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> From: H-Net Staff via H-REVIEW <h-rev...@lists.h-net.org>
> Date: May 1, 2020 at 2:08:29 PM EDT
> To: h-rev...@lists.h-net.org
> Cc: H-Net Staff <revh...@mail.h-net.org>
> Subject: H-Net Review [H-Environment]:  Kredell on Seymour, 'Bad 
> Environmentalism: Irony and Irreverence in the Ecological Age'
> Reply-To: h-rev...@lists.h-net.org
> ´╗┐Nicole Seymour.  Bad Environmentalism: Irony and Irreverence in the 
> Ecological Age.  Minneapolis  University of Minnesota Press, 2018.  
> 316 pp.  $26.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-5179-0389-3.
> Reviewed by Jack Kredell (University of Idaho)
> Published on H-Environment (May, 2020)
> Commissioned by Daniella McCahey
> Mainstream Western environmental culture--_March of the Penguins_ 
> (2005), Sierra Club ad campaigns, Al Gore's _An Inconvenient Truth_ 
> (2006), _National Geographic Explorer_ (2015) and _Hostile Planet_ 
> (2019), the BBC's _Planet Earth_ (2006) and _Blue Planet_ (2001) 
> series, Netflix's _Our Planet_ (2019)--has a tendency to operate from 
> a position of moral and intellectual superiority, reinforced by 
> definitions of the more-than-human environment that tend to be 
> spatially "superior" as well--pristine geographies that select for 
> wild plants and animals but which exclude our messy urban and 
> suburban environments. Almost universally, these Western 
> environmentalist works rely on "serious" affective attitudes and 
> appeals--doom and gloom, guilt, shame, awe, wonder, reverence, 
> sanctimony, self-righteousness, sentimentality, expertise--that 
> reflect a discourse of moral, aesthetic, and even racial purity. In 
> response, Nicole Seymour's _Bad Environmentalism: Irony and 
> Irreverence in the Ecological Age_ offers its archive of "bad 
> environmentalism" to help dismantle the affective and ideological 
> barriers that situate the environment as our sanctified, unfunny, 
> nonhuman Other, one whose moral, ethical, and aesthetic standards we 
> fail to live up to (even as we threaten to destroy it). 
> Seymour's _Bad Environmentalism_ belongs to a growing body of 
> ecocritical scholarship that analyzes the cultural production of 
> environmental affect and sensibility. Foundational to that 
> scholarship is the belief that a comprehensive and discursive 
> understanding of environmental affect can lead to a more ethical 
> engagement with the nonhuman world. However, the prescriptivist bent 
> of environmentalist discourse, with its arsenal of high-minded, 
> moralizing affects and sensibilities, is precisely how _Bad 
> Environmentalism_ wants us to break bad. With sources from "low" mass 
> culture, literary satire (Percival Everett, Sherman Alexie, and 
> Edward Abbey's _The Monkey Wrench Gang__ _[1975]), and the artistic 
> avant-garde (Isabella Rossellini's _Green Porno_ [2008], Shawna 
> Dempsey and Lori Millan's performance art project _The Lesbian 
> National Park Service_ [1997], and _Goodbye Gauley Mountain_ [2013]), 
> "bad environmentalism" is a socially and culturally diverse group of 
> environmental texts that employ non-serious affective modes and 
> behaviors, such as irony, pastiche, absurdity, camp, and playfulness. 
> By addressing the environment and environmentalism with irony and 
> irreverence, claims Seymour, "the works in my archive undercut public 
> negativity toward activism while also questioning basic environmental 
> assumptions: that reverence is required for ethical relations to the 
> nonhuman, that knowledge is key to fighting problems like climate 
> change" (p. 5). Importantly for Seymour, reflexive and non-serious 
> techniques challenge cultural assumptions about environmentalism 
> while simultaneously offering more enjoyable and relatable forms of 
> environmental affect and engagement through humor, obscenity, 
> disgust, and even arousal. Here we must take Seymour's 
> non-seriousness seriously in terms of its ethical departure from the 
> ideology of mainstream environmentalism: the notion of a reverential 
> environmentalism only reinforces the affective split or barrier 
> between, on the one hand, nature as the distant, suffering, and 
> sympathetic Other; and on the other, the near and all-to-familiar 
> thing in which our bodies--obscenely and toxically--are always 
> already enmeshed and at stake. _Bad Environmentalism_ is an attempt 
> to reach out across that barrier. Solidarity rather than knowledge 
> becomes key to fighting climate change.   
> In addition to its critique of normative environmental attitudes, 
> Seymour's project doubles as a meta-critique of environmental 
> humanities scholarship and its "tendency to reproduce the same 
> dominant affect and sensibilities found in mainstream 
> environmentalism, and to judge artworks primarily by their 
> functionality" (p. 7). For this reason, Seymour's archive can be 
> appreciated on its own terms as both a scholarly resource and a 
> pragmatic workaround to the discipline's tendency of reproducing 
> those same authors--John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, 
> Gary Snyder, Wendell Berry, and Terry Tempest Williams--in whom we 
> encounter those same dominant sensibilities and perspectives. As 
> unusual and shocking--or just as likely, obvious--as these texts may 
> seem to scholars in the field of ecocriticism, the "bad" archive 
> offers a much-needed challenge to the ruling scholarly paradigm and 
> its definition of a valid environmental text. 
> _Bad Environmentalism_ is a provocative contribution to the field of 
> affective ecocriticism that, I believe, represents a decisive break 
> from the prescriptivism inherent to the empiricist and cognitive 
> approaches most recently exemplified by Alexa Weik von Mossner's 
> _Affective Ecologies: Empathy, Emotion, and Environmental Narrative_ 
> (2018). Rather than a quest for correct or corrective affect, _Bad 
> Environmentalism_ and bad environmentalism together "offer a 
> different way to do politics, one that is both messy and pragmatic" 
> (p. 232). Yet while Seymour's text has gone bad in relation to the 
> general sweep of the field's affective turn, it remains to be seen if 
> Bad Environmentalism's turn to popular culture--a move all too common 
> within academic scholarship of belatedly discovering value in mass 
> culture only to immediately overvalue it--is actually generative in 
> terms of radical politics and perspectives. The deeper question 
> remains for affective-based theoretical approaches, even more radical 
> ones such as Seymour's, of whether sociopolitical systems can be 
> challenged by displacing their conflicts to the realms of culture and 
> individual subjectivity. 
> Citation: Jack Kredell. Review of Seymour, Nicole, _Bad 
> Environmentalism: Irony and Irreverence in the Ecological Age_. 
> H-Environment, H-Net Reviews. May, 2020.
> URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=54748
> This work is licensed under a Creative Commons 
> Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States 
> License.
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