Material Ecocriticism

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Material Ecocriticism offers new ways to analyze language and reality, human and nonhuman life, mind and matter, without falling into well-worn paths of thinking. Bringing ecocriticism closer to the material turn, the contributions to this landmark volume focus on material forces and substances, the agency of things, processes, narratives and stories, and making meaning out of the world. This broad-ranging reflection on contemporary human experience and expression provokes new understandings of the planet to which we are intimately connected.

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1 From Ecological Postmodernism to Material Ecocriticism: Creative Materiality and Narrative Agency

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Serpil Oppermann

THE CONCEPTION OF physical reality within the framework of ecological postmodern thought and the nature of the material world described by quantum theory have recently been given new life by the emergence of the new materialist paradigm. The radical revisions of our ideas about the description of physical entities, chemical and biological processes, and their ethical, political, and cultural implications represented in recent discourses of feminist science studies, posthumanism, and the environmental humanities have also occasioned considerable interest among ecocritics, leading to the emergence of material ecocriticism. Proposing that we can read the world as matter endowed with stories, material ecocriticism speaks of a new mode of description designated as “storied matter,” or “material expressions” constituting an agency with signs and meanings. The idea that all material life experience is implicated in creative expressions contriving a creative ontology is a reworking of ecological postmodernism’s emphasis on material processes intersecting with human systems, producing epistemic configurations of life, discourses, texts, and narratives. Because ecological postmodernism perceives matter equipped with internal experience, agentic creativity, and vitality, it is important to acknowledge it as one of the roots upon which material ecocriticism constructs its theoretical premises, as this chapter aims to show.

 

2 Limits of Agency: Notes on the Material Turn from a Systems-Theoretical Perspective

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Hannes Bergthaller

If those arrangements were to disappear as they appeared, if some event of which we can at the moment do no more than sense the possibility—without knowing either what its form will be or what it promises—were to cause them to crumble, as the ground of classical thought did, at the end of the eighteenth century, then one can certainly wager that man would be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea.

—Michel Foucault, The Order of Things

The buck stops here!

—Harry Truman

If one had to choose an epigraph for the new materialisms, one could do worse than settle for the closing lines of The Order of Things. The new materialist thought takes as a given the “crumbling” of the conceptual foundations of modern humanism that Foucault anticipated; its intellectual project is a redescription of the world that dissolves the singular figure of the human subject, distinguished by unique properties (soul, reason, mind, free will, or intentionality), into the dense web of material relations in which all beings are enmeshed. This move cuts two ways. On the one hand, the new materialists point out that human beings are far less sovereign than the humanist tradition would have us believe; on the other, they insist that matter is much more than the inert res extensa of old-style materialism, that it is endowed with many of the same qualities that were formerly seen as exclusive to human beings: complex self-organization, reflexivity, consciousness, and the capacity to act spontaneously, that is, in a manner not reducible to external determination. This insight can be summed up by saying that matter has agency. Agency, the new materialists argue, is emergent and distributed—that is, it is not the property of concrete, isolable entities, but manifests itself only as distributed throughout the networks in which these entities are embedded.

 

3 Creative Matter and Creative Mind: Cultural Ecology and Literary Creativity

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Hubert Zapf

I WOULD LIKE TO focus in my chapter on the question of creativity, which after long neglect in literary and cultural studies is reemerging on the agenda of scholarship, especially within recent directions of ecocriticism. For a long time, the concept of creativity appeared to be inextricably bound up with a notion of radical individualism and of the quasi-godlike creative genius of the human mind, which seemed to represent a classic case of an anthropocentric metaphysics. In ecocritical perspective, however, creativity is beginning to newly move into the focus of attention not alone as an exclusionary feature of human culture but as a property of life and, to an extent, of the material world itself. The latter aspect is especially emphasized in the paradigm of a material ecocriticism, which provides the framework for the present collection of essays. I will address this question of creativity, however, not alone from the perspective of a material ecocriticism, but from the related and complementary perspective of cultural ecology (see Zapf, “Literary”; Literatur). In the first part of my chapter, I will structure my argument accordingly in the following steps, which reflect evolutionary stages of emergence and differentiation of creativity between matter and mind, nature and culture: creative matter, creative biosphere, and creative mind. In the second part of the chapter, I will specifically turn to the question of literary creativity, combining insights of material ecocriticism with cultural ecology, with contemporary creativity research, and with literary theories of creativity. In the third part, I will show that the creative potential of imaginative literature is intrinsically related to its power to actualize in always new forms the fundamental relationship between matter and mind, nature and culture, as a source of its creative processes. As will be demonstrated in various examples from literary history, specifically from American poems and novels, literary creativity can be described in one important sense as a self-reflexive staging and aesthetic transformation of those processes of emergence and creativity that characterize the sphere of material nature itself. This self-reflexive, transformative power of imaginative texts, however, marks both the interconnectedness and the difference between natural and cultural forms of creativity, of which literature surely is one of the most remarkable manifestations.

 

4 Natural Play, Natural Metaphor, and Natural Stories: Biosemiotic Realism

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Wendy Wheeler

It seems a strange thing, when one comes to ponder over it, that a sign should leave its interpreter to supply a part of its meaning; but the explanation of the phenomenon lies in the fact that the entire universe,—not merely the universe of existents, but all that wider universe, embracing the universe of existents as a part, the universe which we are all accustomed to refer to as “the truth,”—that all this universe is perfused with signs, if it is not composed exclusively of signs.

—Charles Sanders Peirce, “The Basis of Pragmaticism in the Normative
Sciences”

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs . . . because we have a prior commitment . . . to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but . . . that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations. . . . Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

 

5 The Ecology of Colors: Goethe’s Materialist Optics and Ecological Posthumanism

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Heather I. Sullivan

The primary goal of this chapter is to unsettle our basic assumptions regarding nature as a “place” separate from the human realm and to posit it instead as natural-cultural processes continually occurring all around, through, and in us. With the ecology of colors, I therefore explore nature in terms of dynamic material and informational exchanges. There is no doubt that the scenic places traditionally viewed as “nature” are rapidly being transformed—destroyed, developed, logged, mined, polluted. Yet bounded places are not the trope here. Instead, nature is unbounded by material ecocriticism and reconfigured in an inclusive, natural-cultural sense of energy and light, that is, of optical colors emerging from the solar input into the biosphere. In this view, the sensory perception of living beings functions as the site of natural-cultural interfaces. The visual, auditory, tactile, taste, and smell sensory processes are bodily interactions with our material environment that guide our actions. Locating “nature” in this small-scale process-oriented view requires tracing the patterns of our perceptions and processing of the elements without the subject-object dichotomy. The ecology of colors highlights the reciprocity of our bodily materiality with energy forms, discursive information, and the other-than-human materiality of many species, or the “mesh,” as Timothy Morton describes it. The vast yet often overlooked extinction of species ongoing today and the impacts of our “risk society” producing unknown quantities of chemical substances flowing through all biotic and abiotic forms in the biosphere require, literally, an eye-opening process or enhanced perception. With the “ecology of color” and light, I work toward an increased awareness of natural-cultural processes through sensory attentiveness to our ecological immersion in the material world.

 

6 Bodies of Naples: Stories, Matter, and the Landscapes of Porosity

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Serenella Iovino

IN THE HEART of the city of Naples there is a place with a curious name: Largo Corpo di Napoli. This little square opens up like an oyster at a point where the decumani, the Greek main streets, become a tangle of narrow medieval lanes and heavy gray-and-white buildings. Like an oyster, this square has a pearl: an ancient statue of the Nile, popularly known as Corpo di Napoli, the body of Naples. The story of this statue is peculiar. Dating back to the second or third century, when it was erected to mark the presence of an Egyptian colony in the city, the statue disappeared for a long time and was rediscovered in the twelfth century. Its head was missing, and the presence of children lying at its breasts led people to believe that it represented Parthenope, the virgin nymph to whom the foundation of the city is mythically attributed. In 1657 the statue was restored, and a more suitable male head made it clear that the reclining figure symbolized the Egyptian river and the children personifications of its tributaries. In spite of evidence and philology, however, for the people the sculpture remained the symbol of their city’s body. In this body, as it sometimes happens in local rituals and legends, the boundaries of gender roles, like those of matter and spirit, present and past, are blurred and shifting.

 

7 When It Rains

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Lowell Duckert

Does life only make sense as one side of a life-matter binary, or is there such a thing as . . . a life of the it in “it rains”?

—Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter

RESPONDING TO HIS country’s record rainfalls in the beginning of the twenty-first century, British journalist Brian Cathcart seems to bring more of it. Rain makes a dreary forecast: “It is only when things go wrong that our dim consciousness of scientific meteorology rises to the surface” (66). French sociologist of science Bruno Latour would diagnose this tendency as “blackboxing.” Focusing only on the success of a scientific or technological apparatus paradoxically renders “the joint production of actors and artifacts entirely opaque” (Hope 183).1 When a meteorology machine runs smoothly, it produces factual climates that we can reasonably predict and accurately monitor. But an error (like an overflowing levee) exposes the box’s inner complexities. For Cathcart, scientific analysis provides a false sense of security. We are to make a “managed retreat from the assumptions that science has the answers, that even if the price is high we can always buy protection, that we can cope with downpours and their consequences” (95). What are our options, then? If we cannot build better shelters, we cannot put off contemporary matters of concern like drought or acid rain, either. Arguing against inevitable catastrophe, Cathcart believes that only a “new humility” can shake our egocentric delusions of domination (89). Simply put, “there is no such thing as getting above the rain” (95).

 

8 Painful Material Realities, Tragedy, Ecophobia

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Simon C. Estok

THE BIOLOGICAL, CHEMICAL, and material bases of human ontology constitute central sites of investigation and theoretical comment for material ecocriticisms. If we understand pain as a fundamental part of human ontology, then we must also understand that theorizing matter profits from understanding the importance of relationships among cultural representations of pain, matter, and environment. Building on “a field that defines itself by a neologism (ecocriticism), based on another neologism (ecology)” (7), as Middlebury Shakespearean ecocritic Dan Brayton has recently described ecocriticism, material ecocriticisms seek both to further complicate and to further define what it is that ecocriticism pursues and how. For a movement such as ecocriticism, which has sought, from its inaugural moments, to cross disciplinary boundaries, to avoid intellectual isolationism and hermeneutic sequestration, and to connect with and affect the material world, engaging with new and evolving theories about matter is fundamental and vital—indeed, it is surprising that these theories and developments came so late in ecocriticism’s history. Out of the welter of books and articles that have recently appeared relating to material ecocriticisms, human bodies have reappeared as the site and source of concerns about our changing relationships with the material world. These bodies are often a site of beleaguerment from a threatening “outside.” They are, in Iovino and Oppermann’s terms, “material narratives” about the way human corporeality is dangerously entangled within a complex of discourses and material agents that determine its very being. Because imagining a menacing alterity of the natural environment (an otherness often represented as ecophobic life-and-death confrontations for humans) means imagining materials and their intractable grip on our lives and deaths, the utility of theorizing about ecophobia for material ecocriticisms through discussions about pain (and about threats of pain) can help not only to illuminate theoretical connections that allow us to see how we participate in the systems we critique but also to contextualize what it is about nonhuman agency that evokes such strong resistance (philosophical and material).

 

9 Semiotization of Matter: A Hybrid Zone between Biosemiotics and Material Ecocriticism

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Timo Maran

A BASIC CLAIM OF the newly developing field of material ecocriticism appears to be that matter has agency and embodied meanings and that it is possible to decipher this matter in the framework of textual criticism. As Serenella Iovino has put it in her ISLE introductory essay on material ecocriticism, “The ‘material turn’ is the search for new conceptual models apt to theorize the connections between matter and agency on the one side, and the intertwining of bodies, natures, and meanings on the other side” (“Stories” 450). Material ecocriticism, she continues, “comes from the idea that it is possible to merge our interpretive practice into . . . material expressions” (451). Such an approach raises broad philosophical questions, such as the following: In which ways is the agency of matter expressed? How do we interact with material processes? What are the relations between meanings embodied in matter and our representational practices?

Quite similar issues have been addressed within biosemiotics, a discipline that studies semiotic and communicational processes in and between organisms. After all, all biological organisms live in a certain physical location and under certain physical conditions of the environment, which they need to perceive, respond to, and adapt for. Biosemiotics describes such relations as being based on signs and sign exchange by employing concepts such as codes and coding, Umwelt (the species-specific attachment to the environment, organized by meanings; see J. Uexküll, “The Theory”), and semiotic niche (Hoffmeyer, Biosemiotics 183), among others.1 At the same time, there is a crucial difference between material ecocriticism and biosemiotics; whereas the former has taken a critical approach to human social and cultural processes, the latter has not. The common ground between material ecocriticism and biosemiotics, rather, appears to be foremost in their attentiveness to the connections between the physical realm and meaning processes. With this understanding, I wish to consider a biosemiotic view on what can be called the “semiotization” of matter, namely, how human actions change the semiotic properties and signification of matter. I believe this is a preliminary step that will increase the potentially fruitful interchanges between biosemiotics and material ecocriticism. This chapter includes three subsequent arguments in three sections: a demonstration that matter has the potential to initiate meanings and participate in semiotic processes, a demonstration of different ways that humans and nonhuman animals can make sense of material objects and environments through the process of modeling, and a conclusion that by applying such models back to the material environment, humans semiotize matter by altering it based on human perceptions and understandings.

 

10 Pro/Polis: Three Forays into the Political Lives of Bees

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Catriona Sandilands

If there is someone you do not wish to recognize as a political being, you begin by not seeing him as the bearer of signs of politicity, by not understanding what he says.

—Jacques Rancière, “Ten Theses on Politics”

Grip on and buzz;

emanation in the mad still air.

I am caused quietly

to hear.

—Sean Borodale, Bee Journal

Material ecocriticism demands careful attention to the ways in which the more-than-human world writes itself into literature. In so doing, it is a politically generative practice, meaning that it opens literary texts to new possibilities for understanding the politicity of multiple agents, in this case bees. The material, literary, and political histories of bee-human relations are densely intertwined; in this complex unfolding, material ecocriticism, rather than reading bees as mostly metaphors for human politics, insists that literary experiences are crucial points from which multispecies bee-human politics might emerge. Poetry, for example, may create an aesthetic space in which bees not only enter human biopolitics (they are already there), and not only have political lives of their own (they already do), but also pierce the anthropocentric experience of human political subjectivity itself. Inspired by the poems that animate its final section, this chapter is a speculation about the multispecies possibilities of bee-human political life.

 

11 Excremental Ecocriticism and the Global Sanitation Crisis

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Dana Phillips

It’s not leaking. It’s overflowing.

—Homer Simpson, The Simpsons Movie

NEW MATERIALISTS ARE fond of lists. Consider, as a first example, the beginning of Myra Hird’s 2009 review essay on “material feminism”: “Trans-corporeality. Entanglement. Meeting-with. Matter. Nonhuman. Causality. Intra-action. Disclosure. Agential realism.” Each of the terms on this list names a concept central to the “emerging field” Hird is preparing to survey (329). Most of them have come to occupy an equally important position in the discourse of new materialist theory broadly speaking, which draws on material feminism but also taps additional sources, such as phenomenology and the philosophy of science, for ideas.

Some new materialist list makers are evidently less categorically minded than Hird seems to have been when writing her trend-spotting essay. Their lists go beyond generalities to identify the particular “matters” (that is, both things and the multifarious circumstances in which things are embroiled, are effected, and produce effects) that new materialists find striking—and illustrative of the theoretical claims they wish to make about trans-corporeality, intra-action, agential realism, and the like. For instance, political philosopher Jane Bennett writes, “Worms, or electricity, or various gadgets, or fats, or metals, or stem cells are actants, or what Darwin calls ‘small agencies,’ that, when in the right confederation with other physical and physiological bodies, can make big things happen” (Vibrant 94). Bennett devotes all or part of a chapter of her 2010 book, Vibrant Matter, to each of the items she identifies, in the sentence I have quoted, as a member of some “confederation” or another. Such instances of the material and such confederations, she argues, should be seen as “vibrant, vital, energetic, lively, quivering, vibratory, evanescent, and effluescent” (112). Here Bennett pays her debt to the phenomenological tradition by adding a clutch of modifiers of the kind phenomenologists like to use to the inventory of new materialist vocabulary.

 

12 Oceanic Origins, Plastic Activism, and New Materialism at Sea

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Stacy Alaimo

Climate change. Ocean acidification. Dead zones. Oil “spills.” Industrial fishing, overfishing, trawling, long lines, shark finning. Bycatch, bykill. Ghost nets. Deep-sea mining. Habitat destruction. Dumping. Radioactive, plastic, and microplastic pollution. Ecosystem collapse. Extinction. The state of the oceans is dire. The destruction of marine environments is painful to contemplate and tempting to ignore. Having returned from a week on the Gulf of Mexico, where sea life was sparse, I could hardly bear to read Callum Roberts’s The Unnatural History of the Sea, which describes the staggering abundance of fish and mammals that once inhabited the oceans. Roberts argues that our “collective amnesia” about the profusion of sea life in the past and our dismissal of “tales of giant fish or seas bursting with life” as “far-fetched” lead us to set our environmental baselines far too low as “we come to accept the degraded condition of the sea as normal” (xv). Oceanographer Sylvia Earle notes that since the “middle of the 20th century, hundreds of millions of tons of ocean wildlife have been removed from the sea, while hundreds of millions of tons of waste have been poured into it” (The World 12). Countless species have been overfished to the point of extinction, and numerous marine habitats are being destroyed. Rob Stewart’s film Sharkwater exposes how the desire for shark-fin soup has resulted in the slaughter of sharks, taking place globally on such a colossal scale that many species of shark may soon be extinct. The destructive practice of trawling, which dates back to the fourteenth century, has now been joined by deep-sea trawling, which destroys creatures that may be endangered or as yet undiscovered or both, as well as the deep-sea coral reefs, some of which are thousands of years old, which are considered the old-growth forests of the sea. Long lines, which extend miles across the ocean, luring in birds, mammals, sea turtles, and fish with hundreds or even thousands of baited hooks, result in wide expanses of death and destruction, as the majority of the animals are killed and then discarded. Whether by long lines, trawling, or huge drift nets, industrial fisheries destroy most of the catch as “bycatch”—living creatures cast back as lifeless garbage.1 Jonathan Safran Foer, in Eating Animals, challenges us to imagine “being served a plate of sushi. But this plate also holds all of the animals that were killed for your serving of sushi. The plate might have to be five feet across” (50). Safran Foer disrupts the radical disconnect between the aestheticized, inert food on the plate and the moment of capture, when diverse animal liveliness was quelled by industrialized fishing. But there’s another animal in this scene, the reader who is being served the animals on the plate. This human, as a material being, is a pivotal node in the networks of consumption, waste, and pollution that destroy ocean ecologies.

 

13 Meditations on Natural Worlds, Disabled Bodies, and a Politics of Cure

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Eli Clare

You and I walk in the summer rain through a thirty-acre pocket of tallgrass prairie that was, not so long ago, one big cornfield. We follow the path mowed as a fire-break. You carry a big pink umbrella. Water droplets hang on the grasses. Spider-webs glint. The bee balm hasn’t blossomed yet. You point to numerous patches of birch and goldenrod; they belong here but not in this plenty. The thistle, on the other hand, simply shouldn’t be here. The Canada wild rye waves, the big bluestem almost open. Sunflowers cluster, spots of yellow orange amid the gray green of a rainy day. The songbirds and butterflies have taken shelter. For the moment the prairie is quiet. Soon my jeans are sopping wet from the knees down. Not an ocean of grasses but a start, this little piece of prairie is utterly different from row upon row of corn.

With the help of the Department of Natural Resources, you mowed and burned the corn, broadcast the seed—bluestem, wild rye, bee balm, cornflower, sunflower, aster—sack upon sack of just the right mix that might replicate the tallgrass prairie that was once here. Only remnants of the original ecosystem remain in the Midwest, isolated pockets of leadplants, milkweed, burr oaks, and switchgrass growing in cemeteries, along railroad beds, on remote bluffs, somehow miraculously surviving.

 

14 Corporeal Fieldwork and Risky Art: Peter Goin and the Making of Nuclear Landscapes

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Cheryll Glotfelty

IT MAY GO without saying that a landscape photographer must do fieldwork. How can you take a picture of a place without being there? But this very presumption of physical presence tends to obscure the role of fieldwork in landscape photography, a process that resonates strongly with the material turn in ecocritical theory. Photographer Peter Goin (b. 1951) has devoted more than thirty years to photographing altered landscapes in America, documenting the legacy of human actions on the land. Author of more than a dozen books and recipient of numerous awards, including two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, Goin has done projects on Meso-American ruins in Central America, abandoned sections of the Erie Canal, engineered beaches along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, artificial swamps in the American South, ancient petroglyphs in Nevada, postmining landscapes of North America, California agriculture, the architected wilderness of Lake Tahoe, and the U.S.-Mexico borderline. All of these projects involved rigorous fieldwork that is beyond the scope of most people. Goin is persistently and perhaps perversely drawn to abandoned, neglected, forbidden, and condemned landscapes as he bears witness to the places that our culture sweeps out of sight, out of mind.

 

15 Of Material Sympathies, Paracelsus, and Whitman

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Jane Bennett

PARACELSUS (1493–1541) EXPERIENCED the natural world as a complex order of sympathies, resonances, magnetic attractions, and analogies (Pagel 52).1 Though Paracelsus is variously categorized as physician, philosopher, alchemist, herbalist, I like to think of him as a plant physiognomist, as, that is, a practitioner of the art of discovering temperament and character from outward appearance. Each natural object bore for him a divine “signature” encoded in the thing’s shape, smell, texture, color, posture. This equivocal sign served as a spur to the human perceiver to engage in the artistry—the speculative thinking and practical experimentation—that would give determinacy to the hidden “virtues” of the object.2 Paracelsus’s practice of virtue was a medico-religious one, organized around the idea that meticulous attention to plants, animal organs and fluids, and minerals would provide hints about how those bodies might contribute to the human body’s desire to live a strong and long life.

 

16 Source of Life: Avatar, Amazonia, and an Ecology of Selves

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Joni Adamson

All the trees have spirits, they look, they listen . . .

—Juan Carlos Galeano, The Trees Have Mothers

If I had an agent, I am sure he would advise me to sue James Cameron over his latest blockbuster since Avatar should really be called Pandora’s Hope!

—Bruno Latour, “An Attempt at a Compositionist Manifesto”

AT THE END of the eighteenth century, German intellectual and scientist Alexander von Humboldt traveled to the Amazon. Later, back in Europe, the publication of his five-volume Cosmos would influence a generation of thinkers on several continents. Today, his work still resonates strongly among scholars who are studying “the material interactions of bodies and natures” (Iovino and Oppermann, “Material” 77). According to Laura Dassow Walls, who describes the impact of his journey on both the sciences and the aesthetics of the Americas in her book A Passage to Cosmos, Humboldt considered “nature” as “a planetary interactive causal network operating across multiple scale levels, temporal and spatial” (11). His views were inspired by interactions with the indigenous peoples he met and later, back in Europe, by his friendships with key figures hailing from Latin America such as Simón Bolívar.1 Humboldt’s views on liberty, the immorality of slavery, and the intelligence and agency2 of indigenous peoples acted powerfully on Bolívar’s political vision.

 

17 The Liminal Space between Things: Epiphany and the Physical

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Timothy Morton

THE TITLE OF this essay comes from Marcia Carter, my administrator in my new position at Rice University. She was recommending that I go to see the opening of the James Turrell piece, called Twilight Epiphany, installed at Rice and opened on June 14, 2012. Marcia said that what was valuable about Turrell was his understanding of how “art happens in the liminal space between things.” As we proceed, we shall see that it is a deeply appropriate way to think about poems as relationships between beings—and indeed relationship as such, which here is understood to encompass causality, as a kind of poetry.

This relationship has a necessary physical dimension—many dimensions, in fact—and so we can begin to use Marcia’s remark, delivered to me offhandedly as if to say such things were quite humdrum, as a tool to think material ecocriticism. This is more than simply a good analogy, since ecocriticism is just the thinking of relations between things as and in figurative language. Furthermore, it will then be possible to think how nonhumans are “storied” in the way this volume at large addresses—and, still further, how this storying is not just a candy coating on things, but is the way causality is fueled and lubricated, as we shall see.

 

18 Spirits That Matter: Pathways toward a Rematerialization of Religion and Spirituality

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Kate Rigby

IN ENTITLING MY contribution to this postscript “Spirits That Matter” (with thanks to the editors for their inspired suggestion), my intention is not to oppose something immaterial called “spirit” to the materiality of “the body,” as might be implied for those readers who hear in this phrase an allusion to Judith Butler’s influential Bodies That Matter. On the contrary: my implied divergence from Butler moves, rather (in company with other new materialists), in the direction of a more thoroughgoing materialism than that which is entailed in Butler’s discursive constructivism. As Karen Barad has observed, Butler’s model of discursive performativity accords too much power to the word and does not allow sufficiently for the contribution of nonhuman agency to the world’s becoming (“Posthumanist” 122–28). The kind of materialism that I wish to advance here, however, is one that diverges from the secularism of both Butler and Barad, in that it affords an opening toward questions, and practices, of ecomaterialist religion and (for want of a better term) “spirituality.”

 

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