Literature; Culture; Environment; Ecocriticism; Ecofeminism; Animal Studies; Bio-art; Environmental Ethics

CFP: Autumn 2018

Much contemporary thinking on nature and our relationship with it is shaped by myths. While some myths reflect concern for a lost harmony with the natural environment, others express a will to subdue it. In the Western world, the most influential sources are the Greek myths and the Bible. Certain passages of the latter, for example, have been used to legitimize the subjugation of nature by humankind (Genesis, 1, 28). After the Flood, however, God extends his covenant not to destroy life again not merely to Noah, but to all creatures, and animals and plants are accorded equality with human beings (Genesis, Chapters 9 and 32, and Isaiah, Chapter 11). Myths conveying a nostalgia for harmony with nature (the golden age, paradise lost) and the negative consequences of deforestation and disregard for the environment are examined in historical overviews of nature in world culture such as Clarence Glacken’s Traces on the Rhodian Shore, Carolyn Merchant’s Reinventing Eden, Robert Pogue Harrison’s Forests: The Shadow of Civilization, and Simon Schama’s Landscape and Memory. In Norse mythology, heroes like Sigurd and gods like Ó∂inn communicate with birds, and Zoroastrian eschatology includes belief in future restoration of the primal perfection of creation. Many myths are rooted in animist beliefs in sacred trees, animals and springs, whose deities demand respect and punish those who do not show it. Since Lynn White Jr.’s reflections on “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis” in the 1960s, it has frequently been claimed that Judeo-Christian theology swept away the pagan animism encapsulated in myths and normalized exploitation of the natural world, thereby precipitating the environmental crisis.

 

As well as shaping a world threatened with the disappearance of species, myths exemplifying the conquest of nature have served to validate the hierarchy of power between the genders. Parallels between the exploitation of women and natural resources have been explored by different branches of ecofeminism, which have repeatedly drawn on mythological stories in support of their critiques of the development of this domination, and their fight against it. (See Carolyn Merchant’s The Death of Nature and Val Plumwood’s Environmental Culture.)

 

It is then surprising that there has not been more contact between researchers in ecocriticism and myth criticism. Myth criticism has so far been largely concerned with the historical study of mythical figures and motifs, and focused on its interface with the disciplines of anthropology, sociology and psychoanalysis. It has drawn on structuralism and symbolism for its theories and methodologies, rather than looking to ecocriticism or developing a conceptual framework for interdisciplinary dialogue with it. Literary ecocritics have for their part also only sporadically engaged with the mythology of the natural world, Louise Westling’s The Green Breast of the New World, Theda Wrede’s Myth and Environment in Recent Southwestern Literature: Healing Narratives, andS.K. Robisch’s Wolves and the Wolf Myth in American Literature being exceptions to the rule. (The climate scientist and cultural analyst Mike Hulme has also alluded to the role of myths in framing public perceptions of climate change in Why We Disagree about Climate Change, and shorter ecocritical discussions of aspects of myth include Jill Da Silva’s “Ecocriticism and Myth,” Massih Zekavat’s “Ecocriticism and Persian and Greek Myths about the Origin of Fire,” and José Manuel Pedrosa’s “Ecomitologías” and “El ocaso de las hadas”.)

 

Therefore, we invite contributors to consider:

  • first, traditional myths with an “environmental” dimension and their adaptation (e.g. the Biblical plagues, the ancient Greek myth of the ages of the world, or the Greek topos of all the calamities of humankind deriving from navigation, that is, interaction with a milieu that was not their own). How have artists and writers revisited and rewritten such myths?

  • secondly, modern environmental myths such as the Ecological Indian. How conscious has the incorporation of myth been in the work of artists and writers? How have myths been integrated in figures, plots and tropes, explanations and moral interpretations? What role do myths play in activist writing? What depth and breadth of meaning do they add?

  • thirdly, we welcome theoretical discussion of the relationships between myth criticism, ecocriticism, and ecofeminism, exploring the common ground and the differences between their approaches to formulations and representations of humans’ relationships with nature. How do the aims and methods of contemporary myth criticism, going beyond the classical archetypal theories to explore new avenues, relate to those of ecocriticism and zoo-criticism? On the one hand, can ecocriticism and ecofeminism contribute to the redefinition of myth? On the other, what can ecocritics learn about the “work” done by environmental myths from studies of how myth works as a symbolic form of thought? (Cassirer’s Philosophy of Symbolic Forms or Symbol, Myth, and Culture might provide points of departure.)? Might Levi-Strauss’s argument that the meanings of myths lie in the structure of relationships they encapsulate be made fruitful for ecocriticism?

  • last but not least, we invite potential contributions of creative writing and visual art inspired by the subject.

 

The editors welcome articles written in English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish. Authors should follow the MLA guidelines. The maximum length for contributions is 8000 words. We encourage potential authors to make prior contact with the editors (Imelda Martín Junquera, imelda.martin@unileon.es, and Francisco Molina Moreno, frmolina@pdi.ucm.es ) and submit a long abstract (500 words) before October 2017. Deadline for full submissions is January 15, 2018.