The collective chapters in The Cambridge Companion to Literature and the Environment edited by Louise Westling (2014), provides an near exhaustive overview of prevalent issues on environmental literary criticism with themes stretching historically and across disciplines. The collection points not only to new directions within ecocritical theory but also re-examines such discourses as the pastoral, Romanticism and wilderness but also embraces more recent subject areas within ecocriticism such as postcolonial criticism, nature and post nature, animal studies, environmental justice, environmental crisis, the anthropocene and posthuman, biosemiotics and other themes all of which are relevant for the NaChiLit research group.
The volume comprises 15 essays in four sections “Foundations,” “Theories,” “Interdisciplinary engagements” and “Major directions.” Part I, ”Foundations” outlines some precursory key issues of literature and the environment where the opening chapter takes the European original idea of the pastoral to explore the historical relevance and addresses the more current issues of the topic. Another essay in “Foundations” discusses how Native American literature views territorial land in light of postcolonial criticism.
Part II, “Theories,” where perhaps some of the most interesting and challenging chapters are found, points to relevant issues within ecocriticism such “Ecocritical theory: Romantic Roots and Impulses from Twentieth-Century European thinkers” by Axel Goodbody. Goodbody with key headlines like “The Romantic Legacy” where Goodbody, inspired by Arne Næss’ notion of ‘Deep Ecology’ (1972), claims that “Human demands must be weighed against the needs of other species and the integrity of space” (Goodbody, 2014:64) thus, encompassing perhaps the very pivotal idea in the discussions in the NaChiLit research group. Goodbody includes other thinkers in his historical outline, like Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and Marx and finally he discusses posthumanism, taking Derrida’s notion of what he claims is an insuperable line between animal and human, which has implication for the nature/culture dualism.
In Timothy Clark’s very conspicuous chapter “Nature, post nature” Clark continues the scrutiny of the nature/culture dichotomy and the relation between the two concepts. Particularly his inspection into the Anthropocene and how it questions “the nature of nature and of the human” (79) creates new tension in how we understand ourselves.
In the final chapter in “Foundations” Leo Mellor argues for a new definition of wilderness in his chapter “The lure of wilderness”. He concludes by stating that “…wilderness can be where we choose to find it, perhaps more precious in the small as well as large and might even be in the act of perception itself” (117) which contrasts the public notion of wilderness.
In Part III “Interdisciplinary Engagements,” relates issues across time and subjects. Particularly Wendy Weeler’s chapter “Biosemiotics and the book of nature” describes the biosemiotic view “that all life consists of acts of communication and relatedness” (125) and argues that all living things communicate through “the senses and their chemical neurological supports” (127) and that “we must try to avoid our anthropocentric bias” (127).
In Part IV, “Major directions”, suggests disparate important areas within ecocriticism such as environmental justice, climate change and the wildlife film genre.
Finally, the volume offers a section on further readings of key publications organised under headlines for easy and quick references.
Westling’s edited volume is highly relevant for anyone interested in the environmental, ecocritical field and of particular interest for NaChiLit research project since so many issues are addressed and multiple discourses are raised.
Hege Emma Rimmereide