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Postscript: After nature

Nature, says Raymond Williams, is one of the most complex words in the language, and ecocritics have had as much difficulty with it as everyone else (Williams 1983: 219; also Buell 2005). Probably the most rigorous recent attempt to define the term has been that of the British eco-philosopher Kate Soper, who distinguishes between nature’s threefold deployment as a metaphysical concept through which ‘humanity thinks its difference and specificity’, a realist concept that refers to ‘the structures, processes and causal powers that are constantly operative within the physical [environment]’, and a lay or surface concept used in relation to ‘ordinarily observable features of the world’ (Soper, in Coupe 2000: 125). However, as she readily admits, these three concepts and the discourses deriving from them are rhetorically co-dependent. Conventional environmentalist valorisations of nature as being independent of human culture thus run up against the obvious obstacle that much of what passes for the ‘natural world’ is a product of human activity and, once this truism is accepted, the ‘nature’ one is seeking to promote and protect isn’t ‘natural’ in any autonomous sense (124).1