Slow Practice as Ethical Aesthetics: The Ecocritical Strategy of Patience

  • Susan Signe Morrison Texas State University
Keywords: slow, slow walking, slow cinema, ecocritical estrategy, pilgrimage, Middle Ages, ethical practice

Abstract

      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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Author Biography

Susan Signe Morrison, Texas State University

 Professor of English at Texas State University, Susan Signe Morrison writes on topics lurking in the margins of history. Two of her books, Excrement in the Late Middle Ages: Sacred Filth and Chaucer's Fecopoetics (2008) and The Literature of Waste: Material Ecopoetics and Ethical Matter (2015), focus on the intersection of literature and waste, focusing on waste as materiality and as metaphorical energy. She is currently working on a monograph about pilgrimage ecopoetics from Dante to Cormac McCarthy.

Published
2020-09-17
Section
Articles: Food, Plants, and Interspecies Relations