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The centerpiece of this issue is a special cluster devoted to Queering Ecopoetics, coordinated by Angela Hume and Samia Rahimtoola, featuring an eloquent introduction and three compelling articles. In their Introduction, Hume and Rahimtoola highlight, among other important ideas, the “dangerous, if seductive, fiction” of the “environmental subject,” the myth of the isolated and self-reliant individual, which permeates traditional commentary on environmental texts. They point out that this fiction “fails to account for our dependence on and vulnerability to larger social and ecological contexts.” Even Thoreau’s experiment at Walden, they remind us, begins, in a sense, when Thoreau “borrows an ax from his neighbor.” This notion of borrowing an ax, a vital tool, from our human neighbors or from the larger context in which we live our lives (our physical environment, our co-inhabitants of place) seems particularly important as we begin 2018, a time of hyper-nationalism, incipient trade wars, and displays of greed and entitlement and self-serving violence at the highest levels of government and culture. The messages of new ways to think about relationality and toxicity, featured prominently in the Queering Ecopoetics cluster, strike me as essential tonics during these troubled times. I find similar messages in many other examples of ecocritical work and the environmental arts. Take, for instance, Shiuhhuah (Serena) Chou’s issue-opening article on New York City blogger and essayist Ava Chin, the author of Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love, and the Perfect Meal, whose “foraging in an urban wilderness with a flâneur-naturalist’s leisurely stroll […] reconnect[s] her body with the materiality of urban space” and, I would add, displays her intellectual connection with her Chinese foraging ancestry and both the American “wild edibles” movement (think Euell Gibbons) and the “new urban agriculture” movement. Chin’s writings, and Chou’s discussion of them, are all about rethinking relationality in the twenty-first-century urban context. At first glance, Kent C. Ryden’s analysis of “ecocritical print culture studies” may seem a departure from this theme, but taken a closer look: Ryden’s bibliographic theorizing raises fundamental questions about the meaning of books in our lives, how they “serve as both a material and conceptual interface between readers and the world of non-human nature” and how they “position people relative to the systems of social and cultural structures in which they live and through which they perceive and experience the world.” “Tikkun Olam” (the Jewish concept of “Repair of the World”) guides Joan Latchaw’s reading of the environmental and social justice motifs in Marge Piercy’s poetry, with a particular focus on the “convenantal” relationship between people and land. Of course human relationships with place are frequently exploitative and destructive, distinctly non-convenantal, and this is what Christopher Leise discusses in his study of Columbia River dams and “traumatic loss” in Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Kathleen Anderson focuses on women and trees in the fiction of Jane Austen as a lens through which to contemplate “the relationship between self and other,” discerning in Austen’s characters a “love [that] transcends superlative eco-language and manifests itself in the practical, strategic work of preservationist stewardship.” How we carry with us memories of certain types of landscapes and certain cultural behaviors even long after our families may have left their homelands is what John Esperjesi explores in the context of “the Korean diasporic imagination,” specifically in the context of Gary Pak’s fiction. This, too, is a study of relationality—what Lawrence Buell refers to as “place-attachment.” Hume and Rahimtoola explain that “toxic discourse” (another term from Buell) has contributed positively to ecocritical engagement with environmental justice and antiracist environmentalism, but they echo Giovanna Di Chiro’s concerns that this concept can be used to reinforce “sexist, queerphobic ideas about what’s healthy and ‘normal’.” Stacey Balkan places Indra Sinha’s novel Animal’s People simultaneously in the memento mori and picaresque traditions as a way of illuminating and critiquing the “politics of global toxicity.” “Thinking ecologically,” write Angela Hume and Samia Rahimtoola, “requires rethinking subjectivity”—and also rethinking language, relationality, toxicity, positivity and negativity, personhood, and gender and sexuality. The introduction to the special cluster on Queering Ecopoetics lays an expansive foundation for the three articles that follow. Sarah Ensor confronts mainstream environmentalism’s ascetic tendencies in addressing the ecopoetics—and ecoerotics—of “contact” in texts ranging from Wordsworth’s “Nutting” to queer performance artists Elizabeth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle’s “Ecosex Manifesto.” Ensor argues that the “queer reconceptualization of contact ultimately encourages us […] to love the planet—but to do so in a way that queers and defamiliarizes that most familiar phrase.” From South Africa to Turkey to Idaho, a number of environmental humanities scholars have recently been focusing attention on equine culture and textual representations of horses. David Huebert contributes a study of “equine erotopoetics” to this special cluster, finding that Native American poets Linda Hogan and Joy Harjo “engage with the eroticism of horses as part of their larger decolonial projects of attendance to the nonhuman world.” He identifies “resonant and visceral exploration[s] of human-equine intimacy,” including “especially evocative female-female interspecies intimacy,” that challenge anthroponormative and heteronormative ideas of “affinity.” In equine erotopoetics, Huebert sees “a space for ecstatic and transformative interspecies love.” Building upon the critique of green-centered thinking in Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s collection Prismatic Ecologies, Cate Sandilands proposes a blue ecology that “depathologiz[es] negative affect” and offers blue as a “hue/affect/orientation/constellation that suggests forms of life, relationship, and temporality that are not eventually recuperable to neoliberal optimization.” She extends Vin Nardizzi’s argument, in “Greener” (a chapter in Prismatic Ecologies), that green is “an ontological twining of photosynthetic with suburban desire,” presenting an alternative to green in Canadian poet Betsy Warland’s Only This Blue. Polish poet Julia Fiedorczuk gives us a set of twenty-first-century psalms in this issue, queering and secularizing the concept of the psalm (the sacred song), singing to the sun and the earth, singing to future generations, singing to time itself, seeking to reimagine herself in the material realm of nature (reminiscent of W.S. Merwin’s “forgotten language”) in which, as she writes, “I was spoken/before there was a she before there was an I—.” Patrick Lawler’s “Carving Walking Sticks from Double Rainbows (Kotodama)” recalls the 1997 ASLE conference in Missoula, Montana, processing the gathering’s “maze of language” over the course of two decades and rethinking his connections—his relationality—to the world. “I write my way in,” he states; “I write my way out.” “I haven’t risked enough,” he laments. “I have searched too hard/for endings, for closure, for finality,” he confesses. “I want to rub against everything that is alive,” he yearns. We find in such words the theory, beauty, politics, information, spirituality, and passion that abound when members of the ASLE community get together. In fact, just the other day I was standing with ASLE friends at an ice cream parlor, and the conversation turned, as it sometimes does, to Puritan conversion narratives, sea literature, Marian Engel’s Bear, cross-species pairing, and our efforts to broaden students’ views of the world. It occurs to me that the ultimate goals of queer(ing) ecopoetics—to “rethink relationality” and expose a broad array of “oppressive logics”—are also essential goals of the environmental humanities more generally. The special cluster in this issue, in tandem with the other scholarly and creative pieces published here, helps to clarify the importance of such efforts. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment. All rights reserved. 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ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment – Oxford University Press
Published: May 14, 2018
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