Ecosemiotic readings

Farina, Almo and Andrea Belgrano 2006. The eco-field hypothesis: toward a cognitive landscape. Landscape Ecology 21: 5-17.

One of the most popular definitions of the landscape is the vision that people acquire by looking around. This definition seems, at a first sight, to trivial and oversimplified, but it is simple and immediate. When the landscape is not simply considered a fixed and structured entity, and perceived in the same way by every organism, but rather as a context for an organismic-centered-view, new paradigms to guide and to support this reasoning are required. (Farina & Belgrano 2006: 6)
The concursive implication of this is equally simple: landscape in literature is that which is described by the narrator or character; as that which can be seen in the "minds eye" of the ideal reader. It must be kept in mind that different organisms/characters may experience the environment/landscape/context differently.
Information has been defined by Stonier (1990, 1996) as a fundamental (physical) property of the universe and not simply a product of the human mind. Information reflects the level of organization of every living and not living system, and it is inversely correlated to thermodynamic probability. Information exists either as a structural information, as kinetic information, and in a form where information and energy are inter-convertible. (Farina & Belgrano 2006: 7)
Ah, the many varieties of information. Again, problematic, as always.
In the modern cognitive sciences the Umwelt concept can be found with a different vocabulary in the ‘‘affordance’’ hypothesis (Gibson 1979; Hirose 2002). This theory of meaning allows one to assign values to every object from an organismic perspective. It is although popular theory among semioticians (Sebeok and Umiker-Sebeok 1991; Sebeok 1995), only recently it has been seriously considered by biologists (Barbieri 2001; Nöth 2005). (Farina & Belgrano 2006: 7)
Allowances suits for an species/organismic approach; dispositions could do for societal/group approach; and possibly association for individual/subjective approach. Translating the Umwelt theory into other nomenclatures is viable but difficult.
The starting point of our reasoning is based on an hypothetical ‘cognitive matrix’ in which information (sensu Stonier 1990, 1996) is under a ‘compressed’ status. This means that a plurality of mechanisms has created the conditions for an informative world in which structures and energy are abundant and distributed in a stochastic fashion. Every living organism interacts with such ‘cognitive matrix’ extracting the information that form the basis of three specific cognitive landscapes: the neutrality-based landscape, the individual-based landscape and the observer-based landscape (sensu Farina et al. 2005) (Farina & Belgrano 2006: 8)
This is in fact very similar to Kalevi Kull's ecosemiotic model, only with the subjective position ("individual-based landscape") explicated; that is, "neutrality-based landscape" would be 0-nature and "observer-based landscape" would be the 3-nature. In Farina's model, the individual with its "cognitive matrix" mediates these natures. From this light it seems that Kull's model, although it was created on the basis of Uexküll's Funktionkreis, actually misplaced the organism, identifying 0-nature with a community of organisms (a synecological "subject").
The hypothesis of three ‘cognitive’ landscapes can be easily allied with other hypotheses of landscape perception. For instance, the prospect refuge theory (Appleton 1975: 73), by which environment affords a certain amount of prospect (open view) and refuge (concealment, protection), can be incorporated into the mechanisms that produce the observer-based landscape hypothesis. (Farina & Belgrano 2006: 9)
This has very little to do with ecosemiosis, but "refuge" is exactly the term I was looking for for discussing the sense of being constantly observed in dystopic fiction - there is no refuge (concealment, protection) from the Big Brother. On a grander scheme, the conjunction between the Umwelt theory and the prospect refuge theory is plainly obvious: prospect is an extension of perception and refuge is one effect the environment has on an organism.
To interpret the meaning of this functional signature the concept of cognitive niche, a niche created by cognitive processes like pattern recognition, memory and learning (Beecham 2001) can be used. And Hoffmeyer (1997) suggested that organisms not only have an ecological niche but also a semiotic niche, ‘i.e. they will have to master a set of signs of visual, acoustic, olfactory, tactile and chemical origin in order to survive.’ (Farina & Belgrano 2006: 11)
Wow. Cognitive niche? The authors conveniently identify this with Hoffmeyers semiotic niche, a dubious identification in my mind. Cognitive niche fits into the scheme of phenomena which I identify with the memory of "sensory gating" (after Elkind 1971). There are many such labels for, basically, individual differences in interpretation of signs, but it is too early to decide on the best one (a comparative/conceptual analysis is in order).

Nielsen, Soeren Nors 2007. Towards an ecosystem semiotics: Some basic aspects for a new research programme. Ecological Complexity 4: 93-101.

To begin with, many of our colleagues would probably find it easier and more acceptable to look at ecosystems as some sort of communication system, so let us take this as an entrance point to this treatment. In fact, in ecology, the use of equations derived from communication theory has found a widespread use in studying the phenomenological behaviour of ecosystems. Just think of the implementation of the Shannon–Weaver or similar information indices in studies of bio-diversity (Marques, 2001). The application of the measure of average mutual information as an index of the developmental state of an ecosystem network is another, to mention but a few, clear examples (e.g. Ulanowicz, 1986, 1997). So, in order to proceed and take these approaches a step further into the study of ecosystems, let us end this discussion for now by stating: at least nature and ecosystems communicate somehow. Having said this, in the rest of this paper, we put the focus on defining and understanding this communication and its importance to the emergence of complex behaviour. (Nielsen 2007: 94)
Here the author is implicitly following Sebeok's contention that semiotics is an "advanced science of communication." As a student of nonverbal communication I find the notion of communication system here problematic, as it it often difficult to make out whether it denotes the system of communication (a network of operating channels) or system for communication (e.g. language, code, sign-system). Paradoxically, in my mind, the notion of communication system is more vague than the semiosphere (and to make matters worse, they may just as well be the same thing).
In a simplified explanation according to the views of Uexküll, an organism will receive stimuli from the surroundings, Umwelt, by Patten called the world of perception or world as sensed. The organism would process the signals in its inner world, and make a proper, adequate response to the received stimuli. This would take place through an interaction with then surroundings, in this case called the world of action. The whole would have been a matter of a simple action and reaction scheme had it not been for the fact that von Uexkull added a possibility of an interaction between the two outer worlds. Thus the world of action may feed back and have an impact on the world of perception. This happens through what is called a function cycle. (Nielsen 2007: 96)
A pretty neat simplification. Patten's 1978. article is available as v078n4_206.pdf and Pattens translations are pretty straight-forward: World-as-sensed, World-of-action, and Function-circle. As a sidenote, it seems that Uexküll's name is difficult to spell: here it is Uexkiill, in Pattens article it is Eexküll.
Perception is not perception alone, but remembrance. Remembrance may again be influenced by experience. Proper action is a result of both and the ability to store this knowledge is what we usually refer to as learning. Thus, it could be speculated to split the Isemiotic into several cognitive components. For the time being, the hierarchical coupling between these processes is judged to be too unclear to presently evaluate and it is therefore left to the future. (Nielsen 2007: 99)
An interesting suggestion. The interaction between rememberance (memory) and perception is worth being looked into. The hint here is to explain this semiotic phenomena in cognitive terms.
The genotype level represents the possible (bio-)diversity of the system on the genome level, phenotypes perform with variability and adaptability and is the general level where selection in traditional Darwinian sense is thought to occur. Meanwhile, functionality of the whole comes into play at envirotype level and is ultimately fine polished at the semiotic level where communication and cognitive processes rules. Moving up in the hierarchy the degrees of freedom, the possibility to successfully exist is decreasing. (Nielsen 2007: 100)
Semiotype is the metaphysical layer of ecosystemic modeling; it acts as downward causation on the lower layers (envirotype, phenotype, genotype) and allows for modifications "that would not be possible without the existence of semiosis and cognitive processes" (93).

Nöth, Winfried 2001. Ecosemiotics and the semiotics of nature. Sign Systems Studies 29(1): 71-81.

Communication, defined as a sign process which involves a sender and a receiver, occurs not only among humans, but also between all other organisms throughout the whole biosphere. Not only cultural semiotics, but also bio- and zoosemiotics are hence concerned with processes of communication. Signification, by contrast, which concerns sign processes without a sender, predominates in ecosemiotics, where organisms interact with a natural environment that does not function as the intentional emitter of messages to the interpreting organism. (Nöth 2001: 72)
An absurdly simplistic and to-the-point distinction.
The structuralist tradition of 20th century semiotics restricted its field of research programmatically to arbitrary and conventional signs. Natural semiosis in the environment of humans was not an object of its study. The approach to signs was linguicentric, and Saussure 81916: 113) declared, that thought considered before language, "is only a shapeless and indistinct mass, [...] a vague uncharted nebula". (Nöth 2001: 72)
A more common word is logocentric. And I wouldn't blame the structuralists, as I don't believe their study to exclude natural signs so programmatically. To me it seems that it wasn't a priority but they nevertheless often remarked upon nonlinguistic sign processes.
In this tradition, nature enters the semiotic scene only as a referent (or content substance) of language. Structures of nature are investigated as content structures of texts, in particular of mythical texts. In this sense, Greimas developed his semiotics of the natural world. The natural world, according to his semiotics,is merely "a place for the elaboration and practice of multiple semiotic systems" (Greimas & Courtés 1979: 375). This semiotics of nature is not a theory of natural semiosis, but a theory of how human culture interprets nature. Ecosemiotics in this vein is hence the study of the culturalization of nature. Let us call this approach cultural ecosemiotics. (Nöth 2001: 73)
Again, I think Nöth is a bit off. Greimas didn't develop any "semiotics of the natural world". He merely differentiated that which is "natural" and that which is "constructed". The former sign systems "are called "natural" because they impose themselves upon human beings rather than being constructed by them - people are immersed in their mother tongue and are projected, from birth, into the world of "common sense." (Greimas & Courtes 1982: 278). I think this has nothing to do with "how human culture interprets nature," but merely accommodates the "givens" and the non-linguistic ("natural") in Greimas' scheme of semiotics.
The extension of ecosemiotics from the semiosphere to the biosphere in general has been criticized as an undue semiotic imperialism. Hartmut Böhme (1966: 20-21), e.g., finds it necessary to draw a clear line of division between intentional sign use, of which only humans are capable, and nonintentional semiosis, presemiotic, or even "material" processes in nature, such as perception and metabolism, respectively. (Nöth 2001: 74)
I'm not very sure about pansemiotics, but the "undue semiotic imperialism" is what I like to call semiophrenia. As the phrēn (φρήν) implies, it is sign-mindedness; or, to put it in a full sentence: Semiophrenia is the belief in the profusion of semiosis (in life-processes?). Perception is a good example. John Austin considered it an abuse of the word sign if one were to believe that "when the cheese is in front of our noses, we see signs of cheese." (Austin 1970: 15; footnote 1). A semiophrenic would indeed contend that recognizing or identifying a piece of yellow substance as cheese is a semiotic process.
In spite of their common foundation in teleology, there are, of course, also differences between anthroposemiosis and biosemiosis, but these differences are only a matter of degree: "Human acts of cognition differ from other self-referential and self-correcting processes by virtue of their greater degree of self-reference and self-correction. Human beings achieve this superiority through the creation of symbols, which represent and control our habits of action" (Oehler 1995: 269). (Nöth 2001: 75)
Hmm. I'm a big fan of self-communication yet I have yet to consider self-referentiality and self-correction in this regard. Understandably, referentiality is a murky topic in nonverbal terms but self-correction seems viable - perhaps what Scheflen calls self-censure and some call self-control can be grouped under self-correction; perhaps it could help explain acquisition of semiotic competence (e.g. trying different strategies until satiating with an efficient one).
The exclusion of nature from semiotic consideration is characteristic of the tradition of semiotic rationalism. It culminated in Saussure's dyadic sign model, which ignores the object of the sign and declares that the world beyond the system of arbitrary signs is unstructured. (Nöth 2001: 77)
Again, I am left doubtful. De Saussure's quote says that without language thought is a vague, uncharted nebula. Not the world, but thought. And Allan Paivio has written extensively about this issue, e.g. the dual (visual and verbal) coding theory.
Peirce also rejects the opposition between signs and nonsemiotic objects. According to his theory of semiosis, the environment of sign user is always meaningful, since "all objects are objects of signs" (Oehler 1993: 132). Furthermore, the object is not a mere referent beyond the sign, nor is it a mentally constructed object as the constructivists would have it. In his theory of the real or dynamical object, Peirce postulates an object actually existing in reality, but nevertheless ultimately inaccessible to our mind, or accessible only by a never ending asymptotic approximation. (Nöth 2001: 77)
At this point it is worthwhile to remember that both Peirce and Uexküll were kantians. Perhaps this may be why the contention about meaningfulness of environment here sounds the same for both; e.g. for Uexküll, there was nothing "neutral" in the environment. In a similar vain it seems that the restricted meaning of the word "context" includes only that which bears significance, not simply everything. This is problematic when a popular body language book suggests that one should "pay attention to context" and then fails to delimit this ubiquitous context.

Uexküll, Jakob von 1982. The Theory of Meaning. Semiotica 42(1): 25-79.

Pp. 25-33; & 52-59.
Behaviors are not mere movements or tropisms, but they consist of perception (Merken) and operation (Wirken); they are not mechanically regulated, but meaningfully organized. (Uexküll 1982: 26)
In modern parlance this would be "organized in a particular way by means of sign-systems" or something to that effect.
Even earth-bound animals, such as frogs, mice, snails, and worms, appear to move freely in nature.
This impression is deceptive. In truth, every free-moving animal is bound to a specific habitat and it remains the task of the ecologist to investigate its limits. (Uexküll 1982: 27)
Curiously, this is the case with people, too. We see crowds gliding through streets and crossing intersections, as if by random occurrence. Yet every person has a destination, or a routine. Perhaps the key to human Umwelt is the everyday life of a person? This suggestion comes dangerously close to the ecological psychology a la One Boy's Day (Barker & Wright 1951).
The stone lies in the objective observer's hand as a neutral object, but it is transformed into a meaning-carrier as soon as it enters into a relationship with a subject. Because no animal ever plays the role of an observer, one may assert that they never enter into relationships with neutral objects. (Uexküll 1982: 27)
Thus, the neutral object is that between which the subject has no significant relationship; and by significant relationship here is meant functional relationship, as the objective observer is holding the stone in his hand, but it is of no use to him. The grounds for dismissing animals being observers, though, is a week one. Certainly animals observe; they merely lack the faculty to report their observations. Here an observation is observation, again, only if it has a function - if it can be reported.
All of the small household effects, such as spoons, forks, matches, etc. do not exist for the dog because they are not meaning-carriers. (Uexküll 1982: 29)
The case is remarkably similar in many other fields. In the sphere of nonverbal communication, for example, the movements and positions of legs are not meaning-carriers for most people; only when trained in detailed knowledge about the informational knowledge about the meanings of leg movements and positions will bring them to the fore from the background of "neutral objects." Also, Mukařovský's foregrounding comes to mind.
Before we follow this thought further, a sentence from the Umwelt chapter of Sombart's book About the Human may be cited:
No 'forest' exists as an objectively prescribed environment. There exists only a forester-, hunter-, botanist-, walker-, nature-enthusiast-, wood gatherer-, berry-picker- and a fairytale-forest in which Hansel and Gretel lose their way.
The meaning of the forest is multiplied a thousandfold if its relationships are extended to animals, and not only limited to human beings:
There is, however, no point in becoming intoxicated with the enormous number of Umwelts (subjective universes) that exist in the forest. It is much more instructive to pick out a typical case in order to take a look into the relationship-network of the Umwelts. (Uexküll 1982: 29)
The quote originates from the eminent Germen sociologist Werner Sombart's book Vom Menschen (1938). By all accounts it seems that there is no English translation of this book available; most likely because Sombart embraced Nazism. As some reviewers explain it: "During his lifetime, Sombart was probably the most influential and prominent social scientist in Germany as well as in many other countries. Today he is among the least known social scientists." (Grundmann, Reiner and Nico Stehr 2001. Why Is Werner Sombart Not Part of theCore of Classical Sociology). Too bad, because a whole chapter on Umwelt in a rare book that J. von Uexküll was influenced by? The biosemioticians should have a field-day with this one.
Every action, therefore, that consists of perception and operation imprints its meaning on the meaningless object and thereby makes it into a subject-related meaning-carrier in the respective Umwelt (subjective universe)
Because every behavior begins by creating a perceptual cue and ends by printing an effector cue on the same meaning-carrier, one may speak of a functional circle that connects the meaning-carrier with the subject. (Uexküll 1982: 31)
Alas, the origin of the functional circle (Funktionkreis). Perception and operation sound so physiological, yet they are metaphorically very simple to comprehend: the organism/subject perceives a quality (a "tone") and acts towards it - does some work... At this point it would be handy to note that the meanings of Wirken (as a verb) are: (1) to function correctly, to work; (2) to be effective; (3) to take effect. Equally handy: the meanings of Merken (as a verb) are: (1) to mark; (2) to notice. Thus, to rephrase: noticing a quality coaxes the organism to take some effect towards it.
The most important functional circles found in most Umwelts are the circles of physical medium, food, enemy, and sex. (Uexküll 1982: 33)
This suggestion could probably be improved upon by (the now classic) Maslow's pyramid of motivations.
The organized body (Organismus) of the subject represents the meaning-utilizer or, at least, the meaning-receiver. If these two factors are joined by the same meaning, then they have been jointly composed by nature. The content of the theory of the composition of nature consists of the rules that govern such pairings. (Uexküll 1982: 52)
I am reminded of Marcel Mauss's contention that the body is mans first and foremost instrument.
In the case of the love-duet of animals and humans, two equal partners face each other, each of whom exists in its Umwelt as a subject and appears as a meaning-receiver, while the role of the meaning-carrier is assigned to the other.
Both the perceptual and the effector organs of both partners are allied to each other contrapuntally. (Uexküll 1982: 54)
Oh behave Jakob!
In our human Umwelt a mammal does not in itself appear as a vivid object, but as a mental abstraction, a concept to be used to classify not as an object we ever encounter.
The case of the tick is quite different. A vivid mammal exists in the tick's Umwelt that has a few properties capable of serving as counterpoints and exactly meeting the tick's needs. (Uexküll 1982: 57)
This is an interesting observation, as in nonverbal communication discourse is riddled with implicit assumptions of human being equally capable of abstract conceptual thought and "animalistic" search for signals which indicate at our deep-seated ("subconscious") needs. E.g. this is how it is explained why most women prefer tall men and other banalities. In any case it seems that man has not lost it's instincts but merely covered them with a layer of "culture."

Lindahl Elliot, Nils 2006. Mediating Nature. London; New York: Routledge.

Ch. 8, "The Nature of Environmentalism", Pp. 198-216.
In this context [...] narrativization worked in a manner that established a seemingly causal chain of events; as described by the semiologist Roland Barthes, post hoc ergo propter hoc. In the context of a risk politics increasingly driven by the dissolution of manifest responsibility, narrativization invited audiences to transmediate the genre of the whodunnit: in whodunnits, unlike 'real world' risk politics, there is always a 'good' and a 'bad' character, or at any rate somebody who can be blamed. Carson's choice of the genre of the fable therefore had the relatively explicit effect of establishing not just a strongly indexical frame but also a strongly moral one. (Lindahl Elliot 2006: 199)
Ah, I should look into this aspect in R. Barthes, and U. Eco has written extensively on the whodunnits (this word itself has some phonoaesthetic qualities for me that are pleasurable).
Jim Bohlen's account of Greenpeace's actions emphasized the importance of 'bearing witness', a Quaker principle that suggested that, whatever an individual's disempowerment, s/he always had the option to express public but peaceful disapproval of bellicose action by making her/himself present at the scene of the action. Yet Greenpeace's campaign actually suggested a more complex dialectic, which probably underpinned the Quaker politics itself but acquired a new significance in the context of mass communication. The efficacy of 'bearing witness' in the globalized world of mass communication hinged not so much on 'bearing witness' as on 'being witnessed bearing witness'. In effect, Greenpeace constructed itself at once as icon and dicent of dissent via the media of mass communication, to and for distant publics. Conversely, by way of logic of mediated quasi-interaction, Greenpeace transformed itself into an icon and dicent of absent publics at the scenes of imminent environmental destruction and/or risk. (Lindahl Elliot 2006: 204)
I think this is (at least one aspect of) the general nature of most modern protests - being witnessed bearing witness.
I have already discussed aspects of the nature of identification in film in the context of my analysis of the emergence of the IMR. The process may be further explained with reference to Gilles Deleuze, who, reflecting on the relation between affect and the close-up, suggests that the close-up 'facefies' ('visagéfiée') even those things that do not resemble a face (Deleuze 1986: 88). It is possible to suggest, in this sense, that on the visual level one fundamental strategy for the production of circuits of anthropomorphism in the genre was precisely to 'facefy' and thereby humanize the heads of animals by means of close-ups. With some species, this phenomenon arguably extended to the whole body in what might be described as the anthropomorphic practice of humanizing or animalizing 'bodyfication'. (Lindahl Elliot 2006: 211)
Oh wow. It is true then - I won't be able to avoid Deleuze, Kristeva, Lyotard and other French philosophers because all of them have written something about nonverbal behavior.
One significant though problematic exception was the 'drug and tag' sub-genre, which later became what might be described as the 'cam and follow' genre, which entailed harpooning sharks and netting bird and other animals in order to place a miniatur evideo camera on them. This technique then allegedly provided, quite literally, a 'bird's eye view' (or a shark, eagle or other animal's eye view) of a certain geography; i.e. a kind of visual firstness, as transmediated from the animal. But, in addition to the fact that the 'crittercams' offered no more such a view than they might be similarly equipped humans, such practices constituted a flagrant reproduction of the discourse of the domination of nature. (Lindahl Elliot 2006: 213)
This reminds me of the now-current discussion about new technologies such as the Google Glasses Project, which similarly records everything the wearer sees. This is considered a gross invasion of privacy for those whose life-activities might be captured with these glasses by accident.
No doubt much of the film's [March of the Penguins] box office success was a result of this factor alone: the popular semeiotics of penguins has a long history that might well be the subject of a book-lenght analysis in its own right. (Lindahl Elliot 2006: 216)
So this was where that facebook status came from.

McIsaac, G. F. and M. 1999. Brün Natural Environment and Human Culture: Defining Terms and Understanding Worldviews. Journal of Environmental Quality 28(1): 1-10.

The terms nature and culture refer to broad conceptual categories that are subject to a variety of interpretations. The language frequently used to discuss environmental issues, however, seems to be heavily influenced by the view that portrays human culture as categorically distinct from nature. (McIsaac & Brün 1999: 2)
A common problem.
Ideally, according to Johnson et al., a natural environment would be completely uninfluenced by humans, but they realize that such environments may no longer exist. They define natural environment as "one that is relatively unchanged or unaffected by human culture." Technology seems to represent culture for them. They state that urinating in the woords is natural, even if humans do it; but it is not natural to light forests with a match or chop them down with an ax. (McIsaac & Brün 1999: 3)
I am reminded of hearing about one lecturer on semiotics talking about something related to peeing into the river Emajõgi. Could that argument originate from this text? A rhetorical question.
We agree with Johnson et al. that humna culture is unusual, and has often been a locus of rapid environmentla change. But because human culture has arisen from natural processes and because there are nonhuman agents of rapid and extensive environmental change, we think that it is debatable whether human culture and/or its environmental impacts should be classified as either unnatural or uniquely unnatural. (McIsaac & Brün 1999: 5)
That's one way of looking at it. A very broad one.
Petr Kropotkin (1904) began the anthropological debate in his Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, with the assertion that much behavior supposedly representing culture could be found in nonhuman animals. (McIsaac & Brün 1999: 7)
Funny, I just downloaded that book. Also, I believe this discussion is involved with what is known as altruism.
Conservationist Aldo Leopold (1949) had previously articulated a view that integrated humans within the natural world. He thought that conservation efforts would be ineffective unless humans saw themselves as members of the land community rather than as owners or masters of it. Leopold actively attempted to restore degraded ecosystems, and thus was a restoration ecologist before such a term was coined. (McIsaac & Brün 1999: 7)
I vaguely recall Bookchin (1982/2005) upholding a similar view. Perhaps very simply explainable - Bookchin was, in my mind, very much acquainted with Leopold. At least this is the impression one may get while reading both, as Bookchin often uses rare out-of-use words in common with Leopold (i.e. usufruct and extirpate).

Stables, Andrew 1996. Reading the environment as text: Literary theory and environmental education. Environmental Education Research 2(2): 189-195.

THe use of the term 'text' to describe a wide range of social practices and artefacts is now accepted within the field of education and more broadly across the social sciences. Mass media products are now generally defined as texts... (Stables 1996: 189)
"Everyday Life as Text" comes to mind.
The concept of literacy is closely related to that of text. In certain areas, such as environmental education, it has become acceptable to define understanding in terms of literacy (Soetaert et al., 1996) without exploring the implication that the environment is therefore text. Hithero the tendency has been to describe the process by which we make sense of the environment in terms of text or discourse rather than the environment itself. (Stables 1996: 190)
Again a familiar theme: "reading body language" is a similar case. It is said to be "read," without considering the implication that the phenomena in question are therefore as if texts.
Modern literary criticism has failed to acknowledge any clear cut division between reading and interpretation. It has become acceptable to read a text from the perspective of the reader's ideological commitments; hence Marxist readings, feminist readings and so on (see, for example, Eagleton, 1967; Besley, 1985). indeed, it can be argued that all reading by all readers is inevitably done in this light. (Stables 1996: 192)
An interesting suggestion, but not much value - ideology is such a broad concept that it can be applied in many such ways; i.e. A. Randviir, in his dissertation, claimed that all sign systems can be used for ideological purposes.

Rueckert, William 1996. Literature and Ecology. An experiment in ecocriticism. In: Glotfelty, Cheryll and Harold Fromm (eds.), The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 105-123.

Here are just some of the positions and battles which many of us have been into and through: formalism, neoformalism, and contextualism; biographical, historical, and textual criticism; mythic, archetypical, and psychological criticism; structuralism and phenomenology; spatial, ontological, and - well, and so forth, and so forth. Individually and collectively, we have been through so many great and original minds, that one wonders what could possibly be left for experimental criticism to experiment with just now - in 1976. (Rueckert 1996: 105)
Today these is an immeasurably larget set of positions to choose from; so much so that they seem to be intermeshed in all possible ways making clear differentiation impossible. At the same time it might be worthwhile to google all these positions and look up what exactly they contain.
The incredible storehouse of existing theories and methods, coupled with the rapid aging (almost pre-aging, it seems) of new critical theories and methods, has made for a somewhat curious critical environment. For those who are happy with it, a fabolously resourceful, seemingly limitless, pluralism is available: there is something for everybody and almost anything can be done with it. (Rueckert 1996: 106)
Well, I'm happy with it. At the same time I recognize that my own "concursive method" could have been thought up and written down decades ago; it is only by some dumb luck (or misfortune, rather?) that it hasn't.
I invoke here (to be spelled out in detail later) the first Law of Ecology: "Everything is connected to everything else." This is Commoner's phrasing, but the law is common to all ecologists and all ecological visions. This need to see even the smallest, most remote part in relation to a very large whole is the central intellectual action required by ecology and of an ecological vision. It is not mind-bending or mind-blowing or mind-boggling; it is mind-expanding. As absurd as this may sound, the paper is about literature and the biosphere. This is no more absurd, of cours,e than the idea that man does not have the right to do anything he wants with nature. The idea that nature should also be protected by human laws, that trees (dolphins and whales, hawks and whooping cranes) should have lawyers to articulate and defend their rights is one of the most marvelous and characteristic parts of the ecological vision. (Rueckert 1996: 108)
These themes sound very familiar, the relatedness from pop-existentialism and eco-lawyers from environmental philosophy.
A poem is stored energy, a formal turbulence, a living thing, a swirl in the flow. (Rueckert 1996: 108)
No, not energy but information. A poem - as a form of compressed information - can be energizing but it is not energy in itself. And by energizing I mean "giving vitality and enthusiasm" not "supplying energy, either kinetic or electrical." Why am I arguing with poetry?
In literature, all energy comes from the creative imgaination. It does not come from language, because language is only one (among many) vehicles for the storing of creative energy. (Rueckert 1996: 109)
This is why it is pointless to argue. The qualifier "creative" should have been stated beforehand, I think. Being thrown at once into the deep end of metaphorical thinking is not nice.
Kenneth Burke was right - as usual - to argue that drama should be our model or paradigm for literature because drama, enacted upon the stage, before a live audience, releases its energy into the human community assembled in the theater and raises all the energy levels. Burke did not want us to treat novels and poems as plays; he wanted us to become aware of what they were doing as creative verbal actions in the human community. He was one of our first critical ecologists.
Coming together in the classroom, in the lecture hall, in the seminar room (anywhere, really) to discuss or read or study literature, is to gather energy centers around a matrix of stored poetic/verbal energy. In some ways, this is the true interactive field because the energy flow is not just a two-way flow from poem to person as it would be reading; the flow is along many energy pathways from poem to person, from person to perso. The process is triangulated, quadrangulated, multiangulated; and there is, ideally, a raising of the energy levels which makes it possible for the highest motives of literature to accomplish themselves. These motives are not pleasure and truth, but creativity and community. (Rueckert 1996: 110-111)
I would frame this as the interaction of text and bodies (of the readers, communicants), rather than energies and persons (which is a very general - and seemingly disembodied - concept). Also, these passages give the impression that "a raising of the energy" is somehow good initself irregardless of how the energy is put to use. I'd rather prefer a low-energy-consuming high-efficiency-type of approach.
Bringing literature and ecology together is a lesson in the harshest, cruelest realities which permeate our profession: we live by the word, and act by the power of the word, but are increasingly powerless to act upon the word. Real power in out time is political, economic, and technological; real knowledge is increasingly scientific. (Rueckert 1996: 116)
Here Rueckert is hitting the nail on the head.
  • define:sensu - "Sensu is a Latin word meaning "in the sense of". It is used in a number of fields including biology, geology, linguistics, and law."
  • define:chorological - "Chorology (from Greek χῶρος, khōros, "place, space"; and -λογία, -logia) can mean the study of the causal relations between geographical phenomena occurring within a particular region or the study of the spatial distribution of organisms."
  • define:percolation - "In physics, chemistry and materials science, percolation (from Lat. percōlāre, to filter or trickle through) concerns the movement and filtering of fluids through porous materials."
  • define:asymptote - "A line that continually approaches a given curve but does not meet it at any finite distance."
  • define:terra incognita - "Unknown or unexplored territory."
  • define:integument - "A tough outer protective layer, esp. that of an animal or plant."
  • define:sleuth - "Carry out a search or investigation in the manner of a detective."
  • define:bellicose - "Demonstrating aggression and willingness to fight."


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