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Narrative Ecology Journals I: The Word, The Organism

For my first entry in this series, let’s talk about how words in a work of literature are the organism of the composition. 

In standard ecology, organisms are the base living unit of the ecosystem. An organismal ecologist can study the body of, say, a rat and learn all its intricacies, where the rat’s teeth came from and the vestigial organs it currently has. The rat wears its history in its body, and the organismal studies this history as well as the rats presence in the ecosystem today. The rat, the living unit in the ecosystem, is an integral part of the ecologic composition. 

A word is no different from a rat. Words have a body of letters, a history contained within itself, and an interactive presence in the work of literature it finds itself in. Words have ancestors, words have relatives and will have descendants. What we call phylogeny for living organisms, we call etymology for words. It’s all the same. It’s all living history. 

Let’s examine the following paragraph. 


“It’s not a paragraph,” you say to yourself, leaning back from your screen, eyes furrowed. “It’s barely a sentence. It’s word with a period clinging to it.”

My dear friend, that’s exactly the point. That is what it would be like if I put a single rat in front of you. You can study the rat like you can study the word “bubble.” But “bubble” isn’t meant to live isolated just like the rat isn’t meant to live isolated. 

What you are reading right now, this paragraph, is an ecosystem. There aren’t any words by themselves because words are meant to live in a sentence, which, in ecological terms, are called a population. Sentences of words are communities. And as you add more communities and more communities, you get an ecosystem. 

Words naturally interact in the ecosystem of language just like organisms interact with each other in natural ecosystems. That is why I find this in-between space of narrative ecology so fascinating. There’s so many overlaps in the metaphors behind both, and I feel like I’m stumbling around a literal field that’s never been explored before. 

Of course, I don’t mean to say that ecology as it is and English as it is are the same thing. They most certainly aren’t. You don’t go to a lab to study a word, don’t write scientific papers on the trophic interactions of a sentence. But I’m here to draw the metaphoric parallels between English and ecology, slowly build these entries as my understanding of these connections build, and show how narrative ecology affects our lives in everyday life. 

That’s it for the first narrative ecology entry. If this was insightful in anyway or downright confusing, please let me know.