Saturday, 16 January 2010

Politics in Nature Writing?

I was at a gathering at Anna's and she mentioned that the books we're reading in our nature writing class are political. I disagreed, saying I find that most of the books aren't political. Then I thought about it some more. Maybe you can say they're all political. Some probably not intentionally so, but others definitely have political moments. They may not be political texts, but they make statements that could be taken in a political way. Take, for example, Barry Lopez talking about how intelligent the Inuit are and how long it's taken white man to catch up in knowledge to a group of people he thought were uncivilized and stupid. Or when he says we simply need to pay attention and have the right sort of knowledge to understand things which might not at first be obvious. Or Robert Macfarlane talking about the trash that he found all over these desolate and wild places of the British Isles, or do you read it as being about the destruction of nature or in favor of the preservation and appreciation for what's left? Or J.A. Baker writing about what he images are the last days of the peregrine which dwindles in numbers due to the use of toxic agricultural chemicals. What of the politics of Jane Austen's improvements? Is any mention of climate change inherently political? Mr. Abbey is unabashedly political at times, beautifully sentimental at others, and sometimes just downright rude.

Certainly some texts lend themselves more easily than others to a political interpretation. I guess I'm now left wondering if you can apply any sort of reading to any sort of text without limitation? Can we do a feminist reading of all the books? An eco-critical reading? Surely there are limitations and surely the lens(es) through which one reads should be carefully selected.

Not being a naturally political person or reader, I suppose such a reading didn't really occur to me. The more I think about it, the more I can see it and the more I want to think about it. What eye-opening thoughts will this term bring?

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