Friday, June 3, 2011
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.
Posted by Lance Newman at 10:37 PM