The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters

The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters

The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters

The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters

Synopsis

An original and highly unusual psycholinguistic study of American literature and culture from 1584 to 1860, this volume focuses on the metaphor of 'land-as-woman.' It is the first systematic documentation of the recurrent responses to the American continent as a feminine entity (as Mother, as Virgin, as Temptress, as the Ravished), and it is also the first systematic inquiry into the metaphor's implications for the current ecological crisis.

Excerpt

The original impetus for the following investigation was my growing distress at what we have done to our continent; its final shape was determined by the need to isolate, for the purposes of examination, an area of interconnection that had not previously been given the kind of attention I believed it deserved. The richness, the potency, the continued repetition of the land-as-woman symbolization in American life and letters, all suggested a pervasive and dynamic psychohistorical import that demanded examination in and for itself.

That that symbolization appears to have had important consequences for both our history and our literature should not suggest, however, that it accounts for everything, or that to it, alone, we must attribute all our current ecological and environmental ills. No such simplistically reductive thesis is intended. At best, I am examining here only a link in a much larger and much more complex whole; but it is a vital and, in some cases, a structuring link-- and one that has been for too long ignored.

In pursuing this study, I crossed a number of discipline boundaries, and employed elements from widely varying methodologies. For many, such an approach will raise more questions than it answers; but then my primary aim is to generate discussion.

The six years that I spent on this study have served to convince me that fundamental change can occur only within the mind. If we seriously contemplate any meaningful reordering of our relations with our landscape, then we need--in addition to improved environmental protection laws and more recycling facilities--a better grasp of the ways in which language provides clues to the underlying motivations behind action; provides clues, if you will, to our deepest dreams and fantasies.

The omission of women's materials, in light of the study's subject matter, may strike some readers as curious--but it was intentional: insofar as the masculine appears to have taken power in the New World, it seemed necessary to understand its relationship to the landscape first. That women's writings and linguistic usages have all along been offering us alternate means of expression and . . .

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