Denys Trussell
8 Copeland St
New Zealand


The deep-ecological critique could be applied to a great many disciplines I think. It is certainly long overdue in literature and in institutions teaching literature. It is certainly true in New Zealand that there is almost no ecological perspective being taught in the humanities. This is perhaps because it is believed to be a science. But when examines even how ecology is taught as a science it is woefully limited. There is a crucial book in this regard that might interest you. It is The Way: An Ecological World View by Edward Goldsmith. I has been published in Germany as Der Weg: Ein ökologisches Manifest by Bettendorf. I have known Goldmith for many years and was lucky enough to work for him in London in 1991-92. One of my tasks was to help edit The Way for its first English publisher, Random Century. It has since been translated into several European languages and is about to appear in Japanese.

Edward Goldmith is a polymath: He trained originally as a philosopher, but is widely read in history, anthropology and all subjects relating to ecology, including the philosophy of science. The opening chapters of the The Way are a critique of scientific method as applied to the study of ecology, and are of great interest. He knows Arne Naess well and has been involved with him in various symposia. He agrees with Naess's basic concept of deep ecology, and has, I think, published articles about his work in The Ecologist. I have been introduced by him to a wide range of anthropological and cosmological literatures, and authors - some of whom I see appearing in your own bibliography. One of his most extraordinary friends was the Indian critic and philosopher Krishna Chaitanya, who wrote a five-volume study of science, and sociology from an anti-mechanist perspective. Chaitanya also wrote a long rather repressive, but very interesting piece of ecocriticsm called The Betrayal of Krishna. Chaitanya looks at the cosmology implicit in The Mahabharata and sees its perennial philosophy as being more relevant than ever in the twentieth century. Chaitanya died in 1992. He tended to prolixity, but made an important philosophical contribution to the development of an eco-centred consciousness. The Betrayal of Krishna is published by Clarion Books, C-36 Connaught Place, New Delhi - 11001, 1991. The ISBN is 81-85120-39-0.

Another fascinating work, involving some eco-criticism is Ananda Coomaraswamy's The Transformation of Nature in Art. I cannot place my hand on it right now, but it has been re-published recently. Coomaraswamy was a student of Indian culture who, I think, spent much of his life working in Amenca, for the Library of Congress. I remember him commenting on some European writers in this book. He has also had published a set of essays called What is Civilization? published by Golgonooza Press 1989. Ipswich. The ISBN is 0-903880-39-3. Many of the writers argue or imply that the perennial wisdom of traditional cultures must be the basis of a renewal in our own civilisation. I agree with this, while not wanting to lose the many valuable things that have emerged in the European arts since the Renaissance. I am also wary of some of the human rights limitations that have existed, and do exist in traditional religious communities. I would hate to see a 'greening' of civilization achieved at the price of losing the very important civil rights concepts that have been consolidated since the Enlightenment. Some ecologists tend to sweep these aside, as being manifestations of an ego-centric humanism. I don't agree with that position at all. I think we must make a new synthesis that involves the human rights that have achieved legal recognition since the enlightenment and the eco-centred cosmological concepts of indigenous and traditional peoples.


At the moment in this country there tends to be in intellectual and literary and academic cicles a kind of condescension about nature, about eco-centred values, about artists whose work is deeply engaged with these values. The academic milieu here, is, despite the predominance of landscape everywhere around us, and the smallness of our population emphatically metropolitan in its preferences. It's almost as if they fear la nostalgie de la boue. Los Angeles tends to be their spiritual home; not the great wild spaces of this country. Probably only a minority of writers or painters would use nature as anything more than a setting here. It's not often stated the nature can be an enrichment of human consciousness; a source still of the aesthetic; a source of meaning. Indeed, such views are devided by some who are captives of the hyper-analytics of the Post-Modern. A lot of literati here despise Wordsworth for instance, because it is fashionable to see him as a boring didactic sentimentalist, who was also a sentimentalist about nature. In his more recent poetry Allen Curnow has tended to move in this direction, despite the awareness he shows in the destructiveness of colonisation here ... . For younger poets, contempt for someone like Wordsworth is often de rigueur. Curnow's evolution as a poet has been interesting in this respect. He was strong in his dissenting against colonialism in the period of his The Unhistoric Story, but since the 1960s he has moved with many younger writers, towards an essentially disencanted view of nature. He has written a parody of the Wordworthian view of nature in his There is a Pleasure in the Pathless Woods. Here he emphasises the pain, the trauma, of the natural world, somewhat in the way that the extreme reductionist, Richard Dawkins, does in his discussion of evolution. Curnow ends his poem with the line "Botany is panic of another description". This is a fairly recent work, and is in line with an attitude held by quite a few writers here of prose or poetry. Nature is meaningless and cruel: the very values Arne Naess discusses and rejects. Curnow is very old now. I have not seen his most recent poetry but his 'disenchanted' poems have been very influential among writers of my age and younger.


I suspect that something as all-encompassing as ecology, with its millennial implications, is foreign to the Post-Modern condition. That condition is highly relativistic and rejects ideas that suggest universality and universals. It celebrates detail, and minutiae, and a very self-referring sense of the person. But ecology implies the approaches of myth, of universal history, or of the more inspired exponents in evolutionary biology. These big cyclical ways of thinking about problems that are planetary are difficult to fit into the context of semiotics and Post-Modern approaches to textual analysis. They are eschatological in their implications, and demand a transcendental impulse that rises above the details of text.

The experiental analysis that you discuss is just the kind of approach that contemporary literary theory finds hard to assimilate. Such theory tends to be suspicious of the 'experiential' thinkers like Derrida, and Roland Barthes, in their differing ways, amaze me in their distrust of experience. They seem to trust only a particular and fairly small part of the mind. They live in language rather than in nature and the world. They insist on their being entrapped in language. Only concepts are of primary importance. The actuality of the world is doubted.

That is why I wish you well in your attempts to bring some consideration of the actual world into their literary theory and criticism. It's desparately needed. I think you will have quite a struggle to do this at the moment.