Panel: Exhumation—Decomposition, Compost, and Remnant in Environmental Literature ASLE Eleventh Biennial Conference, June 23-27
Purity and decomposition are, paradoxically, two of the central images in environmental literature. Poets and writers from Coleridge to Carson exalt solitary experience in a purified environment and oppose it to the depravity and perversion of the modern, the developed, the wasted. Yet, as the age of the Anthropocene continues to dawn, it seems fitting to question this narrative of sacred green space—a story that prizes surface rather than soil, the evergreen over the necessarily dead, and, in the words of William Cronon, performs a dangerous "flight from history."
In this panel, furthering the project of restoring a historical sense to green space, we turn to the buried, the uncovered, and the exhumed. We seek to bring up the bodies occluded by narratives of wilderness, virgin land, and history-free place. Thoreau unearths arrowheads from his bean field, remnants of a society that has otherwise decomposed. Seamus Heaney witnesses the exhumation of an intact bog queen whose stories and compatriots have been lost to ecological processes. With these (and many other) exhumations in mind, we ask: How does the uncovering of bodies, history, and geologic fact complicate our relationship with land? What, in history, becomes part of a newly purified land by means of decomposition, and what shards of the past remain separate from that land? How does environmental literature perform the "deep time" of the space around us?