chapter  8
25 Pages

Futures: the Earth

Jonathan Bate concludes The Song of the Earth with a Wallace Stevens poem called ‘The Planet on the Table’ and a request to the reader:

As Stephen Yearley points out,

Media analyst John Hannigan, like Bate, takes the meaning of the image for granted when he cites evidence that ‘the single most effective environmental message of the century was totally inadvertent: the 1969 view from the moon of a fragile, finite “Spaceship Earth”’ (1995: 62). Somehow this image, without commentary or design, seems unambiguously to communicate a powerful message. The history of the Earth image, however, does not sustain the

notion that it has a single meaning. Repeating Bate’s experiment, we must acknowledge that the same act of imagination could grasp the Earth as either a fragile totality ‘of which we are a part but which we do not possess’, or else a biological system for producing unlimited non-monetary wealth given fully rational management, and that both inflections might fairly claim to be ecological. The concept of ‘Spaceship Earth’ was in fact proposed by architect, inventor and cosmologist R. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983), who took the Earth image as a figure for the possibility of the total, cornucopian management of the planet in human interests (see Fuller 1969). Andrew Ross, one of the few ecocritics working on popular

rather than literary culture, counts a photograph of the Earth taken by Apollo astronauts, amongst his ‘images of ecology’:

We seem here to return to pastoral on an almost cosmic scale. Yet as Ross demonstrates, it is also crucial to consider the ‘ecology of images’: ‘the social and industrial organization of images’ and the ‘ecological arguments to be made about those processes’ (p. 172).

The astronauts’ pictures of the planet were won at considerable cost to it, not only in terms of the $25 billion space programme, or the 5.6 million pounds of fuel on each Saturn 5 rocket, but also the interrelations between the Apollo programme and the Cold War military-industrial complex. As Ross shows, the US military has historically evaded environmental legislation, while preparing for wars that wreak extraordinary ecological damage upon foreign lands. So the Earth image is contested and, arguably, compromised by

the institutions and practices that made it possible. It is, moreover, a false perspective that allows us to see what only a handful of US astronauts have actually seen, a ‘god’s eye view’ that promises a kind of transcendental power that we, as individuals or as a species, do not possess (see Legler 2000: 245). Nevertheless, ecocritics have started to give detailed consideration to the transformation in the dominant meaning of the word ‘earth’: from the most immediate ground of existence, the soil, to life’s largest relevant context, the biosphere. The need not only to ‘think globally’ but to think about the globe involves a politicised reading practice more akin to social ecology, postcolonialism and cultural studies than to deep ecology. Such a practice considers constructions of the Earth provided by economics, politics and biology, as well as literature, TV and film. This chapter will examine three key inflections of the Earth, in order then to suggest possible futures for ecocriticism, beyond the problematic tropes of pastoral and wilderness, place and locale. The first, shaped by the sociology of globalisation, gives us the Earth as a technologically and economically enframed globe, which is modulated in recent criticism to the notion of planet as biosphere. The third is Gaia, which inflects the Earth as a living thing, although that too has been rethought since the first edition of this book. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the theoretical, critical and institutional aspects of the globalisation of ecocriticism itself.