Cultural philosopher Slavoj Zizek: speaking on rubbish and ecology - 'This is where we should start feeling at 'home' Zizek's popular excerpt from Examined Life (150 000 youtube views) from the 2008 documentary on contemporary philosophy directed by Astra Taylor .
At the end of this month I will be in the very fortunate position to be presenting my preliminary work to date on ‘the ecocidal eye in cinema’ at the 4th American Society of Literature, Environment and Culture – Australia-New Zealand group (ASLEC-ANZ) Biennial Conference on the theme of Regarding the Earth: Ecological Vision in Word and Image in Melbourne, 31 Aug-2 Sept 2012. See conference timetable here
Surprisingly it is in the small field of Literary theory that fledgling cinematic ecocriticism has been mainly supported and developed, rather than in film or media studies, although green scholarship in these areas is now also developing – it is all surprisingly small and very recent in cinema. Literary theory spearheads ecophilosophy and ecocriticism as Romantic Literature has been the main historic precursor to ecocritical thinking and ecocriticism. To a large extent, it appears that ASLE, the founding academic Literature and Environment organisation in the United States has helped support work in cinema by actively reaching out to non-literary cultural academics as well as to non-literary art practitioners. For instance I often found on examination of the authors of the few recent books on ecocriticism of cinema have acknowledged close association and support from ASLE. There is also an established journal produced by ASLE, called the International Studies in Literature and the Environment (ISLE). The film academic Scott MacDonald, who incidentally has a background in literary studies, coined the term ‘ecocinema’ in an exploratory paper Towards an ecocinema in ISLE in 2004 reviewing experimental filmmakers Andrej Zdravic and James Benning.
While the conference in Melbourne will not have a strong emphasis on cinema, other visual artists like myself will be presenting amongst eco-literary academics (I’m delighted to be finally meeting a visual art & ecology artist/ book publisher Perdita Philips who I have been aware of for sometime). I was also interested in this conference as the two keynotes presenting at key members of the founding US ASLE group, past president and Prof of English at Standford University, Ursula Heise and UK born but US based Prof Tim Morton. I have a number of their books.
Ursuala Heise appeared in the Nordic ASLE video I posted recently and is perhaps best known for ‘establishing conceptual connections between environmentalism and ecocriticism, on one hand, and theories of globalization, transnationalism and cosmopolitanism, on the other’, in what she has termed as the ‘eco-cosmopolitan’. She has recently talked about the aesthetics of virtual databases and statistics in this time of ecological change which brings to mind the Dublin photographer David Thomas Smith and his google map composite images of the Anthropocene that I previously wrote about. Ursula is Professor of English at Stanford University, a 2011-12 Guggenheim Fellow, and Immediate Past President of ASLE. I was really interested too to find in her Stanford lectures that are forming, since 2010, ‘The Ecological Humanities Project’ and that she has recently organised lectures in areas that I have written about recently too – slow violence and the anthropocene. (On a side note: wouldn’t it be great for the area if international students could access these seminars online as MIT and Harvard are doing, I think I will ask her about this).
Tim Morton has a background in literature and Romanticism and is an active blogger . He is best known for ‘setting out a seeming paradox; to think of ecology without nature’. He proposes that is to have a ‘properly ecological view, we must relinquish the idea of nature’. He calls this ‘dark ecology’ and such ideas have been promoted by the likes of pop academic Slavoj Zizek. In fact Zizek has enthusiastically embraced dark ecology and how we must embrace all, even pollution (see the video above). Somehow Zizek’s interpretation ultimately seems to mean embracing a world like Wall-E but perhaps I have got lost in his interpretation. Yet at least Zizek has tried to bring attention to this critical area, the hard to conceive global ecological crisis that is looming behind the economic crisis. And I was heartened to see that Morton is also publishing in the Open (Access) Humanities journal – this is an important direction I think when eco-thinking and ecocriticism urgently need to become central in examining the overarching crisis in culture (culture here used in its widest sense to cover all aspects of human endeavour, including the humanities) that has both ignored and promoted unsustainable and now globally accelerating ecocide.
What has also stood out for me both with these two academics and educators is that they have both engaged in looking deeply at ecocritical thinking in literature but have both actively examined art and cinema too and encouraged people from other fields like visual culture to engage in this area. I’m also excited to think that ecofeminism has also developed strongly in Australia and that local presenters will undoubtedly be sharing some important perspectives from these fields too. My thanks to the vice-president of ASLEC-NZ Charles Dawson for encouraging me (I’m a new member of ASLEC-ANZ, though there are other branches across the world) to apply.
If you are in Melbourne, Ursula and Tim will be giving a public lecture with others on culture and climate change on 31 August, see more info here
- Ecopornography, slow violence and the deep, slow art of place (ecoartfilm.com)
- Portraits of the Anthropocene by David Thomas Smith (ecoartfilm.com)
- The Anthropocence: 10 000 years of ecocide (ecoartfilm.com)