The following works were recently published by ASLE members. If we've missed your publication, please send bibliographic information to editor Catherine Meeks.
Crane, Kylie. Myths of Wilderness in Contemporary Narratives. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
Stein, Karen. Rachel Carson: Challenging Authors. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishers, 2012.
Weis, Monica, SSJ. The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2011.
Wohlpart, A James. Walking in the Land of Many Gods: Remembering Sacred Reason in Contemporary Environmental Literature. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2013.
In December 2012, Abbey Carrico defended her dissertation, "Pour une �copo�tique de l'eau dans les oeuvres de Gustave Flaubert et de Guy de Maupassant," at Emory University and received her PhD. Her committee consisted of Dr. Philippe Bonnefis (Advisor, Emory); Dr. Sharon P. Johnson (Virginia Tech); Dr. Elissa Marder (Emory); Dr. Claire Nouvet (Emory). Carrico reports that she is excited to be doing ecocritical research in the field of French studies, an area that is just beginning to enter into this domain.
ASLE 2013 Conference Updates
We are (almost) ready to welcome attendees to the ASLE Tenth Biennial Conference at the University of Kansas later this month. We want to share a few quick updates and links, and please see new information on Mentoring Program activities at the conference in the article below.
Dorm Room Reservations Due May 4
Please sign up (through the registration form) for dorms by May 4; KU housing would like our guaranteed count on May 5. There may be dorm rooms available for booking beyond this date, but to guarantee space please reserve in advance.
Interest Group Caucuses
We have reserved Thursday, May 30, from 5:30-6:30pm for interest groups to meet at the conference. If you would like to reserve a room for an informal meeting of an affinity group open to all members, based on identity, language, region, critical interest, or whatever organizing principle your group chooses, please contact site host Byron Caminero-Santangelo (email@example.com
) right away. We will need information on the meeting to list in the program by May 10!
Few Spots Left at Authors' Reception As of this writing there are only a few places left for authors to display and sell their books at the ASLE conference Authors' Reception, scheduled for Thursday, May 30 from 8-9:30pm. If you have published a book (or books) since the last ASLE conference in June 2011, or if your book has come out in paperback since that time, and wish to be included in this year's reception, please send your name and contact information, along with the title, publisher, and ISBN of the book, to Salma Monani at firstname.lastname@example.org immediately. To include you in the program we must have your information by May 10! You or your publisher must arrange to have book copies on hand; ASLE is providing only the space, not the books.
Mentoring Program Activities at the 2013 Conference
by Mark C. Long, Graduate Mentoring Program Coordinator
The mission of the ASLE Mentoring Program is to connect graduate students with experienced faculty mentors beyond their home institutions and to cultivate intellectual exchange and community among scholars at all stages of their academic careers.
(Tuesday-Saturday, various times)
The Mentoring Program is sponsoring one-on-one professional mentoring meetings with experienced faculty and department chairs. The one-hour meetings offer mentees an opportunity to ask specific questions about the ASLE community, preparing for the job market, working conditions at small and large institutions, the relationship between scholarship and teaching, and non-academic work options. Beginning graduate students may discuss work in the field as they begin to imagine a professional horizon beyond graduate school. Graduate students nearing completion of their programs, or those seeking academic positions, may explore questions about preparing a job portfolio or imagining faculty work in differing college and university settings.
One-hour conferences take place throughout the week, mostly during concurrent sessions that do not conflict with community events, including plenary talks and dinners. Mentors and mentees can meet at the ASLE registration desk in the lobby of the Kansas Union.
If you would like to arrange a professional mentoring meeting, please contact the coordinator of the ASLE Mentoring Program, Mark C. Long, at email@example.com
, before May 25th.
Staying Alive: A Workshop for Graduate Students and Academic Professionals (Friday May 31, special double session: Session 6, 8:30-10:00 and Session 7, 10:30-12:00)
This conference workshop explores the opportunities and challenges of an academic career. Workshop facilitators and participants will offer practical advice and shared wisdom for living an emotionally, ethically, and spiritually healthy life in academia. The first half of the workshop will focus on the organizing fiction of academia--the model career that holds out the promise of a fulfilling life that begins with graduate school and proceeds through temporary and tenure-track jobs to the tenure review, promotion, and retirement. The second half of the workshop will focus on stages of the academic career. Participants will share practical strategies for imagining and building sustainable professional identities in particular programs, institutions and the profession.
If you are interested in participating in this workshop, please e-mail the workshop facilitators, Mark Long (firstname.lastname@example.org
) or John Tallmadge (email@example.com
). Graduate students and younger faculty, as well as colleagues at any stage in their careers, are invited to share ideas before the conference at www.onstayingalive.wordpress.com and consider ways to use the online forum to continue building a sustainable vision of academic life in the years to come.
Call for Applications: ASLE Graduate Mentoring Coordinator
ASLE is seeking a new coordinator for the Mentoring Program. The mission of the Program is to connect graduate students with experienced faculty mentors beyond their home institutions and to cultivate intellectual exchange and community among scholars at all stages of their academic careers.
Program Growth and Activities
In addition to matching applicants with faculty mentors, the current coordinator, Mark C. Long, has developed activities to facilitate intellectual exchange and community, as well as to foster generational, demographic, and geographic diversity in our organization: Biennial Conference Mentoring Sessions:
organizing one-on-one job information sessions at the biennial conference. These sessions welcome new members to the organization and build connections between graduate students and faculty; Collaboration with the Graduate Student Liaisons:
arranging preconference workshops and concurrent sessions on professional aspirations and realities, interdisciplinarity, the futures of academic disciplines and programs, faculty positions and institutions, as well as careers of ASLE members beyond the academy; and updating the ASLE Graduate Student Handbook and our list of programs focused on literature and environment;Collaboration with the Staying Alive Project:
extending the ASLE mentoring network to colleagues at any stage in their careers by co-sponsoring conference workshops and maintaining an online conversation for ASLE members interested in resources for living an emotionally, ethically, and spiritually healthy life in academia. See www.onstayingalive.wordpress.com; International Mentoring:
facilitating intellectual contacts and mentors for graduate students and professors working outside the US as well as for scholars and teachers in the US seeking mentoring from scholars and teachers in our ASLE affiliates; working with the International Liaison and others in ASLE to meet needs of students and scholars outside the US; and encouraging our affiliates to develop their own mentoring networks.
Responsibilities of the Coordinator of the Mentoring Program
- Respond to queries about the field and connect members with online resources and to questions about scholarly resources, syllabi, and advice regarding the job market or publishing;
- Cultivate appropriate mentors and stay current in recent developments in the field;
- Send letters of invitation to faculty mentors;
- Maintain a database of faculty mentors and a list of matches;
- Collaborate with the Graduate Student Liaisons in co-sponsoring preconference workshops and concurrent sessions;
- Collaborate with the Graduate Student Liaisons in keeping the Graduate Student Handbook current, most importantly the list of graduate programs;
- Organize one-on-one job information sessions at the biennial conference;
- Collaborate with The Staying Alive Project to extend the ASLE mentoring network to colleagues at any stage in their careers;
- Respond to interest from our affiliated organizations for mentoring by developing mentoring relationships;
- Assist scholars and teachers based in the US in establishing intellectual contacts and mentors for graduate students and professors working outside the US;
- Work with the International Liaison and others in ASLE to enlist international (local) mentors for up-and-coming scholars.
The Mentoring Program Coordinator (MPC) is an appointed position. While there is no set term, we request that the coordinator make a commitment of at least three years. The person in this position serves an important public relations role for ASLE by cultivating relationships and community. The position involves working with the ASLE Executive Council and Officers and attending, when possible, the meetings of the Executive Council. Although not a voting member, the MPC is active in helping to carry out the mission and strategic goals of ASLE.
If you would be interested in serving ASLE in this role, and have questions about the MPC position, please contact the current coordinator of the Mentoring Program, and vice president of ASLE, Mark C. Long, firstname.lastname@example.org
. To formally apply for the position, please send a letter of interest, including the length and nature of your involvement in our organization, a description of your professional interests, and a CV or resume to current president Paul Outka, email@example.com
by August 31, 2013.
ASLE Seeks a GSL
We are currently seeking a new junior Graduate Student Liaison (GSL) for a two-year term. GSLs serve ASLE by representing the interests and concerns of graduate students at meetings of the EC, and they work closely with ASLE's Graduate Mentoring Program Coordinator in shared pursuit of this goal. The term is two years: one as junior GSL and the second as senior GSL, who has voting privileges on the ASLE EC. For a full description of GSL rights and responsibilities, see the website at http://www.asle.org/site/about/policies/liaisons/
. If you would like to be considered for the junior GSL position, please email a formal letter of application to current president Paul Outka (firstname.lastname@example.org
) by May 27 for a term beginning in July 2013. Please include a statement that describes your specific interests in serving ASLE, the length and nature of your involvement in the organization, a description of your professional interests (particularly as they connect to literature and environment), and the names and contact information of three faculty references.
ASLE Seeks MLA Liaison
ASLE is seeking a member to serve as its liaison to the MLA convention. This is an ongoing position, with no defined term, though we do ask for a minimum three year commitment.
- Organizing and chairing the annual ASLE panel at the MLA conference.
- Seeking another organization to co-sponsor a second panel with ASLE if possible. Past co-sponsorships have occurred with ASAIL and the College English Association (CEA).
- Pursuing Division Status for ASLE with the MLA; currently ASLE is an Allied Organization and as such is guaranteed the panel described in the first bullet, but we feel that the increased profile of the field of Literature and Environment warrants this larger status at future MLA events.
- Possibly organizing a small reception co-sponsored by ASLE and a partnering organization at the MLA convention. ASLE hosted a reception at the 2012 convention.
The ASLE panel for the upcoming MLA (January 2014) has been organized and will be chaired by Pavel Cenkl, so while it would be ideal if the new liaison could attend MLA in 2014 it is not essential. The new liaison would need to be prepared to begin attending MLA in January 2015, and would need to begin organizing the panel(s) for that in the late winter of 2014.
If you would like to be considered for the MLA position, please email a formal letter of application to current president Paul Outka (email@example.com
) by June 15 for a term beginning immediately upon appointment. Please include a statement that describes your specific interests in serving in this role, your plans for attending MLA for the next several years, and your experience in organizing conference panels, if any.
If you have particular familiarity with the organizational structures of MLA and chairing panels for their conferences, this would be a great asset.We thank Rosario Michelle Ramirez Matabuena, the outgoing MLA liaison, for her service to ASLE in this key position for the past couple of years!
Humanities for the Environment: Mellon Foundation Grant Awarded to CHCI
By Joni Adamson, Arizona State University, ASLE Immediate Past President
In December of 2012, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes (CHCI) a three-year grant of $1.2 million for a large-scale project titled, "Integrating the Humanities Across National Boundaries." The grant involves an impressive number of ASLE members (too many to name here!) associated with the CHCI together with historians, philosophers, economists, education specialists, ethnographers, linguists, political ecologists, and scholars of indigenous studies to coordinate a transdisciplinary effort to understand, map, and evaluate the contributions of the environmental humanities to the sustainability sciences. Established in 1988, the CHCI is currently comprised of over 180 member and affiliate organizations in 23 countries and 46 US states. CHCI operations are based at the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University and more information can be found at: http://chcinetwork.org
This grant will support a large scale project, Humanities for the Environment (HfE), which is an outgrowth of a longstanding CHCI member-driven initiative launched in 2008 (and led by Sally Kitch of Arizona State University, Sarah Buie of Clark University, and David Phillips of Wake Forest University). As an experiment, this project will offer humanists a unique, global opportunity to help establish foundational principles that will enhance prospects that policy makers and general publics of nations around the world will recognize the need to curtail or reverse destructive human impact on the planet.
To work towards these aims, HfE will begin by establishing three research "observatories" in North America, Australia, and Europe. Arizona State University features prominently in this research design since its Institute for Humanities Research (IHR) will be the headquarters of the North American Observatory, and also the headquarters for the "Western Cluster" of participating humanities institutes. The North American Observatory also features a Northeastern and a Southern Cluster. All three clusters will focus on the theme, "The Role of the Humanities in the Anthropocene." All participants will be animated by questions such as, "How should academics, activists, and community members re-apprehend long-standing definitional protocols of the humanities?" "How might they reconsider the epistemological distinction between 'human' and 'natural' history?" "What is the relationship of the arts and humanities to fundamental questions about planetary environmental change and to the sustainability sciences?"
Sally Kitch and Joni Adamson of Arizona State will serve as Co-PIs and Co-Directors of the Western Cluster which will be guided by the theme, "Towards a Just and Sustainable Future: Values, Affect, Scale." Kitch and Adamson will convene several regional events in 2013 and 2014. In Fall 2015, they will organize a national event bringing the Western Cluster together with the Northeast Cluster (headquartered at Clark University in Massachusetts) and the Southern Cluster (headquartered by the Humanities Institute at Wake Forest University in North Carolina). Each regional cluster will also be holding events of its own to precede the national meeting.
In the following year, the North American Observatory will come together with its European and Australian counterparts. The European Observatory is based at Trinity College in Dublin and is focusing on the theme "The New Human Condition and Challenges to the Humanities in the Anthropocene Era." The Australian Observatory will be based at the University of Sydney and is focusing on the theme "'Caring for Country': The Humanities and the Shaping of Australia-Pacific Environmentalism in the Age of the Anthropocene, 1768-2012." A goal for all the Observatories will be to further organize in subsequent years in Asia and the Pacific region. As the project goes forward, updates on ASLE involvement with this project will be reported here in ASLE News!
by Adeline Johns-Putra, University of Surrey, Chair, ASLE-UKI
I'm pleased to report on another eventful and productive year for ASLE-UKI. The 2012 Annual General Meeting saw several changes in the Executive. After many years of loyal service, John Parham (University of Worcester) stepped down as secretary. The role will now carry a two-year tenure, as will most of the roles on the Executive. John Parham has left big shoes to fill, but John Miller (University of Sheffield) has ably stepped into them and been a welcome addition to the Executive.
The 2012 biennial conference, "Composting Culture: Literature, Nature, Popular Culture, Science," hosted by the University of Worcester in September, was a huge success, with keynotes from Thierry Bardini, Jed Rasula, and Molly Scott-Cato. The conference presented a welcome opportunity to theorize the sometimes less regarded notions of waste, scrap, and compost, with the chance to consider attendant notions such as recycling and sustainability (intellectually and ecologically speaking). Some late summer sunshine lent a very relaxed feel to proceedings, helped by fantastic field trips through the stunning Malvern Hills and historic market town of Worcester. The conference dinner at eco-caf� The Fold featured some great live music, delicious locally-sourced food, and, of course, plenty of stimulating conversation.
Our next conference will run this very year (2013) from August 29-31 at the University of Surrey. (ASLE-UKI decided at our 2010 Annual General Meeting to run our biennial conferences in odd-numbered rather than even-numbered years to avoid a clash with EASLCE conferences and in recognition of the fact that a considerable number of ecocritics are members of both associations.) Keynote speakers include Mike Hulme, Sheila Jasanoff, and Catriona Sandilands, and the theme of the conference is "Ecological Encounters: Agency, Identity, Interactions." Registration opens soon and will close in July, so the conference organizers--Louise Squire, Greg Tate and I--look forward to seeing as many of you there as possible!
ASLE-UKI also ran a very successful one-day symposium on "Literature and Sustainability" at the University of Wales Trinity St David's Lampeter campus in March 2013. The symposium was a collaborative effort between ASLE-UKI and the university's award-winning sustainability institute, INSPIRE (the Institute of Sustainable Practice, Innovation, and Resource Effectiveness).
The symposium ran in tandem with another collaborative effort between ASLE UKI and INSPIRE--an essay competition on the subject of literature and sustainability. The competition's first prize was the opportunity to deliver the essay as a lecture at the world-renowned Hay Festival of Literature in May 2013. The winning essay, "Reading with the Grain: Sustainability and the Literary Imagination," jointly authored by University of Aberystwyth academics Jayne Archer, Richard Marggraf Turley, and Howard Thomas, brought together expertise in cultural history, literary studies and food science to explore the subtext of economic and ecological pressures on some of Shakespeare's best-known work. The essay has already received worldwide media attention, including reports on the BBC and interviews with the authors on CNN, and the lecture looks set to attract a considerable audience at Hay. Thanks to this exciting collaboration, an ecocriticial reading of our most canonical author is reaching a wonderfully wide and eclectic British and global audience. Plans are afoot to turn the essay competition and lecture into an annual event.
ASLE-UKI's journal Green Letters continues to go from strength to strength. It is now edited by Greg Garrard and John Parham and published by Routledge, enabling online access to a wide range of academic journals for all ASLE-UKI members. More prosaically, but no less importantly, Routledge has provided ASLE-UKI with a more streamlined membership management system from 2014 onwards, which will make for easier subscription processing for members and greater convenience all round.
A final noteworthy development last year was the launch, at last, of our new-look website
in September 2012. The website includes a news page with a constantly updated list of CFPs and conferences. We have appointed a website officer, Louise Squire, to maintain the site.
ASLE at MLA 2013
by Janet Fiskio, Oberlin College and Joni Adamson, Arizona State University
This year ASLE and the Ass
ociation for the Study of American Indian Literature (ASAIL) held a joint session at the MLA, "Native American Literature, Indigenous Scientific Knowledge, and Environmental Justice." Janet Fiskio (Oberlin College) and Jan Johnson (University of Idaho) co-organized the panel. The panel considered the distinct epistemological framework of indigenous knowledges, inquiring into the ways that literature destabilizes dominant discourses of Western science and opens new modes of politics to address environmental (in)justices.
Each paper brought a valuable approach to these questions. Susan Brill de Ramirez (Bradley University) took an ecocritical approach to the craft of Native writers in her paper "The Epistemological Consequences of Indigenous Eco-Poetics in the Work of Simon J. Ortiz, Robert J. Conley, and Leslie Marmon Silko," looking at how they articulate restorative "geographies of belonging" that affirm connections to lands and landscapes that transcend the political limits of conquest, colonization, removal, relocation, and reservation. Janet Fiskio's "Mapping a Haunted Landscape" explored the link between indigenous resistance and the politics of memory through a close reading of Simon Ortiz's Fight Back
, arguing that this work offers a model for contemporary alliances between indigenous and environmental protest movements based in coalitional consciousness. Jonathan Senchyne's (University of Wisconsin-Madison) "Birch Bark Paper and Simon Pokagon's Ecological Media" focused on Simon Pokagon's (Potawatomi) pamphlet at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago entitled The Red Man's Rebuke
, which was printed on pages made of birch bark. Senchyne argued that Pokagon's pamphlet, his "rebuke," isolates the printed book as an exemplary sign of Western culture's separation of the mind and the body, the natural from the spiritual, and the ideal from the physical. In "Ten Years After American Indian Literature, Environmental Justice and Ecocriticism
: New Directions in Global Indigenous Literary Studies," Joni Adamson (Arizona State University) revisited her first book, published in 2001. She explored why it is now possible to see more clearly the ways in which indigenous writers have been outlining a political reconfiguration of the Americas that has been taking place since the 1980s and that is being described by scholars such as Elizabeth Stengers and Marisol de la Cadena as an emerging indigenous "cosmopolitics." It was a particular thrill to see Annette Kolodny in the audience.
In another session, Joni Adamson chaired the ASLE-sponsored "Environment and Media" panel, arranged by our Liason to the MLA Rosario Michelle Ramirez Matabuena of Florida State University
. Karla McManus (Concordia University) presented "Visualizing Extremes: Photography and the Representation of Climate Change." McManus focused on James Balog's Extreme Ice Survey and the technique of repeat photography which offers a powerful tool for representing human impact on the environment. This technique has become a popular practice in the fight against climate change in scientific and environmental circles. McManus explored both the promise and limitations of the approach. In "Playing Nature," Alenda Chang (University of California, Berkeley) proposed new methods and objects for environmental criticism, and, more specifically, a multifaceted engagement with computer and video games created since the 1970s. She asked provocative questions such as "How might games offer alternative ethical, affective, and cognitive modes of player engagement?" "How do games, as cultural artifacts and imaginative fields of possibility, perpetuate, naturalize, or challenge environmental perception and change?" In the final paper of the session, "You Are Here: Locative Media and the National Park Experience," Alison Byerly (Middlebury College) argued that guidebooks and maps have shaped our experience in national parks for centuries. She explored how use of new "locative media" such as phone apps tie technological interventions directly to specific spaces, while offering a fundamentally different approach to guidebooks and maps. She observed that what makes these new technologies interesting is that they do not precede or follow the physical experience, but are simultaneous with it. For example, visitors to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks can rent a GaperGuide, a GPS car device that takes you on a guided tour in which you receive information as you travel. Each of these papers was extremely well received and provoked engaged questions and responses from an appreciative audience.
Interview With an Independent Writer: Ruth Ozeki
by Catherine Meeks, ASLE News Editor
Ruth Ozeki is a writer and filmmaker. She is the best-selling author of three novels, My Year of Meats
, All Over Creation
, and A Tale for the Time Being
, as well as the director of several independent films, including Halving the Bones
. She is on the advisory editorial board of the Asian American Literary Review
and a member of the Creative Advisory Council of Hedgebrook, a women's writing retreat center on Whidbey Island. She is affiliated with the Brooklyn Zen Center and the Everyday Zen Foundation, and lives in British Columbia and New York City. 1. Several of your novels incorporate current environmental issues as either a backdrop--like, in your most recent novel, A Tale for the Time Being, the Pacific garbage gyres--or driving force in the story. In your writing, how do you balance concern for the environment with your approach to serious literary fiction?
Hmm, interesting! Your question seems to presuppose an opposition between concern for the environment and serious literary fiction and to imply that a preponderance of one imperils the other. Do you think that's true? I may be wrong, but I don't see it that way.
I think there are several issues here. The first is that fiction written to serve an agenda--any agenda--has a hard time being seriously literary. Literature, the writing of it and the reading of it, seems to me to be about inquiry. Agenda-driven fiction is antithetical to inquiry. Agenda-driven fiction has its mind already made up.
My concern for the environment is part of who I am, and since I write about what I care about, naturally my environmental concerns find their way into my fiction. Writing is how I think, how I interrogate the world, and the novel is my medium for my interrogation. It's a thought experiment, which I initiate and then send out into the world as an invitation for readers to join.
I don't write books like My Year of Meats
or All Over Creation
in order to tell readers what I think about genetic engineering or factory farming or to convince them to agree. To do so would be to write screed or propaganda, and I'm not interested in that. I'm interested in exploring what I think and feel, or how I think and feel, or to what extent I can think and feel about these issues.
So it comes down to intent and chronology. Since I write in order to try to understand what I think, I usually start with a question, something I'm curious about, or something that worries or frightens me. What's all this about growth hormones in meat production? How does Terminator technology work? What are these Great Garbage Patches? Where--and how--can I begin to think about these issues? I'm not starting with a conclusion and trying to prove it or "teach" it by means of the novel. The novel is not a vector for an agenda. Rather, the novel is a means of exploring a question, and to the best of my ability, I approach it with an open mind.
This is really important, because readers, especially fiction readers, are very sensitive to didacticism and pedagogy. Nobody likes to be manipulated or told what to believe. Nobody likes to be tricked into caring for characters only to realize that the characters are sneaky little vectors for an author's opinions. The novel is not, and should not be, a Trojan horse.
However, having said all this, I know, too, that my mind is not free of bias. I have tons of opinions. I'm terribly concerned about the environment and I think everyone ought to be, too. We ought to be terrified! We ought to stop buying stuff and throwing stuff away and squandering fossil fuels and driving cars and flying in planes. We ought to stop subsidizing agribusiness and using so much energy and cutting down trees and scraping the bottoms of the oceans. I feel quite strongly about all of this, but I'm on a plane typing this on my computer as I fly across the country to promote a book that is printed on paper (FSC certified, but still...), so I have a lot of remorse about the myriad ways that I am contributing to the problem.
All my novels, to some extent, have been written from remorse. Remorse is a powerful impetus for writing. The good news, from a writerly perspective, is that I'll never run out of things to feel remorseful about. The bad news, from a timebeing-on-earth's perspective, is that I am not willing or able to eradicate all the many causes of my environmental remorse.2. How does your spiritual life--and your role as a Zen Buddhist priest--intersect with and inform your writing life? For instance, have the two always been complementary, or has one tended to challenge the other?
This question is complicated and also very simple. Zen practice has changed the way I write and has helped me continue writing, but this happened slowly. I'd reached a point as a novelist where I felt I could no longer trust my voice in the world. I felt like my writer's voice had become wobbly, unreliable and untrustworthy. I suppose it was a sort of crisis of faith.
When I first started practicing Zen, I thought that I might not be able to continue to write novels, at least not in the way that I used to. I thought that Zen practice might wreck my writing, and indeed, for several years, I found it very difficult to write. But then things shifted, and now I would say that Zen practice helps. It has provided me with a philosophical and ethical ground, a trustworthy foundation, for my writing practice. Or to put it another way, it helped me grow a backbone.
So now I would say that my Zen practice and my writing practice are complementary, but of course, in practical terms, the roles of writer and priest are very different. For one thing, I do not wear Zen robes when I write. I wear a black turtleneck sweater and a pair of overalls. And I sit at a desk in front of a computer, rather than on a cushion in front of a blank wall. And when thoughts arise, I write them down rather than letting them go.
My interest in Buddhist philosophy is overtly apparent in A Tale for the Time Being
, but I can see the beginning of this inquiry in my first two novels, My Year of Meats
and All Over Creation
, which are very concerned with the interconnected nature of our lives and the world. In Buddhism, we call this dependent co-arising, or "interbeing," to use Thich Naht Hahn's term. Nothing exists independently of anything else. Novels, stories, are always about relationship, so they are a beautiful way to investigate and to talk about this quality of interbeing, the way we inter-are.3. Which came first for you, the novel-writing or the film-making, and how has one influenced your approach to the other? Do you feel that novels and films share something in common that attracts you to both genres?
Well, the desire to be a novelist came first. That desire had been there ever since I was a very small child. I wrote short stories throughout grade school and high school and college, and I tried to write a novel or two before giving it up and going to grad school to study classical Japanese literature. My plan was to get a doctorate and teach Comp Lit.
Somewhere along the line, though, I kind of fell into filmmaking. I needed a job and a friend knew of a production company looking for a storyboard artist for a horror film. I had some rudimentary drawing skills, and so they hired me, and I ended up being the art director, too. The film was called Matt Riker, Mutant Hunt
. The next one was Breeders
. And after that Necropolis
and then Robot Holocaust
. Of course I was young at the time, but somehow the literature of the Heian period paled in comparison, and I never looked back.
Eventually I got tired of making exploding heads and severed hands for horror films and ended up directing and producing Japanese television, and it was in the editing room where I really started to learn the fundamentals of storytelling. I mentioned that I'd tried to write novels earlier on, but what had always stumped me was narrative chronology. Novels are time-based and need to move through time, but I didn't know how to accomplish this. I didn't know how to move a character across a room, never mind across months or years or a lifetime. Editing film and video teaches you how to do exactly this, and the techniques I learned in the editing room I was later able to apply to scenes in my novels. And I think, too, that working in film and video has taught me to "see" novels in cinematic terms. I think about things like frame size, and focal length, and I use filmic techniques like visual description, rhythm, and montage when I write.
As for what they have in common....well, they are both ways of seeing the world as story, and that is what I seem to be drawn to do in this lifetime. But the differences between the two genres interest me, too. Film is a more direct, concrete and sensual medium, relying on images and movement and sound. In that sense, it's a bit more like music and operates on the emotions directly. It doesn't handle abstract ideas well, however, so I would say that film is less "intellectual" than writing. The written word, however, allows for all sorts of discursive inquiry and conceptual play, which I admit I find exciting. I have to be careful, though, and not overindulge. It's a balance issue.4. Can you place your work within a creative "lineage"? Or, who/what have been major creative influences for you?
Thankfully, this is not my job! Determining lineage is something that I will leave to scholars who are studying my work, should I be so lucky to have any, and any attempt I make to do this will only sound pretentious.
My influences have been myriad, too numerous to name, which is not to say that I've been at all successful in emulating them or paying them homage. It's embarrassing to name them, because I can see all the ways that my writing falls short. But having said that, I will try to name a few of the writers and books I love and why:
Kurt Vonnegut, for his deadpan humor, stubborn innocence, political sensibilities and his enormous broken heart;
Jorge Luis Borges, for his labyrinthine formality;
Annie Dillard, for her gorgeous pacing and her ability to weave disparate elements into a poetic montage;
David Mitchell, for the unbridled range of his imagination and what he dares to do with structure;
Milan Kundera, for his pacing and the audacity of his narrative voice;
Anything by Jane Austen, for her wit, opinions and ironic distance;
Kazuo Ishiguro's novels, especially Never Let Me Go
, for the delicate sensibilities of his unreliable narrators;
Many of Haruki Murakami's novels, especially Kafka on the Shore
, for their loose-limbed structures and fantastical worlds;
Margaret Atwood's nonfiction (although I love her fiction, too), especially Negotiating with the Dead
, because she is so wise about writing;
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for his serious magic;
Yann Martel's The Life of Pi
, for its celebration of the power of storytelling;
Karen Joy Fowler for her subtle intelligence and heartbreaking sense of humor.
And of course I always go back to Shakespeare. Whenever I am stuck, I read Shakespeare, because the beauty of his poetry always inspires me to try again.5. What are you working on now?
I'm working on two projects, or, rather, I'm thinking about two projects, but I'm not at the stage where I can talk about either of them yet. I'm not being coy. It's just that I find that in the nascent stages, when a book is still barely an idea, it isn't wise to talk too much about it. Secrets have a special kind of energy, and talking spends and dissipates that energy, and the story loses its urgency. Why write it if I can just talk about it? So much easier! So I don't. However I think it's probably safe to say that one of the stories seems to be set in a library, and the other seems to be set in a university, at least for the time being.
tiNai: A Brief Report
by Nirmal Selvamony
The Indian ecocritical forum, earlier known as OSLE-India, is now operating under the name of "tiNai." Change in emphasis and the need to affirm the original definition of the discipline justify a new identity and name for the forum. In fact, some of the members of this group had already worked together under the name tiNai even before the formation of OSLE-India. With the recent internationalization of the term tiNai, and its wider currency, there is no better name than tiNai for the group.
There is a compelling realization among members of the group that the focus has to be Indian rather than general ecocriticism. When Selvamony began to teach a course (later called "Ecoliterature") based on tiNai theory twenty-eight years ago, the term "tiNai" was virtually unknown to anybody except some Tamil scholars. But today it has become truly international with foreign scholars discussing it in various forums. Recently, Selvamony's essay on tiNai has been translated into Chinese and published in a volume on ecocriticism (Ecological Literature, edited by Liu Qinghan, 2012). Lawrence Buell speaks of it in one of his recent essays ("Ecocriticism: Some Emerging Trends." Qui Parle 19.2 [Spring/Summer 2011]: 87-115). A comparatist has discussed it as an indigenous literary theory from India ("Toward World Literary Knowledges" Comparative Literature 2010 62.4 : 399-419). Selvamony himself has published essays on tiNai in international volumes ("tiNai as Tree" in Ecology and Life Writing, ed. Alfred Hornung and Zhao Baisheng, 2012; "Sacred Ancestors, Sacred Homes" in Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril, edited by Kathleen Dean More and Michael P. Nelson, 2010; "Water in Contemporary Tamil Literature" in Words on Water, ed. Maureen Devine and Christa Grewe-Volpp, 2008; "Power, Agency and the Oikos" in Tamkang Review XXXVII. 1 [Autumn 2006]: 199-212). Under these circumstances it is mandatory to foster the Indian ecocritical theory. Even new members who want to join tiNai endorse the change and welcome it wholly.
The definition of ecocriticism is another challenge faced by tiNai. Though from its inception tiNai (then OSLE-India) has not subscribed to the definition offered in the Introduction to Ecocriticism Reader (study of literature-physical environment relationship), it is now compelled to assert its position with regard to the definition mainly because the members (from all over the country) who participate in the academic deliberations (such as seminars and conferences) have to have a clear understanding of the discipline in order to participate meaningfully in these academic exercises. tiNai has always insisted on the Rueckertian definition with necessary modifications, especially the inclusion of films and other cultural domains, deep ecology, and tiNai.
Reviewing the nature and vision of the forum has been a source of renewed vigor for the members to continue to promote ecocriticism from their own locations. Particular mention should be made of the volumes Contemporary Contemplations on Ecoliterature (2012), edited by Suresh Frederick, and the forthcoming one, Culture and Media: Ecocritical Explorations, edited by Rayson K. Alex, S. Susan Deborah and Sachindev, which will be published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Nirmal Selvamony, Rayson K. Alex, and Susan Deborah had to shift their base of operations from Chennai to the Central University of Tamil Nadu, at Tiruvarur, between 2009 and 2010. In this new location, they began to nurture ecocriticism within an institutional framework by offering courses in the area to students of literature and Integrated MS programs. Nirmaldasan, a content expert for television programs on ecological issues in the Educational Multimedia Research Centre in Chennai, has been teaching Ecocriticism for Integrated Sciences during the current semester (December 2012 - May 2013) at Central University of Tamil Nadu. In 2012 the first doctoral program commenced with four students, two of whom work with Selvamony in the area of ecocriticism. Under the 12th Plan, a Centre for Ecotheory and Ecocriticism has been launched and it will commence its programs in the forthcoming semester.
Selvamony and Alex have organized three National ecocriticism conferences at Central University of Tamil Nadu:
1. "The Name and Nature of Ecocriticism" (December 6-7, 2010)
2. "Towards Indian Ecocriticism" (December 2-3, 2011)
3. "Towards Ecological Perspectives on Water" (October 26-27, 2012)
In collaboration with several institutions (Lila Foundation for Translocal Initiatives, New Delhi; School of Media and Cultural Studies, TATA Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai; Ecofilm Festival, Kuala Lumpur and Bangalore Film Society, Bangalore), tiNai is planning to organise "tiNai Ecofilm Festival and Competition 2014" on January 31 - February 1, 2014 at BITS-Pilani Goa Campus.
At Central University of Tamil Nadu, a study circle for ecocriticism has been formed in which faculty and students from other departments participate actively. On January 24, 2013, Nirmal Selvamony gave a public lecture on "tolkaappiyam and tiNai theory" at the university. The theme of the first conference conducted in collaboration with tiNai was "Green Words for Green World: Ecoconsciousness in Literature" at PSGR Krishnammal College for Women, Coimbatore, on February 12, 2013. In this National-level conference sponsored by the UGC, Selvamony gave the keynote address. Recently, Selvamony has offered suggestions to revise the syllabus on "Literature and Ecology," a course meant for the department of Modern Languages and Literary Studies, University of Delhi.
Recently, Rayson K. Alex and Susan Deborah have moved to BITS-Goa, where Alex will be teaching a course on ecocriticism from the forthcoming semester. Susan Deborah awaits the viva voce examination on her dissertation in the area of ecocriticism. Rayson K. Alex and P.S. Sachindev will be completing their documentary titled The Story of a Weed in 2013. Benet, as usual, continues to be actively supporting ecocritical research by providing resources not only within Tamil Nadu but also to scholars all over the country. He is also working on a Glossary of Ecocritical Terms.
Suresh Frederick has been guiding Ph.D. scholars in ecocriticism on the following topics: "Blemish in Unblemished Landscape - A Study of John Millington Synge's Plays"; "The Ecological Pulse in Select Novels of Thomas Hardy"; and "An Exploration of Space Relationships in the Novels of Patrick White." In 2012, his student K. Shanthi was awarded the doctoral degree by the Bharathidasan University for her research titled "Ecoconsciousness in the Novels of John Steinbeck." Two of Dr. Frederick's scholars have been awarded Masters degrees in Philosophy for their work on "Biocentric Impulse: An Ecocritical Reading of Starhawk's The Fifth Sacred Thing and Walking to Mercury"; and "An Oikopoetical Reading of Anita Desai's Cry the Peacock and Fire on the Mountain."
Postcard from Oceania
by Tom Bristow, President, Association for the Study of Literature, Environment and Culture - Australia and New Zealand (ASLEC-ANZ)
"Do you come from a land down under? Where women glow and men plunder?" --Men At Work, 1981
On Tuesday May 7, 2013, between 6:00 and 8:00pm, leading scholars in the humanities will attend a forum at the National Museum of Australia entitled "Part of the Feast: The Life and Work of Val Plumwood" in recognition of the eminent Australian philosopher's outlook that included exploring human death in an ecological context. As Freya Mathews observed in her Guardian obituary of March 26, 2008: "[Plumwood] saw that anthropocentrism, as a value system, rests on the assumption that there is a deep division between humanity and nature: human beings, though embodied and, in that sense, material, are somehow different in kind from the rest of material nature. The 'something' that sets us apart is, of course, mind. The division between mind and matter becomes refined, in the western tradition, into an opposition between reason and nature." The event will be recorded and broadcasted over ABC Radio National, and it will conclude with the launch of a posthumous publication of Plumwood's essays, The Eye of the Crocodile.
Just this month, at James Price Point in Broome, Australia, Woodside Petroleum, and its partners Shell and PetroChina, lost a crucial battle over the natural resources of the Kimberley area of Western Australia. The Wilderness Society joined Goolarabooloo Traditional Custodian, Richard Hunter, in taking both the West Australian Environment Protection Authority (EPA) and the state's Environment Minister to the Supreme Court over gross mishandling of conflicts of interest in relation to assessment of the proposed Kimberley gas hub. The WA Premier, Colin Barnett, the Minister for State Development, was behind the proposal of the West Australian Department of State Development, and was the project's primary environmental assessor, who aimed to initiate a compulsory purchase of land from indigenous peoples to dedicate an area 20 times the size of Melbourne's CBD to a new gas hub. This project has been dumped in the wake of local people supported by a coordinated international movement that has clearly articulated how the project has failed to provide procedural competence, scientific rigor, or respond to accusations of improper conflicts of interest declared by four of its five board members. Australia: the big country; land, labor and capital over and above the future sustainability of our cultural practices. We are working hard to make changes; we are beginning to project our values onto those of corporate government. In fact, icons are rapidly altering.
To turn back to the problem of separating humans from the environment, just for a second. It is this very epistemological fallacy -- identified by Plumwood and resisted by local activist groups who read a neo-liberal late capitalist form of this breakdown in emotions and rationality as the most legible threat to our planet -- which has crudely wedged itself into cultural consciousness, economic logic, and the parameters of environmental justice. Such dualism was thoroughly critiqued in a series of events that synthesized environmental humanities projects in Australia last year. The first of these was organized by Debjani Ganguly at the Australian National University in mid-June, on behalf of the Consortium of Humanities Centres and Institutes. "Anthropocene Humanities," a global conference on humanities and climate change, brokered fresh disciplinary approaches to the question of our contribution to a subject dominated by science and economics. Keynote lectures and talks by academic experts included Dipesh Chakrabarty (University of Chicago), Elizabeth Povinelli (Columbia University), Paul Holm (Trinity College, Dublin), Libby Robin (ANU), Karen Pinkus (Cornell University), Iain McCalman (University of Sydney), Alison Bashford (University of Sydney), and Peter Veth (University of Western Australia).
Later in the year, three events flashed up on the ASLEC-ANZ radar. The first of these was The National Institute of Experimental Arts' Symposium "Sense of Planet," on June 22, which concentrated an array of thinkers to address the challenge of grasping historical and evolving circumstances such as the acceleration of climate change and species extinction. Invited speakers included: Ursula Heise, Professor of English and Director of the Program in Modern Thought & Literature, Stanford University (now at UCLA); Marko Peljhan, Professor in Art and Media Arts & Technology, University of California at Santa Barbara; Jennifer Gabrys, Convener of the MA in Design and Environment at Goldsmiths, University of London; Nicholas Mirzoeff, Professor of Media, Culture and Communication, New York University; and Timothy Morton, Professor and Rita Shea Guffey Chair in English, Rice University. It was fantastic to have such a team outline their ideas on environmental aesthetics, political ecology, and an experimental approach to thinking and praxis within an ecological context of scarcity, depletion and loss.
In the fashion of true Australian resourcefulness, we made the most of having two prominent ASLE contributors on the island: Ursula Heise and Tim Morton stayed with us for a fortnight and delivered exacting, innovative and authoritative keynotes at the fourth ASLEC-ANZ biennial in Melbourne, "Regarding the Earth: Ecological Vision in Word and Image" (co-hosted by Monash University and RMIT; convened by Linda Williams and Kate Rigby), August 31 - September 2. Heise and Morton were supported by plenary speakers Darryn McEvoy (RMIT), Harry Nankin (RMIT), Clive Hamilton (Charles Sturt University), Adeline Johns-Putra (Exeter) and Freya Mathews (La Trobe).
Somehow--and I still have to gasp for breath at this fact!--in-between these events, Tom Ford at the Australian National University managed to bring together an incredible range of scholars to discuss weather, climate, and historiography during the HRC conference, "The Cultural History of Climate Change," August 27-28, 2012. This included Nick Mansfield (Macquarie University), Kate Rigby (Monash), Deb Anderson (Monash), Tom Bristow (UNE), Linda Williams (RMIT), Josh Wodak (ANU), Mitchell Whitelaw (University of Canberra) and many others. Scholars in North America are to be mindful that a series of essays from this groundbreaking conference will be collected in a book to be published in
2014. In retrospect it is clear that this interdisciplinary series of papers read climate change not merely as a new object of study for the human sciences; it also clarified a set of questions that unsettle many long-held principles and values of historical understanding. Another ambitious academic conference hosted by ANU, which impels a fundamental rethinking and conceptual expansion of the meaning of the word "culture," is something to look out for in hard copy next year.
2012 was gigantic. If that wave of events was not enough food for thought, then you will be encouraged to learn that they were swiftly followed by the launch of Environmental Humanities in mid-November of this year. EH is a new, twice-yearly international open access journal aimed to invigorate debates and interdisciplinary research on the environment, which is funded by the School of Humanities at the University of New South Wales. This journal hit the mark: in the first week it received over 1,400 article downloads (including 160 of the whole issue) by around 900 unique users in over 25 countries; Deborah Rose and Thom van Dooren are to be congratulated for what is a vital contribution to our field of study in this brave new century.
All of these first class events have nicely set up both the Australian Academy of Humanities' 2013 conference, "Environmental Humanities," to be held November 14-15 at the University of Queensland; and ASLEC-ANZ's fifth biennial conference to be hosted at the Australian National University's Humanities Research Centre, June 19-21, provisionally entitled "Ecocriticism, Critical Animal Studies, and Seeds" to stress our three areas of focus this time around.
Meanwhile, and to close, I would like to instruct my friends in the northern hemisphere to browse our association's journal, The Australasian Journal of Ecocriticism and Cultural Ecology, for in the immediate short-term we are releasing our second issue that is largely centered on a series of papers presented at the Australian and New Zealand American Studies Association (ANZASA) conference of 2011. It is a great combination of Australian, American, and 'internationalist' papers. Moreover, it would be ignorant of me not to mention that ASLEC-ANZ is in Auckland, New Zealand, May 11-12 of this year, for a colloquium, "Arts, Activism, Academia," focusing on water and environmental advocacy with guest speakers including Ian Clothier, director of Intercreate; Charlotte Sunde and Alys Longley, coordinators of FluidCity; Kirby Jane Hallum, Charles Dawson, Tom Bristow, and Andrew Denton; with readings by Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, Ian Wedde, and Cathie Koa Dunsford. It would be great to have you there, if not in person at least in spirit.
Looking forward to hearing from you/ seeing you in the near future. With kind regards - and, well, I wish you were here...
Ecocriticism: Transpacific Dialogue Conference
by Patrick Murphy, University of Central Florida
On February 17-18, 2013, The University of Central Florida hosted the "Ecocriticism: Transpacific Dialogue Conference," organized by Patrick D. Murphy, Chair of the English Department at UCF and founding editor of ISLE, and ZHANG Hua, Dean of Graduate Studies at Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU). This conference brought together faculty and graduate students from China and the United States. A contingent of more than a dozen faculty and students from BLCU were joined by several faculty members from other Chinese universities. In addition some Chinese graduate students currently studying at various universities in the States also participated.
The conference began Sunday evening with a reading by Juan Carlos Galeano, currently teaching at Florida State University, of poems in his volume, Amazonia, followed by Joni Adamson's keynote address, "Rethinking the 'Environmental Imagination' in the Context of Multispecies Ethnography and Cosmopolitics," which included comments on some of Galeano's poems. On Monday, there were two plenary presentations by panels of Chinese faculty providing an overview of ecocriticism in China, religious studies and ecocriticism, and the ecological orientation for literary studies in the first, and considerations of the eco-ethics of Wole Soyinka, an ecofeminist analysis of Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, and anthropological reflections on the idea of nature in the second. This last presentation complemented the previous evening's events and set the stage for a later panel with Pamela Herron, Haung Wang, and Mark Bender that fit Bender's term "eco-genealogy." Throughout the day discussions shuttled back and forth across the Pacific on a variety of topics, from a panel on the movie Life of PI to presentations on human-cat relationships in early American literature and another on the intersection of ecology and colonialism in Oroonoko. In all there were 35 presentations, with only a brief glitch with one panel because a participant had fallen asleep due to jet lag!
The interaction of balanced participation by Chinese and American participants generated a palpable level of synergy and cross-communication, while the small size of the conference with ample breaks provided plenty of time and opportunity for individuals to get to know each other and gain greater insights into each other's cultural and critical orientations. In his closing remarks Murphy expressed the sentiments of many when he expressed the hope that this would be the first transpacific dialogue conference, not the only one.
The Green World of Early America at Wormsloe
by Thomas Hallock, University of South Florida St. Petersburg
At the Society of Early Americanists meeting last March, a page was stolen from the ASLE conference program--the group took a field trip. Forty colonialists hopped on a bus and journeyed to Wormsloe State Historic Site, just south of Savannah.
Sarah Ross, President of the Wormsloe Institute for Environmental History, led tours of the famous plantation, which traces its roots to Georgia's founding in 1733. Wormsloe is a rich, complicated landscape for many reasons. (For the long answer, see Drew A. Swanson's outstanding environmental history, Remaking Wormsloe Plantation
.) But participants got at least a chance to take in the Spanish moss, live oak, and muck smell of the lowcountry South.
In addition to the tour, the group enjoyed a roundtable on early American Environmentalisms, held on site. Professors Timothy Sweet (West Virginia University), Gordon Sayre (University of Oregon) and Susan Scott Parrish (University of Michigan) led the roundtable, while Thomas Hallock moderated.
This field trip represents an ongoing collaboration between the two groups, being the fourth ASLE-sponsored panel at the SEA. The Bartram Trail Conference (bartramtrail.org) also lent its support to the outing.
As our meeting in Kansas fast approaches, let's hope for further exploration of green early America. Why not a shared, off-year conference? What other lessons can we learn from the colonial and revolutionary periods? Certainly a conversation worth having this summer in Lawrence.
|ASLE Member News
Earl James's recent novel, Bella Coola: The Rainforest Brought Them Home (Black Moon Press, 2011) has won a Silver Award for Fiction from the 2013 Nautilus Book Awards.
Kate Rigby, founding President of ASLEC-Australia-New Zealand, has been appointed to Australia's first Professorship of Environmental Humanities at Monash University.
Steven F. White, Lewis Professor of Modern Languages at St. Lawrence University, was the guest academic/creative editor for a special issue of Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas 45.2 (November 2012) on "Eco-Literature and Arts in Latin America". The issue includes work by ASLE members Juan Carlos Galeano, Laura Barbas Rhoden, Jeremy Larochelle, Christopher M. Travis and Roberto Forns-Broggi. ASLE was a co-sponsor for the public presentation of this issue of Review in November at the Americas Society in New York.
ASLE News Notes
Whether you got a new job, won an award, or did something interesting, enlightening, or exciting, we want to know what you're up to! If you have some news to share with other ASLE members, and it doesn't "fit" into the Bookshelf, PhD, or Emeritus categories, please contact Catherine Meeks (firstname.lastname@example.org) with the Subject heading "Member News."
ASLE Emeritus ASLE News honors those ASLE members retired or retiring from teaching. If you would like to acknowledge someone in this new feature--or if you yourself will be retiring during the coming academic year--please contact Catherine Meeks (email@example.com). We will include a brief account of scholarly interests, the institutions of employment and years taught in the next newsletter.
ASLE PhDs Have you or one of your students recently defended a dissertation? If so, ASLE News wants to know. Each issue, we include announcements commemorating those members who have recently completed their doctoral work. If you would like to be included in this feature, please contact Catherine Meeks (firstname.lastname@example.org) with the dissertation title, degree-granting institution, and committee members.