Lawrence Buell’s essay “The Ecocritical Insurgency” (1999) claims that “human beings are inescapably biohistorical creatures who construct themselves, at least partially, through encounters with physical environments that they cannot not inhabit.” Precisely two centuries earlier, American writer Charles Brockden Brown advocates for a specifically American gothic tradition; Brown adapts the European gothic to American soil. Brown’s trans-Atlantic negotiation between the European gothic’s “puerile superstition,” “exploded manners,” and “castles and chimeras” contrasts the emergent American gothic’s “incidents of Indian hostility, and the perils of western wilderness,” exemplifying an 18th-century revision of the gothic environment that puts at stake human construction of the self through Buell’s inescapably inhabited environments. Buell encourages an ecocritical approach in order to provide an account of the “placial basis of human and social experience, conceiving ‘place’ not simply in the light of an imagined descriptive or symbolic structure, not simply as a social construction, not simply as an ecology, but all three of these simultaneously.” Emphasizing a nationalistic and environmental divide, Brown explains that the American gothic’s “new field of investigation … should differ essentially from those which exist in Europe.” Indeed, constructions of the gothic self are connected to conceptions of imagined, social, and ecological space, as well as unavoidably connected to geographical boundaries.
This panel seeks to interrogate the gothic environment. Is the gothic landscape merely a reflection of a sociopolitical, nationalistic divide? Or, returning to Buell, does the trans-Atlantic gothic canon represent human beings “constructing themselves” through an environmental other?