Gersdorf, Catrin and Mayer, Sylvia (eds). Nature in Literary and Cultural Studies: Transatlantic Conversations on Ecocriticism. Amsterdam, New York: Rodopi, 2006 [Book review]
journal contributionposted on 21.05.2017 by Iris Ralph
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The brief and remarkable introduction to this collection of essays, speaks eloquently for the publication as a whole. Its intention is to disabuse scholars of the notion that ecocriticism as a critical theory and methodology is limited because of its focus on what normatively is considered to exist outside of the realm of language or textuality, that "dry and intolerable chitinous murmur" of terrestrial allusions, as Jameson puts it; a focus which discredits the discipline as a proper participant within poststructuralist theory and its arenas of politically enfranchising "social constructivism" and "linguistic determinism" (10). The collection treats the figure of nature as at once "material phenomenon and aesthetically charged category" (13), and ecocriticism, having caught up in the twenty-first century with the established theories of structuralism, new historicism, feminism, psychoanalytic criticism, and postcolonialism, as a methodology that "re-examines the history of ideologically, aesthetically, and ethically motivated conceptualisations of nature, of the function of its constructions and metaphorisations in literary and other cultural practices, and of the potential effects these discursive, imaginative constructions have on our bodies as well as our natural and cultural environments" (10). These remarks are welcome to scholars famished for writing within a field that contributor Louise Westling states, in the first essay in the collection, is still undertheorized (26). Herbert Zapf, another contributor to the collection, notes theory itself as this refers to the late hallmark of poststructuralism is partly to blame for the lacuna. Until recently, during the period when poststructuralism emerged as a dominant critical practice, writing that addressed the physical world as a figure equal to the human in either or both its material and non-material effects was considered "politically questionable and epistemologically naive in the pansemiotic universe of poststructuralism" (50). The collection contributes to dispelling this condescension. They are exemplary, respecting nature and language, not as disparate and antithetical figures but, analogous to Marianne Moore's "real toads with imaginary gardens," as richly intertwined.