Environmental Renaissance: Emerson, Thoreau, & the Systems of Nature
Through contemporary environmental philosophy and emerging paradigms in complex systems theory, Andrew McMurry presents a new reading of Emerson, Thoreau, and the green tradition in American thought. McMurry analyzes Emerson and Thoreau's foundational roles in the formation of the two main currents in American environmentalism: the managerial, or "shallow," and the radical, or "deep."
The author draws, in particular, on Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela's theory of autopoesis and the social systems theory of Niklas Luhmann. These theories, says McMurry, give us the conceptual tools to update Emerson and Thoreau's philosophies of nature, literary aesthetics, and attitudes toward pastoralism for the current age of environmental risk and uncertainty. McMurry's systems approach helps us to recast essentialist, ultimately debilitating binaries such as nature/culture, wilderness/civilization, and wild/tame along the lines of a suppler, richer distinction: that between self-organizing systems (like language or society) and their environments (defined simply as whatever cannot communicate with the system). Such an undertaking also allows McMurry to reflect on the systemic obstacles that ecocriticism, as a genre enabling positive environmental practices, must confront if it is to be theoretically coherent.
Sophisticated and socially relevant, Environmental Renaissance is both a call for critics to broaden their parameters and a warning about rhapsodizing on nature while our very life-support systems are crumbling.