Wednesday, February 23, 2011

This is the landscape that nobody wants. It’s my cup of rejection:
Driven to this unformed scraggly ignored backlot, this not-quite
Prairie, not-quite thicket, not even natural corner of
Texas, the hardscrabble left butt of a demoralized nation,
It is my choice and my pleasure to cherish this haphazard wilderness.
No, it’s not even “wild” – it’s a neglected product of artifice.
Come, let us walk by an improvised lakeshore, be given a vision:
Beaches of black dust, beautiful white ghosts, this drowned forest…
- Frederick Turner, Texas Eclogue

Does our discourse of urban nature allow a space for marginal nature to emerge literally and conceptually? The problem is that we use the metaphors of wilderness and pastoral nature to construct a conceptual framework for nature appreciation and writing, for science and conservation, for environmental management and protection, and then we expect “nature” to measure up to these standards or be regarded as a thing degraded, demeaned, or deceased.[1] This framework limits the possibilities for marginal nature in the city by setting expectations for the kinds of nature, the wild and the pastoral, welcomed in the urban landscape.

The implied comparisons of metaphor rely on the implications of the comparison to generate new meaning. For metaphors to succeed, they must “both warp us away and return us to the world,” and their “bidirectionality” leads to the creation of new meaning.[2] As Jackson’s poem demonstrates, this “not even natural” marginal nature resists bidirectionality with the dominant metaphors of affection for nature. The “not even natural” wasteland pales in comparison to scenic wilderness and is decidedly not a primeval nor a rural retreat. This “neglected product of artifice” is more than a human artifact, but we ignore or reject it through strict adherence to the root metaphors of American nature. In his poem, you see Jackson’s struggle to find metaphors that account for his cherishing this “haphazard wilderness” that is not even “wild.” His encounter with this landscape of marginal nature leads him to sort through metaphors like a field guide to nature discourse, searching for language that rings true to this wasteland/wildland place. All of us who cherish similar wasteland sites know his struggle to articulate the meaning of this marginal nature.

[1] McKibben (1989) The End of Nature. For the argument that nature untouched by humans has ceased to exist.
[2] Buell (1995) and much more about the bidirectionality of metaphor in Ricoeur (1975)

No comments: