Today is the first day of my two-week promotional extravaganza! I’m excited to share more about this project, and nothing ensures I’ll blog about it daily like publicly announcing I’ll blog about it daily.
To kick off the series, I thought I’d share a bit about the genesis of this book project. I fell in love with the Exeter Book a decade ago, in my final year of college. My honors thesis centered on the Exeter Book poem Wulf and Eadwacer, which I loved for its ambiguity, brevity, and haunting refrain. Because I was double-majoring in creative writing and English, my thesis contained a short novella reimagining the poem in addition to a translation and critical analysis. Although the novella won’t be published anytime soon, my work on that project ingrained a fascination with Old English poetry which led me to pursue a Ph.D in English.
My graduate work focused on the importance of other-than-human forces in Old English literature, from the “monstrous” creatures described in The Wonders of the East to the wild winter storms described in the Exeter Book elegies. I was interested in how representations of the other-than-human in these texts might clarify early Medieval English ideas about what it meant to be human on this Earth.
At the same time, I was becoming increasingly aware of my own precarity as a human on this Earth. In August 2017, shortly after I completed my Ph.D., Hurricane Harvey devastated the Gulf Coast, including my hometown of Houston, Texas. The next summer, as I transitioned into my new job on the West Coast, California experienced the worst wildfires in the state’s history. Studies suggest that the violence of both Hurricane Harvey and the California wildfires was almost certainly exacerbated by human-caused climate change. And yet, from 2017 to 2018, the number of Americans “doubtful” or “dismissive” of climate change increased.
The introduction to Old English Ecotheology argues that early medieval English writers acknowledged the effects of human action on the health of the planet; I wrote this book, in part, as a result of the fact that so many modern humans do not. Of course, Wulfstan’s belief that human sin was causing environmental crises (more on that on Wednesday!) is different than our awareness of the connection between, for example, logging and the loss of animal habitats. However, the fundamental belief is the same: our actions are causing the degradation of the Earth.
For a decade on either side of the first millennium, Wulfstan and his contemporaries suggested that concerted response to environmental crisis was a divine imperative; now, in second millennium, we are confronted with the same problems. How will we respond?