Philip and I are thrilled to say that the cover for Ecological Form is now finalized! And this seems like a good opportunity to share the table of contents for this collaborative project. The book, forthcoming in Fall 2018 from Fordham University Press, grew out of linked panels Philip and I organized for NAVSA 2015, in Honolulu, Hawaii, in which we hoped to convene Victorianists to think about the histories of dispossession and injury long studied as part of the story of Victorian empire in light of the ecological devastation that so often happened alongside it. The challenge in other words was to coordinate "the ecological" and "the imperial" so as to see these two stories as one: the results, we think, can help us think through the extent to which the nineteenth century has set the conditions for our present -- but also suggested avenues for contesting it. The cover image, which we like a lot, is "Polypodium Robertianum [The limestone polypod]," from Thomas Moore and John Lindley, The Ferns of Greater Britain and Ireland (London: Bradbury and Evans), 1847.
We're so grateful to the book's amazing contributors for their incredible labor and even more incredible patience; we're honored to appear with them in these pages. Stay tuned for details about publication dates, etc.
Ecological Form : Abstract
Victorian England was both the world’s first industrial society and its most powerful global empire. Ecological Form coordinates those facts to show how one version of the Anthropocene first emerged into visibility in the nineteenth century. Many of that era’s most sophisticated observers recognized that the systemic interconnections and global scale of both empire and ecology posed challenges best examined through aesthetic form. Using “ecological formalism” to open new dimensions to our understanding of the Age of Coal, contributors reconsider Victorian literary structures in light of environmental catastrophe; coordinate “natural” questions with social ones; and underscore the category of form—as built structure, internal organizing logic, and generic code—as a means for generating environmental and therefore political knowledge. Together these essays show how Victorian thinkers deployed an array of literary forms, from the elegy and the industrial novel to the utopian romance and the scientific treatise, to think interconnection at world scale. They also renovate our understanding of major writers like Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, John Ruskin, and Joseph Conrad, even while demonstrating the centrality of less celebrated figures, including Dinabandhu Mitra, Samuel Butler, and Joseph Dalton Hooker, to contemporary debates about the humanities and climate change. As the essays survey the circuits of dispossession linking Britain to the Atlantic World, Bengal, New Zealand, and elsewhere—and connecting the Victorian era to our own—they advance the most pressing argument of Ecological Form, which is that past thought can be a resource for reimagining the present.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction. Ecological Formalism; or, Love among the Ruins
Nathan K. Hensley and Philip Steer
Part 1: Method
Chapter 1. Drama, Ecology, and the Ground of Empire: The Play of Indigo
Chapter 2. Let the Ape and Tiger Die? Reading In Memoriam in the Age of Extinction
Jesse Oak Taylor
Chapter 3. Signatures of the Carboniferous: The Literary Forms of Coal
Nathan K. Hensley and Philip Steer
Part 2: Form
Chapter 4. Fixed Capital and the Flow: Water Power, Steam Power, and The Mill on the Floss
Elizabeth Carolyn Miller
Chapter 5. “Form Against Force”: Sustainability and Organicism in the Work of John Ruskin
Deanna K. Kreisel
Chapter 6. Mapping the “Invisible Region, Far Away” in Dombey and Son
Part 3: Scale
Chapter 7. How We Might Live: Utopian Ecology in William Morris and Samuel Butler
Chapter 8. From Specimen to System: Botanical Scale and the Environmental Sublime in Joseph Dalton Hooker’s Himalayas
Chapter 9. “Infinitesimal Lives”: Thomas Hardy’s Scale Effects
Part 4: Futures
Chapter 10. Delany’s Fetish: Atlantic Relational Materialisms
Chapter 11. Satire’s Ecology
Afterword: “They Would Have Ended by Burning Their Own Globe”
I'm thrilled to be attending INCS 2016 later this week, in Asheville, NC, and since I've at last uploaded my paper I wanted to share an outtake or two in anticipation of the discussion in Session 8D, "Forms of Time: Presentism & C19 Literary Forms." My paper is called "After Death: Christina Rossetti's Timescales of Catastrophe," and if you're heading to INCS you can download it here. (If you're not, and you want it, let me know -- I'd be delighted to share.) I won't rehearse here the entire argument of the paper, which anyway is speculative and marks only a preliminary foray into what I hope will become a more sustained investigation of how Rossetti imagined the ending of worlds.
By way of advertisement, though, I thought it would be fun to sketch out this idea of what I call Rossetti's necropoetics by way of a few of Rossetti's amazing short lyrics from Sing-Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book (1872, 1893). It's well known that across her writing, Rossetti evinces a fascination with nonhuman nature; this concern with the created world is legible in, for example, her flower-catalogs, her poems about the passage of seasons (e.g "A Summer Wish"), her descriptions of plants, and in her careful analyses of weather phenomena. All of these unfold in Rossetti's characteristic evangelical idiom, but manage to be both metaphysicalizing and concretely observational at once, such that nonhuman world is both a symbol of something else and always only itself. (This commitment to the material particularity of nonhuman life is also clear in her oddly numerous poems about pets.)
But the weird thing about Rossetti's nature poetry is how insistently it turns on death. I read somewhere that Sing-Song would have been more successful as a children's book if it had featured less infanticide, and it's true that for a kid's book there is much dying. In "Hear what the mournful linnets say," for example, those melancholy birds lament the destruction of their nest by "cruel boys":
Like so many other of her poems, the injury to the world is here unexplained (it derives from "cruelty") and unconsoled. We can only "watch the ruin they have made," because this loss is "[t]oo late" to be healed by "build[ing]"; it is even, she says in a performative contradiction, "too sad to sing."
This sense of the precarity of the world structures Rossetti's dark nature poetry: "There is no life like Spring-life born to die," she writes in "Spring" (31). But it also informs her ongoing interest in the actual end of the world, as expressed in her poems about that topic but also (at more length) in devotional prose works like The Face of the Deep: A Devotional Commentary on the Apocalypse (1892).
My point, in the INCS paper, is to ask how Rossetti’s animal poems, apocalyptic writings, and so-called “death lyrics” -- those poems narrated, like "After Death," by disembodied speakers from beyond the grave-- might help us see how this formally inventive female poet, long cast as a religious scold and anti-secular mystic, drew on the capacities of her medium to imagine how worlds die.
This apocalyptic outcome, I try to suggest, she imagines at both human and nonhuman scales, a doubleness evident in a haunting short poem like "Why did baby die," also from Sing-Song. (I reproduce below CR's manuscript page from the British Library.) "Why did baby die" is a tiny, brutally simple poem that meets a child's imagined questions about mortality -- why did the baby die?-- with mute indifference. The picture it paints cannot be consoling, since it tells of a natural world inclined pitilessly and without explanation towards disaster:
Why did baby die
Making father sigh,
Flowers that bloom to die
Make no reply
But bow and die. ("Why did baby die," 1-6)
In the longer paper I'm interested in how this thanophilic poetics -- pointed always toward death, and positing little in the way of consolation for the human survivors-- gets expressed at scales beyond individual dead birds or even dead babies. In "Time Lengthening," a poem I didn't have space for in my INCS paper, catastrophe ends temporality itself:
Time lengthening, in the lengthening seemeth long;
But ended Time will seem a little space,
A little while from morn to evensong,
A little while that ran a rapid race,
A little while, when once Eternity
Denies proportion to the other’s pace. ("Time Lengthening" 1-6)
In these cryptic and repetitive lines, Rossetti imagines an apocalypse in the language of magnitude: in the event of final Judgment human time will seem to be infinitely extended, but this apparent extension of temporality is collapsed into almost nothing, a tiny duration or “little while” that is "denied proportion" and transformed into another dimension entirely. “[E]nded Time,” she says, “will seem a little space.” In Rossetti's hands, the cosmic durations of eschatological renovation -- the temporality of the end of the world -- transforms all other deaths into tiny dress rehearsals for the big one.
My hunch is that all this might help recommend Rossetti to us as poet of the late Anthropocene, when all of created nature veers toward death and without consolation we must somehow endure.