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Ecocomposition and the Greening of Identity Christian R. Weisser University of Hawaii (Hilo) Hilo, Hawaii To speak, people must first listen to what the world has to say. —Judith Halden-Sullivan, “The Phenomenology of Process” If we want to be at home on this earth, even at the price of being at home in this century, we must try to take part in the interminable dialogue with its essence. —Hannah Arendt, “Understanding and Politics” Writing instruction has been dramatically transformed in the past forty years. Before the 1960s, writing was seen only as a skill to be modeled and learned, and most English professors saw writing as either a preparation for practical living or as a foundation for the production or critique of literature. Since then, one of the most pervasive theoretical subjects— particularly in composition studies—has been how students explore, define , and extend their identities through discourse. In other words, I think it’s fair to say that most of the research, scholarship, and teaching in composition that we’ve done in the past four decades has intended to enable students to better understand who they are and how language shapes their conceptions of themselves and the conceptions others have of them. The ways in which we envision identity have evolved in accord with the dominant theoretical stances of the time. Specifically, our conceptions of how identity is formed have corresponded to our personal, social, and more recently, political theories of discourse. While this evolution has helped us to conceptualize identity in more constructive ways, we have failed to account for the ecological dimensions of selfhood. Our discussions of identity has been, thus far, constricted by the underlying premise that our identities are fashioned only through our connections with other humans. In fact, this premise is so integral to our belief system that we hardly perceive it. Our current conceptions of identity are pre-ecological; we have not yet recognized that the whole spectrum of the nonhuman physical environment is embedded in each of our identities. Other 81 1643 SUNY Ecocomposition Ch 07 1/22/01 12:56 AM Page 81 contributors to this volume have realized that a more extensive understanding of how our identities are shaped by the world around us is perhaps one of the most significant goals we might accomplish through ecocomposition . Sid suggests that “when we question the construction of identity, we must include a stronger sense of physical place when we contend that identity comes from other places, that we know ourselves through the surrounding world”(12). Colleen Connolly suggests that composition teachers might “expand their notions of diversity—of society as an immensely complex global system, in which power, matter, and ideas interact—to include the natural world”(186). Bradley John Monsma writes that “ecocomposition might encourage a better understanding of the role of ecosystems and environments in the dialogic relationships that form between ourselves and our words”(286). While these authors and others like them have begun to realize that our identities—and how they are manifested through discourse—are inextricably linked to the larger biosphere that we live in, such perspectives have had little impact on composition theory in general. The manner in which we’ve theorized, perceived, and discussed identity has developed in more sophisticated and holistic directions over the past forty years, but composition has thus far failed to account for the ecological dimensions of identity. This essay traces the recent history of composition theory to show how our focus has expanded to account for a greater number of influences in the shaping of the individual writer’s identity. While this expansion has been progressive, reformative, and (dare I say it?) evolutionary , I argue that it is still incomplete. In order for composition theory to fully account for the many ways in which human subjectivity is constructed , we must begin to recognize that our own personal, social, and political lives are wholly dependent upon the biological matrix of life on this planet. Recognizing our own “green identities,” I argue, moves us closer toward realizing exactly who we are in relation to the rest of the world. THE EVOLUTION OF IDENTITY IN COMPOSITION STUDIES Named by James A. Berlin as “the Renaissance of Rhetoric,” the period from 1960 to 1975 witnessed the gathering momentum of a new perspective that was to change the discipline of composition fundamentally in years to come (Rhetoric and Reality). In the early 1970s, this new perspective blossomed into what many compositionists perceived as...


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