Journal Articles

Autumn 2006 - Vol.37/No.1
Nature’s Revenge: The Ecological Adaptation of Traditional Narratives in Fifty Years of German-speaking Writing
Author : Axel Goodbody
Keywords : German literature, nature's revenge, apocalypse, ecology, environmental crisis, fantasy, myth, intertextuality, Max Frisch, Christa Wolf, Franz Hohler, Karen Duve
Though the environmental crisis is far from being a mere discursive construct, cultural construction plays a crucial part in defining it. This paper examines four German novels written in the last fifty years which present the end of the world, or the fate of a city or individual representing Western modernity, as an act of punishment by nature for human transgression: Max Frisch’s classic Homo Faber, Christa Wolf's response to Chernobyl, Accident, Franz Hohler’s satire The New Mountain and Karen Duve’s feminist bestseller, Rain. Each work exemplifies a particular approach to the topic, and together they reflect the development of its treatment over the last fifty years. Literary strategies including narratives dramatising possible scenarios of the future, the adaptation of religious apocalypse, Greek myths, historical and literary symbols and motifs, and the construction of a web of intertextual allusions are employed with the common aim of alerting readers to environmental dangers and motivating them to change their behaviour. Stories of nature’s revenge have served as a medium for a counter-discourse to the hegemonic understanding of nature as a resource to be freely exploited.
“A Sort of America”: Ecology and History in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy
Author : Catrin Gersdorf
Keywords : science fiction, utopia, ecology, history, landscape, America
American science fiction and fantasy writer Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy can be read as the epic story of post-catastrophic human life. This essay investigates the narrative intersections of history and ecology in Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars. On the one hand, the utopian significance of the trilogy manifests itself in the textual figure of the Jandscape which, as it changes its gestalt over the course of the trilogy, gestures toward possibilities of ecological rehabilitation and regeneration. On the other hand, the trilogy’s narrative trajectory, ie., the imaginary history of conquest and settlement, heavily relies on the historical master narrative of America, including some of its ideological and racial blind spots, which jeopardizes the revolutionary implications of the ecological utopia.
Scenarios of Disaster: Crying Wolf, Scaring Away the Elephants, and Heading ’Em off at the Pass
Author : Patrick D. Murphy
Keywords : disaster, population growth, famine, nuclear war, global warming, science fiction, horror, cautionary tales
This essay reviews predictions of disasters, and literature and films about such disasters as population growth, nuclear war, famine, and global warming, and evaluates them in comparison with novbelist Michael Crichton's recent attacks on global warming science. It concludes that literary scenarios of human-induced disasters serve as valuable warnings and cautionary tales that may help stave off the very disasters they envision, thus playing a valuable role in cultural and environmental change.
Tornados and the Sublime: Discourse on the Human Place in Nature
Author : David R. Keller
Keywords : antiquity, ecological discourse, Enlightenment, evolutionary process, fallacy of safe space, metaphysical dualism, ontological interconnectedness, Shiva, sublime, supernaturalism, tornado, wildness
In this paper, I detail lessons that I learned about discourse on the environment from my experience of the Salt Lake City tornado of 1999. Reflecting on the episode, the Occidental idea of sublime has been useful to me in making sense of the human place in nature. Yet, generally speaking, the concept of sublimity problematically evokes an irrational optimism of the ability of human rationality to transcend capricious and corporeal nature. Any conceptual “safe distance” functioning to distance wild nature is wholly transitory and therefore a chimera. The fundamental ontology of the human condition is ecological interconnectedness with wild nature. With the fact that Homo sapiens is fundamentally embedded in wild nature comes the discomforting realization that evolution and extinction co-occur: the very ecological processes which brought into existence humans and human culture will also put an end to humans and human culture. Like Shiva, the Hindu god whose dance simultaneously creates and destroys, these dual effects of natural process are interrelated—they are two manifestations of the same underlying phenomenon. In short, I have learned that we need a change in worldview by recognizing that one thing humans cannot make is an inviolable safe space; at best, we may distance ourselves, temporarily, from the nonhuman. Our goal should not be to transcend wild nature, but to discover imaginative new ways of living within it.
“Moral Friends” in the Zone of Disaster
Author : Deborah Rose
Keywords : moral friends, bushfires, Mencius, human-animal relationships, modernity, New Confucianism, globalization, moral mind, Levinas, dualisms, intersubjectivity.
Zones of disaster tear open the everyday fabric of life, revealing both the arbitrariness of the everyday and some of the manifold alternatives. This paper draws on the bushfires in Canberra, Australia, as a case study against which to develop a comparative analysis of ethics as conceptualised by the New Confucian scholars and by a western mainstream philosophy of intersubjectivity.
Seascapes as a Critical Framework in American Sea Literature
Author : Shin Yamashiro
Keywords : ecocriticism, sea literature, seascape, storms, American literature, terrestrial and oceanic aesthetics
This paper will show that storms have been an important component of seascapes in creating catastrophes on the ocean. By studying some examples of storm representations, I wish to reflect on how storms have been represented, how their representations have changed, and why. Lamenting the lack of ecocritical scholarship in the study of sea literature, I would like to suggest that we need to subject seascape to a critical framework through which to examine how it is composed. More specifically, ecocriticism needs to treat seascape as a critical framework through which to examine how it is composed, what kind of cultural and political perspectives it reflects, and how it reveals our perceptions about, and our relationship to, the oceanic environment.
Cries and Whispers: Nature, Value and the Development Crisis
Author : Murali Sivaramakrishnan
Keywords : Nature, value, development crisis, deep ecology, environmental aesthetics
This paper argues that the present is riddled with crises and the ubiquitous development syndrome has been anything but awry and misdirected. The very concept is challenged. Further, the paper focuses on the idea that non-human nature has been indiscriminately exploited and this causes severe concern. Along with the voice of the woman and the subaltern, nature has been sidelined and all non-western philosophical and aesthetic positions have also been devalued. What is called for is a holistic awareness bordering on the spiritual which would in turn reorganize meaning, value and responsibility.
The “Nature” of Environmental Disaster: George Catlin’s Lament as Eco-genocide
Author : John Hausdoerffer
Keywords : nature, environment, disaster, catastrophe, George Catlin, discourse, injustice, politics, Andrew Jackson, lament
Nineteenth century America imposed a “catastrophe” on the environments and cultures of the American West. Areas larger than the continent of Europe were deforested in a single lifetime. Prairies were eradicated, reducing plant biodiversity from 250 to four species. Buffalo populations dwindled from fifty million to near extinction. By 1890, ninety-five percent of the original pre-Columbian Indian population had been wiped out. A catastrophe, indeed. In fact, an intricate discourse lamenting this catastrophe formed in the nineteenth century, encompassing political documents, literature, theater, art, and science. My paper explores this discourse, this rhetorical performance of assumptions about disaster, power, and justice. I claim that this discursive lament legitimated ways of explaining environmental and cultural genocide that simultaneously perpetuated the practice. Underlying this discourse, this language of lament, was a key and destructive assumption—that eco-genocide was as “Natural” as it was sad. I will focus on the discursive participation of George Catlin, ironically one of the earliest critics of these practices. Catlin’s desire to “preserve” the “Natural” West through his literary, artistic, and theatrical lament both distracted audiences from social justice efforts among Indian cultures and defined the “vanishing” fate of Indians as “Natural.” Preserving “Nature,” rather than struggling with cultures protecting their environmental relations became the central goal of Caltlin’s discourse, and, unfortunately, of American environmentalism to this day. I thus argue for an “environmentalism without Nature,” a discourse of ecological disaster that refuses to inadvertently naturalize social injustice.
Ethics of Natural Disasters: Tanaka Shozo and the Ashio Mine Poisoning
Author : Tsutomu Takahashi
Keywords : Shozo Tanaka, Ichibei Furukawa, Munemitsu Mutsu, Ashio Mine Poisoning, Copper Sulfate, Yanaka Village, Watarase River, river pollution, river control, Japanese modernization, environmental ethics, environmental justice
In this paper, I would like to discuss the ethical aspects of natural disasters, with special reference to the Ashio Mine Poisoning Case in modern Japan. With the repeated “man-made floods” and the unprincipled decisions of policy-making, the Ashio Mine case epitomizes the case of environmental disasters where men’s ethics are directly questioned. In reviewing the Ashio case, we also examine Shozo Tanaka’s career as a prototype of the environmental activist and his discourse of natural conservation. In the face of economic and imperialist discourses in the modernizing nation, Tanaka envisions the establishment of a democratic state where voices of the weak and the oppressed will be heard and where Western technology will be seamlessly harmonized with the traditional values of the common people. Tanaka, in dealing with the unprecedented disaster in modernizing Japan, spotlights the locus of environmentalism where men’s codes of behaviors play a significant part.
Toward a Practice of Ecological Environmental Ethics: A New “Ecological Casuistry” for Case-Based Decisionmaking Based on Emerging Principles of Ecological Science
Author : Anthony Chiaviello
Keywords : ethics, casuistry, ecology, land ethic, consensus, rhetoric, probability, values, integrity, paradigm, intrinsic, nature
This article proposes and argues for an operationalized “land ethic” that can respond adequately and appropriately to both routine environmental decision-making and unique cases of “slow disasters”: the sudden increase in the pace of global warming, forest fires, tsunamis, hurricanes and earthquakes, glacier retreat, and rapid extinction events, for example. I suggest a fresh rhetorical construction of the basis of our environmental decision-making processes. Founded on the principles implied in culturally specific proverbs and aphorisms, this bottom-up practice of applied ethics is based on the work of Stephen Toulmin and Albert Jonsen (1988), a practice they formulated for bioethics and dubbed “the new casuistry.” I propose the extension of this practice into the realm of environmental decisionmaking, based on emerging scientific principles as the equivalent of the ethical proverbs and maxims relied upon in the practice of pre-modern casuistry. The operation of this process base on the intrinsic values and first principles enunciated in Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic (1949), the second-order Principles of Ecological Integrity developed by Laura Westra (1994, 1998), and the scientifically validated principles and practices of ecology. The post-modern problem encountered is traditional ethics’ difficulty in coming to grips with these emerging perspectives. I recruit the rehabilitated practice of casuistry as a probabilistic approach to replace that of logical positivism and the search for axiological principles to explain the working of the world. Here, I propose that we extend environmental ethics beyond human society, to develop a basis for a moral, ecocentric view of ethical decision-making that appropriates this method of casuistry in the application of Leopold’s Land Ethic as a basis for the construction of a sustainable, ecology-based, post-modern ecological ethics.