Environmental Renaissance
Emerson, Thoreau, and the Systems of Nature

Andrew McMurry

Making Emerson and Thoreau more relevant in our ecologically precarious era


"A lucid, vigorously argued critique of both the Emersonian and Thoreauvian strains of American environmentalist discourse, this book will reshape the debate for environmental humanities."
—William Rossi, editor of 'Wild Apples' and Other Natural History Essays by Henry D. Thoreau

"A major contribution (and corrective) to two fields: nineteenth-century American literary studies and an emerging ecocriticism. Indeed, McMurry's reformulation of ecocritical thought is validated precisely because he is able to read Emerson and Thoreau in fresh ways, as early representatives, roughly and respectively, of reformist and deep ecological positions."
—Joseph Tabbi, author of Cognitive Fictions

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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.
Page count: 288 pp.
Trim size: 6.125 x 9.25


List price: $46.95

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Andrew McMurry is an assistant professor of English language and literature at the University of Waterloo.