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Conference Theme

The Garden: Ecological Paradigms of Space, History, and Community

8th Biennial Conference of the European Association for the Study of Literature, Culture and Environment (EASLCE)

Arguably one of the most alluring environmental images, the garden enjoys a poetic, aesthetic, and mythological presence across many cultures and throughout all ages. At the same time, gardens have always been real, material spaces that served a variety of social, economic, and scientific purposes and continue to do so. Whether as poetic image or as real space, gardens always represent historically contingent and culturally variegated environmental practices. They emerge from the real and imagined interactions between human and non-human agents.

Etymologically, the word garden derives from Old High German, garte, meaning that which is enclosed or protected by a fence or border. In this tradition, gardens emphasize the dialectics of inside and outside, inclusion and exclusion, discipline and spontaneity, the domestic and the wild, the useful and the useless. But gardens also blur those distinctions; they represent a space that joins the utilitarian and the ornamental. More modern concepts emphasize the garden’s all-encompassing character. In Greater Perfection: The Practice of Garden Theory (2000) John Dixon Hunt observed that “one aspect of a garden’s representational ambitions was to epitomize the whole world within its own limited space” (198). He calls that the “raison d’être of the early botanical gardens,” an idea that “sustained many other garden designs” (ibid.) throughout history. But it also suggests the garden’s emblematic nature: to the extent that the garden depends for its existence on an assemblage of organic materials within a specific framework of time and space, it allegorizes the ecological, spatial, and historical conditions of human existence on this planet.

This conference seeks to address the following questions: What would it mean to think modern human existence in terms of a garden ecology rather than a market economy? What would it mean to replace the agora with the kipos as the public place in which citizens negotiate the way they want to live in society with other humans and, more generally, with other living beings? At this point in history, can we shift the focus of modern human economic interests and activities from extraction (the violent removal of organic and non-organic substances from their environment), production (of that which sells), and consumption (of the things produced from the extracted substances) to design (of spaces that support life), production (of the things and substances necessary to sustain life), and maintenance (of the material and cultural foundations of life)? If cycles of (seasonal) growth define life in the garden, will recycling of that which has already been extracted and transformed into the things we live with define the future of existence on planet Earth? French gardener, botanist, and writer Gilles Clément raises similar questions, offering producing, sharing, and recycling as activities inspired by the garden. He has recently been joined by a number of scholars and writers drawing our attention to the garden as a subject of historical and critical inquiry, perhaps most prominently among them Andrea Wulf and Emma Marris.

The overarching question for this conference is this: To what extent does the garden, a historically, politically, and socially loaded as well as culturally variegated space, provide us with new paradigms for thinking and living in an ecologically challenged world?

Local organizer, Prof. Dr. Catrin Gersdorf, and her team.