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Cover of Thought’s Wilderness by Greg Ellermann
Thought’s Wilderness
Romanticism and the Apprehension of Nature
Greg Ellermann


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September 2022
200 pages.
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Hardcover ISBN: 9781503628489
Ebook ISBN: 9781503633018

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While much recent ecocriticism has questioned the value of nature as a concept, Thought's Wilderness insists that it is analytically and politically indispensable, and that romanticism shows us why. Without a concept of nature, Greg Ellermann argues, our thinking is limited to the world that capitalism has made.

Defamiliarizing the tradition of romantic nature writing, Ellermann contends that the romantics tried to circumvent the domination of nature that is essential to modern capitalism. As he shows, poets and philosophers in the period such as Immanuel Kant, G. W. F. Hegel, Mary Wollstonecraft, William Wordsworth, and Percy Shelley were highly attuned to nature's ephemeral, ungraspable forms: clouds of vapor, a trace of ruin, deep silence, and the "world-surrounding ether." Further, he explains how nature's vanishing—its vulnerability and its flight from apprehension—became a philosophical and political problem. In response to a nascent industrial capitalism, romantic writers developed a poetics of wilderness—a poetics that is attentive to fleeting presence and that seeks to let things be. Trying to imagine what ultimately eludes capture, the romantics recognized the complicity between conceptual and economic domination, and they saw how thought itself could become a technology for control. This insight, Ellermann proposes, motivates romantic efforts to think past capitalist instrumentality and its devastation of the world.

Ultimately, this new work undertakes a fundamental rethinking of the aesthetics and politics of nature.

About the author

Greg Ellermann is Lecturer in English at Yale University.

"This erudite, eloquent, and genuinely original book, with its nuanced close readings and fascinating reassessment of the reception of romanticism, makes a persuasive case for the continuing resonance of a romantic poetics of nature."

—Catherine Rigby, University of Cologne

"This is a vital, eloquent, and necessary book, which scholars of romanticism and ecocriticism will be engaging for years to come."

—Jonathan Sachs, Concordia University

"Thought's Wilderness: Romanticism and the Apprehension of Nature... is a fine contribution to current materialist discourse, which, in this case, engages in a critique of industrial capitalism, as Ellermann advances a 'romantic poetics of wilderness,' suggesting nature is at the 'threshold of apprehension.'"

—Dewey W. Hall, Nineteenth-Century Contexts

"Greg Ellermann's Thought's Wilderness is an ambitious work of Romanticism studies that explores how human consciousness impacts the natural world."

—Johannah King-Slutzky, Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment

"By providing a unique perspective on the relationship between nature, society, and consciousness, Thought's Wilderness offers insight into the limitations of capitalism and the potential for alternative ways of relating to nature. In all, Ellermann's work is a thorough and thought-provoking literary study that explores how capitalist societies grapple with the idea of nature. This work demonstrates the importance of romanticism and its ability to show how the concept of nature is fundamental to understanding the natural world."

—Paige Figanbaum, H-Environment

"Greg Ellermann's short but impressively ambitious Thought's Wilderness... seeks to reconcile the traditions of Marxist thought, idealist philosophy, and Romantic poetics to the central goal of ecocriticism, which is to make room for nature.... Its success lies in the consistency of its focus and force of its thesis, and most of all through the striking and welcome clarity of its prose. Ellermann eschews jargon of all kinds, and finds eloquence in brevity. In short, this book is an actual pleasure to read, and when was the last time you said that about the work of a young, ambitious, theory-devoted critic?"

—Onno Oerlemans, Modern Philology

"Greg Ellermann's Thought's Wilderness: Romanticism and the Apprehension of Nature contributes to the ever-vibrant field of Romantic ecocriticism with a provocative combination of critical theory and Romantic poetics."

—Eric Gidal, The Wordsworth Circle

"[An] incisive and sophisticated book.... Ellerman's poetics of wilderness—defined by 'withdrawal' and a 'consent to distance'—offers a notable precedent for contemporary practices of rewilding, which involve both active management and careful withdrawal, an act of 'letting be'."

—Tobias Menley, Genre