ELIT&AMER Seminar: “Life on the Rocks: Celia Thaxter on Ecological Memory”, Vesna Kuiken, 7:00PM April 21 (EN)

Talk: Vesna Kuiken, “Life on the Rocks: Celia Thaxter on Ecological Memory”


As part of Bilkent’s ongoing “Year of Sustainability,” the Department of American Culture and Literature and the Department of English Language and Literature are hosting a lecture series on “Literature and Sustainability.” The talks are open to the public.

The second talk in this series will take place on Thursday, April 21, 7:00 pm, via Zoom. Information about the speaker and the talk, as well as the Zoom details, appear below.

Time: 19:00 – 20:00; Thursday, April 21.

***This is an online event. To obtain Zoom link and password, please contact to the department.

Vesna Kuiken
“Life on the Rocks: Celia Thaxter on Ecological Memory”

This talk concerns Celia Thaxter’s uncommon theory of memory gathered from her experiences and observations of the Isles of Shoals, a minuscule archipelago located off the coast of New Hampshire and Maine where she lived most of her life. In this barren and inhospitable setting, Thaxter launched an epistemological inquiry into the effects of the environment on the human mind—specifically, on how the wind, ocean, and soil orient our protocols of remembering, memorializing, and historicizing. How is memory possible, she asks, and might we relate to the world differently, if the setting in which we live deprived us not only of the relics that anchor our history but of the capacity to remember? What would happen to our communities—collectives predicated on a shared past and common lineage—if that very past were incessantly drowned by the ocean, scattered by wind, and mixed with shipwrecked vestiges of other histories? What kind of personhood emerges out of a place where the environment so conspicuously labors to disable conventional gestures of memorialization and historical reconstruction? In her 1869 memoir Among the Isles of Shoals, Thaxter filtered these observations through a compelling theory of what I call “ecological memory.”

Vesna Kuiken is a Lecturer at the State University of New York in Albany. She specializes in 19th-century American literature, ecocriticism, and regionalism. Her work has appeared in American Impersonal: Essays with Sharon Cameron, J19, The Henry James Review, Arizona Quarterly, and Nineteenth-Century Prose. Her essay “1884: The Princess Casamassima, Anarchy, and James’s Materialist Poetics” received the 2016 Leon Edel Prize. She has coedited with Branka Arsić and contributed to the recently published collection of essays Dispersion: Thoreau and Vegetal Thought. She is currently completing a manuscript, Islandic Life, about 19th-century American women writers who lived on and wrote about islands and archipelagos.