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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Presentation Details

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Ec(o)centrism: Poetry and Ecology in South Africa's Eastern Cape

Dan Wylie.

The global ecological climacteric is unquestionably the primary problem of our times; any humanities programme which ignores it is likely soon to be banished to irrelevance. This paper argues that the humanities - and poetry in particular - has an important role to play in effecting a more appropriately ethical and sensitive attitude towards the natural world. It argues further that in order to become ECOcentric, one needs in part to be ECcentric: that is, to move away from the centripetal, homogenising mainstreams of commerce, technology and global rhetorics. This is precisely what poetry can do: it challenges ‘centrist' readings and rhetorics; and it often recharges language by rooting it in, and devoting it to, the particularities of a dwelling-place. The paper examines the validity of such a conception through the work of selected poets from South Africa's Eastern Cape province, where a violent frontier history, extensive ecological changes, and global forces fascinatingly intersect. It will focus mainly on contemporary poems by Chris Mann, Don Maclennan, Brian Walter, and Robert Berold, touching on some earlier poems, such as those of Thomas Pringle, for the sake of historical perspective.


Dan Wylie  (South Africa)
Senior Lecturer in English
Department of English
Rhodes University

Born in Zimbabwe, Wylie lectures in English. He has published a study of white myths of Shaka, a memoir of the Rhodesian war, and two volumes of poetry.

  • Poetry
  • Ecology
  • Eastern Cape
  • South Africa
Person as Subject
  • Berold, Robert Maclennan, Don Mann, Chris Walter, Brian

(30 min Conference Paper, English)