A brief introduction to Ecocriticism
Environmental criticism, or Ecocriticism ( aka “green” criticism, especially in England) is a rapidly emerging field of literary study that considers the relationship that human beings have to the environment. As Cheryll Glotfelty noted in the Introduction to the Ecocriticism Reader, “just as feminist criticism examines language and literature from a gender- conscious perspective, and Marxist criticism brings an awareness of modes of production and economic class to its reading of text”, environmental critics (or ecocritics) explore how nature and natural world are imagined through literary texts. In other words, “ecocriticism is the study of the relationship between literature and the physical environment”. The ecocritics study literature and ecology from an interdisciplinary point of view, where they analyse texts that illustrate environmental concerns and examine the various ways literature treats the subject of nature.
In comparison to other “political” forms of criticism, there has been relatively little dispute about the moral and philosophical aims of ecocriticism. Although, its scope has broadened from nature writing, romantic poetry and canonical literature to include film, television, theatre animal stories, architectures, scientific narratives and an extraordinary range of literary texts. At the same time ecocriticism borrowed methodologies and theoretically informed approaches liberally from other fields of literary, social and scientific study. As Glotfelty mentions, one of the implicit goals of the approach of is to recover the professional dignity for what he calls the “undervalued genre of nature writing”.
While authors like Thoreau and Wordsworth May first come to mind in this context, literary responses to environmental concerns are as old as the issues themselves. Deforestation, air pollution, endangered species, wetland loss, animal rights and rampant consumerism—have all been appearing as controversial issues in Western Literature for hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of years.
From the beginning of Renaissance to the rise of industrialisation and the emergence of rampant consumerism, myriads of unprecedented issues are facing humanity—oil spills, lead and asbestos poisoning, toxic waste contamination, extinction of species an unprecedented rate, battles over public land use, protests over nuclear waste dumps, a growing hole in the ozone layer, prediction of global warming, acid rain, loss of topsoil, destruction of the tropical rainforest, illegal dumping in the East, famines, droughts, floods, hurricanes and so on.
So literary and cultural scholars is started using a broad way to investigate the global ecological crisis, through the intersection of literature, culture and the physical environment. This broad way of analysis was “Ecocriticism”. Ecocriticism originated as an idea called literary ecology in 1972 and was later coined as an “-ism” in 1996. Ecocriticism expanded as a widely used literary and cultural theory by the early 1990s, with the formation of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE) at the Western Literary Association (1992). Its flagship journal ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment was launched in 1993,which was followed by the publication of The Ecocriticism Reader by Glotfelty and Fromn (1996)— the ground-breaking seminal book on Ecocriticism.
Ecocriticism is often used as an umbrella term for any aspect of humanities (e.g. media, film, philosophy and history) addressing ecological issues, although it primarily functions as a literary and cultural theory. This does not imply that ecocriticism is confined to literature and culture. Scholars often incorporate science, ethics, politics, philosophy, economics and aesthetics across institutional and national boundaries. Ecocriticism has remained difficult to define. However, many scholars refer to ecocriticism synonymously as the study of “literature and environment” (rooted in literary studies) or “environmental criticism” (interdisciplinary and cultural).
Ecocriticism has been divided into “waves” to map the progress of the movement in history. The “first wave” of ecocriticism tended to be separated from historical contexts while looking at “nature”, often overlooking more political and theoretical dimensions and was more inclined towards a celebratory approach of wilderness and nature writing.
Ecocriticism expanded into a “second wave” offering new ways to approach literary analysis by; such as theorising and deconstructing human centred scholarship (learning) in ecostudies; imperialism and ecological degradation; agency for animals and plants; gender and race as ecological concepts; and problems of scale.
The “third wave” of ecocriticism emphasises on and advocates for a global understanding of ecocritical practice through issues like global warming. It combines elements from the first and second waves but aims to move beyond Anglo-American prominence. There are currently hundreds of books one thousands of articles and chapters written about Ecocriticism.
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