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).
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.