Greg Garrard: Ecocriticism (2012)

"Ecocriticism" is a critical introduction to the field, both authoritative and accessible to newcomers.

Garrard describes ecocriticism as a literary or cultural analysis of environmental issues, generally associated with green moral and a political agenda. Broadly defined, the subject of ecocriticism is “the study of the relationship of the human and the non-human» in cultural history (p. 5), and the volume explores the ways in which we imagine and portray this relationship in cultural productions, primarily in western tradition.

Garrard’s point of departure is a description of Carson’s Silent Spring from 1962, which he considers “the founding text of modern environmentalism”, and he analyzes the rhetorical strategies “with which Carson shapes her scientific material” (p. 3). Her uses of pastoral and apocalyptic imagery are examples of how we imagine the relationship between the human and non-human.

In this way, he pinpoints the difference between ecocriticism and the science of ecology in their dealings with the issues at stake. Ecocritics may not be qualified to debate or solve problems in ecology, but what they can address, is “ecological problems” which are “features of our society, arising out of our dealings with nature” (p. 6) – based on claims made by ecologists. A central insight is that the language used influences our thoughts, images and behavior.

In Ecocriticism Garrard studies the relationship between the human and the non-human (nature), as it is expressed in what he calls “large scale metaphors” through history.  Each chapter explores one of these metaphors – such as wilderness, apocalypse, pastoral, dwelling, animals and earth – which are thought to have “certain political effects or serve specific social interests” (p. 8).

To the NaChiLit group this is obviously relevant, since it shows the implications of identifying the human-nature relationship in a children’s book as ,for example, ‘pastoral’, ‘wild’ or ‘apocalyptic’.

Garrard also presents different “positions” in environmentalism, identifying a number of distinct ecophilosophies associated with different approaches and understandings of environmental crisis. They range from “cornucopia”, which denies the existence of environmental threats, to radical forms of environmentalism. The majority of “environmentalists” lie between these extremes; they are concerned, but do not want to change their own life style. They defend western ideas like democracy and scientific progress, though these may sometimes collide with environmentalist ideals.

Among the radical positions, deep ecology is the most influential outside academic circles. Deep ecology insists on the “intrinsic value in nature” and identifies the human centered and instrumentalist view of nature in western culture as “the origin of environmental crisis” (p. 24). This is an ecocentric position, the aim of which is to challenge and eliminate the dualistic separation of humans from nature.

The critique of anthropocentrism is also central to other positions, such as ecofeminism, which in addition emphasizes gender and identifies male-centeredness (androcentrism) as part of the problem, and social ecology, which focus on the systems of domination and exploitation in general.

The various positions are intertwined in the different tropes or large scale metaphors discussed in the following chapters. For example, the chapter on apocalypse considers the imagery and rhetoric of the world’s decline through history, but also states that apocalyptic ideas are powerful and central to the environmental imagination in general. Thus, deep ecologists attack overpopulation and “civilization” as the road to apocalypse, eco-feminists blame male-centeredness, and eco-socialists attack the limitless belief in economic growth.

For the NaChiLit project, it is relevant to ask in which ways the different positions in the NatCul matrix can be related to positions in Garrard’s overview, as well as to the “large scale metaphors”. The NaChiLit project itself may be understood as ecocentric and close to deep ecology, problematizing the separation of human and nature.

Ecocriticism was first edited in 2004 and has been influential ever since. This second edition from 2012 contains a new chapter on animal studies and is also updated to include new perspectives on globalisation. In Garrard’s view, a key task for ecocriticism is the “reconsideration of the idea of ‘the humans’, dragging ecocriticism away from pastoral and nature writing towards postmodern concerns such as globalisation and the numerous naturecultures.” (p. 17).


Marianne Røskeland 29.05.17