Ecology without Nature, Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics

By McIntosh, Robert P. | The American Midland Naturalist, July 2008 | Go to article overview

Ecology without Nature, Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics


McIntosh, Robert P., The American Midland Naturalist


Ecology Without Nature, Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics. Morton, Timothy. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2007.

An alternative title for this volume could be "Ecology Without Ecology?" and the author asserts that "nature will have to wither away in an ecological state of human society." Morton describes his book as "considering art above all else," but that it is about "an ecology to come." He provides a collection of terms with the Eco prefix: Ecocriticism, Ecocritique, Ecodidactism, Ecofeminism, Ecologocentrism, Ecomimesis, Eco-phenomenology, Ecopsychology, Ecorhapsodic and Ecosophy, none familiar in the ecological literature. Definition of each of these is beyond the scope of this review and, perhaps, the comprehension of its readers. Ecocriticism, which is cited more often than any of the other Eco terms, is described as too enmeshed in the ideology that churns out stereotypical ideas of nature to be of any use. Morton prefers Ecocritique which does not think that it is paradoxical to say, in the name of ecology itself: Down with nature!

Ecomimesis turns out to be nature writing and for clarification is described as a mixture of excursus and exemplum. Fortunately, Morton teaches a class in ecological language as he introduces other terms, for example ambience, defined as "to make strange the idea of environment," and not cited in the index.

Since Morton's book, he says, is about art above all else it would be effrontery for a retired ecologist to review it in its entirety. However, given its title and limited references to recognizable ecologists and ecology, in a professional sense, I proffer a review of its comments on recognizable ecologists or their work. Morton writes, We should all be reading Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari instead of Aldo Leopold. He compares the kitsch of an Aldo Leopold's writing ajournai (an almanac) to convey nature in a suitable (non)aesthetic form, to "a minimalist painter who puts an empty frame in an art gallery." Leopold's famous "A Sand County Almanac", he writes "tries to escape the pull of the literary in much the same way as avant guard art tries to escape the conventional aesthetic". In contrast, Morton provides memorable sentences in locating "nature as sandwiched between terms such as God and Nature?", adding "Nature appears to be both lettuce and mayonnaise".

Morton distinguishes 'ecocritics' from 'post-structuralists' because, he writes, "If ecocritics prefer Aldo Leopold's almanac style, complete with cute illustrations, post-structuralists tend to go for the latest compilation album by an ambient techno DJ". …

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