course all different – but that’s for another time) could be useful ways to look at culture? Continue reading