Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Two book notes, and a note, on materialism and ecocritcism

by J J Cohen

[read Jonathan's Hsy's essential post Intersections: On Annoyances, Mistakes ... and Possibilities and work your way back through the rich discussion of diversity and medieval studies -- some of the best material we have published at ITM]

Anyone who reads ITM regularly cannot have missed that the material turn in contemporary criticism has been of great interest to those who blog here.  I recently attempted to articulate the stakes and possibilities of the new materialism as feminist, ecocritical practice in this post, derived from my NCS presentaion on "Magic Rocks." Medievalists have tended to be rather skeptical of the new materialisms, and I wonder if that hesitancy is not also why ecological approaches to literature and culture have not made the same inroads into the discipline as they have in, say, early modern studies. Medievalists possess plenty of scholarship on environmental history, but are still poor in ecotheory -- which is a shame, since this loose alliance of methodologies and spurs to thinking shares much with feminism, queer theory, and critical race studies, all of which have emphasized the fragility, non-universality and contradiction-rich depths of the category "human."

Today I want to call your attention to two excellent (but non-medievalist) new books at the intersections of ecotheory and the material turn, and I hope both will receive wide exposure. Material Ecocriticism is a superb collection edited by Serenella Iovino and Serpil Oppermann (with whom I have frequently collaborated; their work, together as well as individual, models the best of what this convergence of fields offers). The volume includes beautiful essays by -- among many others -- Lowell Duckert, Catriona Sandilands, Simon Estok, Cheryll Glotfelty, Jane Bennett, Joni Adamson, Stacy Alaimo and Timothy Morton. I was honored to write its foreword, on storied matter (draft here). Bruno Latour blurbs the book (!)

And speaking of blurbs, I was also deeply pleased to compose an endorsement for Serpil Oppermann's New International Voices in Ecocriticism. Here's what I wrote:
A needed spur to a more globalized field, New International Voices in Ecocriticism presents a lucid argument for why the ecocritical future must be geographically and temporally capacious. Combining activism and environmental justice and a focus on materiality with ethical generosity, the essays collected in this book offer a compelling vision of ecocriticism as an interdisciplinary and transformative practice. Serpil Oppermann is to be commended for gathering so many fine, emergent voices in this indispensable forum, and for composing an introduction for the book that serves as a manifesto for work to come.
The book is well worth your time, especially because it globalizes ecocriticism in important ways and attends to the voices of those who will be the field's future.

Those are my two book notes. Now, a note on a note. Karl has recently written on his other site about a revision he made to an essay for a crazy edited collection that gathers together some medievalists, some early modernists, and some contemporary critics to envision an elemental ecocriticism. Karl notes: "the new materialist ecocriticisms urgently need to figure out some way to use their critique of the agent/object distinction to critique racism and they need to draw on the critics of racism to do so." First, I want to repeat what I wrote on Karl's FB page: YES. Second, I'd like to also point out that the index for Prismatic Ecology (a volume with much material ecocriticism within) has a substantial entry for race. I cannot say that race easily came to mind for all its contributors, with several draft essays skirting or bracketing race at moments when they should have foregrounded color, body, and justice. To the credit of the contributors, most (not all) took my editorial interventions seriously and included some significant and useful mediation on race, materiality and violence. These are some small steps towards an ecomaterialism that can speak of human specificities and the violences that undergird them rather than be content with simply demolishing the category human and thinking that enough.

Happy ecomaterial reading.

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