« Preconference : Seminar

Ecocriticism and Latin America

Jorge Marcone
Associate Professor of Spanish, and Comparative Literature
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Ecocritical approaches in Latin Americanist literary and cultural studies (carried out in Latin America, the U.S., or Europe) owe considerably to the dissemination of environmental literatures in English, and the diversity of perspectives on the relation between humans and non-humans nowadays available for interdisciplinary studies of literature and other arts. The travelling of ecocriticism from Anglophone literatures to the study of other world literatures and cultures is driven by the scale or similarities of environmental issues, the will to address them across the undergraduate curriculum, and the need to recognize differences and commonalities through comparison. This development in academia parallels the dissemination of environmental discourses across borders occurring in the environmental movements themselves. In the last decade, social movements with environmentalist agendas have shaped to different degrees the programs of the Latin American "New" Left. As a consequence, there is today a renewed interest in the cultural politics of indigenous peoples marked by the revisiting of their own neglected traditions, an engagement with "foreign" environmental discourses and activisms, and the experimentation with visual media as mean of expression.

This seminar will pay attention, first, to the aspects of environmental aesthetics and ecological thinking favored by literatures and cultures, according to the emerging field of ecocritical studies of Latin America. We will explore, then, the role and possibilities of these literatures and ecocritical approaches for understanding and interpreting current or past environmental issues in the region. We also will reflect on how the diversity of approaches on the human and the non-human, gathered under the umbrella term of "ecocriticism," may inform the debates that have occupied cultural theories of Latin America in the last thirty years, in which environmental issues were mostly neglected. Beyond these themes speaking to the cultural specificity of ecocriticism and Latin America, we will open the conversation to the value of looking for affinities and establishing dialogues with non-Latin American literatures and societies, particularly in the Global South. The purpose of this review of the state of the field is to reflect on opportunities for research agendas on human-nonhuman relationships in Latin American literatures, and to build a foundation for undergraduate or graduate courses, or units on Latin American literatures for courses on world, postcolonial or inter-American literatures. The ideal group would be constituted by a combination of young and established scholars interested in Latin American literatures and/or ecocritical studies.

Sample broad questions for position papers and discussion

In response to the following questions, supported by the suggested readings below, participants will write brief position papers (7-10 pages) and submit them to the seminar leader no later than May 1. The seminar leader, then, will facilitate circulation of the papers prior to the conference. The final agenda for discussion at the conference will be determined with the help of the position papers.

  1. As ecocritical studies in Latin American literatures and cultures have emerged in recent years, what are the predominant topics on nature and the relationship of humans and non-humans under study? What are the preferred genres and media?
  2. What is the relevance of Latin American literatures and arts, current or past, for environmental issues in the region?
  3. What is the impact of current indigenous cultures and movements in the ecological thinking of Latin America, including their impact on how Latin Americanist scholars would approach its literatures?
  4. What kind of studies can be done on the representation of the Latin American city, and on the role of its intellectuals from environmental and ecological perspectives?
  5. What is the role of ecology in Latin American literatures offering a "local" experience of globalization or transnationalism decentered from the main Latin American capitals?
  6. What contributions can be made to current debates in ecocriticism from the perspective of Latin American literatures?
  7. What approaches seem to be more productive for Latin American literatures and arts, in spite of or because of some tension? Are any comparative approaches useful? What transnational, or cosmopolitan perspectives are good for studying environmental or ecological thinking in Latin American literatures and environmental movements? What interdisciplinary approaches seem to be particularly necessary (phenomenology and object-oriented ontologies, postcolonial ecocriticism, political ecology, environmental justice, feminist ecocriticism, queer ecocriticism, posthumanism, critical animal studies, etc.?

Suggested readings

Participants are welcome to make additional suggestions.

  • Anderson, Mark D. Disaster Writing: The Cultural Politics of Catastrophe in Latin America. Charlottesville, Virginia: U of Virginia P, 2011.
  • Barbas Rhoden, Laura. Ecological Imaginations in Latin American Fiction. UP of Florida, 2011.
  • Binns, Niall. ¿Callejón sin salida? La crisis ecológica en la poesía hispanoamericana. Zaragoza, Spain: Prensas Universitarias de Zaragoza, 2004.
  • DeLoughrey, Elizabeth, Renée K. Gosson, and George B. Handley (Eds.). Caribbean Literature and the Environment: Between Nature and Culture. Charlottesville, Virginia: U of Virginia P, 2005.
  • Fatheuer, Thomas. Buen Vivir: A Brief Introduction to Latin America's New Concepts for the Good Life and the Rights of Nature. Trans. John Hayduska. Berlin: Heinrich Böll Foundation, 2011.
  • Forns Broggi, Roberto. Nudos como estrellas. ABC de la imaginación ecológica en nuestras Américas. Lima, Peru: Editorial Nido de Cuervos, 2012.
  • French, Jennifer L. Nature, Neo-Colonialism, and the Spanish American Regional Writers. Hanover, New Hampshire: UP of New England, 2005.
  • Handley, George B. New World Poetics: Nature and the Adamic Imagination of Whitman, Neruda, and Walcott. Athens, Georgia: U of Georgia P, 2007.
  • Kane, Adrian Taylor (Ed.) The Natural World in Latin American Literatures: Ecocritical Essays in Twentieth Century Writing. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2010.
  • Marcone, Jorge. "Jungle Fever: The Ecology of Disillusion in Spanish American Literature. Encuentros. November 2007, #58. Inter-American Development Bank Cultural Center. http://idbdocs.iadb.org/wsdocs/getdocument.aspx?docnum=1774474
  • ---. Arando el aire. La ecología en la poesía y musica de Nicaragua. Managua, Nicaragua: 400 Elefantes, 2011.

Jorge Marcone is an Associate Professor of Spanish and Comparative Literature at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. He is the author of La oralidad escrita. Sobre la reivindicación y re-inscripción del discurso oral (The Written Orality: On the Vindication and Re-Inscription of Oral Discourse). His pedagogy and scholarship are concerned with interdisciplinary and comparative studies of ecology and environmentalism in Latin American literatures and cultures. He explores the dialogues in which this literary tradition has been involved in the past (with British literature of colonialism, European travel writing, and 19th-century American environmental writing), and the dialogues that can be established in the present (with environmental justice, object-oriented ontologies, phenomenology, political ecology, postcolonial ecologies, Chicana/o literatures, English-based ecocriticism, and literatures and movements across the global South). He has published on Amazonia in Latin American literature, ecology in contemporary Mexican literature, the pastoral in Chicana literature, ecology in the late and posthumous poetry of Neruda, and documentaries on popular environmentalism in Latin America.