Hubert Zapf, Literature as Cultural Ecology: Sustainable Texts (London and Oxford: Bloomsbury, 2016), 312 pp.
Apr11

Hubert Zapf, Literature as Cultural Ecology: Sustainable Texts (London and Oxford: Bloomsbury, 2016), 312 pp.

Hubert Zapf, Literature as Cultural Ecology: Sustainable Texts (London and Oxford: Bloomsbury, 2016), 312 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.4   In Literature as Cultural Ecology: Sustainable Texts, Hubert Zapf aims at a new approach of literary analysis in the field of environmental studies. Although ecocriticism as part of the humanities is an emerging field, literature studies in general find themselves left out of the discussion about how to lead sustainable lives and make an impact on environmental issues such as climate change. Zapf, therefore, critically approaches the concepts of literary theory, ecology and cultural studies, offering a new and innovative perspective on how to read literature and see the sustainability of texts through the concept of cultural ecology. Cultural ecology in this sense “looks at the interaction and living interrelationship between culture and nature, without reducing one to the other” (3), rejecting both purely anthropocentric as well as ecocentric theories of cultural and social studies. By boldly applying this concept to literary texts, Zapf enhances the understanding of literature as a transcultural medium, acknowledging cultural differences of authors and works while highlighting the similarities that make these texts sustainable and ecological. With this approach, Zapf establishes literature as a leading medium for the deconstruction and reconstruction of cultural knowledge and ecological thought. The first part focuses on theories regarding ecology, cultural ecology and sustainability. While explaining the interconnectedness of literature and the environment, Zapf also emphasizes literature’s responsibility towards societies’ understanding of ecology and culture as well as dualisms, such as the nature-culture dichotomy, created by society. In order to provide literary pieces to support these ideas, Zapf draws from a wide range of texts, including works that seemingly do not fit within an environmental realm at first, showing the true potential of literature as a cultural medium, and defining it as an “imaginative space in which dominant developments, beliefs, truth-claims and models of human life are being critically reflected and symbolically transgressed in counter-discourses to prevailing economic-technoscientific forms of modernization and globalization” (27-8). With an emphasis on poetry in this first part, Zapf analyzes the connection between literary works, sustainability and ecological culture. Emily Dickinson’s “A narrow Fellow in the Grass,” Linda Hogan’s “To Light,” and A.R. Ammons’s “Reflective” all share the idea of the interconnectedness of the human and the non-human world or the natural and the cultural realm. These examples show a written art form of cultural behavior and human interaction with nature, providing a vehicle for creative ambiguity in the nature-culture divide. The second part of Hubert Zapf’s book, “Ecocriticism and Cultural Ecology,” focuses on the development of ecocriticism and its relation to both critical...

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Sylvia Mayer and Alexa Weik von Mossner, eds., The Anticipation of Catastrophe: Environmental Risk in North American Literature and Culture. American Studies—A Monograph Series 247. (Heidelberg: Winter, 2014), 227 pp.
Apr11

Sylvia Mayer and Alexa Weik von Mossner, eds., The Anticipation of Catastrophe: Environmental Risk in North American Literature and Culture. American Studies—A Monograph Series 247. (Heidelberg: Winter, 2014), 227 pp.

Sylvia Mayer and Alexa Weik von Mossner, eds., The Anticipation of Catastrophe: Environmental Risk in North American Literature and Culture. American Studies—A Monograph Series 247. (Heidelberg: Winter, 2014), 227 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.4   For years, scholars and activists, most prominently among them Bill McKibben and Robert Macfarlane, have expressed their astonishment at the global dearth of creative engagement with anthropogenic climate change. Now that the second decade of the twenty-first century has brought on a seemingly never-ending outpouring of cultural production imaging ‘life, the universe, and everything’ in times of advanced climate change, this surge of texts has also generated a plethora of productive concepts, theories, and approaches—from eco-materialism to multi-species studies—providing scholars with adequate tools to critically interrogate the dynamic interplays of politics, economics, ethics, affect, aesthetics, and materiality as well as the intricate entanglements of the human with the non-human—to name but a few of the research foci—in narratives of environmental crisis. While the majority of these academic conceptualizations have initially emerged in the institutional framework of the environmental humanities and related disciplines, American Studies has, slightly belatedly, begun to participate in this endeavor quite copiously. Sylvia Mayer and Alexa Weik von Mossner’s edited volume The Anticipation of Catastrophe: Environmental Risk in North American Literature and Culture is a convincing example of one such conceptual contribution to the study of environmental crisis.[1] Taking their cue from the work of risk scholars such as, e.g., historian Arwen Mohun, anthropologist Mary Douglas, political scientist Aaron Wildavsky, and, most prominently, sociologists Anthony Giddens and Ulrich Beck, The Anticipation of Catastrophe narrows down its conceptual and topical lens on the research of environmental crises in North America to the exploration of risk narratives. Following Beck’s conceptualization as laid out in his World at Risk (2007; 2009), risk is understood by the contributors as the “perceptual and cognitive schema in accordance with which a society mobilizes itself when it is confronted with the openness, uncertainties and obstructions of a self-created future” (4). This conceptual grasp presumes that future crises cannot be foreseen, gauged, or controlled in twenty-first-century Western risk societies, in which the systemic effects of modernization continuously and quasi-autonomously (re)generate a wide array of unprecedented hazards. Yet, the prevalent risks within a particular culture are not axiomatic scenarios that exist a priori but are selected out of a wide array of possible future disaster situations and come into being through their imaginative staging in cultural narratives, which—other than risk statistics—manage to involve the audience emotionally. The Anticipation of Catastrophe does not stop short at the mere application of previous risk scholarship to environmental risk in North American literature and...

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Karen L. Kilcup, Fallen Forests: Emotion, Embodiment, and Ethics in American Women’s Environmental Writing, 1781-1924 (Athens and London: U of Georgia P, 2013), 512 pp.
Apr11

Karen L. Kilcup, Fallen Forests: Emotion, Embodiment, and Ethics in American Women’s Environmental Writing, 1781-1924 (Athens and London: U of Georgia P, 2013), 512 pp.

Karen L. Kilcup, Fallen Forests: Emotion, Embodiment, and Ethics in American Women’s Environmental Writing, 1781-1924 (Athens and London: U of Georgia P, 2013), 512 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.4     Karen Kilcup’s astute investigation into the environmental dimensions of the works of a heterogeneous set of nineteenth-century American women writers contributes to scholarship in American women’s writing, ecocriticism, and feminist rhetoric while also expanding the scope of each of these fields. In the American tradition of nature writing that runs from Henry David Thoreau and John Muir to Barry Lopez and Annie Dillard, the primary objective has been to develop self-awareness through close observation of nature and to reflect critically on the terms of that self-awareness so as to extend empathy to the nonhuman world. Kilcup identifies a lesser known tradition of American environmental writing authored by women who “often perceived ‘nature’ and ‘the environment’ within a complex framework of embodied and social experience” (2). The women she portrays were all acutely aware of their own physical and mental enmeshment in the world that surrounded them, whether they lived a rugged life on the Western frontier or earned their living in urban environments. Importantly, Kilcup’s selection of primary texts consciously moves “beyond white middle-class women’s writing,” including works by “women of color, working-class women, and non-Protestant women” (5), thus offering a kaleidoscope of culturally inflected understandings of nature and human-nature relationships that challenge and significantly enlarge the accepted canon of American environmental writing. Furthermore, the culturally rich and ethnically diverse archive of environmental writing that Kilcup has uncovered is not only comprehensive in terms of its authors; Fallen Forests also highlights the multiplicity of genres as well as the development of hybrid genres “ranging from Cherokee oratory to travel writing, the slave narrative, diaries, polemical texts, sketches, novels and exposés” (5). Kilcup’s deliberately wide and open definition of environmental writing allows her to include the voices of women who might otherwise not have been noticed. She explores the intersections and inevitable mixing of these different forms of storytelling, and she goes far beyond reading them as chronicles of a bygone time in American environmental history or even as forgotten treasures of nature writing. Highlighting their political and activist dimensions, she understands American women’s environmental writings as the result of a deliberate foregrounding of individual subjective experience, and she constantly reminds us that individual experiences of the natural world are circumscribed not only by gender and sexuality, but also by ethnicity, race, class, age, health, and geographical location. The multifaceted tradition of environmental writing that Kilcup uncovers begins in 1781 when the Cherokee Beloved Woman and political activist Nancy...

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Michael Ziser, Environmental Practice and Early American Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2013), 224 pp.
Apr11

Michael Ziser, Environmental Practice and Early American Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2013), 224 pp.

Michael Ziser, Environmental Practice and Early American Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2013), 224 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 61.4   Arriving on the heels of editors Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors’s A New Literary History of America (2009), Michael Ziser’s Environmental Practice and Early American Literature provides a fascinating new perspective on the influence of nonhuman agency on literary history. Ziser’s analysis marks a groundbreaking contribution to the recent “material turn” in ecocriticism, as he reinterprets early American literary history by examining the significance of nonhuman actors. Rooted in New Historicism, this study draws on current methods in science studies and sociology, most importantly Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network-Theory, as well as the work of environmental historians such as William Cronon and Richard White. Rethinking and combining these theoretical approaches, Ziser elaborates the ways in which nonhuman objects can be represented in literary productions and in how far their appearance in these productions can legitimately be understood as agency. He succeeds in this attempt to varying degrees. The monograph was composed to a great extent from essays and articles originally written and published elsewhere between 2004 and 2008, a fact that accounts for the, at times, rather vague connections between separate chapters. Nonetheless, the individual analyses bring forth intriguing arguments. Each of the first four chapters centers on the literary representation of one specific environmental practice, including the cultivation of tobacco and staples, orcharding, and bee-lining. The fifth and final chapter of the book illustrates the significance of the georgic mode for early American literature, concluding in a brief examination of nineteenth-century agricultural magazine culture as its final articulation. Laden with theory, Ziser’s introduction, aptly titled “More-than-Human Literary History,” a reference to David Abram’s concept of the “more-than-human,” makes for a dense but no less illuminating read. His elucidation of the study’s overall goal and its theoretical foundations not only serves as a potent opening to the analysis, but also provides an effective introductory guideline for the field of material ecocriticism. The first environmental practice analyzed is the cultivation of tobacco and its representation in early English accounts of the New World. Ziser comprehensively demonstrates in how far the plant claims agency as “a source of disembodied counter-imperial rhetorical power” (25). He illustrates this in a close examination of King James I’s pamphlet Counterblaste to Tobacco, published in 1604. King James attacks the newly introduced commodity for its seemingly subversive potential. He fears that his own sovereignty might be at stake, as many of the ideological and symbolic powers usually monopolized by royal authority are now also ascribed to tobacco. Central to his argument are the shifting relations of power due to...

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