Theorizing nature : seeking middle ground

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


Acknowledging that our ideas about nature and culture are both inextricably linked and the result of social factors shaped by multiple forms of knowledge is at the center of this project. Through a postmodern analysis, informed by environmental cultural studies, I critique a relatively new genre, the environmental memoir, to theorize the ways interconnections between nature and culture are either resisted or revealed. Environmental memoir is a genre-hopping exploration of both personal narrative and environmental literature. Critiquing the literary constructions of nature, culture, environmental philosophy, and the autobiographical subject in David Oates' Paradise Wild: Reimagining American Nature and Janisse Ray's Ecology of a Cracker Childhood I question why we think about nature and culture in the ways that we do and what are the implications. This project exposes how problematic any postmodern critique of nature is. We assume that our ideas about nature are straightforward. We claim that nature is anything not-man-made and it often becomes represented through a literalized version of 'nature' as a pure and pristine Eden. Ideas about nature, however, are always informed by culture and we often dismiss the need to theorize and question what factors contribute to our ideas about nature, who benefits from these ideas, and who does not. When we essentialize and naturalize nature we set up dualisms and binaries between nature and culture that reduce the real complexities we face in dealing with environmental philosophy, politics, and literature. These dualisms encourage rigid and extremist thinking that cloud our vision. Theorizing nature breaks down and complicates the binaries that separate nature from culture. Seeking the middle ground in the contested terrain of nature requires us to acknowledging that our narratives about nature, culture, and environmentalism are products of multiple sociohistorical factors. Resisting dualistic thinking offers us a new way to think about the interconnections between our lives, wildness, culture, and nature.




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