The ecogothic is a relatively new field of ecocriticism, which, like its name suggests, is a sort of merging of ecocriticism and gothic studies. To date, there is little publication on the ecogothic, with notable exceptions being Smith and Hughes’ edited collection EcoGothic (2013), and a 2014 special issue of the journal Gothic Studies. That said, the field is becoming increasingly popular, and is specifically listed as a potential topic in many CfPs.
So, what exactly is the ecogothic? Smith and Hughes define it, in the introduction to their volume, as “how the body as a site of Gothic fear – sexual, injured, dismembered and celebrated – can be seen and positively re-membered in a literary landscape” (p.8). Principe, meanwhile, emphasises the importance of taking a nonanthropocentric approach to examine nature in the gothic, yet goes on to say that “the EcoGothic examines the construction of the Gothic body – unhuman, nonhuman, transhuman, posthuman, or hybrid – through a more inclusive lens, asking how it can be more meaningfully understood as a site of articulation for environmental and species identity” (p.1). This definition, while less anthropocentric than that of Smith and Hughes, still retains focus on a living, animal body. Both of these definitions are vital to the ecogothic, but I think that the ecogothic is more than a focus on the faunal body, it is also a means through which to explore how nature in the sense of flora is gothic: how it constructs fear and monstrosity, and how nature and place as a whole can be haunting. Gothic tropes – monstrosity, imprisonment, the uncanny, oppression and repression, boundaries – are manifest not only in animal bodies, but also in the body of nature, through land, water, air, and plants.
The very notion of the ecogothic is full of tensions and contradictions, as implied by Smith and Hughes’ capitalisation of both “Eco” and “Gothic”. The ecogothic merges two traditionally contrasting fields, one with an anthropocentric focus and one that is wholly biocentric. The gothic is concerned with fear, which is fundamentally human, and the human body, while ecocriticism looks at the environment in which humans live. It is important not to overlook this tension, as it is integral to the ecogothic as a whole, but, at the same time, we must look beyond this. “EcoGothic” as a term highlights the binaries surrounding gothic literature – human/nature, male/female, urban/rural etc. – but it is the liminal spaces between these binaries that are most revealing. Transgressions of these binaries is how fear and monstrosity is constructed in so much literature. These binaries, however, are a human construct themselves. As part of ecocriticism, it is the role of the ecogothic to undermine and deconstruct these boundaries, exploiting them along the way.
Andrew Smith & William Hughes, Ecogothic (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013)
David Del Principe, Introduction: The EcoGothic in the Long Nineteenth Century, Gothic Studies 16:1 (2014), pp.1-8