Skip to main content

Critical Environments

Who Are We

Critical Environments (CE) is a cross-disciplinary research and teaching collective based in the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies, at The University of Warwick. The collective presently groups work done at the interface of environmental studies, critical theory, literary studies, creative writing and the visual and sound arts. A working premise of CE is that while “the environment” as a shared historical horizon, especially when pressured by global concepts like “climate change,” becomes ever more critical to what we do as scholars, teachers, students, writers, and artists, understandings of this horizon and its associated concepts remain largely untested by the kinds of innovative theory and practice that have pushed other historical frames through several “waves” of critique.

Critical Inquiry 

A third wave of ecocriticism is just now forming, rethinking the mesh of the social, material, and political-economic histories constituting not “the environment” but environments (plural), active at the blind spots of intersecting disciplinary and interpretive frameworks. Awareness of the “critical condition” of our environments, including the atmospheric commons, calls not for a simple retrenchment of critical inquiry around familiar slogans but for a more critical articulation of our environments – the contexts of our reading, thinking, writing and making – in a sustained edge practice, where contact at disciplinary boundaries may bring discomfort but also greater reflexivity.

Our Aims

A general aim of CE will be to challenge lines, whether explicit or implicit, drawn between disciplines, between research and pedagogy, between institution and community. Rather than chase the unsustainable lure of interdisciplines, however, CE affirms disciplinary specificity, focusing resources on building sites for cross-disciplinary adjacency and contact: a website, resources for teaching and research, visiting speakers, symposia.

Current Research 

Immediate CE projects include a collectively written environmental history of the University of Warwick campus and a concerted linking up of course and research material to a student-run garden allotment and related foodways work on campus. CE is also constituted by the intersections between the research and teaching interests of its members: Chris Campbell (world ecology in Caribbean literary studies; “Commodity Frontiers, Food Regimes, and Cultural Forms”), Nick Lawrence (ecopraxis, unemployment and aesthetics), Emma Mason (theories of affect), Chris Maughn (food resistance movements in literature), Graeme Macdonald (petrofictions), Sarah Moss (environmental nonfiction, Northern cultures and ecosystems), Pablo Mukherjee (city planning, city infrastructures and violence; natural disasters and empire), Mike Niblett (world ecology in Caribbean literary studies; “Commodity Frontiers, Food Regimes, and Cultural Forms”), Jonathan Skinner (ecopoetics), and George Ttoouli (ecopoetics, food cultures). A number of CE participants contributed to a report compiled by Dr. Ria Dunkley, of Warwick's Institute of Advanced Teaching and Learning, entitled 'Education for Sustainability' as well as to the Environmental Studies Research Network, led by Yvonne Reddick.

Events

"Climate Change and the Cumulus of History"

A talk by Anne-Lise François (UC Berkeley Departments of English and Comparative Literary Studies).

TUESDAY 19th MAY, 17:30-19:00, Ramphal 03.04.

TALK DESCRIPTION: The 'cumulus of history' of my title refers simultaneously to two radically different temporal frameworks--that of the long-term accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere contributing to anthropogenic climate change, and that of the half-hour span of the cumulus cloud of Luke Howard’s nomenclature. As the accelerated pace of climate change now seems to collapse even the distinction between weather and climate, what insights can be gleaned from the juxtaposition of disjunctive temporal phenomena--the fugitive time of Constable’s cloud-studies and the enduring time of accumulated CO2s? Examining the role that economies of storage and accumulation have played in bringing us to this ecological crisis, the paper then asks about what lessons might be learned from methods of observation such as Constable’s--methods determined by the essentially transitory, time-bound, metamorphic and non-repeatable character of their objects. The paper also compares different accounts of the weather and seasonal change, contrasting those documented in the indigenous-rights project Conversations with the Earth with those of the climate-controlled laboratory.

ANNE-LISE FRANÇOIS works in the modern period, comparative romanticisms; lyric poetry; the psychological novel and novel of manners; gender and critical theory; literature and philosophy; and ecocriticism. Her book – Open Secrets: The Literature of Uncounted Experience (Stanford University Press, 2008) –was awarded the 2010 René Wellek Prize by the American Comparative Literature Association. A study of the ethos of affirmative reticence and recessive action found in the fiction of Mme de Lafayette and Jane Austen, and the poetry of William Wordsworth, Emily Dickinson and Thomas Hardy, Open Secrets argues that these works make an open secret of fulfilled experience, where the term “open secret” refers to non-emphatic revelation–revelation without insistence and without rhetorical underscoring. This ethos locates fulfillment not in narrative fruition but in grace understood both as an economy or slightness of formal means and a freedom from work, in particular the work of self-concealment and self-presentation. Questions of how to value unused powers and recognize inconsequential action also inform her essay on Wordsworthian natural piety and genetically engineered foods (Diacritics, Summer 2003 [published 2005]), as well as an earlier article on the gentle force of habit in Hume and Wordsworth (The Yale Journal of Criticism, April 1994). Her current book project “Provident Improvisers: Parables of Subsistence from Wordsworth to Benjamin” focuses on figures of pastoral worldliness, provisionality, and commonness (with “common” understood in the double sense of the political antithesis to enclosure and of the ordinary, vernacular, or profane).

Please see the Ecopoetics page for associated events, Spring Term, 2014.

Participants 

Chris Campbell’s research focuses on the field of Caribbean literary studies, with particular emphasis on world literature and ecocritical approaches to twentieth-century Caribbean writing. From a broader perspective his research interests include twentieth-century and contemporary Caribbean literature, approaches to world literature and world-ecology, ecocriticism, Black writing in Britain (from the eighteenth century to the present) and Postcolonial and Green Romanticisms. His recent research includes the monograph World-Creating Jungles: Wilson Harris, Derek Walcott and the Caribbean Environment (Forthcoming, Rodopi Press, 2014); the book maps out the development of each author’s brand of environmental thought through a detailed reading of significant but critically under-explored writings and a fresh perspective on the major novels and non-fictional prose by Harris and poems by Walcott. Other current research engages with the history and literature of the Guyanas and involves an examination of travel writing and natural history accounts of the region in C19th and C20th texts. Alongside Dr Michael Niblett, and colleagues from other institutions, he is pursuing a number of interconnected research interests focussing on literature and ecology. Under the rubric of “Global Frontiers: ecologies, commodities, labour and the arts”, these research strands include "Plotting the World System: Cash-Crops, Foodways, and Literary Representation" and "Captain Swing and King Sugar: Approaches to World-Ecological Comparativism". Running alongside this research programme is a series of talks and workshops entitled "Islands Unchained". Next year he will be offering, with Dr.Niblett, two modules on Caribbean literature, including one focusing on ecological themes, as part of the new MA in World Literatures programme.

Peter Larkin’s three collections of poetry, Terrain Seed Scarcity, (2001), Leaves of Field (2006) and Lessways Least Scarce Among (2012) focus on the dynamics of landscape in terms of compressions of scarcity as both survival strategy and countermode. He contributed to The Ground Aslant: an Anthology of Radical Landscape Poetry (2011) and has published a book of essays, Wordsworth & Coleridge: Promising Losses (2012), which features a number of ecocritical studies. A new collection, Give Forest Its Next Portent, is due out from Shearsman next year. Main research interests are (Romanticist) ecopoetics, phenomenology and postmodern theology.

Emma Mason's research is focused on poetry as a way of negotiating the relationship between ecology and religion. Her current book, Christina Rossetti: Green Grace (Oxford University Press), reads Heidegger and Latour to argue that Rossetti ecologizes grace in her poetry and prose to prioritize an ecological ethics within faith. Mason has also argued for grace as a way of reading ecological concerns in William Wordsworth and Jack Clemo’s poetry; and is working on a new edition of Clemo’s poetry with Alan Kent.

Pablo Mukherjee's major research interests include the relationship between imperialism, environmental crises and literature as well as 'green' post-colonial theory. His most recent books, Postcolonial Environments (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010) and Natural Disasters and Victorian Empire (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) explore the colonial and post-colonial dimensions of environmental disasters and their impact on literary and cultural forms. Among his current projects is a collaboration with national and international institutions which analyses the impact of urban planning on violence and the registration of this in contemporary writing.

Dr. Michael Niblett’s research interests centre upon Caribbean literature and culture, as well as world literature, environmental history, and critical theory. He is interested in the literary encoding of ecology, modernity, nationhood, and class struggle in texts produced in the Caribbean and in other peripheral and semi-peripheral areas within the capitalist world-system. Between 2009 and 2012, he was involved in a Leverhulme Trust-funded research project entitled Literature and the Environment in the Caribbean: The Case of Guyana, which examined the intersection between aesthetics, the environment, and social justice in Guyana. His current research explores the ways in which world literature might be reconceptualised through the prism of what environmental historian Jason Moore terms “world-ecology”. Forthcoming publications include studies of the literary mediation of commodity frontiers and ecological revolutions; of the different political ecologies of resources such as oil, sugar, and rubber; and of the economic-ecological dynamics of boom-towns. Alongside Dr. Chris Campbell and colleagues from other institutions, he is pursuing a number of interconnected research interests centred on literature and world-ecology. Under the rubric of “Global Frontiers: Ecologies, Commodities, Labour and the Arts”, these research strands include “Plotting the World System: Cash-Crops, Foodways, and Literary Representation” and “Captain Swing and King Sugar: Approaches to World-Ecological Comparativism”. Running alongside this research programme is a series of talks and workshops entitled "Islands Unchained". Next year he will be offering, with Dr. Chris Campbell, two modules on Caribbean literature, including one focusing on ecological themes, as part of the new World Literatures MA programme. See here for further details.

Jonathan Skinner founded and edits the journal ecopoetics, which features creative-critical intersections between writing and ecology. His poetry collections include Birds of Tifft (BlazeVOX, 2011) and Political Cactus Poems (Palm Press, 2005). Skinner has published critical essays on Charles Olson, Ronald Johnson, Lorine Niedecker, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Bernadette Mayer, translations of French poetry and garden theory, essays on bird song from the perspective of ethnopoetics, and essays on horizontal concepts such as the Third Landscape and on Documentary Poetry. His current writing project focuses on bioacoustics and cross-species listening. A former Professor of Environmental Studies at Bates College, Skinner teaches in the Writing Program at the University of Warwick. Currently, he is writing a book of investigative poems on the urban landscapes of Frederick Law Olmsted, and a critical book on acoustic ecology in contemporary poetry, Vibrational Communication. He teaches in the Writing Program at the University of Warwick.

George Ttoouli is an Honorary Teaching Fellow for the Writing Programme and a PhD candidate investigating twentieth century serial poetry through an ecopoetics framework. Key case studies currently centre on US-UK poets, including Lorine Niedecker, Basil Bunting, Charles Olson, Robin Blaser, Peter Riley, Susan Howe, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Carol Watts, and others. An essay on Peter Riley, ‘Depth of Field: the quest for meaning in Alstonefield: a poem’, is forthcoming in collection from Gylphi Press. With Chris Maughan he co-organised a conference in March 2013, as part of their HRC Doctoral Fellowship Award, ‘Planetary Cancer: Growth, Economy and Culture in an Era of Climate Catastrophe’. He has published a collection of poetry, Static Exile (2009), with a second, from Animal Illicit, forthcoming 2014/15, exploring human and non-human relationships. Research interests focus on ecopoetics from a structural perspective and creative writing.

Resources 

ecopoetics 

Jason Moore

The Corner House 

Repeating Islands 

Environmental Humanities 

Transatlantic Research Network 

Resilience

The Roaring 'Twenties