Published:  12:00 AM, 05 June 2016

In the green landscape of ecocriticism

In the green landscape of ecocriticism

We have to make our environment green; we have to make our life green. That is the commitment of ecoliterature, whose analysis would essentially lead to what we call ecocriticism. Ecocriticism is a multidisciplinary approach to literature, which explores the relationship between man and nature, livelihood and environment, in a broader sense, life and its setting. It is keen on ecosphere (the space where living and non-living things interact for a balance) or biosphere (the land, sea and air where organisms are able to live), as portrayed in literary art in the form of narrative, verse or otherwise. An ecocritic looks at any relevant piece of literature and reveals how life has been influenced by natural phenomena or how habitat has been affected by human intervention. This special brand of theorization has appeared in scene rather recently, say, in the last two decades of the twentieth century, generating a new trend in literary criticism, when postmodernism and poststructuralism were enjoying a sort of momentum amid supremacy of fragmentation and indeterminacy of language.

Ecocriticism holds a close affinity with Marxist criticism, which takes special interest in the relationship between human life and society. Ecocriticism shuns, like Marxism, the view of 'art for art sake' and makes literature more sensitive to environment, in which humans live and with which they constantly interact. In Marxism, writers have a responsibility to society and they are seen as agents for social progress. Environment has two broad divisions-natural environment and social environment. Marxism and ecocriticism intersect at the point of social environment. The analysis of society, in its physical and cultural spectrum, is an important feed for both the disciplines. Therefore, the story of Manik Bandopadhyay "Pragoitihasik" can be analyzed from the Marxist point of view, or alternatively, ecocriticism can also present an equally valid analysis. The subhuman life of Vikhu, his perpetration of robbery, escape to jungle, begging in urban street and bond with Panchi-all can be discerned through the Marxist or ecocritical lens. The social fiction of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay should also be ecocritically intriguing. Theoretically, it negates the nature/culture dichotomy (some think the dichotomy inevitable) since cultural discourse does not entirely exclude the possibility of natural attachment. There is overlapping and interface between the two. The culture of nature, to borrow a phrase from Alexander Wilson, is feasible.

Ecocriticism does not restrict itself only to the visible and tangible external world, but also peeps into the internality of human existence. How human psyche associates itself with the surroundings, feeling comfortable or uncomfortable, getting sane or sick, reacting angrily or peacefully-all are subject to ecological criticism. Perception of the world through the senses and conceptualization of the ongoing affairs constitute the inner part of personality, which is characterized in fiction directly or obliquely. The critics have to bring the inner universe to light with their analytical acumen. It becomes shocking or surprising when the turbulence of mind or intensity of feeling surfaces. Bibhutibhushan's "Pather Panchali" depicts the life of rural people, their poverty and dreams, greenery abound and a rail line on the edge, shedding light on sociopsychology of traditional Bangla. What goes on in the mind of Durga and Apu, in the vicinity of nature, is really curious. His literature is thus susceptible to ecocriticism. Ernest Hemingway's "Old Man and the Sea" can also be a superb example of ecocritical literature.

The struggle of a person against the oddities of nature and the resolution not to be defeated anyway demand an ecocritical explication. By the same token, "Moby-Dick" by Herman Melville would also qualify for an ecocritical review.  Ecocriticism can easily encompass romantic literature which depicts nature with a green-sweet flavor and makes a plea against industrialization. The romanticism of Wordsworth and Tagore demonstrates properties of literature which could be easily analyzed ecocritically. "Daffodils" or "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" by Wordsworth makes an appeal to our aesthetic sense, offering a unity of nature and life. Poetry of the late Romantics of English literature-Keats, Byron amd Shelley-is also amenable to ecocritical analysis. In Bangla literature, "Balaka" or "Nirjharer Swapnabhanga" by Tagore arouses a kind of spiritual vision, transporting mind to the land of unfathomable joy, when one can hear the flapping of birds and the murmuring of water. It is a real transcendental experience. Pastoralism is a ramification of romanticism and is better exemplified by the works of Jasimuddin and Robert Burns, who tried to depict nature in its rustic hue. So far all is green. But romantic and pastoral celebration of nature is often seen contradictory with modernism, hence often neglected by modern readership.

Now dust will gather on green leaves. What is symptomatic of modern time is the blurred and distorted image of reality, the reflection of the broken self. We look at "The Waste Land" of T. S. Eliot and find the debris of destruction. Can we ever forget the snapshot of advent of summer at the termination of winter? "April is the cruellest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing / Memory and desire, stirring / Dull roots with spring rain. / Winter kept us warm, covering / Earth in forgetful snow, feeding / A little life with dried tubers" (The Waste Land, I. The Burial of the Dead). With a closer look, we should be able to realize how harsh realities of contemporary life and environment have been intertwined with a tinge of intense frustration. It is a faithful portrayal of modern life, trapped in capitalist aspiration, devastated by wars and fallout of commercialization. Ecocriticism should have a fair share in it.

What about other modern poets who plucked their themes from the fringes of nature and urbanity? Jibanananda Das and Robert Frost fall in this group. Their poems are posited both in rural and urban settings, but far from being merely romantic or pastoral, they convey deeper meaning of life through the symbolism of nature. If we read Jibanananda's "Aat Bachhar Ager Ekdin", we are moved by the surrealistic atmosphere and the suicide of an apparently happy man who has his wife and children. What psychic disorder compels him to commit suicide? What role does the environment play in the personal tragedy? As the readers ask such questions, do they enter the realm of ecocriticism? For Frost, when a person stops at the juncture of two roads, choosing one to tread rather than the other, which consequently moulds life in a particular pattern, doesn't it raise an ecocritical question? As it goes, in "The Road not Taken", one road was 'bent in the undergrowth' and the other was 'grassy and wanted wear'; the traveler took the sparsely-trodden one, "And that has made all the difference." Will we consider this dilemma and retrospection as belonging to environmental literary studies?

We may pose other relevant questions. Apart from core environmental issues like air and water pollution, should the business, ethical and health issues be addressed by ecocriticism? For example, food adulteration and its negative impact on people's health in Bangladesh. Food adulteration has reached such a proportion here that people are getting more and more suspicious of what they are taking. There are often campaigns against formalin-mixed and genetically engineered foods, but the evil can never be stopped. State legislation and mobile courts cannot do anything. People live in a state of fear of slow poisoning and gradual death. If contemporary Bangla literature attends to this miserably helpless situation, will this be granted as ecological concerns and be eligible for treatment in ecocriticism? In a similar vein, like deforestation, ozone layer depletion, global warming, flood, cyclone and other natural calamities, will the issue of globalization claim the attention of ecocritical scholars?

Can any type of composition be thrust into this frame? Some instances clearly fulfill the criteria of 'nature writing' while others do not. For example, Thomas Hardy and Walt Whitman may be traced as ecoconscious while D. H. Lawrence and William Faulkner are hardly so. The writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau by virtue of their transcendental temperament go well, but the prose of Francis Bacon and Joseph Addison will hit the snag. There will always be constraints in the way of selection unless we accept the dictum of Timothy Clark: "Environment means everything." Equating environment with everything may be a popular all-cure. Characters' actions can be construed as stimulated by some factors, internal or external, prominent or obscure, near or remote. These factors will collectively make up the context, in which events will take place. On this account, the most unlikely pieces like William Golding's "Lord of the Flies", Saul Bellow's "Seize the Day" and Albert Camu's "The Outsider" can be dealt with from ecocritical perspectives. Adolescent atrocities in uninhabited island, the saga of failures and the existential predicament of life would be the output of environment, in the broadest sense of the term. Who knows, somebody will attempt an ecocritical exposition of Nazrul's "Bidrohi" or Shamsur Rahman's "Swadhinata Tumi". With this theoretical liquidity, we veer much away from the definite issue of ecology, I suppose.

It is a dangerous direction that environment will encompass everything, like pantheistic god. Literary environmentalism is ensnared, as it were, in Barry Commoner's first law of ecology: "Everything is connected to everything else." The corollary is, life and environment no more appear green, as promised, in 'green cultural studies'. The greenness is faint in the journey of urbanization amid burgeoning complexities of relational matrix, and then it is lost altogether in theoretical perplexity. Now the scene turns muddy or bloody, not a matter of serious investigation or study. Unlimited scope extension of a theory may be self-annihilating in the long run!

The writer is Director, Daffodil Institute of Languages (DIL), and Associate Professor, Department of English,
Daffodil International University

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