NeMLA Conference 2016 "Specters of Dark Ecology: Romantic and Victorian Underside"

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Dewey W. Hall, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
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The underside or lower surface (OED) is the space of the unseen—the obverse or negation. As negative space, the underside remains hidden lurking below the surface, which is present through its absence from visibility. In French poststructuralist philosophy, the underside is Jacques Derrida's différance—the difference and deferral of meaning based on distinction among signifiers (i.e. /a/ vs. /e/). The /a/ is indistinct from /e/ and is unknown until it comes into being through its written form. In American ecocriticism, the underside is Timothy Morton's notion of dark ecology—the perverse or anomalous in the ecology of nature. Deformity, asymmetry, allure, and deception mark the terrain of the underside in nature. Behind the rose, there are thorns. Within the white flowers of water hemlock, toxins kill (as Keats once versified "as though of hemlock I had drunk" in "Ode to a Nightingale").

The panel of papers will feature ecocritical praxis as its main theoretical approach to interpreting English Romantic and Victorian literary texts. Though the term "ecology" was not coined by Ernst Haeckel until 1866, the lack of the term in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries does not preclude the fact that Blake and Shelley were aware of and concerned for their environs. Blake illustrated Erasmus Darwin's The Botanic Garden (1791) and, arguably, based his depiction of "The Tyger" (1794) from Darwin's Zoonomia, published the same year. In addition, Mary Shelley had been fascinated by the vitalism debate between John Abernethy and William Lawrence—Percy Shelley's physician (Richard Holmes, The Age of Wonder, 2009),—which gave rise to her depiction of the animation of the Creature provoking intrigue about the so-called "super-added life force" as analogous to electricity. As a poetics of resistance, the panel of papers will consider the effects on nature induced by human activity. ​