Slow Practice as Ethical Aesthetics: The Ecocritical Strategy of Patience
How can cultural works from the distant past –such as the Middle Ages—teach us ethical modes of behavior for today? One form of ecopoetics emerges through slow practice, making the reader collaborate in the measured process of co-creating the emotional impact of an imaginative text. Drawing on rich debates about slow cinema, this essay suggests how Chaucer’s The Clerk’s Tale—from his grand fourteenth-century poem, The Canterbury Tales—evokes a slow eco-aesthetics with ethical impact. The relative slowness of walking shapes how individuals respond to their environment. In turn, a deceleration of perception affects how travel comes to be written about, as seen in the tale of Patient Griselda. Introduced by Giovanni Boccaccio and adapted by such writers as Francesco Petrarch, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Christine de Pizan, she acts dynamically through her apparent silence and notorious patience. The environmental humanities offer paradigms for us to consider the strategies of slowness and patience. This essay shows how medieval pilgrimage literature evokes a slow aesthetic which is at the same time an ecocritical strategy. Slowness results in an enduring impact and heightened sensitivity to the ecological damage for which we all are culpable. Slower somatically inculcates key aspects of environmental awareness. Pilgrimage texts from the Middle Ages teach us slow ethical aesthetics, suggesting that the medieval moment—finally and a long time coming— is now.
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