There are some folks who believe that humanists deal exclusively in arcana, obscure texts and artifacts that are of interest to few and relevance to none. But nothing could be further from the truth. As those attending the CHF with any regularity know, humanists are front and center when it comes to addressing the pressing issues of the day, from the philosophical underpinnings of geopolitics to the conceptual ramifications of our era’s technological revolutions.
Few issues are more urgent today than the environmental crisis facing us. And there, too, humanists have responded, developing an entire area of inquiry focused on creative responses to the natural world. The field goes by several names, the most common being “ecological criticism” – and it has become more and more prominent over the last couple of years.
Gillen Wood is one of the most innovative practitioners in this new area. A professor of English at the University of Illinois, he is the founding director of the campus’s Sustainability Studies Initiative in the Humanities which seeks to investigate the human dimensions and projected lived consequences of climate change as it is expected to progress in the coming decades.
Gillen came to ecocriticism gradually. A true Renaissance Man, he was born and raised in Australia where he trained as a pianist. He then switched to literature, finding success both as a novelist (check out Hosack's Folly) and as a scholar of Romanticism. (He is the author of two widely acclaimed monographs, The Shock of the Real: Romanticism and Visual Culture, 1760-1860 and Romanticism and Music Culture in Britain, 1770-1840: Virtue and Virtuosity.)
With the climate crisis become ever more pressing, he turned to ecology by way of re-reading 18th- and 19th-century British literature and culture. Resulting articles have addressed such topics as “Constable, Clouds, [and] Climate Change” and will be followed by a book, currently in the works, titled Frankenstein's Weather: How Climate Change Shaped the Nineteenth-Century World.
John Constable, Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows (1831)
I was thrilled when Gillen accepted our invitation to speak in conjunction with Stages, Sights, and Sounds where ecological issues play such a prominent role. In particular, Gillen got excited about The Man Who Planted Trees by Scotland’s Puppet State Theatre. Aside from being keen to attend the show with his family, Gillen was immediately drawn to the material, adapted as it is, from a short story by well-known French writer Jean Giono. His meditation on the devastating environmental impact of World War I stands as a cornerstone of the canon of ecological literature; and Gillen was keen to share his analysis of Giono’s work with our audience.
We are delighted to be able to present this lecture by one of the finest teachers at the University of Illinois. In light of Gillen’s presentation, The Man Who Planted Trees will emerge in all its richness, a testament not only to the multi-sensory brilliance of Puppet State Theatre but to an entire tradition of ecological literature whose relevance is becoming more important by
#202: Sat, May. 7 1:00 - 2:00 PM
Tags: ecology, literature, wood, sustainability, giono