- Out of the Earth: Ecocritical Readings of Irish Texts
Out of the Earth: Ecocritical Readings of Irish Texts is a significant collection of essays in a mode of critical inquiry that is becoming an increasing field of importance in literary and cultural studies. But perhaps "mode" is not the best way to describe the practices of ecocriticism. Following Lawrence Buell, we can consider it to be "issue-driven" rather than functioning as a specific methodology, imagining it as a space that "gathers itself around a commitment to environmentality" (2004, 11). In this way, academic ecocritical works can be interpreted as having a shared material bedrock, all the while navigating different routes and pathways in their travels over, across, and within the spaces of the earth. The essays in Out of the Earth display such exciting variability, deploying as they do different locations (theoretical, generic, aesthetic, temporal) from which to consider the intersections between Irish landscape and text, between people and place. Given the overdetermination of the cultural and political significance of land in the Irish historical imaginary due to the specifics of imperialism, decolonization, and, most recently, capitalist development, the innovative textual readings of this collection are a real and noteworthy achievement.
In the main, the texts considered in Out of the Earth are literary, encompassing poetry, drama, fiction, and memoir, with the one exception being Eóin Flannery's piece on late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century touristic writing and poster pictures. The collection is bookended with an introduction by the renowned ecocritic John Elder and a concluding interview by the [End Page 171] editor, Christine Cusick, with cartographer and writer Tim Robinson. The interview is fascinating for the account it gives of the self (in this case the mapping and writing self) in connection with place, as Robinson discusses his method of getting to know the landscapes he charts, which incorporates the textual and the material, but in such a way that disrupts the binary of nature/ culture, as the material is shown to be infused with the textual and vice versa, since the "world is total interconnectivity" (207).
Indeed, all the essays in the book address the nature/culture divide, with some interrogating the historical privileging of culture in literary criticism and others, such as Flannery's, challenging the division altogether in favor of a strategy of "dwelling in the world," a form of locatedness that allows for an ecocriticism of material and historical specificity. His postcolonial critique and assessment of imperialist touristic texts of Ireland, which were dominated by images of the rural picturesque and the ruin, reveal the way in which ecocritical discourse can be placed in dialogue with other forms of critical and theoretical registers. This is also evident in Jefferson Holdridge's essay on Lady Morgan's The Wild Irish Girl and William Carleton's The Black Prophet, which interweaves a discussion on the aesthetic—the "sublime" and "beautiful" Irish landscape—with a politicized colonial context of union that allows for the unsettling power of the nonhuman to be articulated and brought forth. Donna Potts's article on Michael Longley's "environmental elegies" similarly laces the political with the natural, demonstrating the dual and connective functioning of the poetry as speaking to both Northern Ireland and environmental issues at once. Neither is privileged; rather, both are valued in their interconnectedness.
The romanticization of the Irish landscape, in both imperialist and nationalist discourses, is addressed by many of the essays in the collection, something of crucial importance in an ecocritical context given the appropriating gesture involved. Cultural representations of the Aran Islands have been saturated in this way, as explored by Karen O'Brien in her analysis of Martin McDonagh's contemporary play The Cripple of Inismaan, where she focuses on the emblem of rock fissure as a symbol of the constructedness (and hence artificiality) of representations. Thus, the deployment of landscape as symbol is reappropriated and turned in on itself. Joy Kennedy-O'Neill's article is also concerned with the...