|by way of entrance
GW MEMSI annually sponsors a roundtable on a topic of wide or burgeoning critical interest at each meeting of the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo. This year's theme was "Objects, Networks and Materiality" (list of participants here; audio files and subsequent Slapapalooza here). Although I am not an impartial judge, it seemed to me that the session was extraordinarily coherent, lively, and provocative. The audience was terrific. Even though the presenters stuck to their eight minute limits (was it the threat of interpretive dance at minute 9?) and left ample time for discussion, there were many more would-be interlocutors than we could involve. I apologize to all of you who tried desperately to get my attention and received nothing from me. Slap me at the next Kzoo.
Clearly much remains to be said on this year's topic. On the flight home I was thinking aloud about our roundtable for 2012. I was especially intrigued by an emergent theme in discussion, the impress of the objects and phenomena under discussion upon the presentations themselves. I've also been thinking a great deal lately about ecologies in their relation to materialities (for me especially this bears upon my stone project): my hunch is that ecocritical approaches have much to add to this ongoing conversation about things and agency.
So here is my idea, as amplified at an overtired moment of dialogue with Liza Blake and Lowell Duckert when we should have been napping on the plane. I'm quite taken by the work of the early modernist Steve Mentz, whose idea of blue ecocritical studies means foregrounding the ocean in all its nonhuman destructive-creative potential (his website here; his wonderful blog here; my review of his recent thalassology book here; my account of a class in which I taught that book here). Steve argues persuasively that the turbulent seas demand a response different from the approaches framed by green criticism's affirmative spaces, often human-centered environments, and pastoral bent. Lowell's Kzoo paper "The Ice Age is Never Over" made a similar claim about ice. Would this be a white ecocritical approach? (and I say that with hesitation, because the argument was more about velocity than color). Would it be useful to think about a spectrum (or even spectra) of ecocritical approaches in which different materialities and environments are allowed their different impresses upon how they are approached, narrated, composed with? That is, I am wondering if verdant hills, ancient or newly seeded forests, cascades, "timeless" rocks, decay, slime, violent weather, wildfire, feral or domesticated animals don't all create middle spaces where they touch the human interpreter/critic/artist, mutually transformative spaces that demand something more focused and more particular than, say, a capacious green approach to culture and literature?
I don't invoke the spectrum to be prescriptive, or even descriptive.* I mean it to be suggestive, a terminological catalyst to thinking about material specificities within larger ecologies. I know of course that white consists of all colors, black indicates the absence of colors, that within the ROY G BIV of the scientific spectrum not everything will fit. Nor should it, as we learned at the Kzoo taxonomies session: sortings must be open to failure, the new, artistry. Here, though, are some preliminary ideas, helped along by Lowell and Liza:
field and forest (green)
dark materials (black)
built environments (brown)
I'd also like to leave room for the unexpected: would a queer ecology be pink?
Well, it's an idea -- and, to be honest, I would love to have the time to sit down at this very moment and compose an essay on the topic. I may some day. But for the time being: how does something like this sound for the MEMSI roundtable at Kzoo next year? "Ecologies of Things"? What else would you suggest?
*or hokey. That's what I fear most.