Friday, June 3, 2011

A scene from _The Arrival_, showing a bird-spirit brooding over the city.

CFP: Cosmopolitics and the Radical Pastoral

Greg Garrard coined the term “radical pastoral” in a special issue of
Studies in Romanticism published in 1996.Garrard contrasted New Historicist and Ecocritical readings of William Wordsworth, Henry Thoreau, and other Romantics, and he identified “the radical problem of pastoral: It may cloud our social vision, or open out a human ecological one; it may help in the marginalization of nature into ‘pretty ghettoes’ or engender a genuine counter-hegemonic ideology.” What does this fundamental multivalence mean for the environmental imagination now, given the decisive globalization of both corporate power and ecosocial destruction in the 21st century? In a world of mega-slums, unnatural disasters, CAFOs, and gated green retreats, can the pastoral engender “cosmopolitical” awarenesses and practices of the kind that Isabelle Stengers claims can “slow down the construction of the common world [and] create a space of hesitation regarding what it means to say “good.’” Can the pastoral point not to a final transcendent “peace” of one globe, but to dynamic and unstable articulations and resistances among multiple and divergent worlds? Does the archive of pastoralism, from transatlantic Romanticism forward, still contain what Raymond Williams called “resources of hope”?

Laura Dassow Walls, Cosmos

As I look at the material world outside my study window, it occurs to me, first, that the pastoral is nowhere to be found, a total head trip; then, that the pastoral is found everywhere, for it’s the middle landscape, the modern milieu, all that’s left today now that nature has, as Bill McKibben told us, ended; finally, that the pastoral is right here, right now, under my feet as I write, out my window: thunder clouds and roiling green fire punctuated by dragonflies and bluebirds and crows that are rather too eerily prescient. I want to “root” or radicalize this pastoral view by insisting that the local is already, and always has been, “planetary,” just as “global” is always under our feet, local at every point (Latour).

I converge on this point via “cosmopolitanism,” an old Kantian term that is now a useful catalyst for the reframing of such holdover Cartesian binaries as local and global, nature and culture, science and literature. I take cosmopolitanism to be an ethical stance in response to the material fact of globalization; my path to this term comes via intellectual history, through my immersion in one of Kant’s followers, the scientist Alexander von Humboldt, who, roughly 200 years ago when modernity was getting underway, attempted to revise Kant’s cosmopolitanism into a planetary rather than just a political platform. Humboldt envisioned the earth as a member of a universe of planets, stars, and stellar objects, all composing “the great garden of the universe.” From outer space, the earth could be seen first and last as a planetary body, undercutting the binary between earth and the heavens by showing that, as Thoreau would say, Heaven lies under our feet—or as Carl Sagan would instruct us in his TV series, not coincidentally also named “Cosmos,” “we are all star-stuff.”

This is not just an enlargement of scientific knowledge, more of the usual epistemological imperialism, but a fundamental reorientation in being: an ontological revolution. In Humboldt’s view, we are part of the “Cosmos” (a word he brought back from obsolescence into common usage) quite literally as partners, co-creators, with the vast beyond-the-human; both humans and nonhumans call each other into ever-more-elaborate existences. This is how they, and the Cosmos they generate, is coming into being: the Cosmos is a narrative, an unfolding, or as Humboldt’s student Darwin would put it, an evolution—riddled with uncertainties, to be sure, at the local level.

Of our three terms—radical, cosmopolitical, pastoral—I am least convinced by the term “pastoral”: given my Humboldtian orientation, haven’t I made the Cosmos sound more like a work site, a construction project, than a peaceful rural retreat? Perhaps I should, like Mike Ziser, be sidelining the pastoral for the georgic? This, he argues, allows us to move beyond all the stalemates that have accumulated around the pastoral and its associated terms—“nature,” above all—and there’s a good argument to be made, based on archival sources, that Thoreau was more intimately involved with the georgic than the pastoral. But there’s a good reason Thoreau never joined the Concord Farmer’s Club: he was the one whose work it was to look after the wild stock of the town. The georgic doesn’t, I think, give enough room for this out-side dimension, the unthought otherness beyond the managed woodlots and manured fields. Thoreau wanted to have one foot in the farmer’s world, but he wanted the other foot out-side it, because he wanted to develop an Archimedian point of resistance (res = thing; “resistance” by the natural to “civil government” or government by Kantian citizens), by whose leverage he, Thoreau, could move the world. He needed the pastoral to do this, for the pastoral, as both Mike Ziser and Larry Buell point out, points both ways, back to a more equitable memory and forward to its restitution (I agree, nostalgia for what we have lost is a powerful and necessary radicalizing motive force), downward to the soil and the particulars of what grows, or doesn’t, and upward to the stars and the utopian dreams of what might be. We need the past to imagine the future, we need the ground to give vigor to the dream. So let’s keep the pastoral, but yes, let’s radicalize it with the georgic: first, let’s recall its roots in the ethics of stewardship, of pastoral care, of those “flocks” of sheep and Hsu’s human “swarms,” those multiples and aggregates and collectives, that without care—without, as Julianne reminds us, even love—can turn into Latour’s unruly shambles. Second, let’s recall the way those roots can dig into the grounding of empirical “fact,” or “ground-truthing,” in the way of the sciences, never forgetting that facts are not dead things but lively assemblages, dynamic settlements always ready to fly apart; and third, that those roots can send up shoots into the air of imagination, fiction, utopian possibility. We need all three of these resource—ethics, sciences, literatures—if we are to make our way forward.

Larry Buell - Pastoral Goes Both Ways

"Pastoral" is one of those infinitely ductile ecocritical conjuring terms from the movement's inception onward--the ductility compounded by its prior ancient associations with a particular aesthetic mode that stretches back to classical antiquity. As Raymond Williams famously dramatized through his "escalator" metaphor in The Country and the City, pastoral can--indeed arguably in the first instance is--a "regressive" form of false cultural memory in the sense of looking back on a more allegedly felicitious closer-to-nature era now slipped away. This in part is what prompted Frederick Garber to define pastoral around the term/concept of "nostos," noting the etymological link to nostalgia. On the other hand, pastoral has always been a more urban-centric, urban-generated form than a bucolic grass-roots affair (hence the perfect appropriateness of a cityscape setting) that can credibly subserve radical agendas, such as protest against runaway modernization (e.g. Leo Marx's question-begging yet illuminating distinction between "simple" and "complex" pastoral) and, in contemporary times especially, the agendas of post-Rachel Carson public health environmentalism, of environmental justice ecocriticism, and of revisionist eco-writing from the nonwestern and especially the postcolonial world have been incentivized indispensably by appeal to the scandal of maldistribution of the basic entitlements of environmental health--clean air, safe drinking water, access to salubrious outdoor space--across population groups, especially rich vs. poor, white vs. nonwhite, first world vs. developing world. In such creative and critical interventions, the "backward-looking" invocations to a more equitable environmental status quo ante most definitely serve radically disruptive agendas, NOT anodyne feel-good euphemistic ones. To end with a swipe at the visual image at the head of this blog, though, I admit to its seeming to me to have a certain cutesy euphemized tranquil character amidst the semi-disorienting futorology that, for me at least, seems to blunt the necessary edge of radical pastoral as I understand it.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Nicole Shukin - Lucy: The Practice of Pastoral Counterconduct and Posthuman Cosmopolitics

As Matthew Calarco has argued in relation to Giorgio Agamben’s theorization of bare life - and as Anand Pandian similarly contends vis-à-vis Foucault’s analysis of pastoral power - biopolitical metaphors that hinge on figures of animal existence have a habit of displacing actual non-human animals from the stakes of the discussion. Pandian calls for the pluralization of Foucault’s study of pastoral power – in Foucault’s own words, “politics seen as a matter of the sheep-fold” (130) - by tracing how the government of human and the government of non-human life are practically entangled within (post)colonial and rural contexts beyond Europe. Indeed, Pandian contends that “material engagements with nonhuman beings in rural settings may constitute an important domain of the ‘unthought’ within Foucault’s own conceptualization of pastoral power” (92).

To continue probing for the unthought within Foucault’s work I take up a novel that not only resituates pastoral power in rural, (post)colonial space, but compels us to think the biopolitical and the literary senses of pastoral simultaneously: pastoral in the sense of techniques of governmentality (more, environmentality) as well as pastoral as a heterogeneous ensemble of literary conventions involving idyllic visions of living-in-nature. J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace (1999) – a novel set in postapartheid South Africa that has catalyzed numerous postcolonial and posthumanist readings – renders it impossible to separate the settler-colonial tradition of the plaasroman (farm novel) from technologies of sovereign and pastoral power that at once violently and lovingly govern land, labour and life through shifting ratios of control and care. Incessantly implicating himself in the pastoral tradition of “white writing” that served colonial and apartheid rule in South Africa, Coetzee pursues an immanent critique of pastoral through the figure of Lucy.

What, I ask, can Lucy teach us about inheriting and inhabiting a promise of pastoral life that is historically overdetermined not only by settler-colonialism and sovereign whiteness, but by a human exceptionalism (the sort of human exceptionalism that also underpins normative assumptions that worldliness and cosmopolitanism are projects that concern humans - usually in the form of national populations - peacefully cohabiting the globe)? The eco-cosmopolitanism represented by Coetzee’s Lucy suggests that worldliness begins with a biopolitical recognition that land and other animals, as well as human neighbours, are collectively constitutive of a life. Lucy’s eco-cosmopolitanism can be read as a practice of pastoral “counterconduct” (Foucault) that refuses liberal conceptions of human freedom and pastoral flights from history. She helps us to radically reimagine pastoral as a form of biopolitical bondage to land, the work of gardening, and history, as well as to the violent afterlives of apartheid’s racial rule against the fantasy of a Kantian perpetual peace.

The name of this pivotal character in Coetzee’s Disgrace itself conjures a time both before and after the human, and hence the possibility of a posthuman cosmopolitics. After all, Lucy is name given to the ancestor of early humans whose bones were found in Ethiopia in 1974, as well as the subject of a Wordsworth poem that depicts Lucy being folded back into an ecological immanence in death, “roll’d round in earth’s diurnal course, with rocks, and stones, and trees.”

Works Cited:

Matthew Calarco, Matthew. “Jamming the Anthropological Machine.” Giorgio Agamben: Sovereignty and Life. Ed. by Matthew Calarco and Steven DeCaroli. Stanford: Stanford University Press (2007): 163-179.

J.M. Coetzee. White Writing: On the Culture of Letters in South Africa. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998.

---. Disgrace. New York: Penguin, 1999.

Michel Foucault. Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1977-1978. Ed. by Michel Senellart, transl. by Graham Burchell. New York: Picador, 2007.

Pandian, Anand. “Pastoral Power in the Postcolony: On the Biopolitics of the Criminal Animal in South India.” Cultural Anthropology. Vol. 23, Issue 1 (2008): 85-117.

Julianne Lutz Warren - Beyond a Culture of Cynicism

Questioning the helpfulness of the pastoral to a cosmopolitical spirit may itself be a consequence of what systems modeler Dana Meadows has called the “culture of cynicism.” The tragedy of this culture is that by sneering at dreams, it has prevented effective radical responses to the world-dominating economic-industrial complex.

My statement is this: The pastoral spirit must be nested within the cosmopolitical one for a healthy world. The idea of the pastoral contains elements essential to meaningful human lives and living our lives meaningfully is essential to a healthy world, ecologically and spiritually. This is because when people live meaningful lives they are noticing and caring about the interrelationships of consequences--of how what they do or don’t do affects others with intent toward mutual good.

The pastoral spirit may be understood as encompassing the trinity of contentment, creativity, and decentralization. These elements have been lacking in a civilization that looks at growth of material progress as its main goal. The pastoral spirit is much-needed as a way to understand work not merely as something that you do to “get ahead,” but as something you do to nourish both body and soul. This is not just for the wealthy. Indeed, the more people inhabit a world of tragedy—of soils eroding faster than they build up; of waters drained and polluted; of life forms lost forever and others irrupting as “pests;” of an atmosphere unlike any human civilization has ever lived in before making seasonal life less and less predictable; of disease, hunger and thirst, the more people need the spirit of the pastoral. In the words of Terry Tempest Williams bearing witness to the aftermath of Rwandan genocide—“Beauty is not a luxury but a strategy for survival.” The pastoral spirit longs for beauty. Beauty is another word for love. Love is not a form of escape, but an active practice requiring intimate knowledge of its object. In the pastoral spirit nested in the cosmopolitical one, that object is Earth.

The three elements of the pastoral may be symbolized by three forms-the cow, the flute, and the tree:

The Cow of Contentment: The word “pastoral” is rooted in an association with spiritual care. Think of a pastor watching over the souls of his congregation. Think of a herdsman watching over her cows. Think, too, of a Pueblo hunter sprinkling spirit-feeding cornmeal on a deer’s nose. The word “contentment” also is associated with care of one’s soul. It means to confine it within the safety of limits, to environ it with an abundance of care. As a herdsman looks after her cows, so, too, the cows environ her, proscribing the range of her motions and emotions. The congregation environs the pastor. The deer, the hunter. The urban house cat, its mistress.

The Flute of Creativity: Innovation is part of the pastoral. We might miss it, though, if we only notice inventions geared toward conquering more and having more. In pastoral visions, what people yearn for is something with a mental or spiritual cast—they are finding beauty where they are. In their work they throw off old notes and find new ones without taking anything away from the world, without using anything up. There are ways to make all the ways we make things work this way, too. A carpet can be made so that when it is worn out it can later fertilize your garden. A garden can become perennial, unplowed, feeding itself like a native prairie does.

The Tree of Decentralization: This is not the same thing as isolation. In the spirit of the pastoral, power is distributed equitably. The human cares and creates; the non-human animals eat, bellow, roll their eyes, fly, run; the plant roots pull up nutrients from rocks, water, soil, while its leaves return some of it after they take in carbon dioxide and put out oxygen and create shade underneath. Tensions are harmonized. There is interdependence without hierarchy. If there is an organizing principle, it is love.

My question, then, is: How do we envision universal love with or without the spirit of the pastoral?

Anthony Lioi - The Arrival of New York as Cosmopolis

New York's Central Park, as designed by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, was intended to provide recreation and relief in an industrialized Manhattan. The original hope was to surround the park with a wall of trees that would block out the cityscape completely. Though this hope was never realized, Olmstead and Vaux were able to provide classic pastoral space in the Sheep Meadow, wilderness pastoral in the Ramble, which mimics the Adirondack Mountains, and liminal spaces like the Reservoir and the Bethesda Fountain that mediate between country and city. What is less recognized today is the pedagogical function of this design; that is, the function of pastoral space as an outdoor classroom to instruct immigrant workers and the urban poor in proper middle-class behavior. When the park first opened, baseball and other team sports were not permitted, and though there were extensive horse trails, horse-racing was forbidden. Children were not initially allowed to play on the grass, and much ink was spilled about the wisdom of allowing food vendors on footpaths. If the park was designed as a rejoinder to British and French models of public space—an American version of the green world-city—it is also the case that its landscapes were meant to fashion the cosmopolitan American as member of the bourgeoisie.

Though many prohibitions have since evaporated, Central Park is still the product of the radical division between nature and culture, middle class and poor. When my students ask why, in the midst of the urban farming boom, there are no vegetable plots in Central Park, I remind them that working farms would not fulfill the ends of pastoral retreat and class decorum coded into the park from the beginning. To restructure the park for Manhattanites in the age of climate change, a transvaluation of pastoral values would be necessary.

We see the beginning of this vision in Shaun Tan's graphic novel The Arrival. Set in a city that conjures both Sydney, Australia and New York, The Arrival tells the story of several immigrant groups, including Chinese and European families, as they learn to navigate the new land. Though the immigrants are depicted almost photo-realistically, their environment is surreal, filled with fantastical animals that partner with humans, as well as monumental figures that combine human with avian characteristics. As familiars, pets, and spirits of place, animals occupy a central place in the immigrant life-world. This centrality is magnified in the final pages of the novel, when humans and animals break the boundaries of ethnicity, species, and the industrial universe itself to inhabit a cosmic space whose shining circles evoke Ptolemaic and Newtonian world-pictures. Such a model of space integrates cosmopolis into the biosphere and the heavenly machine at the same time. This idea of a modern but non-anthropocentric city is a map of the future channeled through a dream of the past. New York, and other world-cities, could do worse than follow Tan into his post-pastoral, egalitarian planet where nature and culture arrive together.

Paul Outka - Inbetween Pastoral

I’d like to approach the question of the possible contemporary radicality of the pastoral by first noting how hopelessly multivalent “pastoral” is. If we imagine that “pastoral” has some generalized meaning or specific ideological content we risk two dangers (and I realize I’m likely stating the obvious here, especially to this crowd, but multivalence demands as much basic clarity as possible). First, we conflate nature and Nature, claiming to find meaning in a landscape rather than in the human practices and interpretative histories that in fact attach such meanings to the land. Second, we miss the extensive work that has been done on how profoundly race, gender, class and the like affect those meanings – the pastoral, for example, means something radically different to an enslaved person in early nineteenth-century Florida than it does to William Wordsworth. The pastoral can be radical or reactionary—indeed, it can be anything at all, because it’s nothing in particular. The question is what we should do, interpretively as well as physically with the pastoral landscape, how we might deploy its structure in the general service of whatever green politics we embrace and in the specific local struggles of where we dwell and the places we value.

On to that structure. To say that the pastoral landscape has no meaning in itself, that it is neither radical or reactionary, is not, of course, to say that the word doesn’t refer to a particular sort of landscape; only that we should, in Stenger’s terms, distinguish between the “raw” and “experimental” facts of the pastoral. For Stenger, a raw fact is “independent of us, like an earthquake or a tree falling on a passerby, [it] is associated with no obligation involving the meaning it must be given: it is available for any interpretation, any creation of meaning” (49-50). An experimental fact, conversely, demands a particular interpretation. It “reflects the singularity of the history in which it was produced… [a]nd the core of this history is that facts have value only if they can be recognized as being able to obligate practitioners to agree about their interpretation” (50). The pastoral landscape is a “raw fact,” not an experimental one – one cannot, I think, be obliged to agree to any interpretation of it, certainly not like the experimental conclusion a scientist might insist on from a set of raw facts.

So in this admittedly somewhat loose appropriation of Stenger, the “raw” pastoral refers to its fairly uncontroversial definition, its description of a particular sort of natural setting: an in-between landscape, neither urban nor wild, one in which a self-generating, self-sustaining non-human nature is a dominant feature (i.e., a CAFO or monoculture farm wouldn’t qualify), but one that also testifies everywhere to the history of human presence and labor – in, for example, the elimination of large predators, the presence of second growth trees, cleared land, domesticated animals. As an experience, the pastoral, or the representation of the pastoral, has historically often started from a narrative position outside of it, naming a moment of transition, a movement toward greater contact with the non-human natural, away from the “city,” from civilization – fewer pastoral encounters involve the viewer coming in from the wilderness or from within the scene itself. The pastoral is as much a green direction as a green location.

While it’s certainly tempting to drop the pastoral altogether given its longstanding tendency to dehistoricize labor and naturalize constructions of gender and race, I don’t think it’s either possible or ultimately desirable. Given the inbetween-ness of the definition I offer above, in a postnatural world—one in which the natural sublime is, at least in part, always already a consumer choice and what was“untouched” wilderness is warming and tainted with POPs—the pastoral is arguably all that’s left. It’s postnatural nature. Indeed, to be deliberately provocative, if a radical pastoral isn’t possible then a radical environmentalism isn’t either, at least here in the twenty-first century. The fact that the ground of the pastoral is toxed by our partially-repressed collective histories of oppression and cruelty doesn’t change the fact that such in-between spaces are the only ground that we have left. Explicitly recognizing the histories of racial and gender oppression and the obfuscation of labor that have long been a part of the pastoral tradition, and not turning “our” enjoyment of the landscape into a more generalized test of enlightened green subjectivity that leisured whites just happen to pass in overwhelming numbers, should help at least somewhat in avoiding a replication of those histories.

There are any number of ways we might put to use an embrace of inbetween pastoral landscapes, far more than I can reference here. Right now in my own work, I am particularly interested in how the pastoral might provide a model for incorporating posthuman and postnatural biotechnologies into a green politics that doesn’t depend on a long-lost vision of Natural purity as its raison d’etre. After all, domestication is one of the earliest and most profound of the human biotechnologies; we might learn lessons from the often unhappy history of such practices about how to integrate biotechnology and genetic modification into the landscape rather than seeing them as simply supplanting Nature and the natural. The difficulty of such an integration makes the urgency of the task no less pressing, and might be helped by the historical trajectory of the pastoral transition I noted earlier.

Hsuan Hsu - Naturalism and "Pastoral Power"

Foucault’s argument that modern forms of governmentality derive from eastern and Christian concepts of “pastoral power” suggests that the pastoral relation between shepherds and flocks may help illuminate about post-Enlightenment tactics for monitoring and optimizing the life of populations. I’d like to make a few points with a view to clarifying some intersections between environmental criticism and Foucault’s discussions of governmentality and biopower.

1.The "problem of population"--which Foucault frames as a modern version of the pastoral problem of tending the flock (a "multiplicity on the move")--involves questions like: how can the state manage food supplies, climate, resources, and risk factors so as to optimize the life of the population? And what happens when the population is differentiated along lines of class, race, gender, and sexual orientation?

2.Foucault’s claim that apparatuses of security address emergent problems of “the case, risk, danger, and crisis” suggests that concepts of probability and risk exposure were important factors in the emergence of modern forms of government. Factors targeted by “governmentality”—risks, birth rates, illnesses, and endemic diseases—involve the hybridization (or what Foucault calls the “intrication”) of humans and “nature.” Modern risks are produced and differentiated through activities—such as social practices, urban planning, and working conditions—that differentially interconnect human populations with “natural” phenomena.

3.Foucault’s conceptualization of environment as intricately bound up with populations also provides a way to understand state practices that target something like what Tim Morton calls “ecology without nature.” “The milieu is a set of natural givens—rivers, marshes, hills—and a set of artificial givens—an agglomeration of individuals, of houses, etcetera…. Finally, the milieu appears as a field of intervention in which, instead of affecting individuals as a set of legal subjects capable of voluntary actions—which would be the case of sovereignty—and instead of affecting them as a multiplicity of organisms, of bodies capable of performances, and of required performances—as in discipline—one tries to affect, precisely, a population.” (S,T,P 21).

4.If we conceive of pastoral not as the description of pure or aestheticized “Nature” but as a mode of tending and governing flocks, then literary naturalism may be to populations what pastoral is to sheep. By emphasizing environmental determinism, likening humans to animals, minimizing voluntarism, and gravitating towards urban or industrial locations where nature and society are always mutually imbricated, naturalist fiction deals precisely with “a multiplicity of individuals who are fundamentally and essentially only exist biologically bound to the materiality within which they live” (S,T,P 21). Naturalist settings are viscous milieus that stick to characters & insinuate themselves into bodies and minds. This environmental determinism makes characters—or at least the masses of characters (what Frank Norris calls the “human swarm”) that often play a role in the background of naturalist fiction—continuous with animals: they act on instinct, but on the instincts instilled by social and geographical conditions.

5.Is naturalism (and social realist film) making a comeback, spurred by the insights of the environmental justice movement and, perhaps, by the recent economic crisis? I’m just starting this line of inquiry, so I could use reading suggestions—but Helena Maria Viramontes’s Their Dogs Came With Them is an exemplary instance of a reclaimed naturalism that quite literally deals with a (racialized) population on the move, detailing the lives of young women and men coming of age in East L.A. during the peak decades of freeway construction. But Viramontes’s interest in airborne pollutants in her two novels—along with contemporary problems involving unevenly distributed radioactive and chemical risks—raises further questions about how naturalism needs to be reshaped, & I’d like to propose the concept of “magical naturalism” to name an emerging genre that strategically introduces fantastic or unreal elements (monsters, gods, improbable plots, blatant historical revisionism) to force invisible and difficult-to-prove risk factors into visibility.

Joni Adamson - Indigenous Literatures, Multinaturalism, and Avatar: The Emergence of Indigenous Cosmopolitics

James Cameron’s Avatar tells the story of the Na’vi, a race of ten foot tall blue-skinned humanoids living on an Earth-like moon in a monolithically-tall “Hometree.” The Na’vi believe that Hometree is alive with the spirit of “Eywa,” described as a “network of energy.” Cameron represents this networked energy with bioluminescent, brightly colored seeds, trees, and animals. Given this romantic plot and luminous setting, it is not surprising that most reviews referenced the commonplace figure of the “ecological Indian” in Hollywood environmental movies that seek absolution for the sins of industrialization and evoke desires for the re-enchantment of nature.

What was surprising about some of the first responses to the film were the numerous thoughtful responses from indigenous groups, political figures, community leaders and scholars from around the world. For example, Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, praised Avatar for its imaginative portrayal of an indigenous group fighting for “Pachamama,” which he defined as “a living being in the universe that concentrates energy and life.” Latin American notions of “Pachamama” may help to explain Morales’ response to Avatar. As anthropologist Marisole de la Cadena explains,” “Pachamama” is understood not as a female-gendered planet but as “Source of Light.” Another reason for Morales’ response might be explained with reference to Rob Nixon’s work on “slow violence” which he defines as the inattention we have paid to the attritional lethality of “hard-charging capitalism.” In a world where transnational corporations based in the Global North promise to contribute to the progress of modern society, then carelessly spill chemicals or oil in the Global South, writes Nixon, there is nothing to call the media’s attention to slow violence. There is a deficit of the “recognizable special effects that fill movie seats and flat-screen TVs with the pyrotechnics of “Shock and Awe” (“Neoliberal” 444, 445).

In this essay, I argue that what is astonishing about the links that indigenous groups are making to Avatar is that the “things” that Avatar is helping to “make public,” to use the language of Bruno Latour, are not simply humans and animals, but mountains, rivers, and forests that, like the bioluminescent Hometree, are considered “sentient entities” whose material existence and that of the socionatural worlds to which they belong are being threatened by slow violence. I explore how contemporary indigenous authors are depicting an emerging “indigenous cosmopolitics” that recognizes multidimensional relationships between diverse human groups, species, and “earth-beings” that can be read as “cosmopolitan proposals,” as Elizabeth Stengers defines that term. This, in turn, allows me to explore further why indigenous groups in the Americas are linking their regionally-specific movements for environmental justice to a film that features a coalition of humans and bioluminescent non-human species fighting to shift the audience’s attention from the “shock and awe” of war to the ontology and agency of the material world.

This is an abstract of article forthcoming in a special issue of American Literary History on "Sustainability in America."

Jennifer Ladino - Nostalgia and the Pastoral: A Dynamic Convergence

If nostalgia is accused of being reactionary, misguided, and ahistorical, then the pastoral is guilty by association. At least since Leo Marx opposed a “sentimental pastoral” to a “complex” one, the nostalgic elements of the pastoral have prompted scholars to dismiss its political potential (25). While Lawrence Buell, Greg Garrard, Terry Gifford and others have reevaluated the pastoral’s capacity to “engender a genuine counter-hegemonic ideology” (Garrard 464), few have recognized that nostalgia, too, can be “counter-.” The references to nostalgia in Garrard’s “Radical Pastoral?” are typical in that they assume nostalgia necessarily serves a regressive, romantic function. But nostalgia is no more one-dimensional than the pastoral; indeed, it can be every bit as ideologically unstable and multivalenced.

Counter-nostalgic narratives often transcend both national and local attachments to promote the kind of “eco-cosmopolitanism” Ursula Heise argues for, at times enlisting a pastoral ideal to foreground the complexities of “environmental world citizenship” (Heise 10). Take Ruth Ozeki, for instance, whose fiction positions a nostalgic rurality as a counterpoint to global agribusiness. Claude McKay and Jamaica Kincaid would make good case studies for postcolonial ecocritics interested in pinpointing how nostalgic longings cross national boundaries and invoke the pastoral to confront the downsides of economic globalism. Ecocinema studies can also probe nostalgia’s global reach, as Robin L. Murray and Joseph K. Heumann do when they argue that An Inconvenient Truth deploys “environmental nostalgia” to “gain rhetorical force” around the world (196).

Once we revise dominant conceptions of nostalgia, we can more finely calibrate our notions of the pastoral. Indeed, Garrard’s observation that the radical pastoral might be “the political, poetical question of be/longing, of the root of human being on this earth” can only be engaged if we attend to the longing in pastoral narratives—that is, to their nostalgic elements (465).

Works Cited

Buell, Lawrence. The Future of Environmental Criticism: Environmental Crisis and Literary Imagination. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2005.

Garrard, Greg. “Radical Pastoral?” Studies in Romanticism 35.3 (1996): 449-465.

Gifford, Terry. Pastoral. London: Routledge, 1999.

Heise, Ursula. Sense of Place and Sense of Planet: The Environmental Imagination of the Global. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Ladino, Jennifer. “Longing for Wonderland: Nostalgia for Nature in Post-Frontier America.” Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies 5 (2004): 88-109.

Marx, Leo. The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Murray, Robin L. and Joseph K. Heumann. Ecology and Popular Film: Cinema on the Edge. New York: State University of New York Press, 2009.

Ozeki, Ruth. All Over Creation. New York: Penguin, 2003.

Lance Newman - Radicalizing the Pastoral

Can the pastoral engender a new “eco-cosmopolitan” mode of environmental imagination (Heise 50)?

Can the pastoral encourage an ethic of “coexistentialism” with all other beings in “the mesh” (Morton 47)?

Or have twenty-three centuries of experimentation with the trope proven that the fantasy is just too fetching? Off our tin-eared reader goes again, searching for Arcadia in actual fields, traipsing blithely past the undocumented shepherds and cloned sheep.

The pastoral needs to be radicalized in both senses. Returning to the roots of the trope will push it in revolutionary new directions.

Since Theocritus and Virgil, “pastoral” has meant conventional poetry about stylized rural scenes where stock characters embody virtues and freedoms that are implicitly opposed to the corruption and bondage of an invisible nearby city. The pastoral is, or was, about transparently conventional Nature.

More recently, the term has been used to name any writing at all about Nature, especially the kind that relies on gauzy filters to create a compensatory and meretricious fantasy, as opposed to a critical dream.

In a time of unnatural disasters, CAFOs, mega-slums, and gated green retreats, the radical pastoral replaces nature porn with nature in drag in order “to inspire and fortify people in the collective struggle to achieve social justice and restore the earth” (Ammons xi).

The radical pastoral takes place in an otherwhere, a plainly artificial space, one that is brightly marked Nature, where contemporary ecosocial conflicts are restaged in abstract forms for purposes of analysis and critique.

The radical pastoral is not necessarily wry or ironic, but it does use wrenching strategies, such as pastiche, juxtaposition, shifting perspective, allegory, apostrophe, and cartoon, to keep the reader awake in the dream of Nature.

The radical pastoral riffs on “the neutrino’s paradoxical mode of existence,” the simultaneously material and symbolic state of Nature, by showing that our dreams shape how we live on the land (Stengers 14).

The radical pastoral resists “the final transcendent ‘peace’ of one green globe” and seeks out “dynamic and unstable articulations … among multiple and divergent worlds” (Walls).

The radical pastoral spotlights the moment of return, when the truths discovered in artificial Nature bear in on real life.

The radical pastoral wears its green fire on its sleeve, because it is trying above all to show that capitalism uses people to destroy Nature for money.

Works Cited and Consulted

Ammons, Elizabeth. Brave New Words: How Literature Will Save the Planet. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2010. Print.

Appiah, Kwame Anthony and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., eds. Identities. Spec. issue of Critical Inquiry 18.4 (1992): 625-884. Print

Buell, Lawrence. The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture. Cambridge, MA : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1995.

Empson, William. Some Versions of Pastoral. New York: New Directions, 1950. Print.

Garrard, Greg. “Radical Pastoral?” Studies in Romanticism 35, no. 3, (1996): 449-465. Web.

Gifford, Terry. Pastoral. London: Routledge, 1999. Print.

Heise, Ursula K. Sense of Place and Sense of Planet: The Environmental Imagination of the Global. New York: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.

Jones, Mike Rodman. Radical Pastoral, 1381-1594: Appropriation and the Writing of Religious Controversy. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2011.

Marinelli, Peter V. Pastoral. London, Methuen, 1971. Print.

Marx, Leo. The Machine in the Garden; Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America. New York: Oxford UP, 1964.

Morton, Timothy. The Ecological Thought. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 2010. Print.

Shukin, Nicole. Animal Capital: Rendering Life in Biopolitical Times. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2009. Print.

Stengers, Isabelle. Cosmopolitics I. Trans. Robert Bononno. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2010. Print.

Walls, Laura. Message to the author. 5 October 2010. Email.

Williams, Raymond. The Country and the City. New York: Oxford UP, 1973. Print.