- Introduction:Eco/Critical Entanglements
Atmospheric disturbances hang over our heads a heavy sense of urgency, a series of alarms that ring out a global chorus of catastrophic proportions: economic collapse, pervasive terror, hysterical politics, ecological disaster. Has crisis become the defining mood of the twenty-first century? Or is this cultural anxiety the exaggerated production of an overactive media in an age of around-the-clock transmissions?
Crisis has long been the defining catalyst of the modern environmental movement, which has gained momentum and legislative traction through its ability to communicate the plight of plant and animal species on a more immediately human scale.1 In the past decade, concern for the planet's environmental future has moved into mainstream consciousness most markedly through the issues of global warming (or climate change as the more encompassing term), overconsumption of limited natural resources, and the toxic saturation of everything from industrialized food systems and children's toys to Hungarian villages. Increasingly spectacular pressure points of environmental catastrophe—and their undeniable impact on human communities—have manifested these issues as no longer merely inconvenient or marginal to politics but constitutive of new legislative and social agendas. Still, genuine environmentalist action [End Page 5] threatens to be subsumed by a more fuzzy conversion to consumerist "eco-friendly" lifestyles.
This growing attunement to a newly foregrounded ecological context has registered in the humanities through increasingly interdisciplinary approaches to understanding how something called "nature" is conceived and acted upon. These lines of inquiry are not new, but they have taken on a more recent ecological emphasis and disciplinary consolidation in scholarship through the still-evolving field of ecocriticism. Since its emergence in the 1990s from scholarship based on North American nature writing and British Romanticism, ecocriticism has defined its critical object as texts that merge the literary and environmental, and its stance as one of environmental ethics and activism.2
This special issue of Qui Parle, "At the Intersections of Ecocriticism," brings together essays, poetry, and art that veer in and out of overtly ecocritical frameworks in order to explore how this discipline has expanded beyond its initial literary canon. These contributions offer insight into what further conversations ecocriticism can develop with work in adjacent fields addressing questions of space and place, human-nonhuman divides, and how the material world can interrupt and reconfigure notions of human and nonhuman ontology, agency, and cultural formation. In the pages that follow, ecocritical currents crisscross the sciences, posthumanism, animal studies, biopolitics, gender and queer theory, disability studies, political theory, new media, visual culture, and landscape design. This is by no means an exhaustive representation, yet it gives a sense of the far-ranging points of departure and critical modes through which environmentally inflected inquiry is being pursued.3
Qui Parle has long provided a forum for interdisciplinary work in critical theory, and in assembling this special issue I sought contributions that would help us explore what critical theory can offer to ecological criticism and in turn, how alternative understandings of environments can transform the boundaries and claims of theory. In their essays for this issue, influential environmental critics Lawrence Buell and Timothy Morton each discuss ways in which critical theory has occupied something of a blind spot—or sore spot—in ecocriticism from the start. Buell notes that "some strange [End Page 6] disconnects obtain between 'environmentally'-oriented work and other initiatives that at first sight ought to seem more intimately allied," giving the explosion of animal studies in critical theory as one example of a field that should be interacting more with ecocritical work but in which there is relatively little bibliographical overlap. Part of the curious lack of chemistry despite seemingly obvious affinities appears to reside in differences over how to approach a shared obsession: Nature/nature. What is the right way to apprehend, to really apprehend, nature? Traditional ecocriticism says we should come to read and appreciate nature firsthand by rushing out into a rainstorm or learning to identify all the wildflowers in a meadow. We should gain empirical understanding alongside aesthetic pleasure from environmental texts (e.g., reading the work of Thoreau, John Muir, or John Clare as field guides) and...