Ecocritical Aesthetics: Language, Beauty, and the Environment

Ecocritical Aesthetics: Language, Beauty, and the Environment

Ecocritical Aesthetics: Language, Beauty, and the Environment

Ecocritical Aesthetics: Language, Beauty, and the Environment

Synopsis

This lively collection of essays explores the vital role of beauty in the human experience of place, interactions with other species, and contemplation of our own embodied lives. Devoting attention to themes such as global climate change, animal subjectivity, environmental justice and activism, and human moral responsibility for the environment, these contributions demonstrate that beauty is not only a meaningful dimension of our experience, but also a powerful strategy for inspiring cultural transformation. Taken as a whole, they underscore the ongoing relevance of aesthetics to the ecocritical project and the concern for beauty that motivates effective social and political engagement.

Excerpt

In 1996, at the dawn of the contemporary ecocritical enterprise, Sven Birkerts published a review of The Ecocriticism Reader in the Boston Book Review. It captured the freshness of this new field, the sense of new possibilities as well as the likelihood of some competitive elbowing: “Here is yet another new frontier; a land-rush is underway; critics and thinkers are staking out their fields, their terrain. There is a bit of that excitement of origins that is found when options are still open, before the power brokers have muscled the first orthodoxies into place.” Something important has been lost, however, in the inevitable jostling and elbowing that has taken place during the past two decades: a concern for beauty.

Where has interest in the study of beauty gone in ecocritical studies and in critical theory as a whole? One of the reasons Scott Slovic and I collaborated on this project was that we both agreed that, as Scott put it to me in an e-mail, the “beauty of nature and the beautiful renderings of environmental ideas and experience in various media of cultural expression, both of which were among the essential motivations for those who worked to establish ecocriticism as a self-aware scholarly movement in the 1980s and ‘90s, quickly became subsumed among many other scholarly concerns” (“Latest”). As a numerical indicator of this, I found that the “ASLE Online Bibliography 2000–2010” contains twentyseven references to “justice” in titles and ninety-four appearances of the word “justice” in the abstracts. For “beauty,” however, there were only six appearances . . .

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