Stefan Kalpachev is reading for the MSt in Comparative Literature and Critical Translation at Oxford. His research interests include the reception of classical and modern Greece, ecocriticism, travel writing and translation. He is currently completing a project on the figure of Philoctetes in the poetry of Yiannis Ritsos and Derek Walcott.
Byron’s Ruins: Dark Ecology, Spectrality and the Regeneration of Greece
Previous work on what have been identified as ecological threads in Byron’s poetry has paid much attention to the way it problematizes the culture-nature dichotomy. However, what has been missing from the discussion is an awareness of the friction between the more material aspects of his thinking and his sustained interest in the supernatural. Drawing on Timothy Morton’s concept of ‘dark ecology’ and advancements in the field of spectral cultural geography, the proposed paper seeks to foreground this friction by investigating the ecology of ruins developed in Byron’s poems dedicated to Greece: The Pilgrimage of Childe Harold (Cantos I&II), The Giaour, sections of Don Juan etc. ‘Ecology of ruins’ is an original model for furthering intersections between spectrality and ecocriticism, which is deployed in order to complicate some well-established Romantic tropes such as the experience of enchantment, the elegiac mode of writing nature, notions of home and the uncanny, but also as a way to pose questions regarding Byron’s involvement with the Philhellenic ideal of Greek regeneration: what role does the mapping and preservation of ruins play; how is the ‘reculturation’ of the Greek landscape and people envisaged; on what scale is regeneration possible? Fundamental contradictions come to the surface in Byron’s attitude towards Greece and the larger Philhellenic project, where materiality and spectrality have long coexisted in an uneasy balance. The introduction of a dark ecology perspective to the study of Philhellenism seeks to account for this antinomy.