On Ecologies: Editorial

on ecologies image from DianaThis Chapter emerged from threads of collective thinking about ecologies: as a mode of understanding the various contexts, histories and practices with which we get entangled; and as as a process through which we conceive of the environment. These encounters with the ecological unfold in the era of global warming, or what some geologists have termed the Anthropocene, denoting the geological era characterised by the dominance of damaging human activity on a planetary scale.

As we said in our call-out, ecology, the study of the interaction between beings and their environment, is among the words whose meaning has become malleable, shaped by changing ideas surrounding what is constituted as being and the natural. The product of Victorian thought, ecology was coined in 1866 as an expansion of Darwin’s theories of evolution as a means of separating humanity from the rest of the natural world. Its politicisation occurred a century later, with our increasing awareness of the damage inflicted by humans on the environment since the agricultural and industrial revolutions. Fifty years later, the borders are blurrier still: and so ecologies lends itself to thoughts about ecosystems, genealogies, community, cross-species thinking, imagining how the biological weaves its way into the technological.

This Chapter brings together thirteen ecologies,  spanning performance writing, fiction, reportage and film. Diana Damian Martin’s Erotics of a Nuclear Summer is, it declares, not a list. But it is a taxonomy of sorts, describing situations that seem both real and imagined, their edges sharpened in the act of description.

Mary Paterson extends the taxonomical impulse to metaphors of the sea. With reference to the books The Gathering Cloud by JR Carpenter and Weatherland by Alexandra Harris, she explores how nautical words bob and flow within the English language, continuing to shape systems of thought centuries after their original meanings were lost at sea. Sarah Thomas also navigates the implications of global systems of meaning, describing how the ecology of the Faroe Islands intersects with international trade, tourism and moral values. And, in An Archipelago is Like a Fold in Time, Phil Owen writes about two places at once – the landscapes of Somerset and Scotland – via fragments glimpsed from artists, writers and visitors to Hestercombe house and gardens. He suggests the archipelago as a model and a metaphor for reflective process over time and distance.

If these writers look out, then Sarah Blissett looks in, her series of poetic texts concentrating on the minutia of her surroundings. Similarly, Amy Cutler focuses on close, tangible detail of threatened wetland landscapes in her film FOG/ DISMAY, drawing our attention to the aesthetic beauty of these ecologies and their fragility in relation to human impact.  

Eve Allin looks closer still: describing the imagined landscapes of her grandfather’s birthplace, she traces the ecology of her family and her place within it. The narrator of Alan Fielden’s short story Heart inhabits an internal landscape, turning curiosity and desire into a dramatic, physical occupation. And Jonathan Skinner’s essay on the ‘visceral ecopoetics’ of the Canadian poet Jordan Scott describes a field of poetic practice that refuses metaphor in favour of the ecology of the body: a messy, unsure, faltering set of relations, ripe with confusion, vital for life.

Also deeply personal in tone, Caridad Svich’s An Acorn (Third Canto) is a delicate step into the ethics of individual responsibility in relation to the shifting politics of global power. Led by an unknown narrator speaking to an unknown audience, her text is both a reflection on the current climate and the most profound type of action. Search Party’s postcards explore similar territory in a very different way: their humorous, touching missives from Paris address the fraught practicalities of taking part in climate activism while also attending to a gaggle of young children. And Liam Geary Baulch’s C-Squad is a knowing joke about the scale of climate change in relation to the perspectives of the humans who are trying to address it. Like Search Party, this work invites laughter to get a deeper point across: why can’t climate activism be part of every other activity we do?

For Maddy Costa the ecosystem that nurtures human life is art itself; part memoir, part love letter, her text pays tribute to the artists whose work, however consciously, shapes ways of being. Meanwhile, Tiffany Charrington’s Weft synthesizes found text from a community of artists and craftspeople working in Ditchling in the 20th century. Re-reading and re-writing their words, Charrington creates a material, poetic object in which contemporary and historical thought-scapes merge.

In this Chapter, ecology sustains thinking about genealogies, histories and nodes of connection and practice, while exploring the natural world in its widest sense, refusing to differentiate between those avenues of thinking. On Ecologies sustains the multiple threads of meaning that join up ecotones and peripheral histories or journeys of practice. The ecology we write and read, collaboratively, in this chapter is an evolving landscape: an expansive and shifting field, full of sharp changes in perspective and relationships of view.

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