Thursday, February 02, 2006

Dead Farms, Dead Leaves

Many modern writers on landscape are operating in what can be called a ‘post-pastoral’ mode. Terry Gifford has identified six overlapping characteristics of post-pastoral (see his book Pastoral, 1999).  
These are
1. A sense of awe in nature that comes with the re-positioning from anthropocentric pastoral to ecocentric post-pastoral. An example of this feeling can be found in Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem ‘God’s Grandeur’.
2. A celebration of both constructive and destructive forces and an understanding that nature is not merely a pleasant idyll. Gifford cites the example of glacial action described by John Muir in his Travels in Alaska (1915).
3. Acknowledgement of a link between human and external nature, where the landscape can affect our ideas, perception and well-being. The poems of Peter Redgrove, for example, make this link between inner cycles and changes in the landscape.
4. The recognition that culture is nature, because they are both ultimately the result of natural processes, i.e. nature and culture do not stand in opposition. For example, Ted Hughes’ poem ‘Dead Farms, Dead Leaves’ encompasses both natural and cultural decay.
5. The transition from consciousness to conscience, so that observation of landscape gives rise to ecological concern or sympathy for nature, as in D.H. Lawrence’s poem ‘The Snake.’
6. A sense that exploitation of nature resembles human exploitation, as in various works of ecofeminism, for example Adrienne Rich’s Your Native Land (1986).

I think it is interesting to think about these characteristics in relation to contemporary landscape art as well as considering how effective they are in defining post-pastoral literature.  Or music and cinema for that matter.

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