- Topographies of Anticolonialism:The Ecopoetical Sublime in the Caucasus from Tolstoy to Mamakaev
The tenderness and ecstasy we experience in contemplating nature... is the awareness of this unity with everything that is hidden from us by time.—Lev Tolstoy
Notwithstanding that ecocriticism and postcolonial studies both originate in questions of place, these areas of inquiry all too frequently pursue parallel trajectories that converge only in the rarest of instances. Rob Nixon is one of the few ecocritics to straddle the colonial divide through a framework that incorporates cultures as wide ranging as the Caribbean, South Africa, the Middle East, and Indonesia. Nixon has enumerated four axes along which ecocriticism and postcolonial theory most commonly diverge. Ecocriticism in Nixon's account traditionally strives for purity, continuity between place and space, and a coherent national identity. The combined result of these three variables is historical amnesia. By contrast, postcolonialism, fractured by the very conditions of its emergence, has tended to embrace hybridity, displacement, transnationality, and historical recovery as its critical agenda.1 These historical differences have meant that the lineages of Edward Said on the one hand and of Rachel Carson on the other often run parallel but have rarely converged.
Other ecocritics supplement Nixon's observations concerning the consequences of the unwarranted divide between postcolonial accounts of globalization and ecocritical accounts of local devastation, which among other problems, conditions the geographic provincialism of ecocritical inquiry. [End Page 87] Lawrence Buell acknowledges that the divergence between ecocriticism's place-based orientation and postcolonial theory's diasporic situation has led to a narrow focus on "individual nations' literary histories" within environmental studies and that only recently have the latter's problematics begun to be contemplated "intensively in comparatist terms."2 Greg Gerrad similarly notes that the provocative juncture between "environmental critique" and "the postcolonial politics of resistance to economic globalisation" has "barely been broached."3 For Graham Huggen, ecocriticism continues to be "a predominantly white movement" that lacks "the institutional support-base to engage fully with multicultural and cross-cultural concerns," while "ecologically related contributions to postcolonial criticism have tended until fairly recently to focus on . . . 'settler cultures.'"4 Adding her voice to this chorus of critiques, Ursula Heise bluntly observes that whereas the "environmentalist ambition is to think globally," "monolingualism is currently one of ecocriticism's most serious intellectual limitations."5 The "spatial amnesia" that Nixon diagnosed and that many of his fellow ecocritics deem a contributing factor to ecocriticism's geographic provincialism is tied to an equally persistent linguistic tunnel vision. Monoglossia will unfortunately remain the norm for ecocriticism so long as the "moral imperative of the local typically opens out not into the specificities of the international but into transcendental abstraction."6 No discipline or scholarly method is better suited to help ecocriticism overcome these linguistic and geographic lapses than comparative literary inquiry.
As ecocriticism becomes increasingly visible in comparative literature, its geographical provincialism will gradually come to appear unsustainable. The most influential postcolonial interventions into ecocriticism have thus far engaged primarily with South Asian, African, and Middle Eastern archives. They have encompassed the writings of Arundhati Roy, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and Raja Shehadeh, each of whom has brought forward vernacular landscapes "shaped by the affective, historically textured maps that communities have devised over generations, maps replete with names and routes, maps alive to significant ecological and surface geological features."7 But the literary canons of contemporary South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East do not encompass the range of ecocritical literary engagements across the world, many of which move across these regions without inhabiting any single one. One of the most notable if least discussed loci for the ecocritical imagination is the Caucasus, a region that has served as a home for peoples of multiple religions and ethnicities since the beginning of recorded history. This article introduces the Caucasus's ecocritical imagination through the framework of comparative literature. [End Page 88]
If comparativism has yet to flourish within ecocritical discourse about literature, the same cannot be said for the literary traditions themselves, which engaged with the physical environment long before ecocritical thinking was formally recognized. Like many colonial and postcolonial literatures, the Russian encounter with the...