Results tagged “nostalgia” from this Public Address 2.0

Cultivate Wildness

Thomas Rowlandson — “Dr. Syntax Sketching the Lake” — 1813

Cultivated Wildness

Another topic which came into sharper focus for me in conversations with Joe Viscomi is the incredible shift in the perception of nature which occurred in the romantic period. The mid-eighteenth century promoted the rise of gardening, but the gardens (particularly in France) were constructed to convey a sense of humanity’s conquest of nature. Carefully trimmed hedges in neat geometric rows— sculpted greenery to show how man had tamed the base nature of the wilderness. These gardens were not natural in any sense, other than in the presence of green objects. Of course, the translation of the bible into vernacular tongues set up a sort of oppositional value too: which had higher authority— nature untamed, controlled only by the hand of God— or the word, printed on a page and interpreted by humans.

The enclosure of common lands in England brought with it a sort of nostalgia for nature untamed. Gardening shifted its virtues from overt control, to a new sort of cultivated wilderness— the park replaced the commons. The rise of nature as a moral teacher was coincident with the fall of nature under the hand of man, and thus was born the desire for cultivated wildness. It was against this backdrop that modern book illustration developed, and the romantic impulse resurfaced after the waves of mid-eighteenth century moral abstraction from an imperfect source— a view of nature which few men had access to, let alone appreciation of. The “nature-lovers” of the romantic period were mostly city dwellers, who sketched their impressions from cultivated ground.

The situation in America was different. It was unenclosed, wild, and seemingly limitless. The American park system is constructed both of wholly prefabricated wilderness (of which Central Park in New York City is a prime example), carefully choreographed to appear wild— and fenced and improved natural lands, with roadway systems and easy access, like Yosemite. There is a mythic quality to the American park, but it is filtered through a European sensibility.

As McPhee points out in the first book of Coming into the Country, the concept of wilderness is foreign to those thrust from society into it. It’s a matter of unfathomable scale, of interconnectedness without end, which can never be fully subdued. The “natural” philosophy of the western tradition was ill-equipped to deal with the sheer expanse of mountains, lakes, and rivers of the America of the early eighteenth century. The primary tools of subjugation are the creation of parks, cultivated wildernesses where city-dwellers might visit and get “closer to god” through a flirtation with wildness. These days are little different; it takes a high-tech arsenal of camping supplies to even approach it— wilderness is always more comfortable in the mythic park around the corner. Few people want to wrestle a grizzly. They just want to inscribe the lessons of nature into a book.

A Certain Malaise


A Certain Malaise

In spells, writing on the web allows the real world to catch up. “Blogging is so yesterday”— time to invent something new. Though the range of appetites and emotions, noumena and phenomena, are finite— the available combinations of them are infinite and inexhaustible. Retreat into this sort of thinking is predictable, trite, and ultimately yesterday. I’ll side with Iggy Pop in attitude. Just like the real world, the dead far outnumber the living.

Who cares who invented the pencil? I just want to write. I’ll say whatever I want to. At least, for as long as I can. An audience is free to come and go as it pleases. Rhetoric is the economics of attention and I’m bored with malaise.

I decided to have a look at the word itself. It was appropriated from French in 1768 to mean discomfort at the onset of a disease. It was extended, from a descriptor of an individual problem to a societal one in the early 19th century. But it wasn’t until the Victorians that it grew into a force. Malaise became “Uneasiness of mind and spirit” (OED) in the late 19th century. I woke up with it this morning with a sinus infection fitting my head like a space-helmet. Writing- wise I feel fine. I feel happy that no adoring public awaits my every word, and leaves crass comments when I don’t live up to their expectations. A poster in a lunch-room where I once worked said: “Attitudes are infectious— is yours worth catching?” Malaise is contagious and must be resisted at all costs. Especially, when a cult is formed around you. I think anger is an acceptable response. It beats starting a religion, and creating rules in solitude with a heart of brass.

Blake has a cautionary creation story on the subject: The Book of Urizen.

Reason to Believe

Reason to Believe

Reason to Believe: Romanticism, Pragmatism, and the Teaching of Writing by Hephzibah Roskelley and Kate Ronald promises to be an interesting read.

The subheading on the title page doesn’t match. It reads: “Romanticism, Pragmatism, and the Possibility of Teaching.” Perhaps this reflects an earlier working title. I like it better, myself. This situates the book in the continuing debate (since Plato) regarding the very possibility of education. Indeed, the title of the first chapter reflects concern over these issues— “Is Teaching Still Possible?”

What lead me to this book was its engagement with Romantic ideology. While the book is specifically focused on American Romanticism, Emerson in particular, the general principles are of importance to me. This book is the only rhetorical scholarship listed in the Bedford Bibliography that deals with Romanticism and pedagogy in a positive light. Elsewhere, Romanticism is a demon to be slain. Here, the authors propose that engagement with the issues debated during the Romantic period can be a redemptive force in writing pedagogy.

Preface — 7/10
Chap. 1 & 2 — 7/12
Chap. 3 & 4 — 7/13
Chap. 5— 7/15
Chap. 6 & 7 — 7/17

Chapter one opens with contemporary theory. Chapter two continues the discussion, and procedes into American history. The third chapter provides careful consideration of Emerson, Thoreau, Fredrick Douglass, and Margaret Fuller. The fourth deals with pragmatism, and the fifth, neo-pragmatism. Chapter six deals with the presentation of romantic pedagogy in Dead Poet’s Society, and the final chapter presents real world examples of teachers using the romantic/pragmatic method.