"Such sweet things out of such corruptions" : on pollution and ecopoetics

Publication Type:
Thesis
Issue Date:
2010
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NO FULL TEXT AVAILABLE. Access is restricted indefinitely. ----- This thesis is a work of rhetorical analysis in the field of poetic theory, specifically that associated with the newly emergent critical field of ‘ecopoetics’. It proposes a genealogical methodology for the interpretation of literary tropes of pollution, a critical reading of representations of pollution across a set of key literary texts, and the creative realisation of what will be defined as a “compost aesthetic” in a full-length volume of poetry by the author, blue grass. “Pollution” is described as a substance or category in which nature and culture are ineluctably synthesised, an exemplar of nature-culture hypotheses common in contemporary ecological, sociological and philosophical discourse (Chapter 1). Historical, anthropological and philosophical methodologies for analysing tropes of pollution are examined in the work of Robert Parker, Mary Douglas and Julia Kristeva (Chapter 2). Rhetorics of pollution are then studied in three primary sources—the Theban plays of the classical Greek author Sophocles (Chapter 3), Daniel Defoe’s early-modern A Journal of the Plague Year (Chapter 3), and Walt Whitman’s modern poem “This Compost” (Chapter 4)—each of which, it is argued, is representative of a discrete economy of waste: respectively the sacred, the secular and the scientific. These economies are aligned with a set of corresponding rhetorical functions—catharsis and purification, quarantine, synthesis and composting—the description of which furnishes ecopoetic theory with a genealogical methodology for the critical analysis of literary tropes of pollution and their aesthetic and ethical characteristics. As a contribution to contemporary ecocritical and ecopoetic discourse, this thesis proposes that a critical reading of the aesthetic function of tropes of pollution offers innovative conceptual frameworks for imagining ethically responsible modes of the human habitation of natural ecosystems. It argues against rhetorical economies of catharsis and quarantine, and critiques contemporary ecopoetic writing and theory that hinges upon the rhetorical demarcation of pollution from representations of purified nature and transcendent aesthetic subjectivity. It proposes instead an ethically motivated and materially situated “compost aesthetic” in which waste is troped as a synthetic category susceptible to theories of re-assimilation, recycling and regeneration. The thesis concludes with a study of the recent literary and theoretical emergence of a “compost aesthetic”, its application in innovative literary and poetic practices such as quotation and sampling, and the demonstration of them in a close reading of poems (Chapter 5) from the author’s recent volume blue grass (Chapter 6).
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