CCLC hosts the Contemporary Studies Network reading group

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On 24 January the CCLC hosted the Contemporary Studies Network reading group led by Nadhia Grewal of Goldsmith’s University. The subject under discussion was the Environmental Humanities and the readings were taken from the first two chapters of Linda Hogan’s Solar Storms (1994) and Silvia Schultermandl’s article ‘Fighting for the Mother/Land: An Ecofeminist Reading of Linda Hogan's Solar Storms’, (2005).

Our discussion covered the intersections between the notions of instability of the environment, the community and individual identity through the protagonist Angel and her return to a rural Native American community from which she had been forcibly removed as a child and fostered by white urban families. We saw these intersections as analogous to our ecosystem in which everything is connected. Angel is an outsider within a community which is under threat because the land on which it is built is under threat from a hydro-electric dam project. Her adoption of environmental activism is a means of addressing her displacement (indeed Schultermandl argues that she becomes a model for young activists, although the group did not fully agree with this point!) but she does not feel able to speak for this community, and ultimately remains an outsider within both the Native American and white urban communities.

We briefly touched on the notion of the ‘Ecological Indian’, the romanticised view of the Native American’s relationship with nature that preceded colonialism. In our view this notion is deconstructed by the novel and Schultermandl’s essay, the latter rightly pointing out that ‘Angel’s fight for environmental justice is one of the many strategies Hogan applies to overcome the danger of exoticizing her characters as “noble savages.”’

Moving on from this we discussed ecofeminism in terms of Hogan’s ‘creation of an alternative Native American, largely mixed-ethnic society in Solar Storms, and through her engaging of this society in a communal fight for the conservation of the nonhuman biosphere,’ (Schultermandl). This disavowal of anthropocentricism in favour of a holistic view of the interdependencies between humans and their environment, promoted largely by women who take leading roles within Native American communities, is referred to as ‘cosmogyny’ by Schultermandl. Citing Paula Allen she defines this ‘as a world order “arranged in harmony with gynocratic principles”’, and ultimately views it as an antidote to phallocentricism. We spent some time discussing this term, its origins and relevance to Hogan’s novel and the ecofeminist project.

This is only a brief summary of some points covered in our discussion which cannot do justice to everything we discussed. It was a thoroughly enjoyable session that introduced many of us to Linda Hogan’s work and we are very grateful to Nadhia for this and for travelling to Birmingham to lead the discussion.