Embracing the Loss of Nature:
Searching for Responsibility in an Age of Crisis
Guest Editors: Jaime Hyatt and Florian Wagner
From its inception in the early 1990s, the field of ecocriticism has grown considerably in scope and scholarly impact. Beginning with a narrow geo-limited anglocentric British and American perspective—mostly focusing on non-fiction nature-writing and green poetry—the field later broadened its purview to include cultural texts from multiple ethnic backgrounds and issues of environmental justice, as well as a vast conception of the multifarious—often symbiotic—entanglements of the human and the non-human ‘Other’.
Even though the field did not develop in a linear progression, there are some fundamental ideas that have considerably shaped it, one of which is what Greg Garrard has called ecocriticism’s “avowedly political mode of analysis” which remains its driving force to this day. Ecocriticism can broadly be seen as a response to the environmental destruction brought about by the uncontrolled expansionism of modern civilization on a global scale. Early ecocritics recuperated US American nature writing by highlighting its earth-centeredness—manifest through the close observation and aestheticization of the nonhuman world—which simultaneously propelled environmental activism to the fore. They particularly pinpointed the concept of ‘wilderness’—as both a geographical space and a state of mind—as an important conceptual anchor in the US-national master narrative, highly aestheticized by predominantly white artists and writers (e.g. from the mid-nineteenth-century writings of Emerson and Thoreau to twentieth-century writers such as Mary Austin, Aldo Leopold, Edward Abbey and Annie Dillard).
One central aspect of the twentieth-century conceptualization of wilderness is its increasing concern with wilderness preservation in the face of a changing world (i.e. political and economic restructuring and the concomitant environmental damage that occurred throughout the twentieth century); as a result, wilderness became a romanticized space of regeneration and renewal against the ailments of modern industrialization. This implies a perception of wilderness and civilization that is deeply rooted in a narrow anthropocentric nature-culture dualism which endorses a strict division between the human self and the non-human Other. However, as ‘culture’ has increasingly dominated ‘nature’, wild spaces have become more and more scarce and morphed into altered landscapes so that the very definition of ‘wild’ has taken on new meaning. As Timothy Clark argues, human action has so greatly impacted the earth’s ecosystem that in the twenty-first century “old words” such as ‘wilderness’ and ‘nature’ no longer denote the same thing they did one-hundred years ago. He maintains, for example, that the oceans are no longer symbols of “a vast, inhuman, pristine and unchangeable force”; rather they are “menacingly damaged entities” having become “vast dumping sites”, littered with human waste.
The fundamental question for us is thus how does ecocriticism as a broad interdisciplinary field conceptually reflect on such altered environments and spaces? Recent scholarship in material ecocriticism and posthumanism are of particular interest as they work to destabilize anthropocentric norms and actively chip away at the narrow conception of a return to a romanticized, pristine, pre-capital nature and broaden our understanding of the contemporary world in an age that is characterized by climate change, mass extinction, and foreseeable future ecological and resulting socio-political crises. Looking at these recent developments in the field of ecocriticism, we recognize a particular need to detach ourselves from the nostalgia of the past and to embrace a fundamental shift in the imagination that goes beyond dualistic conceptions of nature and culture. Shedding the constraints of earlier conceptions, we ask what does a contemporary ‘return to nature’ look like, and how can it be theorized? How are such spaces negotiated? How can one both root themselves and find solace in a permanent state of instability and at the same time take responsibility for their role within a global network of human and non-human actants? How can such a view be negotiated with voices that have always been silenced and have lived in a state of permanent instability (e.g. the subaltern, colonial subjects, etc.)? It is in this vein that we seek to add to the vibrancy and openness of ecocritical discourses and provide a space for emerging scholars in the field of American Studies or related disciplines.
We invite submissions to consider topics which include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:
- challenging the nature-culture binary and/or the reconceptualization of wilderness and wild spaces
- contemporary negotiations of place, space, and time; negotiations of borders and borderlands
- reimagined pastoral attitudes and/or anti-pastoral attitudes that highlight the unnatural, noise, dissonance, the impure, the polluted, the toxic, the industrial, and the urban
- ecological embeddedness and ethical approaches to co-existentialism; ways of ‘dwelling in crisis’
- Indigenous approaches to nature and the environment; Indigenous literatures
- questions of solidarity with the non-human Other, issues of environmental justice and its representations in literature, film, photography, art, music, etc.
- new and unconventional approaches, as well as experimental and interdisciplinary/ cross-cultural and intersectional approaches that highlight silenced and underrepresented voices and non-canonical others (through the lens of eco-feminism and postcolonialism; racialized Others and/or disabled and/or queer voices, the subaltern)
- environmental writer-activists; tracing the social effects of environmental trauma
- engagement with petrocultures, petrochemical landscapes (e.g. extraction and extinction poetry)
- critical engagement with the Anthropocene concept in literature, film, photography, art, etc.
- issues of planetarity and eco-cosmopolitanism, environmental responsibility
- issues relating to material ecocriticism (e.g. questions of materiality and ‘storied’ matter)
- multi-species ethnography, plant life (writing)
- the dissolution of permanence, and/or the recognition of impermanence
- reclaiming, rebuilding, and healing the destructive processes of techno-capitalism
- re-wilding urban spaces, ‘greening the ghetto’
- migratory movements of the human and the non-human as a result of climate change and environmental destruction
- sustainability and consumption (e.g. recent trends in food: farm-to-table, buying local, and urban gardening)
We welcome scholarly articles as well as creative work. The deadline for all submissions is October 15, 2020. Please upload your work to https://copas.uni-regensburg.de. Articles should be about 5,000 to 8,000 words in length and will be peer-reviewed. We kindly ask artists to include a brief statement (1,000-1,500 words) with their creative work. Open access publication is scheduled for April 2021. Please see the COPAS website for editorial policies and submission guidelines.
We look forward to your submission!
Florian Wagner is a research associate at the Institute for English and American Studies at Friedrich Schiller University Jena. He is currently writing his PhD thesis entitled “Revisiting the Environmental Imagination: Making Place and the Necessity of Reinhabitation in North American Literature and Culture” (working title). His main areas of interest are ecocriticism, the Anthropocene concept in literature and culture, Marxist criticism, and critical theory. He has recently published an article entitled “Towards the Reinhabitation of the Soil: On Becoming Earthbound in Gary Snyder’s Turtle Island” in the 2019 anthology Anglophone Literature and Culture in the Anthropocene (eds. Gina Comos and Caroline Rosenthal) and has given talks on the species-being concept in the Anthropocene and on hauntology and lost futures in Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch.
Jaime Hyatt is a research associate at the Imre Kertész Kolleg Jena, an Institute of Advanced Studies with the thematic focus on the history, culture, and societies of twentieth-century Eastern Europe. She has served as the in-house English-language editor of the Imre Kertész Kolleg’s publications since August 2015. Alongside her work at the IKK, she is currently finishing her MA in English and American Studies at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, which she will complete in Spring 2020, after which she plans to begin her PhD in American Studies at the same institution. She is in the process of writing her thesis, titled “A Battle Worth Losing: Climate Activism in Contemporary North American Literature”. With a background in continental philosophy, her main area of interest, broadly speaking, is the intersection of literature, philosophy, and the environment, with a particular focus on ecocriticism, feminist theory, and environmental ethics.
 See, for example, Buell, Lawrence. The Future of Environmental Criticism. Blackwell, 2005; Slovic, Scott. “The Third Wave of Ecocriticism: North American Reflections on the Current Phase of the Discipline.” Ecozona, vol. 1, no. 1, 2010, pp. 4-10; Oppermann, Serpil, Ufuk Özdağ, Nevin Özkan, and Scott Slovic, editors. The Future of Ecocriticism: New Horizons. Cambridge Scholars, 2011.
 Quoted in Clark, Timothy. The Value of Ecocriticism. Cambridge UP, 2019, p. 3.
 Glotfelty, Cheryll. “Introduction.” Ecocriticism Reader, edited by Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm, Georgia UP, 1996, p. xx; Zapf, Hubert. Literature as Cultural Ecology: Sustainable Texts. Bloomsbury Academic, 2016, p. 39.
 Zapf, Hubert. Literature as Cultural Ecology: Sustainable Texts. Bloomsbury Academic, 2016, pp. 39-40.
 Gersdorf, Catrin. The Poetics and Politics of the Desert: Landscape and the Construction of America. Rodopi, 2009, p. 23.
 Clark, Timothy. The Value of Ecocriticism. Cambridge UP, 2019, p. 11.
 See, for example, Barad, Karen. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Duke UP, 2007; Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Duke UP, 2010; Serenella, Iovino and Serpil Oppermann, editors. Material Ecocriticism. Indiana UP, 2014; Haraway, Donna. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Cthulucene. Duke UP, 2016.
 See Morton, Timothy. The Ecological Thought. Harvard UP, 2010.
 See Buell, Lawrence. The Future of Environmental Criticism. Blackwell, 2005.