CfA: Ecocriticism, Ecology, and the Ancient World: Subjects, Problems, Perspectives
Can ecocritical theories shed new light on classical texts? And can an inquiry into antiquity offer new perspectives on our current environmental debates? What have Fukushima and Vesuvius in common? Was Lucretius a posthuman philosopher? And what did the ancients mean when they declared a parcel of land as “sacred”? Is there a difference between an ancient “animal” and a modern one? …
Since the early 1990s, ecocriticism and ecological approaches to the study of culture have blossomed into vibrant fields of interdisciplinary inquiry with various sub-strands that encompass philosophy, arts, the sciences, and history. Although ecocritics have been quick to recognize the Industrial Revolution as a sociopolitical development that has led to the current environmental crisis, many ecocritical projects have avoided historicizing their concepts or have been characterized by approaches that were either pre-historic or post-historic: While the environmental movement has harbored the dream of restoring nature to a state untouched by human hands, there is also the pessimistic vision of a post-apocalyptic world, exhausted by humanity’s consumption of natural resources. Against this background, the decline of nature has become a narrative template quite common among the public environmental discourse and environmental scientists alike.
The proposed volume has the aim of revisiting Antiquity (from the Dark Ages to the fall of the Roman Empire) as an epoch which witnessed similar environmental problems and came up with its own interpretations and solutions in dealing with them. This decidedly historical perspective is not only supposed to fill in a blank in ecocritical discourse, but also to question, problematize, and inform our contemporary debates with a completely different take on “nature” and humanity’s place in the world. Thereby, a productive dialogue between contemporary ecocritical theories and the Classical Tradition should be established that highlights similarities as well as differences. From the dealing with and the interpretation of “natural disasters” over concepts of the human body and its interaction with non-human others to strategies of living in and with the land – there is a plethora of subjects that can be addressed that illustrate the complex and heterogeneous interactions that have characterized human-nature interrelations and their cultural reflections from the epic of Gilgamesh onwards.
Although ancient concepts of the natural world and environmental problems of ancient civilizations have been the subject of various studies – beginning with Alexander von Humboldt’s Kosmos and leading to Clarence Glacken’s Traces on the Rhodian Shore, J. Donald Hughes’ Pan’s Travail, or Lukas Thommen’s An Environmental History of Ancient Greece and Rome – this proposed volume differs from these approaches in various
ways: Firstly, in its insistence on the importance of theory for scholarly analysis, it does not only call for an interpretation of classical texts, but for a dialogue with contemporary ecocritical or ecological theories. Thereby, new perspectives on old texts should be opened up, while modern environmental thinking should be challenged or supplemented by ancient concepts. Secondly, following a path paved by recent works put forth in medieval studies by, for instance, Karl Steel (How to Make a Human. Animals and Violence in the Middle Ages, Ohio SU
2011) or Jeffrey J. Cohen (ed., Animal, Mineral, Vegetable: Ethics and Objects Oliphaunt/punctum press 2012), the alterity, but also the similarity of historically situated cultural concepts of “human”, “animal” and “nature” should be illustrated within a diachronic perspective. This could, in the end, lead to a questioning of concepts like the “Anthropocene” that see the 1800s as a critical watershed and the beginning of a new geological epoch. It will also help to re-visit and re-embed our environmental theories and discourses in their long historical traditions.
From scholars working within or across a number of fields, we invite proposals for chapters focusing on (but not limited to) these or similar subjects:
- Concepts of “Nature” in Ancient Art and Philosophy
- Living in/with Landscapes (including the Ocean)
- Natural Elements, Resources, and Human Technology
- Religious Concepts, Sacred Gardens, Paradise
- Theories of Environmental Decline, Ecological Crises and Natural Disasters
- Embodiment and Materiality in Ancient Texts
- Ancient Medicine, Concepts of the Human Body, Miasma Theory
- Animal Studies
- The Reception of the Classics in Contemporary Environmental Theory and Debates
Christopher Schliephake is a historian and ecocritic at the University of Augsburg, who specializes in the fields of cultural ecology, cultural memory studies, and classical reception studies. His publications include Urban Ecologies. City Space, Material Agency, and Environmental Politics in Contemporary Culture, published in the Ecocritical Theory and Practice Series by Lexington Books, as well as a number of scholarly articles ranging from the interplay of memory and place over the New Materialisms to the reception of the Classical Tradition by African American and Caribbean authors.