Nature As Ecology: Toward a More Constructive Ecocriticism

Ben S Bunting


Cheryll Glotfelty's essay collection The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology was published in 1996, eighteen years after William Rueckert coined the term “ecocriticism,” and yet Glotfelty's main goal, through three hundred ninety-one pages and twenty-five essays, was still to answer the question “what is ecocriticism?”. Many of the essays included in the Reader are in direct conversation – if not outright argument – with one another and even today – sixteen years later still – “what is ecocriticism?” is a question with no easy answer.
This is as it should be. As a discipline that is connected to literary theory by the dual bridges of culture and science – a culture that is becoming increasingly aware of its culpability in worldwide environmental destruction through the work of science – ecocriticism would be worse than useless if it was unable to reinvent itself in the face of this growing environmental awareness. It continues – appropriately – to adapt, not unlike the ecosystems that it discusses.
But how does one define the parameters of a critical discourse that can't agree on its own tenets? I suggest that instead of searching for a definition of ecocriticism in the answers it provides, we look instead at the questions it asks. There are many, for certain, but a few stand out: the Big Questions that are the most repeated and that can often be glimpsed lurking behind many smaller inquiries. By enumerating these Big Questions and synthesizing some of the most important responses to them, I create an outline – a skeleton, if you will – upon which the muscles of ecocriticism can be seen to work. Extrapolating from this model, then, I critique the thesis of Timothy Morton's book Ecology Without Nature and through that critique suggest a constructive revision of Morton's idea of “ecology without nature,” a conceptual mode of responsible, ecological living that I label “nature as ecology.” Ultimately, this essay is both a critique of the current state of ecocritical discourse and an argument for a new, more constructive direction.


Ecocriticism; Pastoral; Literature; Environment

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@Journal of Ecocriticism. ISSN 1916-1549