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Abstracts 97.2

Philipp Erchinger, “Introduction: Earth Writing”

Bringing together six essays by renowned scholars, this special issue on “earth writing,” a literal interpretation of geography, seeks to involve the material existence of the planet humans inhabit (geo) with the practice of extending or translating it into meaningful forms (graphein). The introduction aims to establish a theoretical context for this endeavour as well as to situate each of the subsequent contributions within recent debates in ecological criticism and environmental thought.  

Tim Ingold, “Surface Textures: The Ground and the Page”

Building on the renewed interest in surfaces as sites for the generation of meaning, this article compares two kinds of surface: the page and the ground. In medieval Europe, reading was likened to wayfaring through the landscape and the lines inscribed on parchment to paths trodden on the ground. Based on this analogy, the ground resembles a multiply reused parchment—a palimpsest. But as a surface, the palimpsest is built up by taking layers away. The principle of its formation is anti-stratigraphic. How come, then, that modern people tend to understand both ground and page in stratigraphic terms? The answers are found in the technologies of paving and printing. Both separate the space of imagination from our habitation of the earth. Is it possible, then, to reunite the two? The paper concludes with two literary examples of how this might be done. At stake are different ways of thinking of the mind: as palimpsest or substrate. Perhaps by returning to the medieval idea of reading as wayfaring we can finally restore geography to its literal sense, as earth writing.

Fiona Stafford, “Memory, Imagination, and the Renovating Power of Trees”

Trees frequently feature in the early memories of writers and artists, judging by their autobiographical writings. This essay compares key childhood recollections by William Blake, A. S. Byatt, John Clare, Thomas Hardy, Seamus Heaney, Zaffar Kunial, Paul Nash, John Ruskin, and William Wordsworth in order to explore the recurrence and significance of tree memories. In these accounts, trees are often associated with moments of vision and a degree of alienation, which contribute to the self-realization of the writer as a creative being. At the same time, the longevity of trees and awareness of their separate, independent meaning for others enhances a sense of community, stretching into the past and future. The essay is a contribution to dendro-criticism and environmental humanities, using literary-critical methods to suggest a way of rethinking the relationship between humans and the nonhuman world.   

John Wylie, “Landscape as Not-Belonging: The Plains, Earth Writing, and the Impossibilities of Inhabitation”

This paper seeks to advance understanding of landscape, earth writing, and inhabitation through two parallel discussions. My aim is to work toward an argument that landscape names a not-belonging, through which “earth” and “experience” can be understood as noncoincident with themselves and each other. I do so firstly via tracing and examining understandings, primarily from within cultural geography, but more widely from anthropology and literary and cultural theory, of landscape as the narrated and storied earth. Running alongside and through these discussions, I also offer here a sequence of commentaries on Gerald Murnane’s The Plains, perhaps the best-known work by this reclusive Australian writer. The Plains remains notable and distinctive, I argue, precisely for its refusal to console or to reveal in respect of landscape, and for its insistence that earth and experience cannot be conjoined. Far from showing us as marooned within some ideal realm of writing, The Plains is an earth writing, precisely because it acknowledges instead the distances that cleave between word and world, the distances that give us the very possibility of landscape.

Ralph Pite, “Edward Thomas Lighting Out for the Territory”

At the end of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck plans “to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest.” As David Plank and Gary Sykes observe, “to ‘light out for the territory’ and a new life is the essential American story.” Twain, however, complicates Huck’s action by situating it amidst the contradictions and aporias of American westward expansion. Laurie Anderson, in her postpatriotic echo of Twain’s expression, similarly ironizes the prospect of escaping to “a new life.” Both writers are included here in order to illuminate the work of Edward Thomas. In his 1916 poem, “Lights Out,” Thomas took up and developed Twain’s complex relation to the romance of departure. What lies outside the boundaries of Huck’s “sivilised” becomes for Thomas somewhere radically unknown. I suggest, further, that this quality in Thomas’s late poetry corresponds with recent articulations of an environmentally attuned spatiality.

Adelene Buckland, “‘Inhabitants of the Same World’: The Colonial History of Geological Time”

This essay considers the writings of Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin in the 1830s in the light of recent debates about the Anthropocene epoch. In both the 1830s and the 2010s, the public has been asked to reimagine the relationship between human and geological timescales in ways that might profoundly alter the idea of what it means to be human beings living on the earth. In particular, the grand powers of the geological imagination were defined by Lyell and Darwin specifically by contrast with a racist view of the imaginative inferiority of indigenous peoples. Requiring as it did an insight into worlds beyond human observation, the geological imagination was built upon— even required—an account of a struggle to see nonwhite peoples as human at all. Ultimately, this essay argues, this is a legacy that continues to haunt Anthropocene discourse.

Christopher F. Loar, “Georgic Assemblies: James Grainger, John Dyer, and Bruno Latour”

Drawing on recent scholarship on the British georgic, this essay argues that John Dyer’s The Fleece (1757) and James Grainger’s The Sugar-Cane (1764) can be understood as vehicles for considering agricultural economies as what Bruno Latour has called matters of concern. These poems also seek to gather what Latour might call an assembly around these matters of concern: the texts themselves imagine and enact a parliament of humans and things. However, both poems troublingly erase distinctions between human and nonhuman entities in ways that contribute to the subordination of textile workers and enslaved Africans. This essay draws on recent scholarship in new materialism to suggest that Georgic verse focuses its attention on human collaborations with nonhuman materials, assembling in the process a social world that includes both human and nonhuman actors, and fashioning new logics of ecological responsiveness and of subjected labor.