Summary

  • “The main theme of the book is given away in its title. Ecology without Nature argues that the very idea of ‘nature ‘which so many hold dear will have to wither away in an ‘ecological’ state of human society. Strange as it may sound, the idea of nature is getting in the way of properly ecological forms of culture, philosophy, politics, and art. The book addresses this paradox by considering art above all else, for it is in art that the fantasies we have about nature take shape-and dissolve. In particular, the literature of the Romantic period, commonly seen as crucially about nature, is the target of my investigation, since it still influences the ways in which the ecological imaginary works” (1).

Keywords

  • “I outline a theory of ambient poetics, a materialist way of reading texts with a view to how they encode the literal space of their inscription-if there is such a thing-the spaces between the words, the margins of the page, the physical and social environment of the reader” (3).
  • “ecomimesis”:

Notes

0. Introduction

  • “As well as producing arguments, ecological writers fashion compelling images-literally, a view of the world. These images rely upon a sense of nature. But nature keeps giving writers the slip. And in all its confusing, ideological intensity, nature ironically impedes a proper relationship with the earth and its life-forms, which would, of course, include ethics and science” (2).
  • “Ecology without Nature develops its argument in three distinct stages: describing, contextualizing, and politicizing”; Chapter 1 is about developing a vocabulary for describing environmental art, which Morton calls ambient poetics; Chapter 2 is a history of environmentalism; Chapter 3 attempts to develop these critiques into a plan for political action (3–4).
  • “I do, however, distinguish between postmodernism, as a cultural and ideological form, and deconstruction. Ecology without Nature is inspired by the way in which deconstruction searches out, with ruthless and brilliant intensity, points of contradiction and deep hesitation in systems of meaning. If ecological criticism had a more open and honest engagement with deconstruction, it would find a friend rather than an enemy” (6).
  • After a history of “nature” as a concept (mostly attending to its slipperiness), Morton moves to an extended reflexive self-defense against being called a postmodernist (21).
  • “Ecological culture is supposed to be soft and organic, old-fashioned and kitschy, while technoculture is hard, cool, and electronic. But there are surprising connections between the imminent ecological catastrophe and the emergence of virtual reality” (26).

1. Ecomimesis

  • “Ecomimesis is a specific rhetoric that generates a fantasy of nature as a surrounding atmosphere, palpable but shapeless. The ambient poetics that establishes this experience interferes with attempts to set up a unified, transcendent nature that could become a symptomatic fantasy thing. Critical close reading elicits the inconsistent properties of this ambient poetics. Ambience compromises ecomimesis because the very processes that try to convey the illusion of immediacy and naturalness keep dispelling it from within” (77).
  • “In sum, one of the principal complaints against establishing a vivid, solidly real nature ‘out there’ or ‘over there’ is that it just fails to be convincing. This lack of believability penetrates to the very core of ecomimesis, the most potent rhetorical device for establishing a sense of nature. The inherent instability of language, and of the human and nonhuman worlds, ensure that ecomimesis fails to deliver” (77–78).

2. History

  • Ambient poetics are universal b/c they rely on relationships b/t interiors and exteriors of textuality (79).
  • “This chapter contains three different kinds of historical account, which in turn read the form, content, and subject positions of contemporary society. Marx delineates the social and economic form. Next comes a history of ideas, in which I explore the terms world, state, system, field, and body. I then investigate the idea of a certain subject, emerging in the Romantic period: the beautiful soul” (81).
  • “It appeared in Chapter 1 as the way in which environmental writing establishes corners and edges that make it hard to maintain a solid center. Ambience is what environmental writing is after, and ambience is its ultimate nemesis. These distortions reappear here in more conscious form, as ‘strangers’-human others, animals, and other beings who wander into and out of the world, constituting it as its boundaries, but also undermining its coherence. In Chapter 3 these strangers will take an even stranger form, as ghosts and machines. Nature cannot remain itself-it is the flickering shapes on the edges of our perception, the strangers who disturb us with their proximity, the machines whose monstrosity inspires revulsion” (81).
  • Compare this desire for imaginary immediacy to the technomimesis of media archaeological writing: “Nature writing tries to be ‘immediate’-to do without the processes of language and the artful construction of illusions. It wants to maintain the impression of directness. But this can only be a supreme illusion, ironically, in a world in which one can find Coke cans in Antarctica. The immediacy that nature writing values is itself as reified as a Coke can” (125).

3. Politics

  • “The shape of this chapter is twofold. In the first few sections, I will consider some possibilities for a critical ecomimesis. Ambience may have a liberating potential. It is a candidate for what Benjamin called a ‘dialectical image,’ a form that looks both toward oppression and toward liberation, like the two-headed god Janus. On the one hand, ambient rhetoric provokes thought about fundamental metaphysical categories, such as inside and outside. On the other hand, if ambience becomes a resting place, a better version of the aesthetic dimension, then it has abandoned its liberating potential. If we find no resting place in ambience, no new religion or territory upon which to pin our flag, then ambience has helped to liberate radical thinking” (142).
  • “In the remaining sections of this chapter, I show how the idea of place is not single, independent, and solid. This leads to developing a new way of doing ecological criticism, which I call dark ecology. Dark ecology acknowledges that there is no way out of the paradoxes outlined in this book. Far from remaining natural, ecocriticism must admit that it is contingent and queer. I conclude by asserting that ecocritique, far from being hostile to deep ecology, is a form of ‘really deep ecology’” (143).

Archive and Impact

  • We know Morton well but for links’ sake, let’s mark his involvement in OOO and speculative theory.
  • Morton is still a Romanticist here. He’s also doing a world tour of standard critical theory, approving citing basically the whole Frankfurt School, psychoanalysis, and also Latour?.