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Embodied Ecocriticism: Improvisational Forms of Practice-Based Ecocritique


The complexity and ubiquity of ecosocial crises demand that our methods of engaging with the world must become radical: far-reaching, fundamental-altering, and rooted firmly in the ground. This essay introduces and explores embodied ecocriticism as one possible answer to such an urgent transdisciplinary call. While traditional literary ecocriticism analyzes relationships between literature and environment, embodied ecocriticism reckons with the role of the critic as they participate in transcorporeal and relational intra-action. In the context of this essay, this is made visible through bodywork and earthwork, somatics and small-scale farming. Tracing feedback loops from idea to perception to action to impact and back again, the form and content of this essay reflect the recursive circuit that connects material to semiotic, nature to culture, and individual to environment. Understanding the physical and extra-physical bodies of ecocritics as contact zones between materialdiscursive theory and practice, this project employs autoethnography alongside traditional criticism to underscore the personal response-ability of scholars in sustainable world-making. Transforming self-centered and anthropocentric ways of being into collaborative becoming-with, we are presented with the opportunity to co-author multispecies ethnographies that prioritize symbiotic co-creation and emergence, and there is no better place to begin than in our own backyards and in our own bodies. The ongoing transaction and entanglement of humans with more-than-human counterparts identifies the body as synecdoche for the larger systems in which it is co-created and creating. Improvisational theory and social somatics reveal the personal and collective power of reuniting theory with practice in such critical physical action. Turning to the life and labor of a small farm as a particularly suitable location for fleshing out embodied ecocritical ‘fieldwork,’ this project understands alternative agricultures as improvisational forms of relational embodiment, drawing together the critical, environmental, and sensual concerns of applied ecocritique. I read my personal experience on the farm alongside David Mas Masumoto’s Four Seasons in Five Senses: Things Worth Savoring to explore how personal engagement with small-scale agroecologies models the confluence of embodied environmental theory and practice. Not ignoring the grim realities of a world shaped by capitalism but choosing instead to focus on the restorative power of co-creation and collective emergence, the embodied ecocriticisms explored throughout this project develop ever-more attentive and regenerative ways of being in, with, and of the world.

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