In her article ‘Sound Waves: “Blue Ecology” in the Poetry of Robin Robertson and Kathleen Jamie’, Alexandra Campbell unpacks several new terms and ecocritical concepts which she applies to contemporary Scottish ecopoetics. Campbell uses Jonathan Bate’s proposal that ecopoetics should orient itself to an ethic of ecological listening as a gateway to Kathleen Jamie’s The Tree House, which is striking for its aural oceanic mimesis. The first poem in this collection -“The Wishing Tree” contains a declaration of poetic intent to move “towards the Atlantic”, espousing a blue ecology, in contrast to “the wilderness nor fairyland”.
Blue ecology is an attempt to address what some theorists term a preoccupation of ecocriticism with ‘landed’ or green texts. Bodies of knowledge tend to be products of the era in which they were developed. First-wave ecocriticism priviledged the concept of place and rootedness, a holistic view of ecology and an earth-based human geography. As the discipline has advanced and ecology itself has shifted to a paradigm of systemic complexity and instability, contemporary ecocriticism has in turn imagined a more dynamic dialectic.
Models of blue ecology range from the ‘Shipwreck Modernity’ of Steve Mentz to Brayton’s submarine locales to Brathwaite’s tidalectics. For Peters and Steinberg it takes ‘space, time, and motion’ as its key organizing principles.
Tidalectics is an alternative historiographic definition available to theorists which applies ‘space, time and motion’ to island cultures. Uncovering the submerged, the marginal and shifting elements in island archipelagoes it moves the emphasis from the seas and oceans as mere transition routes to the status of oikos and site in itself.
Bate, Jonathan (2001), Song of the Earth, London, Pan Macmillan.
Brathwaite, Kamu in Naylor, Paul (1999) Poetic Investigations: Singing the Holes in History, Illinois, Northwestern University Press, page 143.
Brayton Daniel (2011) “Shakespeare and the Global Ocean”, in L. D. Bruckner and D. Brayton (eds), Ecocritical Shakespeare, Farnham, Ashgate, pp. 173–90.
Campbell, Alessandra, ‘Sound Waves: “Blue Ecology” in the Poetry of Robin Robertson and Kathleen Jamie ‘, Études écossaises [online], 19 | 2017.
Jamie, Kathleen (2004) The Tree House, London, Picador.
Mentz Steve (2015) Shipwreck Modernity: Ecologies of Globalization, 1550–1719, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.
Peters Kimberley & Steinberg Peter (2015) “Wet Ontologies, Fluid Spaces: Giving Depth to Volume Through Oceanic Thinking”, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, vol. 33, pp. 247–64.
Elizabeth Carolyn Miller, a Professor of English at the University of California discusses the work of Thomas Hardy from an ecological realism viewpoint in her article – ‘Dendrography and Ecological Realism’. Writing during the Victorian Period, Hardy witnessed first-hand the advent of the Industrial Revolution and its effect on the traditional rural way of life and the English countryside. In his novel Under the Greenwood Tree of 1872, the tree is more than just an element in the narrative. It also acts as symbol and aids in the creation of narrative devices in the book.
Miller’s line of enquiry explores how Hardy treats eco-representation and tries to free himself of human mediation of the environment. She formally defines this as a strategy of dendrography, that is, using the scale, time frame and perspective of trees. This strategy involves episodes of misrepresentation, mistaken identities and visibility issues. Hardy also emphasizes the sense of hearing in an attempt to overcome mediation through the use of onomatopoeia. Human characters are not individualized and become tree-like while trees are described in human terms. The apple tree in particular is used to symbolise the integration of both species.
The result of this particular form of eco-representation is that the scale of human life and culture is transformed and takes on the longer timescale of trees and forests.
Miller uses the trope of the footpath to provide examples. Usually footpaths represent the human entering and becoming part of the arboreal world, Hardy subverts this trope by elevating the perspective above the human.
‘[he] sloped up a hill and entered a hazel copse by a hole like a rabbit’s burrow. In he plunged, vanished among the bushes, and in a short time there was no sign of his existence upon earth save an occasional rustling of boughs and snapping of twigs in divers points of Grey’s Wood’
Under the greenwood tree by thomas hardy, – p. 128.
This subversion is exactly what academics have called for as a way to approach the overwhelming concept of global climate change. Miller cites Timothy Clarke who proposes that this imaginary leap centres around concepts of scale. Modern national cultures have short time frames which are defined by historical periodization. Enviromental policy needs the long-term perspective, decoupled from human history. It requires moving to the totality of planetary history. Miller sees dendrography as a means of providing a mental construct for this shift.
Clark, Timothy (2015) Ecocriticism on the Edge:The Anthropocene as a Threshold Concept, Bloomsbury Academic.
Hardy, Thomas (2013) Under the Greenwood Tree;Or, The Mellstock Quire: A Rural Painting of the Dutch School. Oxford:Oxford UP, p. 128.
Miller, Elizabeth Carolyn (2016) ‘Dendrography and Ecological Realism’, Victorian Studies, Volume 58, Number 4, Summer 2016, pp.696-718, Indiana University Press.
Ecocriticism is a rapidly expanding field of research, which has
captured the zeitgeist, a time which has given rise to its own geological
period, the Anthropocene. This term,
proposed by Paul Crutzen, seeks to signify the extent to which our current
epoch has been overwhelming marked by human activity, affecting permanent
change at a geological and planetary level.
Human activity has created global warming, climate change and it would
seem our sixth mass extinction.
In the fields of Humanities and Social Sciences the
response to this global preoccupation has been ecological criticism. A fundamental tenet of ecocriticism is that
the environment and its ecology should be a topic of overriding importance in
all spheres, not limited to its original home in the sciences. This tenet has spurred a mass crossover into
the arts and humanities and the creation of new fields of research.
In a seminal lecture by Prof. Kate Rigby entitled ‘Paradigm Shifts: “The Ecological
Turn in Literary Studies”. She defines
ecocriticism as literature which recognizes the ‘dynamic interrelationship
between culture and the environment, recognizing also non-humans as well as
human interests, agency and communicative capacity,’ What all
branches of eco-literature have in common is this rehabilitation and
reconsideration of Nature. No longer
considered a separate entity or backdrop to human activity, it now becomes a
Several groundbreaking shifts have occurred. The creation of new literary genres such as cli-fi, and eco-poetics and new eco-based disciplines in the natural and social sciences, such as biosemotics and environmental justice. Existing literary theories have re-examined their own frameworks to accommodate the field of ecology and vice versa, creating hybrid disciplines. Rigby maintains that this crossing of ‘the disciplinary divide [is] necessary to close the sustainability gap’.
A characteristic of this field is how it intertwines overtly with activism. There is often a sense of urgency and purpose expressed directly in the text. Many authors reference key dates, legislation and activist groups, such as Earth Day, foundational conferences, the creation of journals and chairs of professorships and engage with citizen’s initiatives. Indeed in my first citation from Professor Rigby, she notes that the lecture was given during the Cop 21 talks in Paris.