Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

English

Supervisor

Dr. Joel Faflak

Abstract

This project contributes to the field of ecocriticism by reconsidering the idea of nature in the Romantic period in order to explore a new mode of artistic ecological thought. Ecocriticism develops in tandem with the environmental urgency of recent decades, responding mostly with an intense focus upon material nature in order to remind an increasingly artificial society of its earthy foundations and to encourage, in some kind or degree, a return to nature. Though the call for return is a powerful story, modern scientific and philosophical developments indicate that it is not ecologically sound. The return narrative requires a stable nature to which to return; modern ecology, however, reveals nature as an unstable and uncertain process. It is therefore time to rethink the stories at the heart of our relationship with nature. This project looks to British Romanticism as the return story’s most influential incarnation. Romantic ecocriticism often hails the Romantic “return to nature” as ecologically progressive: an assumption I aim to destabilize. Pairing close readings of works by William Wordsworth, John Clare, and Percy Bysshe Shelley with the post-structuralist theory often disregarded by ecocriticism, especially the community theory of Jean-Luc Nancy, I question the construction of Romantic nature. Community theory questions the ethics of reunion and instead posits difference as the basis of relation. Given that ecology is essentially the study of natural relationships, community theory enables a new mode of ecological consciousness that is both thought and felt. In Romanticism, community theory reveals an uncertain nature that is paradoxically and proleptically faithful to modern ecological thought, advocating not return or reunion but relation: specifically, a passionate relation experienced as joy. Navigating key concepts such as identity and difference, work and play, productivity and creativity, economy and ecology, and ecstasy and joy, I explore a Romantic imagination of ecology as joyful community: I term this uncommon ecological imagination the Romantic oikos, calling upon the etymological root of ecology as home to think through the complexity of being together in place. The Romantic oikos creatively re-imagines humanity’s place in nature: a creative task we are called to perform today.


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