- Ostension, Simile, Catachresis:Misusing Helena Viramontes's Under the Feet of Jesus to Rethink the Globalization Environmentalism Relation
6.54 My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them—as steps—to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)
He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.
7 What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.—Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921)
In The Environmental Imagination, perhaps the foundational text of ecocriticism and the first of three field-defining books that Lawrence Buell has written on literature and the environment, Buell speculates, [End Page 346] "If such a thing as global culture ever comes into being, environmentalism will surely be one of the catalysts."1 More than a decade later, however, Ursula Heise criticizes environmentally oriented authors and critics for failing to incorporate the humanities' "transnational turn" into their work, suggesting that Buell's vision remains unrealized. 2 Heise contends that such writers misguidedly employ a pickand choose approach to globalization that rejects its economic implications while welcoming "transnational cultural connectedness" as "the foundation for resistance to the global capitalist order."3 In effect, ecocritics and the authors they study accentuate the universalizing elements of globalization that suit them while privileging economic localism, ignoring the contradictions that arise from having one foot in the universal and the other in the particular.4
Given that the history of ecocriticism could itself be read as an ongoing vacillation between universal and particular representations of the environment and our relation to it, however, it is not surprising that these same contradictions emerge whenever authors of environmental literature and criticism articulate their global visions. In its earliest stages, ecocritics borrowed a difference-based notion of identity from multiculturalism, grounding their ecocentrism in the notion that the earth was an oppressed identity group just like women, racial minorities, or other marginalized groups.5 Many of those groups that the earth was supposedly like, however, registered ecocentrism's "deep ecology" as a universalizing world-view insensitive to their particular sociocultural experiences. Consequently, the environmental justice movement pursued a more anthropocentric approach to the environment, forcefully reasserting the particularity of the marginalized.6 But the environmental justice movement did not just highlight sociocultural specificity against what it took to be the imperious universalism of deep ecology; it also called for the internationalization of ecocriticism more broadly.7 This in turn required a discursive swing back to universality, manifest, for example, in Buell's description of the "grassroots resistance of environmentally oppressed peoples" as "ubiquitous."8 This is where Heise's work intervenes, contending that arguments about the universality of particular instances of marginalization fail to appreciate globalization's complex dynamics.
Buell's second book of ecocriticism, Writing for an Endangered World, tries to stop this vacillation between universal and particular. Acknowledging that he overplayed his ecocentric universalism in The Environmental Imagination—an emphasis that earned sharp rebukes from the environmental justice community—in Writing Buell commits to "representing in a single book the interdependence of the 'anthropocentric' and 'ecocentric' dimensions of environmental [End Page 347] imagination."9 Rather than the either/or choice between universality, ecocentrism, and nature, on the one hand, and particularity, anthropocentrism, and culture, on the other, he advocates a both/and approach that foregrounds how universals and particulars are mutually constitutive, not mutually exclusive.10 For Buell, the figure of the watershed embodies this balance, reminding us of "the copresence of 'built' and 'natural' elements in dense urbanized centers . . . and of the impossibility of cordoning off country from city, or vice versa. Everywhere is either upstream or downstream (or both) from somewhere else."11 Buell's attempt to "both/and" the history of ecocriticism and halt the discipline's vacillation between universalism and particularism marks a crucial intervention and evinces an admirable willingness to engage his environmental justice critics dialectically. At the same time, however, Buell's decision to emphasize the "interdependencies" of universal and particular visions of the environment indicates an unwillingness to engage with...