Ecomysticism: Materialism and Mysticism in American Nature Writing
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This dissertation investigates the ways in which a theory of material mysticism can help us understand and synthesize two important trends in the American nature writing--mysticism and materialism. Material mysticism--what I term ecomysticism--has been an important current running through the American literary engagement with the natural world. Ecomysticism is a lens through which we can tease out the materialism that defines much of even the most "mystical" nature writing. This material mysticism is often a significant factor in authors' engagements with the natural world, as it proves to be a foundational experience that motivates authors' ethical and political perspectives. After an introductory chapter detailing the philosophical and scientific underpinnings for my theory of ecomysticism, four chapters examine a wide array of literary figures through the lens of ecomysticism. Chapter 1 examines three authors who were writing around the turn-of-the-century: Sarah Orne Jewett, Mary Austin, and Stephen Crane. This chapter examines how their regionalism and naturalism are indebted, in large part, to ecomystical experiences. I examine the ways in which the ecomystical experiences depicted in their writing challenge some scholars' charges of anthropocentrism and dualism and offer us a new perspective on these literary schools. Chapter 2 focuses on Robinson Jeffers, a seminal figure in American ecopoetics. Ecomysticism offers a counterweight to some interpretations that see in his work a supernatural religiosity. I demonstrate how recent philosophical advances in materialism can be marshaled to establish an entirely material basis for his religious and prophetic language. Chapter 3 uses Edward Abbey as a test case to determine the extent to which ecomysticism affects not only ontology and epistemology, but ethics as well. I investigate how Abbey's ecomystical experiences form the foundation of an ethical orientation that came to define him as an artist and an activist. Finally, Chapter 4 centers on the most influential ecopoet of the late 20th century: Gary Snyder. Employing both his poetry and his essays, I show how ecomysticism is a significant determinant of his aesthetics as well as his politics.