A Study of Jonathan Bate’s Ecocriticism
|Beijing Language and Culture University
|Comparative Literature and World Literature
|ecocriticism culture nature aesthetics of the picturesque poetical dwelling
Romantic Ecology: Wordsworth and the Environmental Tradition by Jonathan Bate was published in 1991. In this monograph which studies Romanticism from the perspective of ecology, Bate employed the term of "ecocriticism" called "literary ecocriticism". Some scholars consider its publication as the symbol of the beginning of ecocriticism in Britain. In 2000, The Song of the Earth was published. In the monograph about ecocriticism, Bate enlarges his critic horizon from the ancient Greece to the whole western literature on the basis of English Romantic tradition, and simultaneously penetrates into the discussion of ecocriticism theory. The publication of The Song of the Earth establishes Bate’s status as pioneer who leads the fast development in the field of ecocriticism in Britain.Facing the increasingly intense ecology crisis, Bate catches human’s growing alienation from nature with sharp eyes. Like other approaches of literary criticism, he appeals to ecocriticism to be developed vigorously. Eco-critics should face such a world, discuss the social cause for ecology crisis, and find out "where our human civilization began to go wrong".Bate carefully analyzes the connotations of "culture", "nature" and "environment", and grasps accurately the history of their origin, development and the changes of their connotations. Grounded in the ecological reading of the works by Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy, Bate explores the relationship and distinction between "culture" and "nature", and seeks the combination of them in "a complex and delicate web". By reading of "Darkness" by Byron and "To Autumn" by Keats, Bate explores again the relationship between culture and nature from the perspective of weather and poetry. Weather is the primary sign of mutability of nature and the primary sign of entanglement between culture and nature. Humans should read the signs of the times in the signs of the skies.Bate profoundly studies the meaning of "nature", and reads a wide range of English Romantic works, many of which recovered from undeserved obscurity. In the reading of literary works, he guides human beings to return to nature. Whether the Creature’s returning full of pains and struggle in Frankenstein, or Abel’s returning which is plaintive and helpless in Green Mansions: A Romance of the Tropical Forest, both of them make us examine closely once again the relationship between human and nature, reflect on how humans return to nature, and realize the harmony with nature.In the course of studying ecocriticism, Bate returns to his previous study of Shakespeare from ecological point of view, and seeks voice for Ariel in the field of ecocriticism. He analyzes Une tempete, a rewriting on the basis of Shakespeare’s Tempest, by Aime Cesaire who is a Caribbean theorist. He considers it as a new starting-point for an imagining of the voice not of a nation or a race, but of the ravaged nature itself. Ariel will only become truly free after all the humans have left the island, integrate into nature, and become a part of it. Grounded in the reading of literary texts, Bate gradually comes to the ecocriticism theory. Firstly, Bate thinks that the aesthetics of the picturesque is the expropriation of the rights of nature and the yoke in the course of ecocriticism. The aesthetics of the picturesque is against natural beauty, and the conservation movement may be traced back to the principles of it. Both of them originate from anthropocentrism, reduce, plan and control nature willfully just according to different needs of human. In the analysis, Bate criticizes and exposes the aesthetics of the picturesque deeply. If the deep-rooted anthropocentrism hidden in it can not be overcome, the ecological crisis will not reverse, or even further deteriorate. Reading the aesthetics of the picturesque in an ecological way, cultivating the true ecological feelings, and establishing aesthetic concepts with ecological center have not only essentially theoretic value, but urgently practical value.And secondly, Bate thoroughly analyzes the concept of poetical dwelling, and dreams that in the ideal state of nature, in the ideal ecosystem, we can practice a way of dwelling on the earth, different from the present. That is to poetically dwell on the earth. It means to participate in nature, to conform to nature and to preserve nature. We must not run down and degrade it. For the letting-be of Being, there is no bar between the mind and nature, the self and the environment, without ambitions of conquest and mastery.Ecocriticism should not aim at a set of assumptions or proposals about particular environmental issues, but reflecting upon what it might mean to dwell on the earth. It must concern itself with consciousness. Human beings are badly in need of thorough change of consciousness, but not technological solutions. Ecocriticism renounces the mastery of enframing knowledge and listens instead to the voice of art; it seeks not to enframe literary texts, but to meditate upon them, to thank them, to listen to them, and to ask questions of them. Ecocriticism should appeal to humans to bear ecological responsibility and mission, to return to the harmony with nature, to recover and reestablish the ecological balance, and to ensure that all the species dwell persistently, healthily, safely and poetically on the earth.