Or, process-relational ecocriticism 2.0
Two of the courses I’m currently teaching — the intermediate-level “Environmental Literature, Art, and Media” and the senior-level “The Culture of Nature” — require introducing an eco-critical framework appropriate to a wide range of artistic forms, from literature to visual art, music, film and new media.
The process-relational framework developed in Ecologies of the Moving Image is synthetic and holistic in its scope, but it is too advanced for introducing in itself — accompanied by the philosophical underpinnings it requires — in these undergraduate classes. So I’ve been forced to rethink its categories to make them both more accessible and more broadly applicable.
EMI‘s PR framework is loosely encompassed as a “triad of triads” built from Peirce’s and Whitehead’s categories and Guattari’s “three ecologies.” It expands beyond the usual forms of ecocriticism found in literary studies, which have generally tended to focus on “the text,” with some reference to real people (authorial intents, biographies) and places (usually the places written about), but with only rare exploration of production relations, media materialities, sensory-perceptual interactions, and the like.
For the sake of a broader and more accessible “triadic” approach to the arts, what I’ve done with these categories in my current teaching is to render them as follows:
Resources, substances, arrangements, assemblages, organization of production and labor, etc.
Sensation, perception, affect/emotion, aesthetics, phenomenology
Images, markings, emphases, narratives, metaphors, rhetorics, identities and differences
— with each of these being considered in process-relational terms, that is, as relations unfolding in SPACE (location, place, site, region, globality) and over TIME (organicity, rhythm/periodicity, interactive processuality).
(See diagram above.)
All of this loosely follows the Peircian framework of firsts (virtualities, or what’s “really there” in its givenness), seconds (encounters, or the actual experience of entities encountering other entitities), and thirds (the representations, symbolic meanings, and social constructs arising from such spatially and temporally patterned encounters). The three categories are, in effect, the three “layers” by which an artwork, text, or natural or cultural object can be interpreted.
So, for instance, when examining the work of an artist or musician like Joseph Beuys, Maya Lin, the Critical Arts Ensemble, Brian Eno, or Current 93, one can ask: (1) What materials are the artists working with, and what material impacts and production relations are assembled and reassembled through their work? (2) What experiences does their work draw on, elicit, and enable? (3) What meanings, metaphoric connections, and identities and differences are evoked, proposed, critiqued, transformed, etc. in their work?
Ultimately, all of the questions I ask about film in Ecologies of the Moving Image — summarized in the Appendix, “Doing Process-Relational Media Analysis” (pp. 341-5) — can be asked using this new model of categories regarding any art form or media practice, though they may require some tweaking, adding or subtracting, and clarifying here and there.