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  • Afterword
  • Phillip John Usher (bio)

If we are asked to reimagine humans as a geological force with trails of CO2 in their wake, readers of Shakespeare are as well prepared as anthropologists or geochemists.

—Bruno Latour1

The three articles gathered together here, which focus primarily on writers from early modern France, cut to the heart of contemporary critical debates about how we live with ourselves, the rest of humanity, and Planet Earth in the Anthropocene. One force of this particular incision of the past into the present is that the early modern authors are encouraged to employ their own terms, avoiding what Sara Miglietti calls in her introduction the "deforming lens of contemporary categories."2 As such, this concise cluster of studies provides some alternate (i.e. different yet related) histories and genealogies for thinking some of the biggest conceptual challenges of our times, especially the seemingly irresolvable oppositions between the particular and the universal, between the local and the global, and between determinism and probability.

These studies arrive at an opportune moment, not only thematically (as barely needs stating) but for the fact that they offer these other, [End Page 986] additional, vocabularies not just via another period—writing about early modern literature from the perspectives of the "environment," ecology, and ecocriticism abound these days—but specifically through a non-Anglophone tradition. Here, both the primary authors and the scholars reading them arrive in this American journal from elsewhere. As Louisa Mackenzie diagnosed in 2012, critical approaches to literature and ecology, whatever the chronologies, are "largely focused on cultural productions in English" (20). For sure, and especially since 2012, a growing number of scholars in the Anglophone world are working in and across multiple languages and traditions to bring ecology into dialogue with literature (Persels; Boudrieu and Sullivan; Goul and Usher; Verdicchio; Iovino; Chang and Slovic; Thornber; Li; Ryan; Alex) and the question of comparative ecocriticism is now receiving direct treatment (Suberchicot; Heise, "Comparative Literature and the Environmental Humanities;" "Comparative Ecocriticism in the Anthropocene"), as is the specific question of how to think about language difference and translation in the age of the Anthropocene (Cronin). Nonetheless, it is a symptom of the ongoing dominance of English—albeit perhaps a symptom that originated as just a "slip of the keyboard" as one colleague put it to me in conversation—that the MLA's Ecocriticism and Environmental Humanities forum defines itself as "a scholarly practice within English Studies," as if the MLA were not also the primary professional organization for scholars of all modern literatures.3 In any case, these three studies about, primarily, Pierre Charron, Louis-Bertrand Castel, and Montesquieu, are poised to comparativize and pluralize a field and a way of reading that are still, in many ways, in their infancy.

The particular value of these three studies is to offer additional critical lineages under a specific and important watchword, namely climate, a term so ubiquitous these days, but rarely used with much precision or rather with much awareness for either its long history or its own internal fragmentation. At first clip, it is all too easy to dissociate classical and early modern climate theory from contemporary concern over global warming or climate change, and to assume that the use of the term "climate" in both contexts is irrelevant, coincidental, or the result of a historical evolution that only confirms the divorce of domains—that's what climate used to mean, now it means[End Page 987] Indeed, the classical climate theory best known from the writings of Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Vitruvius, as well as early modern reformulations thereof, can seem as though it should belong to the dustbin of history (Couzinet and Staszak, 9). It is tempting to jettison this long and complex tradition of thought because of certain formulae that sometimes cross over from simplistic determinism to mere prejudice, as when Hippocrates asserts that "Europeans are […] more courageous than Asians" because of their respective climates (Hippocrates, XXIII.20, 133). Statements like that one, or Aristotle's in the Politics that offers a different valuing of the consequences of Europe's and Asia's climates on their inhabitants, seem to offer little in the way of...


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pp. 986-992
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