Romanticism & Ecology
Kurt Fosso | Timothy Fulford | Kevin Hutchings
Timothy Morton | Ashton Nichols | Willam Stroup
Kurt Fosso, "'Sweet Influences': Human/Animal Difference and Social Cohesion in Wordsworth and Coleridge, 1794-1806"
In George Stubbs's portrait of Captain Pocklington and family, the foundational relationship of husband and wife is symbolically triangulated by an animal (their horse), to whom Mrs. Pocklington gives her hand and beside which the captain stands, legs poised like and yet unlike the animal's own. Romantic-era artists' depictions of animals represent alternative, local, generally noneconomic means of social connection. Such human/animal social formations are especially prominent in the poetry of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. These poets' sociological project leads them to represent communities articulated by mysterious human-animal linkages, as in Wordsworth's "Lines Written in Early Spring," in which animals, although sentient and pleasure-loving like the speaker himself, serve as a "measure" of his difference from them. "What man has made" of animals, and what animals in turn make of man, becomes the basis for community. Coleridge's "The Nightingale" is a poem of limits and transgressions, in which social conversion is based upon linguistic and other forms of discord, violence, and desire. These and other animal depictions realize alternative turn-of-the-century forms of community founded upon a kind of ritual observance: a working-through of what remains deeply troubling in human beings' relationships with animals. Animals at no time before or since have been as central to Western conceptions of social interconnection and subjectivity. Romantic (and more recent) representations of animals may still retain a "preeminent utility," providing visions of identity, difference, and community—even for a post-Romantic age.
Tim Fulford, "Wordsworth's 'The Haunted Tree' and the Sexual Politics of Landscape"
My article considers a late poem by Wordsworth—"The Haunted Tree" —in the context of recent critical debates about the politics of nature in the Romantic period. I argue that Wordsworth writes landscape in symbolic terms so as to define the kind of Britishness—and British poetry—that he considers proper. That Britishness is defined against commercial capitalism, as we might expect, but also against Oriental models of government, and against the Byronic poetry that, as Wordsworth saw it, pandered to Orientalist models. Wordsworth, in short, redefines Burkean discourse in an updated natural sublime intended as a corrective to the dangerous sexual and gender roles glamorized by Byron. As such, his poem, far from being a flight from politics into nature (the "retreat" that New Historicism has found to be characteristic of Wordsworth), is a politicization of nature in terms that are both traditional and innovative. They are also conservative.
Kevin Hutchings, "Gender, Environment, and Imperialism in William Blake's Visions of the Daughters of Albion"
This essay examines Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793) in light of William Blake's poetic critique of contemporary imperialism. Its argument turns on the contention that Blake's protagonist, Oothoon, represents in Visions both an enslaved woman and the expropriated natural landscapes of the New World. Thus, Oothoon's brutal rape at the hands of the slave-master Bromion is understood to signify a simultaneous figural rape of her environmental aspect. Analyzing the major critical implications of this double-edged violence, the essay investigates Vision's implicit thesis (based in part on Blake's poetic response to John Gabriel Stedman's contemporary writings) that the colonization of indigenous peoples and the exploitation of indigenous homelands were ideologically interrelated aspects of eighteenth-century imperialism. By drawing upon insights garnered from such fields of inquiry as ecofeminism, postcolonial theory, and the history of science, the essay also considers the theoretical and practical assumptions informing Oothoon's activist response to her doubly-colonized condition.
Timothy Morton, "'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star' as an Ambient Poem; a Study of a Dialectical Image; with Some Remarks on Coleridge and Wordsworth"
This essay is a testing ground for "ambience," exploring the role of space in poetics, ideology and theory, building on the conclusion to the book The Poetics of Spice. Though ecocriticism and ecological philosophy talk about environmental awareness and "interconnectedness," we may not be certain of what we mean by such terms. They should, for example, remind all literary scholars of the idea, and the ideology, of the aesthetic. By closely reading the famous poem "The Star" by Jane Taylor, this essay delineates some of the poetic forms involved in the inscription of environmental awareness, such as minimalism, and the foregrounding of what in structuralism is called the "contact" or medium of communication. The essay investigates the possibility of a "feminine" form of Romantic ecology in contradistinction to more masculinist versions. It uses Jacques Lacan and Jacques Derrida to counter the representation of ecological awareness in Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre. The essay discusses the work on culture and civilization by Geoffrey Hartman and Terry Eagleton to adumbrate the ways in which public space is evoked in environmental poetics. Walter Benjamin's notion of the "dialectical image" is employed to indicate the Janus-faced nature of the poetic and ideological fantasy of "ambience" (or "aura" in Benjamin). In considering William Wordsworth's sonnet "Composed upon Westminster Bridge" and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the essay investigates the virtues and vices of ambience, as opposed to a more Burkean, "maximalist" view of the natural world. The essay continues the line of thought explored in David Simpson's Wordsworth and the Figurings of the Real, especially the final section, "Societies of Figures."
Ashton Nichols, "The Loves of Plants and Animals: Romantic Science and the Pleasures of Nature"
When Wordsworth notes his faith that "every flower / Enjoys the air it breathes," or when Keats describes an unseen nightingale pouring forth its "soul abroad / In such an ecstasy," we may be inclined to classify these lyrical claims as Romantic hyperbole, rhetorically suspect forms of anthropomorphism, overly sentimental and poetically overblown. Likewise, when Wordsworth's heart fills "with pleasure" at the sight of daffodils, or when Blake says "How do you know but ev'ry Bird that cuts the airy way, / Is an immense world of delight," we may think that the poet is protesting too little or offering too much credit to the natural world for what is, in fact, a strictly "human" emotion. In this essay I will examine Romantic claims about pleasure in the natural world and pleasure derived from the natural world in terms of the "science" of the century before Darwin's On the Origin of Species, particularly the science of animate nature, the belief that all living things (and perhaps even "nonliving" things) were connected by a force that could be described, at least partly, in terms of the natural ability to please or to be pleased. I will conclude with a reflection on connections between the method of observational science in the Romantic period, the writing of poetry, and the sources of pleasure.
William Stroup, "Henry Salt on Shelley: Literary Criticism and Ecological Identity"
Henry Stephens Salt (1851-1939) engaged with Percy Shelley's poetry, prose, and ideas in a writing career that spanned a half-century. This essay considers the implications of using this pre-professional cultural critic as a model for contemporary Ecocriticism. Salt is known today as author of a biography of Thoreau and for several prescient books on animal rights; he valued Shelley as "a pioneer of humanitarianism," a term used expansively by Salt to include concerns about health and the natural world. Salt's subjective method became seen as outmoded after T.S. Eliot's infamous attacks on Shelley in The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (1933). This essay revisits the failure of the ecological imagination in Eliot's critique, and in the imperatives of much subsequent criticism on Shelley and Romanticism.