- Greening the Maple: Canadian Ecocriticism in Context ed. by Ella Soper and Nicholas Bradley
Ecocriticism, which Ella Soper and Nicholas Bradley define as “the investigation of the many ways in which culture and the environment—the realm that both includes and exceeds the human—are interrelated and conceptualized,” embodies the urgent relevance of humanities research, yet until now there has never been a major anthology of ecocritical work from Canada, a nation with a vital history of environmental imaginings. Greening the Maple fills this gap by focusing on ecocriticism “in the context of studies of Canadian literature.” This makes the collection welcome and overdue, although it also means that the volume is less concerned with other forms of ecocritical cultural studies. I should mention that I have been involved in ecocriticism in Canada for a number of years and have collaborated with several of the contributors to this collection. On the one hand, this makes me a friendly reviewer, but, on the other hand, I have great expectations for such a volume. [End Page 309]
The anthology contains canonical works of Canadian literary criticism written before the institutionalization of ecocriticism, including the mandatory selections from Margaret Atwood and Northrop Frye, which posit a relationship between nature and Canadian national identity; selections from the 1990s, when Canadian critics such as Laurie Ricou, D.M.R. Bentley, and Susie O’Brien began to engage explicitly with the role of ecocritical study in a Canadian context; and contemporary work that probes the politics and complexities of the ongoing ecocritical project. Jenny Kerber examines the Canada-US border as a site of imaginative, discursive, and ecological consequences, a topic of special significance given the ways in which ecosystems transcend political boundaries; Stephanie Posthumus and Élise Salaün develop an ecocritical history of Québécois literature and culture; Rita Wong’s study of Asian-Canadian and indigenous writing argues that the concerns of sustainability must be understood alongside the politics of race and colonization; Travis V. Mason considers geological deep time through a comparative analysis of Canadian and South African poetry; and Nelson Gray examines representations of the environment in Canadian and indigenous drama.
Additional topics raised in other chapters include the intersections between ecocriticism and postcolonialism; conceptualizations of environmental justice; the implications of postmodern theory for ecocritical writing; cultural and literary constructions of the links between nature and gender; the National Parks system, which seeks both to commodify and to preserve wilderness; the special role of poetry in Canadian ecocriticism, from early Canadian nature poetry to contemporary urban and experimental poetry; the unique history of animal stories in Canada; ecological destruction and environmental politics in Canadian fiction; the representation of coastal landscapes and indigenous cultures in Emily Carr’s art; the role of scientifically informed non-fiction writing in representing wild animals and their forms of knowledge; and the development of the Canadian ecocritical community itself. Clearly, there is rich ground here, and the decision of the University of Calgary Press to offer the book as a free PDF (as well as a more pleasurably tactile paperback) opens this important work to all readers.
As the editors note in their introduction, the two key organizing concepts of the volume—“Canadian” and “ecocriticism”—remain inevitably contested, and their juxtaposition opens up a whole host of conceptual and practical questions—questions that become more intriguing given the absences from this volume. Exclusions are inevitable in any anthology, of course, but as the editors admit, some important voices have been left out here: commentary from indigenous scholars, ecocritical writing from literary authors themselves, and “studies by Canadian critics that address issues of more general ecocritical concern without sustained consideration of Canadian writing.” Ultimately, this speaks to the great wealth of the [End Page 310] growing field; many works of CanLit, too, as well as more diverse cultural texts and practices, still enticingly await treatment through an ecocritical lens. Fortunately, those who undertake such projects in the future will have an excellent resource at hand. If a good anthology is one that...