Ecosublime: Green Readings In American Literature From Poe To Lopez


Lee Rozelle

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Kenneth Watson

Advisor Department



The "ecosublime," an aesthetic and social catalyst derived primarily from Burke and Kant, characterizes literary and cultural responses to a rapidly changing natural environment in America from the nineteenth century to the present. This aesthetic moment triggers a return to the natural referent, the transcendence of sign systems, and the terrific awe of myth and agency. In their nineteenth-century and modern cultural contexts, natural environments hang in the representative balance between heedless development and sacred myth space. But the postmodern, technological turn disturbs this balance, leaving literary works and cultural artifacts to represent the contingency and terror of an ecosublime (post) nature. The nineteenth-century works of Edgar Allan Poe and Isabella Bird represent unexplored western regions as culturally constructed landscape garden, forest, or ecosublime frontier, while modern writers Nathanael West and William Carlos Williams imitate and replicate urban space as either wasted city park or mythical urban garden. The remaining chapters analyze the spiritual, biospheric, and political negotiations of literary figures and cultural artifacts in their increasingly ecocidal contexts. In recent works by Barry Lopez and Wendell Berry, the ecosublime enables biocentric assimilation: the spiritual return of the human to the ecological threshold and an embrace of transcendent myth. Aquarium exhibits, clearcut stills, and computerized images of the ozone hole are studied alongside the work of Gerald Vizenor in order to display ecosublime reactions to human overpopulation, ozone layer depletion, and decentralization. Finally, I distinguish environmental action, sabotage, and eco-terror in Edward Abbey, "The Unabomber Manifesto," and the environmental organization Earth First! as an ecosublime means to environmental agency and civic responsibility.