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[Update} The Function of Ecocriticism at the Present Time
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Journal of Ecocriticism
Critique, even that which finds little to love in its object, is rarely cynical. Critics are by definition optimists. Even those who enjoy nothing more than shredding a text or a rival strand of thought do so under the sign of hope: for interpretive clarity, for historical accuracy, for alternative perspective, and so on. And in the end, isn’t some version of utopia, grand or small, at stake in all critical acts? Why else criticize if not to forward, even backhandedly, a glimpse of the world one wishes to see?
Ecocriticism, perhaps more than any other recent school of criticism, is in the above sense utopian. It must be actively, stridently, so because there is so little to be optimistic about. The world is on its way toward a reckoning with the Real the likes of which has not be seen since the Permian era: mass extinctions, climate change, pollution of air, water, and land; the migration of whole peoples responding to drought, famine, war; nuclear arsenals still ready to launch; energy crunches, resource crunches, economic crunches; the general disarray of the global community, such as it is, charged with responding to such threats. All of these threats are real and immediate, but too often the solutions are thought to require an increase in the very activities that have led us to this planetary nadir.
In this environment of risk, uncertainty, and ignorance, ecocriticism mostly responds with words about words about nature. So the questions this special issue addresses will go straight to the heart of ecocriticism’s purposes, methods, and materials: is ecocriticism futile or effective in the struggle to save what is left of nature and thus the world? What can ecocriticism claim to offer us in these troubled times? Education, awareness, and dialogue? Are those goals commensurate with the situation? Or are they merely the feel-good aims of a well-meaning but entirely ineffectual critical community? In short, what should ecocritics do as the world burns?
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