Academic journal article French Literature Series

It's a Queer Thing: Early Modern French Ecocriticism

Academic journal article French Literature Series

It's a Queer Thing: Early Modern French Ecocriticism

Article excerpt

Ecocriticism, or the study of nature-culture intersections, has expanded its critical and geographic scope well beyond the study of modern American and English nature writing with which it originated. Ecocritics increasingly pay attention to issues of race, class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and national identity in their interrogations of cultural inflections of nature, and are also starting to consider pre-modern periods. This article builds on three of these many developments: early modern ecocriticism, a specifically French écopensée, and queer ecology, suggesting a multidimensional, articulated approach that can help us continue to question the premises of the nature-culture divide.

Although the term "ecocriticism" can be traced back to William Rueckert in 1978, one of the now-canonical departure points for those seeking to define it is Cheryl Glotfelty's study of "the interconnections between nature and culture, specifically the cultural artifacts of language and literature" (xix).1 Since 1996, when Glotfelty's landmark edited collection appeared, ecocriticism has been contested territory. Productive contestation is, of course, a necessary part of the evolution of any -ism, without which it ossifies and fades into irrelevance. Ecocriticism since the 1 990s has shown itself to be a robust and adaptable critical approach, not easily dismissed as a fashionable academic moment. Perhaps the true test of a field's critical potential is whether it can evolve in ways that are not merely additive, but that change some of the very premises of the field itself. Such has been the case with ecocriticism' s responses to interventions from feminisms, critical race studies, non-Anglophone or non- Western traditions, cultural geography, etc. These have not simply added extra limbs to an unchanged critical core; rather, they have profoundly complicated and nuanced the core itself. To put it differently, ecocriticism is not just about the intersection between human and non-human worlds, but is also a productive and mobile site for intersectional ideologies and theories. I will here suggest that three recent interventions in ecocriticism - from early modern studies; from a French traditional of ecological thinking which, following Stephanie Posthumus, I will call éco-pensée; and from queer theory - can each be brought into dialogue not only bilaterally with ecocriticism but also with each other, producing a multi-directional articulation that enriches our understanding of each. More specifically, this articulation can help us to continue to theorize hybridity in natureculture relations. The notion of the radical separateness of non-human nature and human culture continues to haunt some ecocritical practice and environmental activism. This "ecocentric versus anthropocentric" debate - characterized as "nature-endorsing" versus "nature-skeptical" by Soper (4) - is one of the core impasses in environmental humanities in general, despite many attempts to think beyond the binary (MacCormack and Strathern, White).2 It has led to "theory wars" between scholars which tend to dead-end,3 and also underpins a kind of ecopraxis which is arguably less effective than one based on a hybrid natureculture. Nature-culture, or natureculture, is certainly not new: it is central, for example, to the work of Donna Haraway and Bruno Latour. What I am proposing is a way to apprehend hybridity by approaching it from the simultaneous approaches offered by early modern studies, écopensée, and queer theory, all of which intervene critically to complicate the notion of a nature/culture (biotic/social; ecocentered/anthropocentered) exclusivity - and which, in turn, can themselves be nuanced by an encounter with the ecocritical.

It bears repeating that ecocriticism is not a monolithic ideology or approach. It has on occasion been unfairly and simplistically set up as a straw man (Phillips, T. Morton).4 There is some validity to these critiques, but they tend to focus on one kind of ecocritical practice that was more the norm in the 1990s, which was dominated according to Patrick Murphy by an "anti-theoretical, naïve, realist attitude" (165). …

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