Reconnecting with John Muir: Essays in Post-Pastoral Practice

Reconnecting with John Muir: Essays in Post-Pastoral Practice

Reconnecting with John Muir: Essays in Post-Pastoral Practice

Reconnecting with John Muir: Essays in Post-Pastoral Practice


Advancing for the first time the concept of "post-pastoral practice," Reconnecting with John Muir springs from Terry Gifford's understanding of the great naturalist as an exemplar of integrated, environmentally conscious knowing and writing. Just as the discourses of science and the arts were closer in Muir's day--in part, arguably, because of Muir--it is time we learned from ecology to recognize how integrated our own lives are as readers, students, scholars, teachers, and writers.

When we defy the institutional separations, purposely straying from narrow career tracks, the activities of reading, scholarship, teaching, and writing can inform each other in a holistic "post-pastoral" professional practice. Healing the separations of culture and nature represents the next way forward from the current crossroads in the now established field of ecocriticism.

The mountain environment provides a common ground for the diverse modes of engagement and mediation Gifford discusses. By attempting to understand the meaning of Muir's assertion that "going to the mountains is going home," Gifford points us toward a practice of integrated reading, scholarship, teaching, and writing that is adequate to our environmental crisis.


Our postmodern age encourages each of us to think of multiple selves acting in different contexts—at home, at work, at leisure—negotiating positions on the dilemmas we face and the decisions we make, not with a coherent ideology, philosophy, or worldview, but with improvised versions of provisional positions. When we speak in this age, we apparently do so with the differently situated voices that make up the shape-shifting postmodern self. Yet this is also the age of holism, of the yearning for a sense of the self as a whole, of a drive toward the reintegration of the self with the natural world to counter postmodern instability and disconnection.

The word holism had to be invented in the early twentieth century (Merchant 1980, 292) to recover an ancient notion that Ted Hughes translated from the Latin of Ovid (43 b.c.–a.d. 17?) that sustained the Golden Age of Greek myth:

This age understood and obeyed
What had created it.
Listening deeply, man kept faith with the source. (Hughes 1997, 8)

Nature as an organic whole used to include the human species because, as the twentieth-century translator knowingly puts it, our species used to be able to “listen deeply” to the information in the larger rhythms and local details of “the source.” in the Golden Age our species knew and understood what had created it and recognized itself as a part of the holism of nature. in our postmodern age we dismiss this Arcadian image as an idealized pastoral myth. At the same time, however, we still recognize our need for a practice that will enable us to “listen,” and we apply all our technological resources to the task of finding it, while often rejecting (or simply ignoring) any reports we receive from our listening scientists that would require changes in economic practices. But if we are to listen, we need to reclaim from idealization the notion of “holism” in pragmatic ways that will enable us to live our best (and continuously revised) guess at what it might mean to “keep faith with the source.”

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