Waste and the land

July 11, 1997

Despite its sometimes patronising tone, it was good to see Jennifer Wallace's article (THES, July 4) on the emerging environmentalist literary and cultural criticism.

But in concentrating so much on continuities with Romantic and "nostalgic" nature-writing traditions (and on the snooty scepticism of some established literary critics), it did not convey the full scope of ecocriticism's task.

If American criticism must become new by distinguishing itself from the settler traditions of "the frontier" and "wilderness', then British ecocriticism must confront the particular British tradition of representing "nature", and the countryside as spaces outside capitalism, alternatives to modernity. This is the tradition not only of Henry Williamson, with his part-feudal, part-fascist celebrations of hunting and the unselfconscious courage displayed by animals when hunted (this seems to be Ted Hughes's viewpoint as well) but also of the Leavises and their desire for "organic" communities.

British ecocritics and nature-writers will need, for example, to look at what has happened to representations of the countryside, animals and farming during the BSE crisis. And, if ecology is concerned with what happens to waste, and with what goes into and passes out of our bodies, then ecocritical analysis will not stop with Wordsworth and Hardy, but will have things to say, too, about lrvine Welsh's Trainspotting.

One of the best pieces of American criticism I know (in the ecocritical journal Isle, fall 1993) is a discussion by Jhan Hochman of The Silence of the Lambs.

Richard Kerridge

Senior lecturer in English Course director, MA in creative writing Bath College of Higher Education

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