“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Nature Writing as Postmodernism

Here is an aspect of one part of Ecology without Nature:

Thoreau is about ponds and woods and fruits ... and Thoreau.

Leopold is about wolves and mountains and farms ... and Leopold.

Wordsworth is about fells and sheep and trees ... and Wordsworth.

Narrative is about events and people and plotting ... and narrators.

—The part after the ... is what nature writing is blind to. This blindness repeats the structure. Here I am writing about wolves and mountains. Here I am writing about a desert. Look, it's me, in a desert, writing. Did I tell you I was in a desert? I am in a desert.

It doesn't much matter if you upgrade Nature to Nature 2.0, all flowy and pantheist and squishy and embedded. The same structure happens. Because you have not yet seen the whole thing, the whole of your Nature writing thing.

When I was threatened (the only time I have been) with physical violence, for a stance I took (this stance), it was by a writer for an ecocriticism journal, who gave out his email address and said “Let's do it.” (I would have been cool if the paragraph had only been “Let's pour rancid animal fat over Morton's head at a conference.” And so would Oxford UP, just about, in whose contracts you have to sign that you will not incite violence. That was the press in charge of the journal.)

In defense of the paragraph, the editor said “But it's just metaphorical.”

Isn't that the quintessence of postmodern violence. “I'm not a racist, I'm just joking. Can't you take a joke?”

Nature writing is the ultimate postmodern performance art.


Unknown said...

How is writing about nature about writing about nature? Writing about nature is about nature. That's pretty much the point of art, having your materials (in this case paper and ink) suggest something else than itself. If your point is that a text's silence about itself is the Big Repressed Hushed-up Other of writing, is that something we're supposed to be baffled by? Thing can't refer to themselves without being caught up in a regressus ad infinitum, but pointing that out is as much of a grand revelation as pointing out that my left index finger can't point to my left index finger. Aren't we through with these postmodern games yet?

john said...

Quite- it's a tautology at best. The idea that Wordsworth or Thoreau weren't self-reflexive, that they weren't conscious of their existence as part of the subject of their writing seems a bit bizarre.