I’ve started to look more closely at ecocriticism, an area of relatively new activity in Literature theory in the past 15 years. In very recent years such activities are spreading to ecocritical examinations of other cultural forms, for e.g. cinema. (I know, its surprising how recent this all is, considering the state of the earth but there is quite a long and complicated division between the sciences and the humanities in how ‘nature’ has been relegated or not as a site for cultural investigation – more on this later).
‘Ecocriticism‘ therefore is a recent term, and exact definitions are still being debated. It could be simply described as literary and cultural criticism from an environmentalist viewpoint. The definition that I prefer, as it suggests some sort of change in how we relate to the more-than-human world argues that
‘Ecocriticism in not just a means of analysing nature in literature; it implies a move toward a more biocentric world-view, an extension of ethics, a broadening of human’s conception of global community to include nonhuman life forms and the physical environment’ (Branch et al. 1999, Reading the Earth: New Directions in the Study of Literature and the Environment, xiii).
While I’m not a literary researcher, it appears that any study of engaging with cinema ecocritically should begin with a look to what has been happening in ecocriticism circles in literature. The first point of call is the US Association of Study for Literature and the Environment (ASLE). It has been publishing material in its journal ISLE Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment since 1993, though its now published quarterly through Oxford Uni. press. There are sister organisations in the UK (ALSE-UK), India (I have had contact with them recently as they invited me to their film and ecology network) and even NZ/Australia (in fact by chance I have met the secretary of the NZ branch many years ago – which is handy – though I have just realised this from a mutual friend a few weeks ago). As I’m based in Ireland the closest branch is the ASLE-UK organisation and on its home page it lists this handy check-list by Richard Kerridge to see if you are an ecocritic (I have long agreed about all of the following, so think I’m doomed to look into this further.)
- If you watch a brilliant television nature documentary and feel that it is falsely reassuring because it doesn’t reveal the threats to the wildlife it shows, you are being an ecocritic.
- If you admire a passionate piece of environmental advocacy but feel that its tone may be counter-productive, you are being an ecocritic.
- If you are deeply concerned about climate change but are not sure The Day After Tomorrow will help change hearts and minds, you are an ecocritic.
- If you feel that a novel uses landscape as mere setting without giving any attention to the ecology and instability of that landscape, you are being an ecocritic.
- If it annoyed you that the recent TV version of Hardy’s Under the Greenwood Tree was obviously not filmed in Dorset, you were being an ecocritic.
- If you think the current ecological status of skylarks, nightingales or swallows should inform our response to poems (historical or contemporary) about skylarks, nightingales or swallows, you are being an ecocritic.