This November 2-3, 2012, at Western University we are planning to host “Underground Ecocriticism: New Approaches to the Environmental Humanities,” a workshop on the state of the field of ecocriticism. In particular, we would like to use this workshop as an opportunity to reconsider cultural matters that have been less emphasized or neglected in past ecocriticism due to the rush to establish a canon of environmental aesthetics. Our workshop offers a different analysis of the field by looking closer at art works, environmental events, and theoretical methods that have been shunted aside in the demand for establishing more conventional norms in the appreciation of nature. Thus we have titled our workshop “Underground Ecocriticism” and imagine it as a forum for further thought and discussion on cultural objects that have been deemed weird, awkward, unsettling, or just unclear in terms of categorization, yet still have a significant impact on the fate of the environment.
We have asked scholars from across Canada and the United States to join us
for a two day event. Our keynote speakers are Timothy Morton (Rice University,
author of three books, including Ecology Without Nature [Harvard UP, 2007]
and The Ecological Thought [Harvard UP, 2010]) and Sherryl Vint (University of
California, Riverside, author and co-editor of three books, including Animal Alterity:
Science Fiction and the Question of the Animal [Edinburg, 2007]). A total of 24 scholars
will deliver papers. Our event will feature seven panels which involve paper presentations and respondents. The event will take place on campus at Windermere Manor and Conron Hall.
First 1) to present a series of essays on topics that are underground to
ecocriticism, in that they have been left by the wayside, on the margins,
or buried because they are too unsettling, gothic, or bizarre. For example,
instead of considering folk songs on farming, which ecocritical scholarship
has already done, we study punk and heavy metal songs about pollution and
troubling dreams of ghostly landscapes. Instead of films predicated on intimate
contact with charismatic mammals, we look at how vampire films involve
discourses of blood, genetics, and bodily horror linked to anxiety over animals and
reproductive control. We ask: what has been left out of ecocriticism that in fact
is entirely relevant to contemporary environmental crises yet often is marked
as too strange to give critical attention?
Our second objective 2) is to discuss the common moral imperatives
that sustain nearly all of ecocriticism and to question what such moralisms
reveal as well as conceal. Ecocriticism is not more moral than other methods
in the humanities (e.g. postcolonialism, queer studies,disability studies) – yet is moral
discourse what we all sign up for when we critically analyze ecological situations?
To what extent then does the moral imperative in ecocriticsm endorse certain kinds
of ethical practices while marginalizing others?
Our third objective 3) is to examine the underground subcultures that have formed around
environmental activism and ecological artworks. The subculture movements that coalesce
around environmental movements have been understudied by environmentalists themselves.