- Explorations in Ecocriticism: Advocacy, Bioregionalism, and Visual Design by Paul Lindholdt
Paul Lindholdt has been a good friend for many years, through the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment and elsewhere, and consequently I follow his published writing closely. Four years after publication of his prizewinning collection In Earshot of Water, Lindholdt has given us a strong new collection that stretches the conceptual boundaries of ecocriticism. He had originally published Exploration’s ten essays over a thirteen-year period (1996–2009), and as he explains in his introduction, he heavily revised them as he planned this book. Explorations represents a laudable addition to Lexington Books’ recent ecocriticism series. The three terms of his subtitle explain the collection’s innovation, for the unexpected connections between advocacy, bioregionalism, and visual design demonstrate his reach into less familiar territory. Lindholdt’s wide, comfortable interdisciplinarity is commendable.
In his introduction, Lindholdt admits his eagerness for greater interdisciplinarity, his desire “to personalize some discourse forms,” his abiding “interest [based on his own life] in radical activism,” his steady inveighing against technocracy, and his “hopeful reverence” (2–4). In his blending of these contrary dispositions, he rethinks earlier published positions: “I wanted this book to advance my current views, not those of the past” (4). The former differ from the latter in degree, not kind. Unsurprisingly, some overlap occurs between essays, but not enough to distract the reader.
Two or three of the essays show Lindholdt expanding the green literary canon back in American literary history (i.e., to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries) or out and away from American nonfiction (his close reading of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People). Additionally, he critically reviews the most famous nineteenth-century travel memoir set in Washington State, Theodore Winthrop’s The Canoe and the Saddle (1862), excoriating Winthrop’s overt racism and profound myopia about visible environmental degradation. Two or three essays advocate the necessary centrality of bioregionalism in literary criticism, composition pedagogy, and local activism. Bioregional praxis in these domains suggests new [End Page 110] ways for teachers, students, and other citizens to be grounded and participatory in their communities.
In his earlier life, Lindholdt worked as a Teamster and longshoreman, and I’ve always admired his tough-minded activism and willingness to openly confront hostile political elements in, say, eastern Washington where he has lived for many years. He continually calls out the ever-shifting range of anti-environmental attitudes and organizations, fringe or mainstream. Given this tendency, I find the three essays in the center of Explorations (one devoted to “Edward Abbey and Neo-Luddite Thought”) the most compelling. One essay, in the tradition of investigative journalism, tracks and lambasts the “Wise Use Movement.” The artfully titled “An Iconography of Sabotage,” the book’s longest essay, defines neo-Luddite thought through an original survey of World War I literature and song lyrics, the Russian Doukhobor immigrants in British Columbia, Abbey, Earth First!, “Hunt Sabs,” and the recent documentary DamNation (2014).
Perhaps Lindholdt’s most innovative work concerns his subversive reading of the Bureau of Reclamation’s commissioned art collection (1968–73), now dispersed and incomplete, through the conceptual lens of ecopornography. Here is a story few know, and his ecocritical undressing of this propagandistic initiative by a federal agency most known for out-of-control dam building persuasively exposes its agenda. The essay illustrates Lindholdt’s diverse, innovative paths, and Explorations inspires readers to further their own.