Ecocritical Creativity



A Theory of Writing Process and Practice

In a 1949 Life Magazine interview a writer asked Jackson Pollock what his paintings meant. Pollock pointed to his wild flower bed and said, you don’t tear your hair out over what the flowers mean. The same writer asked him how he knew when a painting was finished and he said, how do you know when you’re finished making love? Pollock believed that the structure and beauty of art was rooted in a process of ideas that emerged in a free and physical practice. His paintings seemed to bloom like flowers. They were, in fact, structural organic forms. The current model for a creative process and practice is at best a conglomerate of scholarly theories that do not quite integrate, although prominent practitioners, notably writers Peter Elbow and Barry Lopez, do tend to talk about creativity in metaphors analogous to an ecosystem. I wish to gather a clutter of such data into an ecosystem of interrelated ideas, an “ecocreativity,” specifically focused on the creativity of writing.

Creativity Is a Living Organism

Organic structures, living organisms, are composed of different functional parts that are separate but interdependent. Of what “parts” is creativity composed? Its mechanism is housed in the brain, which is what I call the mind’s ecotype, and its parts consist of sensory perception, the conscious and the unconscious, and its function is to produce or reproduce by physical actions and interactions with external matter into new or rearranged things. We know, for example, that visual processing begins in the retina which then sends an electrical pulse via neurotransmitters to the thalamus where it permeates the membrane of the synaptic cleft. The retina does not view scenes or objects as wholes; rather it breaks them into overlapping circles and transmits them all at once to the neurotransmitters in a system called parallel processing. Specific neurons recognize specific forms and reprocess them into whole structures in a system that I posit is identical to and a part of the ecosystem. In other words, mental events are physical events. R.W. Gerard in his piece “The Biological Basis of Imagination” defines the imagination, what I call the “ecotype” for creativity, in a poem: “The poem, the written piece, is “an action of the mind that produces a new idea or insight” (Ghiselin 226). “Neither the conscious impressions nor the unconscious interpretations constitute the poem. They are inseparable from it, but it is an entity which they do not create. The incommunicable, unique essence of the poem is its form. It can only be compared to the unity of natural organisms, which […] springs out of the unconscious” (229). This unity is what I call “ecocreativity.” Creativity, the “ecotype” for the action of writing, and its product, the written piece, the “ecocreation,” are living organisms within the ecosystem of the creative imagination and its “ecotypes,” the mind and brain. The brain, of course, gets its information, its ideas, from sensory perception in the world, the environment. A formulaic model might look like this:

environment  brain  mind  imagination  creativity  writing  piece

The writing ecotype interacts, overlaps, and interlocks with its mutual ecotypes in the chain. What occurs between systems is structuring, organizations inherent in the mutual adjustments of their components. Between systems there is a flow of energy and matter, information from ever larger environments. In the action of writing, for example, these organizations form the structures of narrative in which as Lopez says, truth “becomes discernible as a pattern […] ideas we refer to as ‘mind’ are a set of relationships in the interior landscape with purpose and order […] The shape and character of these relationships in a person’s thinking […] are deeply influenced by where on earth one goes” (69, 65). Thinking, then, has an actual structure that corresponds to the environment and the products that thinking produces, as a seed in a plant. Neurologists know, for example, that we can refashion our own brain anatomy by how we engage our thinking with challenges in the external environment in the same way that we can restructure our muscles and bones by exercise. Plants are fashioned in the same way by varying amounts of sunlight and moisture. It follows, then, that the writing process and products are shaped by the brain’s active perceptions fed to the mind, by the imagination’s interactions among perceptive elements—sometimes direct, sometimes diffuse—but adaptive throughout the ecocreative system. The product, the written piece, the ecocreation, takes on the structure of the creative act and through the chain of ecotypes within the ecocreative system. Words take the shape of the living landscape because they are secreted by organisms within the landscape.

Gerard describes the imagination as a kind of container that is fed by conscious and unconscious perceptions. The creative products of the writing action, or practice, are combinations selected and reordered by aesthetic judgment that produce the piece--the unity, harmony, the ecotype—within the ecosystem. Each is a living organism composed of energy and matter. The reason it can be defined as “living” is so aptly summed by Elbow in his definition of the act, or practice, of writing: “it was as though I had succeeded in accelerating the passage of time and hastening the growth process. It is the characteristic of living organisms, cell creatures, to unfold according to a set of stages that must come in order” (43). The written piece “blooms.” In order for the blossom, the piece, to emerge as a new “ecotype” it must evolve within a structure within time in the manner of a live organism. Getting the information in the imagination to interact in the creative process creates natural living transitions that stimulate blossoming.

The clutter of metaphorical data sums up nicely as an ecosystem of interrelated ideas, an “ecocreativity” specifically focused on the writing process herein. Barry Lopez called the interior landscape a metaphor of the exterior landscape. I propose that the structure of creative thinking is more than metaphorical; it is a part of the external environment since both are living organisms. Internal and external interlock.

In conclusion, many authors talk about the writing process and practice in such metaphors. The creative product, the ecocreation, is a combination of inner and outer; it is a new ecotype. This is the process of blooming in the human organism. Henry Miller set up a little ecosystem of his own when he said “Like the spider I return again and again to the task, conscious that the web I am spinning is made of my own substance, that it will never fail me, never run dry” (Ghiselin 184). Gerard writes about perceptions evolving into insights out of the imagination ecotype “A good insight generalizes progressively, as is so well illustrated by the growth of mathematics and the formulation of ever more inclusive and freer equations […] which can then be applied to an increasing range of particular cases” (230). Lynn Bloom makes the same observation in Fact and Artifact: “natural scientists use their imagination to draw analogies between known phenomena and the unknown to provide elegant interpretations of complicated data” (150). This equation moves back and forth between microcosm and macrocosm, between ecotypes and ecosystems as my formula illustrates. Abraham Maslow evokes a psychological metaphor of the creative process in his idea that writers and theorists have incorrigible clashing personality traits in the same way that they make clashing visuals with paint, words, and ideas come together. This makes us see that parts that look incongruous actually fit when conjoined. Yet given the congruency between the structure of creative thought and the structure of the ecocreative product, between the interlocking ecotypes, it is, again, more than metaphorical—it is part of and alive.

The Ecocreative System

An ecosystem is a unit in balance comprised of organic matter and energy that flows between independent but cooperative ecotypes. All of the parts are integrated into a functional whole. Even the parts typically thought of as inorganic can be said to contain living matter that passes between regions, indeed, all the physical factors forming the unit as a macrocosm or a microcosm. The comparisons between creativity and an ecosystem are not abstract as demonstrated above. I wish to show how the processes that contain and renew an ecosystem are analogous to the creative writing process and that both are alive within the ecosystem, that ecocreativity is in fact a ecotype of an ecosystem. To do this I will collect and integrate sometimes vague, sometimes clear theories by prominent writers.

The British ecologist Arthur Tansley (1935) said that the systems that comprise an ecosystem and which we isolate mentally are not only included as parts of larger ones, but that they all show organization, which is the inevitable result of the interactions and consequent mutual adjustment of their components. Such interactions between systems trigger a jumbling and reordering of parts within. New parts entering the system either adapt or die but the system is constantly recreating itself.

This jumbling and reordering action within is the same action that occurs within the imagination with reprocessed unconscious-to-conscious sensory perceptions that erupt into creativity and its products. Sensory perceptions gathered from experience are stored in memory programs and processed in the hippocampus. These sensory memories are rerouted and reprocessed during REM sleep in what Jonathan Winson, in his book Brain and Psyche: The Biology of the Unconscious  (1985) calls the unconscious. He posits that “nature arrived at a particular solution to a basic problem of the mammalian state—how to integrate experience over time, that is, how to construct or modify neural circuits to guide future behavior. This integrative process is learning […] the integration of experience […] the new solution, which allowed the same task to be performed with much less prefrontal cortex […] the function of which is to formulate a strategy for the future behavior of an animal so that it may take an appropriate action in a given situation […] made possible by REM sleep ” (204, 205, 206). REM sleep is Freud’s ‘unconscious’ and Winson’s take on Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ and this data, I propose, is rejumbled creatively in a process identical to adaptation.

Lopez, in metaphorical language, says that “When you pick up something in the woods, it is not only connected to everything else by virtue of its being a set piece in an ecosystem, but it’s connected to everything else by virtue of the fact that you have an imagination” (Trimble 13). The structure of ecosystems and the parts within are internalized in such a way that creatively structure our own thinking in the imagination. This creative process allows us to “fill in,” jumble, reorder imaginatively the “missing connections” and so create a new piece. In a study of psychological analysis, for example, Roy Schafer shows how, a “narrative re-description of reality” occurs in “phases of construction” in which the analysis becomes a process of “fact finding” and “surmise” (47). An annul of accurate memories is created but recovery takes place when new connections fill in the chronological gaps and become a narrative reconstruction of facts. The narrative becomes a live narration in analysis or even storytelling such that “in this moment of dialogue lies the structure of the analytic past, present, and future” (Schafer 49). What we look for in a representation of reality is the events that constitute a plot, to make connections by selecting interrelated rather than isolated facts (Forster: 126, 131).

W.J.T. Mitchell’s On Narrative presents a an accurate departure for the development of my theory. He implies that an absence of narrative capacity is an absence of meaning itself; hence insanity. It is a way of translating “knowing into telling” (1). He asks, how do we discover the story in the facts, the referents of a discourse? Reality, he says, offers itself to perception through experience which invites imaginative integration. These structures of meaning are human rather than culture specific. They are, I propose, a function of the organism’s capacity to uniquely jumble and reorder facts of the ecosystem in a corresponding structure of reality by interpreting connections between facts, a form of adaptation of the organism. Mitchell concludes by saying that “the very distinction between real and imaginary events, basic to modern discussion of both history and fiction presupposes a notion of reality in which ‘the true’ is identified with ‘the real’ only insofar as it can be shown to possess the character of narrativity” (6). Ecocreations are secreted from such connections, or penetrations of membranes, between the living structures of the ecocreative regions. These connections, of course, are conductions between brain synapses in the same way that ecotypes blend directly within their ecosystems. Lopez reiterates this concept when he says that “The difference between the relationships and the elements is the same as that between written history and a catalog of events” (65).

Everything is connected by living energy and matter. There are no separations. “Imaginative” separations occur only when, according to Lopez, the narrative reconstruction of, for example, a landscape, contains impossible descriptions. These, he says, lack structure, they are lies (aberrations, cancers); so the sign of good mental health is a structured narrative in which the internal and external landscapes are identical. This process is analogous to the adaptive techniques of parts within an ecosystem. In ecocreativity, the piece, the ecocreation, the secretion, is true to its structure under the following conditions: “A story draws on relationships in the exterior landscape and projects them onto the interior landscape. The purpose of storytelling is to achieve harmony between the two landscapes, to use all the elements of story—syntax, mood, figures of speech—in a harmonious way to reproduce the harmony of the land in the individual’s interior. Inherent in a story is the power to reorder a state of psychological confusion through contact with the pervasive truth of those relationships we call ‘the land’” (68).

An ecocreation is so perfectly aligned with the structure of thought and with the structure of the ecosystem that, as Elbow wrote “Having to write introductions or transitions means that you got things in the wrong order” (43). Jon Franklin called such order “Story grammar [which] is to a story what ordinary grammar is to a sentence. It describes anatomy, and specifies what has to go before what else” (1). Lopez, of course, reiterates the reality of the form as a conscious oath to writing when he says that to make up something which “can never be corroborated in the land, to knowingly set forth a false relationship” (69) is a lie. In an ecosystem, when the structure of a form is “wrong” the system rejects it; it cannot adapt and dies. This process is the defining theory for a narrative nonfiction writing process and practice that can be traced to its formulaic origins in the macrocosm of the brain to the microcosm of the ecocreation and back again within the ecocreativity I have proposed.

How does sensory perception feed the imagination in the ecocreative system? Picasso said that “while a picture is being made it follows the mobility of thought. […] man is the instrument of nature; it imposes its character, its appearance, upon him” (Ghiselin 57). This character forms itself in the imagination in a process of choice according to Henry Moore who said “Out of the millions of pebbles passed in walking along the shore, I choose out to see with excitement only those which fit in with my existing form interest at the time. There are universal shapes to which everybody is subconsciously conditioned and to which they can respond if their conscious control does not shut them off” (75). We internalize these forms we discover in the landscape and they are particularly ingrained in our rooted landscapes. These forms are the shapes of our ecosystems.

The choice of form in the ecocreative process occurs in the action of interlocking ecotypes almost like the process of black holes in space. A squeezing action causes energy to pass through a black hole pin prick in a concentrated force of expansion that bursts through to a new universe, a new ecotype. “Forming” is not an abstract process; it is embedded in referents. Mark Robinson talks about referential writing through language “with which we are able to connect to […] subconscious information and emotion. Verbal representations are possible only at the symbolic level, when we have developed an image for experience or emotion. This image allows us to put a verbal label onto something we have previously only felt subconsciously or perhaps physically. These symbols—which can be visual or non-verbal as well as verbal—can then be combined in an infinite set of meaningful combinations, according to certain rules…to activate images which then form the basis of emotional schemas”  (1). The referential cycle has four stages: the image is activated in the unconscious; the images are structured in thought; the images are put into early draft form; the images are restructured and rewritten. This final form is the language, the form, the images demand.

William Carlos Williams is the hero of the realistic form. At the heart of his philosophy was the concept “No ideas but in things.” He believed it was his duty as a poet to write about reality and to portray reality in accessible language. Like William Wordsworth, “common” language was different from formal English in that it broke formal grammatical rules that were already disconnected from reality. Williams rejected abstractions; he called them “aboutness” and instead focused on concrete referents. Williams’ ecocreative poetry was about objects in small spaces, the microcosm of a macrocosmic universe.

Wordsworth used common language to represent reality in the Lyrical Ballads. He made the “incidents of common life interesting by tracing in them […] the primary laws of our nature […] as regards the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of excitement” Rustics, he said, were the best models for this structure because “the passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature” He called this structure “organic sensibility” because if the language of poetry “comes close to the approximation of the important connections between feelings and their meanings […] the writer who has this sensibility will describe objects and feelings in perfect representative connections (238, 239, 240). Wordsworth makes an important contribution to a theory of an ecocreativity because the feelings he describes, those that become “templated” in the mind, are actually the action of energy generated in blending actions of ecocreative ecotypes. Feelings and ideas connect through this energy.

Sensory perceptions feed the imagination ecotype in two ways: via conscious and unconscious absorptions and assimilations of internalized external forms. These perceptions are jumbled and reorganized into new forms in the imagination when they erupt into creative production. The conscious and unconscious process of absorbing sensory data is a living function within the ecocreative organism. Picasso says that the whole secret of art is in absorption and expulsion, that when he takes a walk, he gets an “indigestion of greenness [that he must empty] into a picture [in which] green dominates” (Ghiselin 59). The writer Max Ernst says that the artist is a gatherer who puts forth “that which makes itself visible within him. The process […] shows up as a true equivalent of what we now call automatic writing” (65). This process occurs in the unconscious ecotype of the brain according to the ecocreative formula. The action of internalizing sensory perceptions can be called “experience.” In the sense of an ecosystem this would occur when one region accepted and integrated parts from another through adaptation.

Ayn Rand is a master of clarity, logic, reason, and objectivity in writing. For the purpose of an ecocreative theory in a nonfiction writing process and practice, Rand’s model is particularly suitable. First of all, the basis of her epistemology is Aristotelian: “The basis of everything is an entity, not an abstraction or an idea” (2). Writing, she says, is not inspiration, but the integration of concrete facts contained in “an outline [that] is a plan of mental action” (41). The outline, I propose, is the structure of the fact. The fact, of course, is a part of the ecotype into which our ecocreativity is integrated. Furthermore, if the structure is rational, if it agrees with the structure of the fact, “then it is the structure for moral behavior and judgment and […] is always accessible” (30)—a philosophy consistent with Lopez’ that tends toward modernist structuralism in which images are connected to essences—and yet I know of no other theory that so thoroughly supports an ecosystem of which we and all our products are a part. Even the theory of an ecosystem is part of the ecosystem in what Rand calls a psycho-epistemology: [that is] the method of awareness [is] the process by which [the] writer’s mind habitually deals with its content” (2).

The process begins with a question of outward assessment: “What is the nature of the thing I want do?” (7). In the case of Picasso, he went for a walk and got an impression of green, so the thing he wanted to come out was green. In the same way Ernst might say that green became visible within. Sensory impressions and experiences are reformulated in the unconscious and produced by a conscious act. In order to turn the forms that emerge from the unconscious into connected wholes, balanced ecocreations, it is necessary to fill in the spaces in the analogue or outline. The essence, the original form = the essentials from details. Cause-and-effect = relations between paragraphs. Essence = structure = plot. What Rand implies, and this is the essence of a process theory for Literary Nonfiction (LNF) is that the subconscious cannot grasp what you have not already grasped consciously. This is what she means when she says that writer’s paralysis is a consequence of the conscious mind’s failure to identify a unifying theme from the jumble of forms in the unconscious. Jumbled forms are incoherent, inaccurate, and false.  Rand says “the subconscious struggles with a contradiction, a clash of intentions and since it is on that level your conscious mind cannot identify it” (65). Writer’s paralysis is a priori identical to the maladaptive process of an new organism in an ecosystem. Conscious re-assimilation of an unconscious impression is equivalent to a new organism’s adaptation. We are, ourselves, assembled facts of the universe.

The writing ecotype within the ecocreative system is a system of facts that is structured according to the forms with which it interlocks. These structures can be called plots. Hence, the process and practice of LNF can be said to be a fact of the system that can be corroborated in a mathematical formula in reverse verification. Peter Matthiessen offers a personal philosophy that supports my theory. He says that nonfiction is “assembled from facts, from research, from observation; it comes from outside, not from within. It may be well made or badly made, but it’s still an assemblage. If you’re an honest journalist, you’re inevitably confined by the facts; you can’t use your imagination beyond a certain point” (243).

Creativity Is a Physical Act

I have shown than creativity is a physical ecotype within an ecocreativity within an ecosystem and that its processes are identical to and part of the physical systems of nature. Ecocreations are the secretions of living organisms that evolve and adapt from jumbled and reassembled forms that permeate between ecotypes and our bodies are part of ecosystems in nature. I wish to show now that the action creativity is a physical act by integrating theoretical data of writing practice.

I remember a scene from the movie Finding Forrester (2000) in which the Sean Connery character told his student, who had writer’s paralysis, to simply pound the keyboard. I had an art teacher who began her classes by making us do jumping jacks. Painting, she said, was a physical act that required sweeping strokes of the arms. Such physical actions constitute a writing practice that is implied, but not formally theorized, by prominent writers.

The ecocritical analysis of creativity is embedded in a philosophy of naturalism, a kind of realism that relies on nature as the central category of analysis, that aspects of nature exist independently of our experience and that our experience is itself an aspect of nature. Science is one arena in which we can investigate nature through observation and action and bring these internalized forms to creativity and the ecocreation. The physical act of creativity is perceptual, of course, and this is accomplished through the writer’s, specifically the nature writer’s, engagement in observation. At the center of observation is the observer. In a cooperative-one-organism relationship of human-to-nature the autobiographical-subject-made-the-object of writing succeeds in blending the two--self and nature—such that self changes, grows, evolves as a result of the interaction in the same way a plant grows from groundwater. The writer merely records the observation. The writer engaged in observation and creative recording is the writer engaged in the  physical act of practice.

Process = practice = product; creativity = writing = piece.

How do writers engage in a practice? Stephen Spender describes “The Making of A Poem” as a disturbance of the balance of body and mind (Ghiselin: 114). I think of this as the balancing act among organisms in an ecosystem. Spender says that “memory is the faculty of poetry, because the imagination itself is an exercise of memory. There is nothing we imagine which we do not already know. And our ability to imagine is our ability to remember what we have already once experienced and to apply it to some different situation” (122). Winson called this learning—nature’s solution to the problem of  using stored memories efficiently in the unconscious as a way of guiding future behavior. I call it ecocreative adaptation.

Most writers agree that a daily physical practice is necessary to exercise the ecocreative ecotypes. Natalie Goldberg’s physical practice involves a voice recorder, a fountain pen, and a cheap journal. Writing is physical, she says. “If you use a small notebook you will have small thoughts” (8). Rand’s practice is to write from the unconscious “as if everything that comes out of it is right. In fact, there is nothing other than the process of your own creative subconscious, and you must trust it” (60). Rand says that stalls in a writing practice are technical and must be solved immediately without taking a break. She says that “going ‘blank’ means that you have exempted the process of writing from conscious questions when the subconscious runs out of material. Learning to write automatically is to put yourself in the control of the subconscious. This is achieved by conscious practice” (86, 87). Hence, Rand always uses an outline “to retain the abstract integration during the entire writing process” (54). Elbow compares the editing practice to growth cycles of living organisms. The ecocreation evolves in time in an analogous unfolding because it, too, is alive within its ecocreative system. Elbow says that difficulty with editing reveals difficulty with an earlier stage in producing. “What is illustrated here is the essence of the developmental growth cycle for living cells” (40).

Steven Pinker in his book How the Mind Works (1997) says that “creative geniuses are distinguished not just by their extraordinary works but by their extraordinary way of working […] They put a problem aside and let it incubate in the unconscious […] They absorb tens of thousands of problems and solutions […] and the epiphany is not a masterstroke but a tweaking of an earlier attempt. They revise endlessly, gradually closing in on their ideal. The genius creates good ideas because we all create good ideas; that is what our combinatorial, adapted minds are for” (360).

The creativity ecotype secretes the ecocreation like the pearl in the clam shell or the flower from the seed or the amber from the resin or the baby from the birth or the excrement from the bowels. It is the product of the practice from the living process identifiable by observation and science.

Ecocreative Relationships

Relationships among organisms in the ecocreative system produce energy that can be measured as electrical pulses in the same way that relationships among the ecocreative ecotypes can be measured via neurotransmitters. Writers are activists in the sense of promoting a conscious practice around the development of their observations in service to their creative vision and ultimately to the stimulation of evolving ecocreative systems and environments. In other words, it is good for the environment to create relationships, interconnections, that are healthy, adaptive, and growing. Healthy relationships among organisms in an ecosystem depend upon tolerance, or blending, interlocking, and interconnectedness among ecotypes. The writer Yi-Fu Tuan asks, “If people at times find their own species uncomprehending and incomprehensible, what expectation can they reasonably have of their ability to connect at a personal level with plants and animals, rock and wind?” Tuan says the solution, the balance, between isolation, oneness, and “problematic uniqueness,” is “formal order” (233, 235, 234) to become conscious of our place in the organic pattern in a kind of structural analysis. I am reminded of Maslow’s concept of clashing personality traits that translate into clashing ecocreations in connections that work as a whole but which were at first unrecognizable as actual interconnected parts. To see in this way requires an act of the unconscious, an eruption of rejumbled facts into the imagination. Writers must therefore foster not only their relationships with other living organisms, both unique and common, but also the relationships within their ecocreative ecotypes.

Literary Nonfiction specifically calls for an ethical realism because it is singular in its destiny of depicting by proxy the structure of facts and the relationships among them within the ecocreative system and its environment. Remember it is the ethical duty of the writer to depict facts accurately; to do otherwise, as Lopez says, is to knowingly set forth false relationships and hence confound and destabilize the system into aberrant growths.

What does it mean to be an ethical realist in the pursuit of a LNF practice? It is first of all Aristotelian in that art, inquiry, and action aims at some good and the good is that at which all things aim and desire is guided by reason—a statement provable by reverse verification in the way of ecocreations and their facts. A person guided by reason will desire objects based on the assessment that those objects possess desirable qualities. Desiring, therefore, is an ethical quality in that the pursuit of objects with good properties is contingent upon some fact about the nature of the person. In this case, the nature of the person would call for ethical depictions of the facts of an ecosystem including the relationships among the organisms. Why? Because to do otherwise is to distort the health of the system.

John Shook’s “A Pragmatically Realistic Philosophy of Science” examines the claims of scientific realism in which the production of a representation of a fact can be tested by its correspondence to the original in the same way a mathematical equation can be run backwards and add up to the same number. In other words, if a writer attempted to reproduce the situation described in an LNF ecocreation, the test would be its accurate corresponding match in reality. The proposition for the realist practitioner would be ‘reproduction’ of matter to fit the product (reality = model = product). Since the LNF practitioner is also a selector, especially of accurate connections among facts, the test for accuracy would be to reliably and consistently reproduce the results, backwards and forwards, that the reader expects to find in nature.

How do prominent writers express the practice of their ecocreative relationships? Eric Booth compares a creative practice to falling in love. He says “We are shaped by what we extend ourselves into […] Art-work gives serious outer shape to serious inner yearning. If our yearnings are informed by less rich objects, they will go to sleep, will die, or will eventually distort themselves into […] harmful expressions. While exploring the world of a new love […] we make deep connections through which we discover alternative ways of being—new thoughts, new feelings, new ways of looking at things—that we want to keep. Our deep response to the world of this new person makes us want to adjust and improve the way we are put together; and in that wholehearted time, we are so filled with courage we believe we can recreate our internal order” (21, 29). Booth’s ecocreative relationships are ethical in the sense that they produce authentic “connections between the unnamable feelings inside […] and external realities” (33).

John Gardner articulated an elegant ethical realism of structured relationships when he wrote “the writer must be not only capable of understanding people different from himself but fascinated by such people. He must have sufficient self-esteem that he is not threatened by difference, and sufficient concern with fairness, that he wants to value people different from himself, and finally he must have, I think, sufficient faith in the goodness of life that he can not only tolerate but celebrate a world of differences, conflicts, oppositions” (32).

Stephen Trimble in Words From the Land says that nature writers articulate our lost connections with the natural world. The writer’s words take the shapes of landscapes. In writing that connection, the LNF nature writer establishes an ethical relationship with the land and with the reader.

Elbow says that writing from the unconscious is a fluid living process “engaged in by living organisms [that] are cyclic; developmental processes that run through time and end up different from how they began. If we get a ‘new’ idea, or perception, almost invariably it’s the third or seventeenth time we’ve encountered it. This time it took. This time growth occurred. What is really new is the letting go of an old perception, thought, or feeling which was really preventing assimilation of the “new” thing already waiting in the wings” (33, 45).

Abraham Maslow says that artists are people who “can see the fresh, the raw, the concrete, the idiographic, as well as the generic, the abstract, the rubricated, the categorized and the classified. Consequently, they live far more in the real world of nature than in the verbalized world of concepts, abstractions, expectations, beliefs and stereotypes that most people confuse with the real world” (137). The LNF nature writer’s ethical responsibility is to concrete adaptive relationships with living organisms within the ecocreative system and the environment including the faithful ecocreation. Relationships in ecosystems are place-centered, climate-dependent, as for nature writers whose relationships develop by becoming native to a particular place. Becoming native = adaptation. In the ecocreative system that would mean that relationships exist within a ecotype and that the writer is an activist in the sense of promoting a conscious practice around the development of observations that are good for the environment.

In conclusion, Wendell Berry writes “there is a sense in which my own life is inseparable form the history and the place. It is only in the processes of the natural world and in analogous and related processes of human culture that the new may grow usefully old and the old may be made new. If we do not live where we work, and when we work, we are wasting our lives, and our work, too” (Trimble 225). This type of relationship occurs whether or not we are conscious of it, but for the writer, ethical relationships involve adaptation, i.e., acceptance of unique organisms, alert observation, ethical realism faithful to the plot of the ecosystem, and accurately interpreted and rendered ecocreations, for inaccuracies engender aberrations and death to organisms.

Ecocreative Conservation

I propose that an ethical writing process and practice, specifically the LNF nature ecocreation, promotes conservation within the entire ecosystem. It does this by bringing the plot home to people, the structure of the landscape of which they are a part, and lets them see it artfully in a way that, as Lopez says, “depicts various subtle and obvious relationships in the exterior landscape accurately [so that] The listener will feel a pervasive sense of congruence within himself and also with the world” (66). These relationships are made obvious by the LNF writer who interprets such connections within the ecosystem ethically and accurately.

The practice of an ecocreative conservation, I propose, is pedagogy. The method of an ecocreative pedagogical practice is discourse. According to the philosopher Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970) There is a direct relationship between human social activity and language, and that when one engages in dialogue with another person, one transforms not just the relation between those two speakers but the speaker’s humanity as well as the world—material and social—within which those speakers enter into relation. The act of dialogue is an act of creation and re-creation, because along with transforming or recreating the relation between speakers and the subject under discussion one also creates new objects of knowledge. The new objects of knowledge, I propose, are ecocreations accurately adapted to the structure of facts in the ecosystem. These can evolve in the classroom through a discourse that secretes ecocreations.

Terry Tempest Williams implies an ecocreative conservation in her own writing and advocacy. She says “writing […] is the tool out of which I can express my love. My activism is a result of my love. I think our lack of intimacy with the land has initiated a lack of intimacy with each other. What we perceive as non-human, outside of us, is actually in direct relationship with us. There is no separation. […] the patterns that connect, the stories that inform and inspire us and teach us what is possible. Somewhere along the line we have become segregated in the way we think about things and become compartmentalized.” (London 1).

What are the implications of an ecocreative practice? Emerson implies direction for the theory I have proposed that is apropos. In “The Method of Nature” he addresses the problem of conservation. Emerson says that scholars are the keepers of the vision that preserves the landscape and that is a form of conservation: the scholarly and artistic ecocreations of ethical realists. Lacking any other explanation, Emerson says that the human intellect, so sublime a feature in the scholar, is evidence of the presence of God. He makes an interesting comparison between lateral human thought and rock and soil strata—which I posit are identical and have nothing to do with or to benefit by being associated with God, an abstract word without a referent. He calls nature the “memory of the mind” (134), the product of the intellect which is pure law that takes form as nature and becomes the “bright sediment of the world.” “The only way into nature is to enact our best insight” (151). This is the nature of observation—it is an experience rather than a dismantling. Such integration produces art and literature, but the work is not the sublime product; rather it is the artist that produced it, which when it beheld the sublime, such nature passed into it and mixed. “All knowledge is assimilation to the object of knowledge, as the power or genius of nature is ecstatic, so must its science or the description of it be” (145). Emerson elevates this process to a definition of love. I can see no contradiction between such a theory and what we know today of quantum mechanics, that all matter is unstable at the center and cannot ultimately be described except through experience. Finally, Emerson says that the acceptance of the vision—that nature is an ecstatic act, a sublime experience that cannot be held or penetrated—is what he calls an act of God and that if we can affirm this, we will not need to penetrate the mystery of nature. There is only one condition attached to this acceptance and that is ‘right use’. The scholar is a conservationist. The point Emerson repeatedly comes back to is that the person who has the vision of nature, what I call the right structural integration of forms and their connections, has a changed character, because no person can behold such splendor and have a mean intellect.


I have proposed an ecocritical theory of creativity that I call ecocreativity. I have invoked and integrated theoretical writings on a theory of writing process and practice that imply a cohesive structure in support of my proposal. I  have shown that creativity is a living organism processed within the brain by engagement with external stimuli. An ecocreativity may be divided into ecotypes. The events that pass between these ecotypes are physical structures analogous to facts in the universe that are processed in the unconscious through observation, or learning. The truth or accuracy of a structure can be known in a mathematical formula through reverse verification. An ecocreation is a secretion of creativity. Creativity is a ecotype of the imagination in which facts of the universe are jumbled and reordered. Imagination is a ecotype of the mind, the mind of the brain, and the brain of its environment. All regions are interconnected and interdependent. A true or accurate ecocreation is the product of an ethical realism or practice. LNF writers are activists in their allegiance to an ethical practice. An ethical practice is engendered in relationships that stimulate evolution and adaptation in an ecosystem. An ecocreation that has the same structure as the parts of an ecosystem is adaptive. Inability to adapt causes aberrations and death in nature. An ethical LNF nature writing practice promotes conservation. Conservation is achieved through a pedagogy of discourse. It is more efficient to conserve an ecocreative practice, and hence the ecosystem, by articulating the microcosm of a place to which we have intimately adapted. Such intimacy articulates a conscious passion and persuasion. Scholars and theorists are most adept at imparting the message of conservation through their ecocreations which are consciously, truthfully, and accurately aligned with and one and the same as, the facts of nature. Such alignment changes our character; it makes us benevolent and more humane because we are cooperatively interconnected with our ecosystem.

KURTZ © 2011

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