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Some Principles of Ecocriticism

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Jada Walters

on 1 October 2013

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Transcript of Some Principles of Ecocriticism

"Some Principles of Ecocriticism"
-a breakdown of William Howarth's essay

-Howarth identifies ecology as a discipline first appearing when authors began to express the negative effects of humanity on the environment
-Ecology is a type of science, but it is closely linked with "verbal expression" (shaman rites for example).
-Ecology is a discipline through which it is possible to "read, interpret, and narrate land history".
-Ethics are closely tied to ecology in ecocriticism.
-Many concerns raised in the study of ecology transformed to social and ethical issues, especially in the 1960s (Rachel Carson for example).
-With growing concern over political, economic, and military choices that would affect the health of the land, advocacy grew to protect the environment.
-Ecocriticism is not widely accepted in literary circles despite its connection to cultural and natural heritage.
-Ecocriticism focuses a more narrow lens on what environmental views can tell us about human culture. -According to Howarth, ecocriticism "seeks to redirect humanisitic ideology, not spurning the natural sciences but using their ideas to sustain viable readings".
-Ecocritics attempt to reconcile some of the apparent differences between science and classic literature in order to gain a more complete understanding of nature and the landscape.
-Ecocriticism proponents include feminist/gender critics, "who focus on the idea of place as defining social status".
In order for ecocriticism to evolve into a more structured area of literary criticism, texts focused in the area should be grouped together and studied.
Howarth includes a "basic library" of texts concerned with ecocriticism in various fields including natural sciences, geography, social sciences, history, American studies, and literature and other media.
Ecology: An Important Shift
The word 'ecology' is a shift from "oikonomia to oikologia, house mastery to house study". This marks an important change in human views of the environment (less man vs. nature, more equal rather than dominating relationship between the two).
Early Ecocritics
New Critics- explored the "diversity of words" in an attempt to demonstrate that they had an "organic coherence".
Structuralist Critics- analyzed symbols in myth and ancient rites relating to the explanation or obstruction of "natural conditions...such as famine or flood".
Science in Language
-Science is not necessarily completely separate from language, as seen through mediums like science fiction.
-Popular literary thought has often questioned science and ignored natural sciences in favor of human sciences (relying on "human understanding" and experience).
-Ecocriticism uses science for its deixis ("relative direction and orientation"), which allows a "basis for description" of the landscape.
Four Principles
-Howarth identifies four different principles that can be used to "explore environmental literature":
1.) ecology 3.) language
2.) ethics 4.) criticism.

The two in the left-hand column are closely linked, as are the two in the right-hand column.
Twentieth Century Ethics
-There are many defenders of 'unspoiled' natural lands today.
-Ecology endeavors to preserve the story of the land through observation and writings.
The Next Step
Landscape ecology- "landscape is a continuous history" and should be studied without distinctions between 'natural' and 'spoiled' lands.
What is an ecocritic?
In Howarth's essay, the definition of an ecocritic is given as "'a person who judges the merits and faults of writings that depict the effects of culture upon nature, with a view toward celebrating nature, berating its despoilers, and reversing their harm through political action".
Translation- any person (generally with a favorable opinion of nature) who looks at any piece of literature with a critical eye towards the text's portrayal of nature.
Full transcript