The New Nature Writing

Alix Ohlin
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In literary culture, nature writing has historically occupied its own specifically defined niche—one not always closely accepted or highly praised by that culture. This traditional definition of nature writing includes meditative descriptions of natural settings, lyrical searches for the sublime, mournful odes to a landscape already irrevocably lost, or manifestos with aims more political than aesthetic. In this paper, I will look at contemporary writers whose work, through profoundly concerned with the natural world and the environmental crises of our time, moves beyond the parameters of this niche and thus, perhaps, toward a different audience.

This new nature writing can be as attentive to the complex and magnetic facets of the industrial world as it is to the beauties of the natural one. As its subject matter has evolved, so too has its tone, now as frequently ironic as earnest, satirical or nostalgic as polemical. Through an examination of the work of writers such as W.G. Sebald, Joy Williams, and others, I intend to show the ways in which new nature writing re-defines notions of the sublime, questions our collective memory of the physical world, and engages the moral and scientific complexity of our post-industrial landscape.

My discussion will take a critical look at the work of other writers, while also drawing on my own practice as a writer of literary fiction with environmental themes. In so doing, I will discuss how literature and language might help us to frame new questions about the relationship between humans and the natural world.

Keywords: Nature Writing, Creative Writing, Literature of Social Engagement
Stream: Analysing Artforms
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Alix Ohlin

Assistant Professor, Department of English, Lafayette College

Alix Ohlin is the author of The Missing Person (Knopf, 2005), a novel, and Babylon and Other Stories (Knopf, 2006). Her fiction and criticism have appeared in The Believer, The Wilson Quarterly, Art Journal, and the Best American Short Stories 2005.

Ref: A06P0346