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From Ego to Eco

Mapping Shifts from Anthropocentrism to Ecocentrism

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Edited by Sabine Lenore Müller and Tina-Karen Pusse

From Ego to Eco – Mapping Shifts from Anthropocentrism to Ecocentrism investigates philosophical, political and aesthetic formations of ecocentrism. Representing a variety of disciplines and testing a broad scope of critical approaches, the contributors of this volume argue that anthropocentrism is not - as often claimed - a predominant world view but, rather, a widely contested concept. Within various historical and national contexts, the individual contributors of this book discuss the significance and relevance of ecocentrism and offer new avenues to emerging discourses in the humanities.

Contributors are: Darrell Arnold, Roman Bartosch, Aengus Daly, Gearoid Denvir, Elisabeth Jütten, Karla McManus, Sabine Lenore Müller, Maureen O’ Connor, Lillis Ó Laoire, Helen Phelan, Tina-Karen Pusse, and Christian Schmitt-Kilb.

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Karla McManus

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This essay attempts to define and problematise the methods and conceptual limitations of looking at and looking for animals. Can film and other visual media create proximity between human viewers and animals or does such a practice of looking amount to anthropomorphism and hubris? Drawing on Lorraine Daston and Gregg Mitman’s 2005 collection, Thinking with Animals: New Perspectives on Anthropomorphism, this essay distinguishes between thinking about animals, as cultural, ideological or ethical subjects, and thinking with animals, a controversial and possibly unattainable goal. Animal art is seen as a practice that questions authenticity, authorship, the boundaries of truth and fiction and the role of the artist as educator/activist.

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Roman Bartosch

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This contribution discusses the question of ecocentrism from the perspective of aesthetic demands for verisimilitude and mimesis and argues that a truly ethical understanding of literature ought to focus on the epistemological potential of literature to render the world strange and thus incite wonder in readers. Drawing on cultural ecology as well as literary scholarship on dialogism and polydiscursivity, it discusses the writings of Kafka and Coetzee as examples of such a “transformative” mimesis, challenging notions of ecocentrism and thus substantially reframing what it means to be human in a more-than-human world.

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Aengus Daly

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Following Georgio Agamben’s claim in The Open: Man and Animal that an important characteristic of work in natural science and philosophy in the 17th and 18th centuries is that the physical demarcation between man and the other species entailed zones of indifference in which it was not possible to assign certain identities, this paper explores how zones of indifference originate in the context of Locke’s and Berkeley’s thought and how they tacitly re-inscribe the human/animal divide while explicitly questioning it. The paper concludes by exploring the possibilities of radicalised empiricism for opening up a more original zone of indifference.

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Sabine Lenore Müller

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This essay explores the environmental philosophy present in the works of the 20th-century poets Rainer Maria Rilke and William Butler Yeats. Based on a reading of central texts by Bruno Latour and Giorgio Agamben, I investigate the conception of the human self in poetry, pictured within processes of becoming, consummation and disappearance, never discreetly delineated over and against its environments, but in continuity with other species as well as ancestral traces and disincarnate presences. Modernist poetry performs a shift away from traditional enlightenment models of understanding the human self and its environments. In the case of Rilke and Yeats, a shift towards a deconstruction of the concretely delineated self goes hand in hand with explorations in occultism and environmental thought. What emerges in Rilke’s and Yeats’s poetry will be understood as environmental modernism—a term which this chapter attempts to define and make workable for the analysis of a wider scope of authors discussing the environmental constitution of the human self at the same time.

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Helen Phelan

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Hortus Deliciarum is one of the great illuminated manuscripts of the 12th century. Replete with nature images and metaphors, it is an example of the literature referred to by ecocritical theorists when proposing that the roots of the contemporary ecological crisis were planted in the medieval appropriation of the natural world for its own theological ends. This essay proposes an alternative interpretation, based on the somatic experience of a singer; particularly, the fluid experience of time and space created by the act of singing. It argues that medieval texts such as Hortus Deliciarum propose not a duality of natural and supernatural space, or of celestial and earthly time, but rather a fluidity of conflation and slippage between these realms.

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Elisabeth Jütten

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The current shift from a human-centric culture to a culture of life refers to what Rancière calls the “ethical regime of art,” a cultural transformation that took place around 1800. In his novels and theoretical texts, Novalis reinvigorates art by calling into question the boundary separating art from life. As an epistemological category, life marks a place in language that cannot be entirely conceptualised and therefore is not fully accessible through language. In Novalis’ aesthetics, language and life serve as analogues. Both avoid the reification that subducts the forward-facing, open dimension of a society and prevents the other, the new and the creative from emerging as possibilities. Herein lies the decidedly political dimension of his mythical poetics.

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Gearóid Denvir

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This essay extrapolates a direct link between environmental threats brought about by humans and the threat to the Irish language. It explores the Irish term nádúr which covers more ground than the English term nature does, as it denotes the innate qualities of a person or place as well as fondness and affection for an environment and familial ties within it. The Irish language and Connemara Gaeltacht move into focus as this contribution explores oral poet Learaí Phádraic Learaí Ó Finneadha’s words and practices which protest against the destruction of the Irish countryside as well as the slow death of the Irish language.

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Lillis Ó Laoire

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In this essay, a single poem connects the trajectory of Gaelic literature to the vast combined barbarity of colonialism, capitalism and patriarchy. In bearing witness to the callous killing of an endangered corncrake (crex crex), the speaker’s guilt at his failure to protest the wanton destruction prompts an examination of his own and society’s values. An exploration reveals a critique of unnecessary brutality. It situates the poem in a long literary tradition, which, like the corncrake, is falling silent because of joint environmental and cultural destruction. In binding the decline of Irish to the bird’s disappearance, a common intersubjective empathy, emerges.

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Christian Schmitt-Kilb

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The essay discusses the potential of poetry in general and ecopoetry in particular to make a political stance in a world on the brink of environmental catastrophe. Does it make sense to consider the non-instrumental and non-pragmatic characteristics of ecopoetry as an antidote to destructive forms of instrumental reasoning? Can the discourse of (eco)poetry provide a language which bridges the gap between the linguistic sign and the referent out there, between human thought and the materiality of the world? The essay argues that contemporary poems by the Scottish poets Kathleen Jamie and John Burnside fathom the “hidden resources of language” (Timothy Clark) to fundamentally question anthropocentric modes of thought.