Autobiographical Ecocritical Practices and Academic Environmental Life Writing: John Elder, Ian Marshall, and Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands

Publikation: Beiträge in ZeitschriftenZeitschriftenaufsätzeForschungbegutachtet


As ecocriticism emerged as a distinct discourse in literary and cultural studies in North America and in Great Britain in the late 1980s and early 1990s, many scholars working in this burgeoning field were compelled to reconsider the viability of contemporary critical and theoretical frameworks and tried to establish new analytical paradigms that would be appropriate for ‘the study of the relationship between literature and the physical environment’ (Glotfelty xviii). In a 1994 proposal for the future direction of the increasingly interdisciplinary and institutionalized field, influential first-generation ecocritic Scott Slovic urged his peers to practice narrative scholarship, that is, to ‘tell stories,’ to ‘use narrative as a constant or intermittent strategy for literary analysis,’ to ‘[e]ncounter the world and literature together,’ and to ‘report about the conjunctions, the intersecting patterns’ (‘Ecocriticism’). Although some (eco-)feminists and ecocritics questioned the originality of this proposal and some even pointed to the potential harm that an overtly autobiographical approach might cause in an academy highly skeptical of new referential discourses such as ecocriticism, Slovic’s ideas have nevertheless exerted considerable influence on environmental literary and cultural studies in the U.S.-American academy. Although they do not use Slovic’s designation, prominent first-generation ecocritics such as John Elder and Ian Marshall have published monographs that can be regarded as narrative scholarship or, more accurately, as complex composite texts that transgress the boundaries of autobiographical environmental literary scholarship and full-fledged ‘ecobiographical’ or ‘eco-autobiographical’ self-representation (the terms are Cecilia Konchar Farr’s and Peter F. Perreten’s, respectively). The Canadian critic Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands, in an article entitled ‘Eco Homo: Queering the Ecological Body Politic’ (2007), also fuses different modes of writing, but in contrast to Marshall and Elder, she ‘deploys queer theories of corporeal materialization (Butler), and queer histories of corporeal-ecological abjection, toward a political account of embodiment oriented to creative opening and transgression’ (19), thereby positing a radical re-conceptualization of human identity with profound political implications. In their textual hybrids, Mortimer-Sandilands, Elder, and Marshall thus also explore ecological or embodied conceptions of human identity. In this respect, their narratives represent, on the one hand, distinct types of relational and academic autobiography as well as ecobiographical or eco-autobiographical writing and, on the other hand, provocative new contributions to the long tradition of autobiographical criticism.
ZeitschriftLiterature Compass
Seiten (von - bis)929-940
Anzahl der Seiten12
PublikationsstatusErschienen - 12.2011