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Scholarcast 60: On Development, Waste & Ghosts

Malcolm Sen


Movements in ecocriticism that call for links to be made with postcolonialism challenge us, here in Ireland and outside of it, to do work that has not come naturally. As critics like Rob Nixon have pointed out, ecocriticism and postcolonialism were, in fact, often at odds with each other as the fields arose, operating at a disconnect. The political work of postcolonialism seemed quite different to that performed by ecocriticism: it seemed as though there were two sets of delegates, in other words, lobbying intellectuals and activists for their attention. Ursula Heise has cannily summarized some of the early divergences of the fields noted by critics. Of particular interest for my purposes are two of these: first, the fact that ecocritics in the past tended to be concerned with one national space, while postcolonial critics were necessarily concerned with at least two and often more cultural realms. The second divergence of relevance to my talk today is the fact that ecocritics have tended, as Heise puts it, to be 'deeply interested in ties to place, while postcolonialists foreground displacement' (Heise 253). In what follows I focus on three national spaces, and am concerned with the ways in which 'deep ties to place' that we associate with national pride draw on colonial notions of land development, and so also always 'foreground displacement'.

Following the lead of critics such as Nixon and Heise, and bearing in mind Moretti's notion of 'distant reading', I want to look at colonial notions of land development, comparing the ways in which a series of colonial commentaries – on what are now the United States, Australia and Ireland – offers the opportunity to trace attitudes towards landscape and place that in fact function as canny assessments of land-as-commodity. What I am concerned with considering here is how initial colonial declarations about landscape might have lasting effect in a particular space. Since we can track these attitudes over time and in a range of places and texts, it becomes possible to consider how initial colonial attitudes impact upon and create long-lasting attitudes towards landscape and development. In the American case, it would seem that the wilderness tradition, so influential in terms of ecocriticism, is definitively drawn from colonialist ideologies (which suggests that ecocriticism itself, in earlier incarnations, takes some of its positions from colonial rhetoric). In Australia, a similar concern with wilderness is evident in lasting notions of national cultural memory – again, I would argue, the result of early colonial attitudes towards land and development. Finally, I will turn to the Irish case, which is quite different in some ways, and will argue that a different attitude towards land and development persists here. The kind of exploratory comparative work that I am doing here asks us, I suggest, to reconsider our earlier readings of any of these spaces individually, and I'll close by considering some particular implications for Ireland and its relationship to its environment.

Oona Frawley

Oona Frawley received her PhD from the Graduate School and University Center, New York, and lectures in Irish Studies and World Literature at Maynooth University. Her book publications include Irish Pastoral: Nature and Nostalgia in 20th Century Irish Literature (2004), and the four-volume Memory Ireland project (2010-2014). A Hennessy Award nominee, her first novel, Flight, was published by Tramp Press in 2014 and was nominated for several awards. She is currently completing a new novel and writing an academic book on the idea of land as a commodity in former colonies.


Series edited by: Malcolm Sen
General Editor: P.J. Mathews 
Scholarcast original theme music by: Padhraic Egan, Michael Hussey and Sharon Hussey.
Recording, audio editing, photography, video editing and development by: John Matthews, Vincent Hoban & Brian Kelly at UCD IT Services, Media Services.

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