Lecture Series "Unraveling Tales: Exploring Intersections between Folkloristics and Literature" - 8th July to 26th August 2021
The Tamil word “Akam” signifies "heart", "home" and "Earth". Environmental activist and Deep Ecology poet Gary Snyder in his essay, 'The Place, The Region, and The Commons' notes, "The heart of a place is the home, and the heart of the home is the fire pit, the hearth". In this talk, I would like to interpret the classical Tamil theory of “Akam” as an eco-critical philosophy with its three seminal characteristics: “Mutal” (space and time) underscoring the spirit of interconnectedness and cyclical pattern of life; “Karu” (land, water, flora, fauna and life worlds) representing nature-culture interdependence; and “Uri” (relationships/connection) highlighting love, kinship, motherhood, sisterhood and intrinsic value of life. Ecofemiotics as an “ecofeminist” alternative to Ecosemiotics is identified as a tool to study “Akam” as a conglomeration of woman’s space, nature’s space and narrative space in folklore and literature. An Ecofemiotic study of woman-nature narratives suggests four types of “Akam” namely : “Celebrative or Passive Akam” where women/nature are revered and worshipped on one hand and they remain passive and silent on the other; “Oppressive or Suppressive Akam” where women/nature are either silenced or exploited by internal/external factors in the environment; “Interactive or Collaborative Akam” where the advent of a natural/supernatural agency changes the course of the narrative; and “Transformative or Regenerative Akam” where both women and nature experience a sense of revival in terms of mind, body and soul. In this talk I would like to focus on trees, woods and forests as Ecofemiotic models that represent alternative forms of “Akam” in indigenous narratives across cultures. By identifying the spatio-temporal relativity, the naturo-cultural density and the spirituo-physical gravity of woman-nature representations in folk/literary narratives, Ecofemiotics attempts to re-invent life-affirming avenues towards gender equity and sustainable living.