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Concept, text and culture

Sustainability is a notoriously fraught and slippery term, and yet one that is now well-established in mainstream usage across the contemporary world. While sustainability is widely discussed and theorised across range of disciplines, this book sets out to consider what innovations literary scholarship might bring to the sustainability debate, and indeed what sustainability as a concept might bring to literary scholarship. Putting forward a range of essays by leading and upcoming scholars, this book takes a non-prescriptive and critically reflective stance towards the problem of sustainability – a stance we describe as critical sustainability. Essays in this collection accordingly undertake a range of approaches, from applying tools of literary enquiry in order to interrogate sustainability’s paradoxes, to investigating the ways in which literature envisages sustainability or plays out its tropes. Overall, this book seeks to demonstrate how sustainability’s difficulties might open up a productive opportunity for interrogation and exploration of the kind that literary scholars and ecocritics are ideally placed to carry out.

Open Access (free)
Studies in intimacy

Featuring essays from some of the most prominent voices in early medieval English studies, Dating Beowulf: studies in intimacy playfully redeploys the word ‘dating’, which usually heralds some of the most divisive critical impasses in the field, to provocatively phrase a set of new relationships with an Old English poem. This volume presents an argument for the relevance of the early Middle Ages to affect studies and vice versa, while offering a riposte to anti-feminist discourse and opening avenues for future work by specialists in the history of emotions, feminist criticism, literary theory, Old English literature, and medieval studies alike. To this end, the chapters embody a range of critical approaches, from queer theory to animal studies and ecocriticism to Actor-Network theory, all organized into clusters that articulate new modes of intimacy with the poem.

Animal language and the return of loss in Beowulf

intercourse in the avian voices of Old English literature. 3 In this vein of ecocritical optimism, I too read in the bird language of Beowulf a profound moment of interspecies connection. But I argue that within Beowulf the human is excluded from and indeed denigrated by the intimacy of wild creatures; when birds gossip about human corpses, this intimacy thematises the breakdown of socially embedded human knowledge. Beowulf is an ideal site for those creatures and readers drawn

in Dating Beowulf

discussing it in greater detail, I would like to suggest – really, to insist – that Atwood’s approach to her material is satirical. Despite the grimness of many of the elements of her story, which documents the end of the world as we know it though not the end of the world as such, Atwood’s attitude remains consistently irreverent. While this lack of reverence is basic to the satirist’s fictional mandate, it does pose a significant problem, especially for ecocritical interpretations. It makes it difficult to read the MaddAddam trilogy as a cautionary tale about collapse

in Literature and sustainability
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Ecopoetics, enjoyment and ecstatic hospitality

dedicated to birds and their nests. Clare, along with several other Romantic writers and philosophers, has attracted a good deal of ecocritical attention following the publication of Jonathan Bate’s landmark study of ‘romantic ecology’ in 1991; and in his later monograph, The Song of the Earth, Bate homed in on Clare’s nest poems in particular as exemplary of an ecopoetics of dwelling. Yet, as Richard Kerridge observes in his discussion of ‘Green Pleasures’ (2009), Romanticism occupies an ambivalent position in relation to sustainability. In the influential analysis

in Literature and sustainability
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Precedents to sustainability in nineteenth-century literature and culture

). Foregrounding the ecological importance of the concept, Grober touches upon the inflection of Umwelt as it was developed by the Estonian German naturalist Jakob von Uexküll in his 1909 book Environment and Inner World of Animals. Recently, von Uexküll has had a great influence on the fields of biosemiotics and ecocriticism. 38 Discourses of sustainability His definition best captures the significance of the developing concept of environment to that of sustainability. Umwelt was promulgated by von Uexküll to express a subjective sense of environment. It refers, on the one

in Literature and sustainability
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Sustainability, subject and necessity in Yann Martel’s Life of Pi

novel draws attention to the poles between which its narrative operates. In performing the tension between the phenomenological and the speculative real, the novel alludes to such tensions in sustainability as those between its global and local dynamics and between its weaker and stronger forms. The need for ecocritics to pay attention to issues of scale, such as that of the local and global, has been stated before (Clark 2011; Heise 2008; Keller 2012; Trexler and Johns-Putra 2011). The novel handles such issues by directly inserting the object (the futural vision

in Literature and sustainability
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Sustainability, the arts and the watermill

pre- and early modern communities: it enabled them to be self-sustaining; it made the people and their land sustainable. There are several rich accounts of the history of the watermill in Britain – for example by Reynolds (1983), Steven S. Kaplan (1984) and Martin Watts (2006) – and Beryl Rowland (1969, 1970) has surveyed literary (including classical) representations of milling and millstones. Reynolds suggests that its very ubiquity in history and literature has made the watermill an overlooked subject for contemporary cultural and ecocritical study (1983: 3

in Literature and sustainability
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Agency in the Finnsburg episode

–53. 7 Law, ‘Notes on the theory of actor-network’, 381. 8 Ibid., 383. 9 This project bears thematic and critical similarities to Jeffrey Cohen and Lowell Duckert's recent work in Elemental ecocriticism . See their ‘Introduction: eleven principles of the

in Dating Beowulf

Alfred K. Siewers puts it, ‘Heorot is constructed as an island of civilization … confined and hemmed in by the powers of chaos’, but perhaps strangely for an avowed ecocritic, Siewers does not problematize the binary between ‘civilization’ and ‘chaos’, which also encodes a human/nature dichotomy that is always constructed, never natural. 32 From the point of view of the ‘civilized’ reader, Heorot is a light shining in the darkness; Grendel is the darkness comprehending it not – not that Grendel does not understand

in Dating Beowulf