Top Ten New Ecocriticism Books

Sense of Place and Sense of Planet: The Environmental Imagination of the Global, Ursula Heise (2008)

Sense of Place and Sense of Planet analyzes the relationship between the imagination of the global and the ethical commitment to the local in environmentalist thought and writing from the 1960s to the present. It combines in-depth theoretical discussion with detailed analyses of novels, poems, films, computer software and installation artworks from the US and abroad that translate new connections between global, national and local forms of awareness into innovative aesthetic forms combining allegory, epic, and views of the planet as a whole with modernist and postmodernist strategies of fragmentation, montage, collage, and zooming.

“At the leading edge of a rapidly evolving environmental discourse, Ursula Heise announces the moment of a new eco-cosmopolitanism. Her visionary manifesto–the book is nothing less–gathers the most politically serious and aesthetically challenging of contemporary writers in order to take us beyond the reassurance of a return to Mother Nature, beyond an ethics or an aesthetics of proximity, and to make real the possibilities of an environmentalism without borders.” -Bruce Robbins, Columbia University (from Amazon)

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Race and Nature from Transcendentalism to the Harlem Renaissance, Paul Outka (2008)

Winner of the 2009 ALSE Biennial Prize for ‘Best Book of Ecocriticism,’ Paul Outka’s book examines a neglected but centrally important issue in critical race studies and ecocriticism: the issue of environmental racism. He asks how natural experience became racialized in America from the antebellum period through the early twentieth-century and draws compelling new conclusions. Using theories of sublimity and trauma, the book offers a critical and cultural history of the racial fault line in American environmentalism that to this day divides largely white wilderness preservation groups and the minority environmental justice movement.

“This book has the potential to change ecocritical scholarship, and perhaps even American environmental thinking, for the better. It promises to wake us up to the ways race and nature are deeply entangled in American history and ideology. When we can see the majestic mountain, says Outka, as well as the ‘strange fruit’ hanging from the tree—when we can see that white relationship to nature has its roots in the Romantic sublime, while African American relationship to nature has it roots in the traumatic racism of slavery and its aftermath, then we can begin, as scholars and environmentalists, to embrace the true complexity of the American landscape.” – Prof. Gretchen Legler, University of Maine at Farmington (from Amazon)

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Ecology without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics, Timothy Morton (2009)

In Ecology without Nature, Timothy Morton argues that the chief stumbling block to environmental thinking is the image of nature itself. Ecological writers propose a new worldview, but their very zeal to preserve the natural world leads them away from the “nature” they revere. The problem is a symptom of the ecological catastrophe in which we are living. Morton sets out a seeming paradox: to have a properly ecological view, we must relinquish the idea of nature once and for all. 

“We’re in the sh**. We have to face it and learn to live with it. That’s a basic idea in dark ecology, which Timothy Morton outlines in his book Ecology Without Nature. […] Dark ecology has a realistic take on the human state without resorting to false optimism or fatalistic tones of apocalypse. […] Dark ecology has the potential to be the punk rock or experimental pop of ecological thinking. Or even the death metal, since it shares a goth sensibility that focuses on the dark.” Kasino A4 (from Amazon)

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Back to Nature: The Green and the Real in the Late Renaissance, Robert Watson (2009)

Sweeping across scholarly disciplines, Back to Nature shows that, from the moment of their conception, modern ecological and epistemological anxieties were conjoined twins. Urbanization, capitalism, Protestantism, colonialism, revived Skepticism, empirical science, and optical technologies conspired to alienate people from both the earth and reality itself in the seventeenth century. Literary and visual arts explored the resulting cultural wounds, expressing the pain and proposing some ingenious cures. The stakes, Robert N. Watson demonstrates, were huge. Shakespeare’s comedies, Marvell’s pastoral lyrics, Traherne’s visionary Centuries, and Dutch painting all illuminate a fierce submerged debate about what love of nature has to do with perception of reality.

Back to Nature is demanding, at times dizzying, in its range and boldness, the all-encompassing and often surprising nature of its conjunctions. . . . Sections of the book amount to the most powerful and wide-ranging ‘green’ reading of early modern literature that has yet emerged.” —Jonathan Bate, University of Warwick (from Amazon)

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Ecocritical Explorations in Literary and Cultural Studies: Fences, Boundaries, and Fields, Patrick Murphy (2009)

This study provides a wide ranging discussion of contemporary literature and cultural phenomena through the lens of ecological literary criticism, giving attention to both theoretical issues and applied critiques. In particular, it looks at popular literary genres, such as mystery and science fiction, as well as actual disasters and disaster scenarios.

This book is truly international in scope and substantively addresses a number of the major concerns facing ecocriticism today: the role of language and other representations (including virtual reality) in mediating our relationships with the world around us; the potential of popular literature (especially SF) to promote environmentally responsible thinking and behavior; the ways literary and cultural critics can productively respond to natural disasters and the other material effects of environmental degradation; and the importance of rethinking our pedagogical practices as well as our texts when we teach environmentally-themed courses.” — Karla Armbruster, Webster University (from Amazon)

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Wilderness into Civilized Shapes: Reading the Postcolonial Environment, Laura Wright (2010)

Laura Wright brings together postcolonial theory and ecocriticism to explores the changes brought by colonialism and globalization, as depicted in an array of international works of fiction, including Yan Martel, J.M. Coetzee, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, and Arundhati Roy. Throughout Wilderness into Civilized Shapes, Wright rearticulates questions about the role of the writer of fiction as environmental activist and spokesperson, the connections between animal ethics and environmental responsibility, and the potential perpetuation of a neocolonial framework founded on western commodification and resource-based imperialism.

“Wright’s deeply provocative and richly nuanced Wilderness into Civilized Shapes represents the current state of play in contemporary postcolonial ecocriticism. . . . Wright provides much needed tools to explore the diversity and urgency of these cultural arrangements with the natural world. This is the sort of book that, for postcolonial scholars, represents the best in the field, while, for those in adjoining disciplines, offering a rewarding invitation to explore an allied field.”—Deane Curtin, author of Environmental Ethics for a Postcolonial World (from Amazon)

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Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and the Material Self, Stacy Alaimo (2010)

Winner of the 2011 ASLE Biannual Book AwardBodily Natures considers the questions: How do we understand the agency and significance of material forces and their interface with human bodies? What does it mean to be human in these times, with bodies that are inextricably interconnected with our physical world? Alaimo pursues her inquiries by grappling with powerful and pervasive material forces and their increasingly harmful effects on the human body. Drawing on feminist theory, environmental studies, and the sciences, she focuses on trans-corporeality, or movement across bodies and nature, which has profoundly altered our sense of self. By looking at a broad range of creative and philosophical writings, Alaimo illuminates how science, politics, and culture collide, while considering the closeness of the human body to the environment.

“This is a book that should be read by anyone—scholars, students, readers, and anyone else with a body—for it is a marvelous contribution to environmental thinking and to human culture more broadly.” —American Book Review (from Amazon)

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 Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, Rob Nixon (2011)

The violence wrought by climate change, toxic drift, deforestation, oil spills, and the environmental aftermath of war takes place gradually and often invisibly. Using the innovative concept of “slow violence” to describe these threats, this 2013 ASLE Biennial Book Award Winner focuses on the inattention we have paid to the attritional lethality of many environmental crises, in contrast with the sensational, spectacle-driven messaging that impels public activism today. Slow violence, because it is so readily ignored by a hard-charging capitalism, exacerbates the vulnerability of ecosystems and of people who are poor, disempowered, and often involuntarily displaced, while fueling social conflicts that arise from desperation as life-sustaining conditions erode. In a book of extraordinary scope, Nixon examines a cluster of writer-activists affiliated with the environmentalism of the poor in the global South. By approaching environmental justice literature from this transnational perspective, he exposes the limitations of the national and local frames that dominate environmental writing.

Slow Violence will, I think, become what it aspires to be: a foundational text of an ‘environmental humanities’ that also conjugates ecologism, anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism, to be achieved through a ‘creative alliance’ between environmental and postcolonial studies, two protagonists accustomed to ignoring each other.” Mary Louise Pratt, Interventions (from Amazon)

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Ecocriticism, Greg Garrard (2011)

A useful overview of both classical and contemporary trends in the field, Ecocriticism explores the ways in which we imagine and portray the relationship between humans and the environment in all areas of cultural production, from Wordsworth and Thoreau through to Google Earth, J.M. Coetzee and Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man. Greg Garrard’s animated and accessible volume traces the development of the movement and explores its key concepts, including pollution, wilderness, apocalypse, dwelling, animals, and earth. The second edition includes chapters on queer ecology and postcolonial ecology.

“A minor miracle of synthesis and exposition.” — ASLE (from Amazon)

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Ecopoetics: The Language of Nature, the Nature of Language, Scott Knickerbocker (2012)

Ecocritics and other literary scholars interested in the environment have tended to examine writings that pertain directly to nature and to focus on subject matter more than expression. In this book, Scott Knickerbocker argues that it is time for the next step in ecocriticism: scholars need to explore the figurative and aural capacity of language to evoke the natural world in powerful ways. Ecopoetics probes the complex relationship between artifice and the natural world in the work of modern American poets in particular Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, Richard Wilbur, and Sylvia Plath. Rather than attempt to erase the artifice of their own poems, to make them seem more natural and thus supposedly closer to nature, the poets in this book unapologetically embrace artifice not for its own sake but in order to perform and enact the natural world. Indeed, for them, artifice is natural.

“If you want to use more metaphor and less mimesis in your nature poetry, this may be a good book for you. […] Because Knickerbocker does such a fascinating job of explication with these writers works, you are bound to enjoy his pointing out how they express sensuous poesis, thus making nature come alive in a very different way from what we usually expect to find in most nature poetry.” —The Daily Avocet (from Amazon)

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