On April 14, I’ll give the McElroy Shakespeare Lecture at Loyola U. in Chicago, working with local actors to present “green” (pastoral) and “blue” (oceanic) ecological threads through some scenes from the second half of The Winter’s Tale. The actors are rehearsing now in Chicago, and they’ve asked for a short paragraph defining “ecocriticism” to help them think about the project and the notes I’ve sent them about the play.
It’s an interesting challenge: describe your favorite over-flowing sub-field in 150 words or less.
With help from some books that sit within a few feet of my desk — Glotfelty and Fromm’s Ecocriticism Reader, Gerrard’s Ecocriticism, Lynne Bruckner and Dan Brayton’s Ecocritical Shakespeare were quickest to hand — here’s what I’ve come up with to send on the Loyola.
What is Ecocriticism?
A thriving and contentious academic field, ecocriticism defines itself through a shared interest in examining the relationship between human beings and the non-human environment. These investigations range from cultural histories of human ecological entanglements to critical analyses of the meanings of such terms as “human” and “nature.” With its origins paralleling the birth of modern environmentalist politics, ecocriticism produces historical and theoretical models that engage the rising tide of ecological awareness. Diverse strains within the field explore matters such as environmental justice, gender, ethics, economic development and the global south, various articulations of critical theory, the relationship between the sciences and the humanities, and multiple strains of activist politics. Ecocritics collectively bring the tools and methods of the humanities to bear on urgent questions for today’s age of global ecological crisis. The discourse represents an attempt by humanities scholarship to come to terms with a fractured world.
It all sounds very presentist for a scholar of 17c literature like me, though I do believe, as Sharon O’Dair has argued, that presentist energy drives ecocritical thinking.
I’d love feedback from the many ecocritics who can help me see what I’m omitting!