Academic journal article Tamkang Review

Wild Cosmopolitan Gardens: Some Notes towards a Cosmopolitan Sense of Place

Academic journal article Tamkang Review

Wild Cosmopolitan Gardens: Some Notes towards a Cosmopolitan Sense of Place

Article excerpt

"What will this place give me, do to me? What landscapes, what houses will it leave in my dreams? What layers will it add to the collage of my identity, my skin, my permanent passport?" (Morales 192)

Much of this article concerns wishful thinking and personal experience. It is still a project, a search for that traditional sense of place by someone who doesn't have roots in a specific place. I was not brought up in an environmentalist tradition, or with any particular interest in place or nature. I am a daughter of immigrant parents whose hope for the "promised land" came true. Much of my childhood was spent moving among American cities every 5-7 years (Washington D.C., Chicago, Des Plaines, Bowling Green) and traveling to Europe. I visited museums and cathedrals, the "landmarks" of culture, yet remained totally oblivious to nature, except the patterns of fields from airplanes. My adult life has also meant changing cities and homes, though primarily within Spain.

Graduate studies led me to a comparative study of sense of place. As a result, I was plagued by the insistent idea that roots and a sense of place implied staying in one place, setting roots in a determined place, town, environment, and knowing the nature around you. But as Scott Russell Sanders asks himself in Staying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World: how can one experience place or rootedness when one's home of childhood memories no longer exists? Traditional ecocritical literature places an emphasis on the "natural" local, on being "tied" to a place, knowing the history and evolution of every hill, knowing the names of local flora and fauna, and living in tune with the seasons. This seems to be the case of not only most nature writing but also much ethnic American literature, which has become my field of expertise. As Ursula Heise comments in Sense of Place and Sense of Planet (2008), the environmental rhetoric of ecocriticism in the US continues to be intensely engaged with questions of the local, invested with much of the utopian capital which celebrates a "sense of place" and remaining impervious to any kind of antiessentialist perspectives that recent cultural critiques have developed (8). She points out the contrast with contemporary cultural critiques and countercritiques that question the role of the local, regional, national and global in identity formation, running from hegemonic nationalisms to emancipatory projects of hybridity and cosmopolitanisms (5) and addressing the seemingly ultimate postmodern non-places, such as hospitals, malls, and airports. One of the major insights of these theories is the "emergence of new forms of culture that are no longer anchored in place" (10), and she proposes developing an eco-cosmopolitanism where we could "envision individuals and groups as part of planetary 'imagined communities' of both human and non-human kinds" (61). She further points out the need to explore the cultural means by which our relationships to nature are formed and perpetuated as well as how these perceptions influence our multiple identities (61).

But how? If, to a large degree, the environmental imagination seems anchored to a specific place, where does an immigrant, a daughter of immigrants, a cosmopolitan academic living in urban areas derive a sense of place and develop a deep relationship with our earth others? How do we globalized citizens acquire that sense of planetary imagined community? This latter question has launched me on this quest. Previously it had been two writers whom I addressed in my dissertation, James Baldwin and Rudolfo Anaya, that had made me question and reassess my relationship to the earth and my sense of place. So, as a literary scholar, I have turned once more to literature in the hope that both critics and creative writers might suggest ways to develop this sense of place, alternatives to that traditional sense of place, grounded in a home place.

Mitchell Thomashow makes the following observations in Bringing the Biosphere Home (2002), which, though obvious, had never struck me: why are we so obsessed with rootedness in one place? …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.