Material Ecocriticism

Material Ecocriticism

Material Ecocriticism

Material Ecocriticism

Synopsis

Material Ecocriticism offers new ways to analyze language and reality, human and nonhuman life, mind and matter, without falling into well-worn paths of thinking. Bringing ecocriticism closer to the material turn, the contributions to this landmark volume focus on material forces and substances, the agency of things, processes, narratives and stories, and making meaning out of the world. This broad-ranging reflection on contemporary human experience and expression provokes new understandings of the planet to which we are intimately connected.

Excerpt

arock jumps. every hiker has had the experience. the quiet woods or sweep of desert is empty and still when a snake that seemed a twig writhes, a skink that was bark scurries, leaves wriggle with insectile activity. This world coming to animal life reveals the elemental vibrancy already within green pine, arid sand, vagrant mist, and plodding hiker alike. When a toad that seemed a stone leaps into unexpected vivacity, its lively arc hints that rocks and toads share animacy, even if their movements unfold across vastly different temporalities. Just as the flitting hummingbird judges hiker and toad lithic in their stillness, a rock is within its properly geologic duration a wayfarer, a holder of stories of mountains that undulate and continents that journey the sea. the stone-like toad discloses its intimacy to toad-like stone. Both are part of a material world that challenges the organic bias of the adjective “alive.”

Though slow moving and often disregarded, toads are instructive animals to follow in their irregular lines of travel. Mel Y. Chen begins her recent book Animacies with a story of these tailless amphibians. Her book examines how sorting the environment into anthropocentric hierarchies of life ignores the hybridity, slipperiness, and vitality of the nonhuman. the tangible childhood presence of toads, writes Chen, spurred her thinking and feeling:

cupy. and though they were only sporadically visible, I could be certain a toad
was somewhere nearby. (vii)

Frogs and toads are now vanishing from the world, victims of a lethal fungus distributed globally through the laboratory use, commercial trade, and domestic keeping of aquatic frogs. Though the toads of Chen’s Illinois youth are important, it is the “style of their disappearance” that becomes the spur to the subject of the book, with its emphasis upon toxicity, unexpected animacy, and “retrospective temporalities and affects” (vii). the toxic network formed by a fungus, aquatic frogs, laboratories, humans, and systems of global exchange has materi-

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