It is Thursday afternoon, and I’m sitting in the Roger Miliken Center, a meeting place for the conference goers. I’m feeling a little tired after an early start and loads of conference papers, and its nice to sit and not be spoken at for an hour or two.
So, I’m in the south. The southern drawl in some of the accents is charming and it is nice to have the regional identity of this place come through in people’s voices. I’m enjoying being amongst 500 people interested in literature and the environment, to have a little room to stay in of my own, good food available in the dining room, and a packed schedule of papers and plenary sessions to listen in on. One of the best thing about academic conferences is the sudden invigoration of being able to engage in high-octane intellectual conversations with lots of friendly people, all over the place.
A couple of months ago I said that I would create a podcast of some of the talks in this conference. However in the intervening time the conference organizers decided to do this themselves. Here it is.
This morning I listened to Astrid Bracke talk about environmental concerns in Graham Swift’s Waterland and Martin Amis’ London Fields. It seems Amis had been precient in writing a novel at the end of the eighties which pictured intimations of apocalypse in the violent and confused wheather on London streets at the turn of the millenium. I heard Andrew Hazucha talk about Jane Austen’s Emma as a character who tempers her class prejudices through the development of a landscape asthetic in the novel of the same name. Liam Campbell, from the University of Ulster (one of the very few people at this conference who isn’t North American), talked about ecological augury in the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, mentioning Treebeard’s anti-industrial critique – Saruman has a mind of metal and wheels – and the description of Mordor as mounds of rock standing ‘like an obscene graveyard in the endless rows, slowly revealed in the reluctant light.’ (Twin Towers HarperCollins 1993 p.617) He remarked that one might see humanity as the dark lord of the technosphere, owning one ring, the will to be master of all things. In the sense that elves were once in balance with nature, and that the orks come to be destructive of the natural world, Tolkien is reported as having written to a relative that we humans may in this way become elves in the future. Campbell mentioned a short story by Tolkien called ‘Leaf by Niggle’ in which the painter of a leaf ends up spontaneously drawing a whole tree and then can’t help but paint the whole landscape around the tree. In the same way Tolkien had written of the way in which the ecological concerns in his work were self-propelling energies.
I’ve met the editor of Orion magazine, as well of plenty of teachers and editors in the area of literature and the environment. Tomorrow I’m looking forward to a session on film and ecocriticism. More soon.