Ecocriticism

Do you think it is possible, as a creative writer, to write from outside a human centred perspective?

“The volatile truth of our words should continually betray the inadequacy of the residual statement”                     (Walden, p346-7).

“What is man but a mass of thawing clay?” (Thoreau, 326).

The anthropology of experience is a highly paradoxical phrase, equivalent to phrases such as “naming the unnameable”. If experience means first-hand knowledge, untainted by socio-cultural givens, then the phrase becomes contradictory. However, I disagree with Cary Wolfe’s statement: “We cannot see the world from outside our own situation”. Henry David Thoreau has challenged this unspeakable “perspective” with the notion of “cultivation” and the concept that human experience only comes within a social reality. A creative writer can predicate the validity of “outer” experience by assimilating the human within the environment through agricultural, pre-social, and psychological senses (eg. human joins the cycle: eats the crops cultivated in the ground).

The paradox between provable truth and truthfulness that is not based on logic means the writer can perceive the ‘outer’ experience by focusing on the natural reality of experience as opposed to human nature (reason). All the materials of thinking — perceptions — are derived either from sensation (“outward sentiment”) or from reflection (“inward sentiment”) (David Hume).

Language is not the exclusive property of humans, and so by alienating ourselves from our social surroundings through self-awareness, we may then begin to understand alien cultures through self-transcendence, joining the vast network of signifying possibilities across species (Cary Wolfe). This form of writing focuses not on “a tree seen by man” but “a tree seen against other trees” or against the sky or particoloured pines. Human language such as ‘tidiness’ or ‘expression’ becomes neutralized, having no meaning in a natural context. Any human significance ascribed to nature would fail to account for the degree of the writer’s (or Thoreau’s) interest in them. I believe that a writer can write from outside the human perspective, by placing themselves in the activity and sensations of nature, as opposed to reflection and reason.

(Literary Studies 2011)

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