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  • Exploring Narratives of Global Justice and Sustainability: The Rise of Postcolonial Ecocriticism
Elizabeth DeLoughrey and George B. Handley, eds. Postcolonial Ecologies: Literatures of the Environment. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. xi + 348 pp.
Bonnie Roos and Alex Hunt, eds. Postcolonial Green: Environmental Politics and World Narratives. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 2010. xi + 301 pp.

Although the field of postcolonial ecocriticism is developing rapidly, there have been few attempts to gather together scholarship in this area in a cohesive manner. Patrick D. Murphy’s Farther Afield in the Study of Nature-Oriented Literature, published in 2000, was the first ecocritical collection to consider global literature, while Graham Huggan and Helen Tiffin’s more recent Postcolonial Ecocriticism took this one step further by applying a combined ecocritical and post-colonial approach. The two volumes considered here, Postcolonial Ecologies and Postcolonial Green, build on previous studies and demonstrate how environmental and historical issues can be brought together in productive dialogue. As such, both collections demonstrate [End Page 175] in different ways the variety and scope of current scholarship and represent a significant contribution to the field.

In Postcolonial Ecologies, Elizabeth DeLoughrey and George B. Handley build on their previous collection with Renee K. Gosson, Caribbean Literature and the Environment: Between Nature and Culture. They describe their latest venture as “the first collection of essays to engage literatures from Africa, the Caribbean, South Asia, and the Pacific Islands in their postcolonial constructions of the environment” (34). Perhaps this collection’s greatest achievement is not only the geographical and thematic scope of the essays within it, but also the ongoing advancement of the theoretical field itself outlined by DeLoughrey and Handley in their introduction. For this reason alone Postcolonial Ecologies will be a valuable asset to scholars engaged in this method of criticism. They draw insightful examples from canonical figures such as Frantz Fanon and Edward Said in order to highlight “that histories embedded in the land and sea have always provided vital and dynamic methodologies for understanding the transformative impact of empire and the anticolonial epistemologies it tries to supress” (4). The introduction reads somewhat like a manifesto for the working advancement of postcolonial ecocriticism and would serve newcomers and established scholars equally well. Arguing that the origins of postcolonial ecology recall the colonial transportation of nature, the editors are critical of the continued Anglo American orientation of ecocritical thought. They note the valuable contribution of scholars such as Patrick D. Murphy and Rob Nixon in going beyond the geographical limitations of the area and also in proposing a valuable combination of ecocriticism with postcolonial theory. Having outlined both approaches, they propose a theory they term an “aesthetics of the earth,” described as “a discourse of transformative self-conscious disruption that calls attention to the universalizing impulses of the global—as a key aspect of postcolonial ecocriticism” (28). The phrase “aesthetics of the earth” is borrowed from Eduoard Glissant and questions how we may appreciate land that has borne colonial violence and, in doing so, may create a regenerative response that addresses notions of environmental and social justice.

The volume is organized into four distinct themes. The first, “Cultivating Place,” engages with the concept of the garden as a site of interaction for nature and culture. The three essays that comprise the section consider the trope of the Edenic garden in Indian and Caribbean literature respectively and engage with how it sheds light on the exploitative aspects of colonial reality. In her analysis of Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, Jill Didur argues that the novel’s colonial representation of the Himalayas as Edenic or paradisiacal offers us a hybrid space, one that “investigates the [End Page 176] cultural and environmental effects of these modes of seeing, and challenges colonial notions of retreat and innocence associated with hill station environments and communities in a postcolonial context” (44). Elaine Savory’s essay on Derek Walcott’s poetry and LeGrace Benson’s examination of visual arts in Haiti demonstrate the practical application of DeLoughrey and Handley’s “aesthetics of the earth” in considering poetic and visual representations of how landscapes are irredeemably altered by colonialism.

In “Deforestation and the Yearning for...


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