In addition to being on the executive committee of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment, UK and Ireland (ASLE-UKI), I am also a member of the editorial board for the journal Green Letters: Studies in Ecocriticism.
My grants include:
In 2012, I held a Visiting Fellowship at the Australian National University.
I welcome enquiries from doctoral students interested in working in any aspect of environmental criticism, Romanticism or epic poetry.
I currently work part-time for the University of Surrey. Please email me for an appointment.
Climate change is one of the most prominent symptoms of an age of unprecedented human impact on the biosphere—the age sometimes called the Anthropocene. In identifying humanity as a geological agent, the term “Anthropocene” exposes the fallacy of human exceptionalism, reminding us of the entangled nature of human and nonhuman agency, and the vast and decidedly nonhuman proportions of human action. For, as climate change and other Anthropocene events make clear, the effect of humans on their environment will far outlast human dimensions of individual lifetimes and even historical epochs: some of the impacts of humans’ activity—for example, species depletion—are irrevocable; others, such as polar ice-melt, are reversible (if at all) over immense durations of time. But in its recognition of the imbrication of human action with the biosphere (in all its human and nonhuman complexity), the concept of the Anthropocene captures a profoundly and existentially disturbing paradox. That is, even as we must confront the damaging illusion of human agency existing aloof and apart from nonhuman “nature,” we must also consider how to recuperate a nuanced view of human agency that enables humans to engage more fully with the unprecedented crisis now engulfing human and nonhuman organisms and environments.
In 1971, activist-author Wendell Berry, writing about the Red River Gorge in his beloved Kentucky, invoked the trope of a natural world not granted by our forebears but on loan from our descendants—the biosphere held in trust, as it were, for generations to come (Unforeseen Wilderness 26). The re-publication of part of Berry’s work in Audubon magazine soon after (Berry, ‘One-Inch Journey’ 4) led to a mis-attribution of them to John James Audubon, and, in 1973, when Dennis Hall, an official at Michigan’s Office of Land Use, adapted them without citation, he was erroneously credited also. Similarly, Australian Environment Minister Moses Cass’s use of it in a speech to the OECD in 1974 (qtd. in O’Toole) meant that the adage has sometimes been ascribed to him. From the 1980s onwards, the phrase was quoted in speeches and reprinted on book-jackets and in report by-lines—by, among others, representatives of the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Wildlife Fund (Talbot 495). Paul and Anne Erhlich attributed it to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (26) and an article in the Christian Science Monitor (Jones 23) assigned it to environmentalist Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute. The Los Angeles Times asserted that it was an Amish saying (Riley 5), United States Secretary of State James Baker named Ralph Waldo Emerson as its author (qtd. in Keyes L10), and the United States Council on Environmental Quality claimed the source to be Chief Seattle (qtd. in Keyes L10). 2 I have described these mis-attributions in detail not simply to offer an object lesson in the portability of provenance, but to suggest that this pithy aphorism has been so durable, so willingly and wishfully assigned to a range of wise and venerable sources, because it strikes a deep and resonant chord. The idea that our relationship with the biosphere is automatically a matter of posterity is a powerful one, and this quotation in particular achieves several important rhetorical tricks. It collapses a web of obligations—the interspecial and the intergenerational—into a single immemorial and apparently unthinkable strand of time. We are not simply construed as guardians of the environment for the environment’s sake; we are explicitly called on to steward it for this vastly distant future, while being reminded of our debt to those in the past. We are thus placed in a grand historical chain of obligations. This is a different version of posterity from John Passmore
Though it never names its ecological catastrophe, The Road is increasingly read as a climate change novel. I explore how this narrative of father and son walking a dead landscape speaks to contemporary environmental concerns. Adapting apocalyptic techniques, it contrasts a lost humanity (that is, being both human and humane) against present inhumanity, locating the measure of humanity in the father's care for his son. Thus, the novel resonates with contemporary anxieties about caring for the future, anxieties often expressed in the figure of the child. The novel's conclusion, however, affords the opportunity of rising above such anxieties.
In the last five years, climate change has emerged as a dominant theme in literature and, correspondingly, in literary studies. Its popularity in fiction has given rise to the term cli-fi, or climate change fiction, and speculation that this constitutes a distinctive literary genre. In theatre, the appearance of several big-name productions from 2009 to 2011 has inspired an increase in climate change plays. There has been a growing trend, too, of climate change poetry, thanks to the rise of ecopoetry (poetry that exhibits ecological awareness and engages with the world’s current state of environmental degradation) and the launch of some key climate change poetry initiatives in the media. This prevalence of climate change literature has brought about a greater engagement with climate change in literary studies, notably the environmentally-oriented branch of literary studies called ecocriticism. The increasing number of ecocritical analyses of climate change literature, particularly novels, is helping to shape a canon of climate change fiction. In a separate development, there has been greater interest in the phenomenon of climate change in literary or critical theory (the branch of literary studies concerned with literary concepts and philosophies rather than with literary texts). This development—centred on the study of climate change as a philosophical or existentialist problem—is sometimes termed climate change criticism or critical climate change.
The emergence of the environmental humanities presents a unique opportunity for scholarship to tackle the human dimensions of the environmental crisis. It might finally allow such work to attain the critical mass it needs to break out of customary disciplinary confines and reach a wider public, at a time when natural scientists have begun to acknowledge that an understanding of the environmental crisis must include insights from the humanities and social sciences. In order to realize this potential, scholars in the environmental humanities need to map the common ground on which close interdisciplinary cooperation will be possible. This essay takes up this task with regard to two fields which have embraced the environmental humanities with particular fervor, namely ecocriticism and environmental history. After outlining an ideal of slow scholarship which cultivates thinking across different spatiotemporal scales and seeks to sustain meaningful public debate, the essay argues that both ecocriticism and environmental history are concerned with practices of environing: each studies the material and symbolic transformations by which "the environment" is configured as a space for human action. Three areas of research are singled out as offering promising models for cooperation between ecocriticism and environmental history: eco-historicism, environmental justice, and new materialism. Bringing the fruits of such efforts to a wider audience will require environmental humanities scholars to experiment with new ways of organizing and disseminating knowledge.
To scan the now ubiquitous definition put forward by the Brundtland Commission is to realize that our construction of “sustainability” is driven by a notion of care—care for the nonhuman environment enfolded with a concern for our human descendants. The rhetoric around our ideal response to climate change structures it as an ethical response. This essay proposes that, while so much of the ontology of the global ecological crisis called climate change has been closely interrogated, the ethics of care demanded in the name of that crisis has not been scrutinized in the same way. By “care,” I mean a feeling of concern for the wellbeing and needs of others; by “care ethics,” I mean an ethical position that takes this affective concern as its basis for action.1 Given that environmental ethics—the question of human conduct and its effect on the human and nonhuman environment—is a profoundly ontological project, accounting as it must for the perceived ontological difference between the human and nonhuman, this lack of ontological scrutiny is conspicuous, to say the least. This essay thus offers a theorization of the care ethics of climate change and sustainability. It considers this through the ontological project of new materialism, paying attention to the new materialist tendency to discuss ontology as agency, and being in terms of becoming. I propose that care too has to be discerned as always becoming, that it is to be considered—to invoke Heidegger—not as ontic but as ontological. And yet, pace Heidegger, I suggest that, in an environmental ethics of care, care is more fruitfully thought of not as a condition for ontology (as in Heidegger’s Sorge) but as itself deserving of ontological query. Care is not the means by which agency occurs; it is itself agential.
This article examines the medievalist epic Coeur de Lion (1822), by Eleanor Anne Porden (1795-1825). The author reads this poem not simply for the way it draws on exhaustive research, but for the way it treats this research, invoking yet sidestepping the demands of historical accuracy. Specifically, Porden grapples with the challenges of representing Britain's chivalric past, exploring whether to adopt the feminized trappings of romance or to align herself with the objectivity of historical epic. In choosing the latter, Porden must struggle, further, with the challenge of transforming the historical Richard, moral blind spots and all, into an acceptable epic hero. Porden's struggle, heroic in itself, cannot help but work its way into the text. As such tensions come increasingly to express themselves as a conflicted relationship between poet and hero, Porden seeks resolution or, at the very least, relief in romance. © 2012 Copyright Taylor and Francis Group, LLC.
This article provides an overview of climate change in literature, focusing on the representation of climate change in Anglophone fiction. It then evaluates the way in which these fictional representations are critiqued in literary studies, and considers the extent to which the methods and tools that are currently employed are adequate to this new critical task. We explore how the complexity of climate change as both scientific and cultural phenomenon demands a corresponding degree of complexity in fictional representation. For example, when authors represent climate change as a global, networked, and controversial phenomenon, they move beyond simply employing the environment as a setting and begin to explore its impact on plot and character, producing unconventional narrative trajectories and innovations in characterization. Then, such creative complexity asks of literary scholars a reassessment of methods and approaches. For one thing, it may require a shift in emphasis from literary fiction to genre fiction. It also particularly demands that environmental criticism, or ecocriticism, moves beyond its long-standing interest in concepts of 'nature' and 'place', to embrace a new understanding of the local in relation to the global. We suggest, too, that there are synergies to be forged between these revisionary moves in ecocriticism and developments in literary critical theory and historicism, as these critical modes begin to deal with climate change and reimagine themselves in turn. © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
This paper calls for a rapprochement between ecocriticism and what it often disregards as theory. Specifically, it argues for the relevance of genre theory, which explores the dynamic relations of author, reader, text, and the worlds they inhabit. Texts are locatable within the environment of a given genre; further, generic environments reciprocally shape, structure, and determine our sense of the wider environment. This paper offers a generically inflected reading of Kim Stanley Robinson's Science in the Capital trilogy, in which the representation of climate change is understood as a complex set of negotiations within the generic space of utopian science fiction. © 2010 Taylor & Francis.
This paper emerges from a project conducted between academics in literary studies and geography that explored the creative process amongst writers who write for pleasure. It seeks to understand writing as creative process as well as simply representation, recovering process as a part of creative making. Building on a long tradition of theorising process and creativity in literary studies, which has cumulatively discredited the idea of inspiration, this paper asks whether a fresh engagement between geography, literary studies and other work on creative writing can provide new insights into the creative process. Recognising that questions of representation have been pursued with different trajectories in geography and literary studies, this paper attempts to identify our common intellectual concerns as well as asking whether a rapprochement between questions of representation and non-representational theory can provide the stimulus for an enlivened account that recovers the place of inspiration in creative writing. © 2010 The Authors. Journal compilation © Royal Geographical Society (with The Institute of British Geographers) 2010.
This chapter is divided into nine sections, each providing an overview of a key critical concept for the study of Romanticism: canon, class, gender, imagination, nature, Orientalism, revolution, science and slavery. In each of these nine sections, the concept in question is discussed in terms of how it developed over the Romantic period in the work of both major and minor Romantic writers. Each topic is also discussed with regard to the changing landscape of contemporary Romantic scholarship and criticism.
This chapter examines the process by which landscape and (written) text inter-relate, and therefore attends to the process of literary creativity. It explores the apparently ineffable, unknowable and ‘unwritable’ elements of the creative process. It focuses first on the writer as an agent in that process and then, via writers’ accounts of landscape and text, considers the creative process in terms of a dialectic between two phases: a conscious, reflective phase of observing, planning, and researching; and an unconscious, unreflective phase often designated as ‘inspiration’. That second phase becomes the locus of the ineffable aspect of creativity. By considering these two phases within a dialectic, we move closer towards an account of the unwritable aspect of the creative process. Thus, we respond, too, to the tension between representational and non-representational theories of landscape in cultural geography. In the final analysis, we offer two ways of approaching and discussing landscape and text based on two ways of constructing the creative dialectic – the one dealing with the moments at which landscape and text inform each other, and the other treating of coincidences between literary and geographical forms.
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