Ecocritical Approaches to Writings on the Amazon

October 1, 2016 to September 30, 2021
60 months

In this project, it is planned to undertake a critical examination of texts depicting Amazonian nature from the perspective of ecocriticism. This relatively recent trend in literary studies reflects upon the ways in which human relations to the environment have informed literary and other texts and, in turn, how the discourses reproduced in such works determine our attitudes toward nature. From the arrival of the first Europeans in the 16th century to our days, the Amazon rainforest has been hailed as a symbol of wilderness, due to its size, inaccessibility and to its diverse flora and fauna. The researcher argues that, for this reason, writings about this area are particularly rich from an ecocritical standpoint. Amazonian texts mirror evolving approaches to nature, moving from an early theological framework that divides landscapes into those similar to a green hell and those resembling an earthly paradise, through the scientific and developmental rhetoric of the 19th and early 20th centuries, to later protectionist and conservationist discourses. The goal is both to trace our changing approaches to the Amazon and to consider how these shed light on current ecological problems.

The first section of the project will analyze the accounts of travels in the area by early Spanish and Portuguese explorers and missionaries, such as Gaspar de Carvajal, Cristóbal de Acuña or João Daniel. The researcher will subsequently turn to portrayals of the region by North European naturalists like Alfred Russel Wallace, Henry Walter Bates and Louis Agassiz, who emphasized the scientific significance of local fauna and flora. In the third part of the study, analyzing texts by Alberto Rangel, Ferreira de Castro, José Eustasio Rivera and Rómulo Gallegos, the researcher will focus on the so-called jungle novel, which flourished during the first half of the 20th century and contrasted the perceived unruliness of the Amazonian environment with developmental discourses. The researcher will then examine portrayals of the territory from the mid-20th century onwards by authors like Astrid Cabral, Márcio Souza and Juan Galeano, who were heavily influenced by environmentalist thought. The final section of the project will discuss what texts on the Amazon reveal about the Western attitude towards the environment from early Modernity to our days.

ecocriticism, amazon, travel writing, jungle novel, environmentalism