By Caitlin Carr, English Faculty Library
Last term in the English Faculty library’s exhibition room, I wanted to create a space for thinking about the environment in and through literature. Nature writing has a legacy in the pastoral, which is often seen as apolitical, escaping into the natural world as a simpler, more beautiful alternative to reality. But nature is an increasingly political subject, and a new nature writing is emerging which is ecologically minded and systemically connected – a cultural move towards an ‘ecology of mind’ to use Rob Macfarlane’s phrase.
Writing nature can change the way we engage with our environment, making it other, reinserting the human into it, mapping its destruction. In critical theory too, nature is being reinserted into human narratives through eco-critical readings. These new ways of reading and writing the natural world are not escaping reality, but sharpening it, and I wanted to bring together some texts which approach this task in different ways. Ecocriticism is a relatively new discipline, but it is not niche – questions of what is natural, of land and its meanings, are not limited to the study of the distinct genre of nature writing. In the exhibition, I wanted to showcase some of the exciting treatments of nature we have in our collection, through the lenses of attention, disruption and connection – texts and artworks that focus in on details of nature, centring it, that unsettle our comfortable ignorance of or sense of control over nature with a weird or eerie turn and those that present a metaphysics of the Anthropocene, drawing out the networks which blur the imagined boundary between us and our environment, human and natural.
The texts featured ranged from Arthurian legend to contemporary novels with hydrofeminist inflections. The exhibition will be in place for the rest of the holiday, but it is just a small selection of the brilliant ecologically minded literature always available in the English Faculty library’s collection.