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18 Nov

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – In 2009, 43 million tons of coal were collected from mountaintop mining in West Virginia.

What if that coal was considered to be alive?

Lowell Duckert, assistant professor in the department of English at West Virginia University, asks precisely that in his essay “Earth,” which will be published early 2015 in “Elemental Ecocriticism,” a collection of environmental essays he is co-editing for the University of Minnesota Press.

In “Earth,” Duckert examines the environmental future of West Virginia through the lens of John Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” envisioning mountaintop removal mining as an act of violence against a living organism with which we are always enmeshed.

His goal, he said, is to search for a future that is beneficial to both humans as well as non-humans.

“What would it mean to actually love coal, to pay attention to its liveliness, and to reorient our ethics and politics accordingly? You don’t have to choose the miner over the mountain,” Duckert said.

“I believe in both/and rather than either/or. Ecocriticism helps us redefine the ‘human’—expand it—in order to become more intimate inhabitants with the earth. The early authors I study were ecotheorists in their own right.

Another article by Duckert, “Exit, Pursued by a Polar Bear,” was recently released as part of the Clemson University Press online journal “Upstart: A Journal of English Renaissance Studies.”

The article was inspired by a famous scene in William Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” where a bear chases a character across the Bohemian countryside and eats him.

“I was thinking about the possibility of an actual polar bear onstage that had been captured in the first decade of the 1600s and brought to England—and also thinking about the fact that even if it wasn’t a live bear, it would have been an actor in a bearskin,” Duckert said.

“My work overall is interested in breaking down nature/culture, human/non-human boundaries. I argue that the bear is a trans-species agent that shows us how the human is really indivisible from the non-human environment.”

Duckert said he hopes his works will fuel conversation about environmentalism and start a movement to bridge the gap between the humanities and the sciences. Recently he took his graduate students to Kayford Mountain, a controversial mountaintop removal site, to meet the Keeper of the Mountains Foundation and discuss literary as well as immediate portrayals of ecocatastrophe.

“It’s about making allies, starting conversations and initiating debate. The humanities don’t have to be considered a polar opposite of the sciences,” he said. “Literature helps imagine, and bring about, better futures.”

For more information, contact Lowell Duckert, at (304) 293-9700 or Lowell.Duckert@mail.wvu.edu.

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