- Is écocritique Still Possible?
At a May 2019 conference on ‘Le Regard écologique’, organized by the University of Chicago in Paris, philosopher Martin Rueff outlined the main ideas of his forthcoming book, Une philosophie de la nature est-elle encore possible?. By asking this question, Rueff was taking up the oft-repeated assertion that nature is dead either because the entirety of the earth’s biosphere has been affected by human activity or because the idea of nature as a normalizing principle has been thoroughly deconstructed.1 Rueff argued that a philosophy of nature is still possible on the condition that nature is understood to exist within historical processes as perishable and under threat of destruction.2 The point is not that nature is finally disappearing for good, but that part of what makes a philosophy of nature possible today is the threat of that same nature’s perishability.
I am echoing Rueff ’s conference paper title here — ‘Une écocritique est-elle encore possible?’ — because I want to adopt a similar line of questioning about the conditions under which an écocritique is practised. What are the objects of study in this field? How are these objects being studied? What parallel approaches to the same objects of study are being developed? In what places is such a field emerging? Does écocritique constitute a field? What political questions inform its multiple approaches? Additionally, I will argue that écocritique may be on the verge of disappearing because of its integration into the larger field of the environmental humanities. While it may seem contradictory to take such a position just when écocritique has become the topic of an increasing number of conferences, articles, monographs, edited collections, research groups, and programmes in the French and francophone world, I hope to show that not allowing écocritique to settle into a single defined research area may be what best ensures its adaptation and survival.
An état présent requires a temporal starting point. In my case, I will offer an overview of what has emerged in the field of écocritique over roughly the last ten years. In 2010, I published ‘État des lieux de la pensée écocritique française’ for the first issue of Ecozon@, the official journal of the European Association for the Study [End Page 598] of Literature, Culture, and Environment (EASCLE).3 Although scholars such as Hélène Jaccomard had already made pioneering forays into écocritique,4 I am taking my 2010 article as a point of departure in order to examine the evolution of the characteristics I had initially identified with respect to an écocritique. While some of these traits have become more prominent, others have been transformed by additional concerns and questions.
In the first part of the état présent, I will examine the name of this area of study and more importantly the politics underlying the use of different names. In ‘État des lieux de la pensée écocritique française’, I used the term écocritique more often as an adjective to describe an emerging pensée écocritique. The noun écocritique was still too unstable to serve as a signifier in French; it was more a calque from English with little meaning for a francophone. By referring to a pensée écocritique, I was also echoing the expression la pensée écologique, which was bringing ecological concerns to the forefront of philosophical and ethical discourses at the time.5 Since 2010, the word écocritique has become common enough to use as a noun, but it has also become more marked with respect to other terms in the field. For some, the word refers to the anglophone field of ecocriticism and needs to be distinguished from écopoétique, an approach that is posited as more reflective of French literary studies. For others, écocritique and écopoétique comfortably co-exist within French and francophone literary studies. Moreover, a third term has come to inhabit this same literary and political space: zoopoétique has been used to bridge the ecocriticism–animal studies divide by referring more generally to a poetics of the living world. A closer look at the circulation of these different terms — écocritique, écopoétique, zoopo...