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Reconnecting with John Muir

Reconnecting with John Muir: Essays in Post-Pastoral Practice

Terry Gifford
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 216
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    Reconnecting with John Muir
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-3665-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments (pp. ix-xii)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Keeping Faith with the Source (pp. 3-16)

    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...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Muir as Practitioner of the Post-Pastoral (pp. 19-36)

    On a May morning in 1903 two men pose for a photograph at Glacier Point above Yosemite Valley in the heart of the Sierra Nevada of California. They have slept the night in the open and have woken under a blanket of four inches of snow. Down in the valley a banquet is being prepared for them, together with fireworks and a light show to be projected onto the three-thousand-foot-high granite walls. Up here, in the clear morning air, they are escaping all that. They pose for a camera, nevertheless, perhaps with a sense that this could be an important...

  8. TO JOHN MUIR FROM MONO LAKE (pp. 37-38)
  9. CHAPTER THREE Muir’s Multiple Discourses (pp. 39-54)

    “The book you speak of is not commenced yet, but I must go into winter quarters at once and go to work” (Badè 1924; LL 219). Muir wrote this letter from Yosemite on 2 November 1875, during the first winter snowfall, which suggests that he was already late to be able to retreat to the Bay area and write a book. It was to be almost twenty more years before his first book was published. He was still at the early stage of his career as a writer. He wrote in this letter that his article “Living Glaciers of California”...

  10. TO JOHN MUIR FROM LAKE TAHOE (pp. 55-56)
  11. CHAPTER FOUR Teaching Environmentalism through Writing (pp. 57-72)

    This book has been arguing for the cross-fertilization of scholarship, criticism, teaching, and creativity toward the study and, indeed, the creation of a post-pastoral literature. It follows that teachers of creative writing who also have an interest in ecocriticism might explore some possibilities and challenges that post-pastoral ecocriticism might offer to pedagogy. In particular it would be interesting to follow the example of John Muir offered in chapter 3 to reconnect diverse modes of discourse in responding to a specific environment and some of the environmental tensions within it. In this chapter I describe and reflect on my weekends as...

  13. CHAPTER FIVE Muir’s Mode of Reading John Ruskin (pp. 75-86)

    Over twenty-five years ago Donald Westling published an important essay on John Muir’s distinctively American form of Ruskinian prose. He suggested that “Muir took his premise and method from Ruskin, sharing with the English writer a hope that, even in a technological culture, an implicative description might relate our sense of fact to our sense of value” (Westling 1977, 42). Westling argued that “the genre of Ruskinian descriptive prose developed as one literary attempt to pretend nineteenth-century society back into a sacred unity” (41). However, subsequent Muir scholars do not agree that Muir was a follower of Ruskin’s vision or...

  14. TO JOHN MUIR FROM CAMP FOUR (pp. 87-88)
  15. CHAPTER SIX Rick Bass’s Fiber as a Post-Pastoral Georgic (pp. 89-102)

    In chapter 3 Muir’s preference for the essay was seen as the most appropriate form for his purposes, although he knew that books would also be needed. Of course, his essays emerged from letters and journals, just as his books emerged from his essays. Muir’s play with forms, and with discourses within those forms, resulted from his facing the challenge of mediating multiple ways of knowing place. His rejection of the conventional discourse of the professional scientists and his integration of several discourses to encompass a complex way of knowing while appealing to and influencing a popular readership were at...

  17. CHAPTER SEVEN Walking into Narrative Scholarship (pp. 105-118)

    Muir’s sense of himself as a mountaineer was present even during his reading of the works of others. The development of his own thinking and writing about his experience as a mountaineer, and, indeed, his personal conception of a mountaineer, was informed by his mode of reading. Reference was made in chapter 5 to the seventy-five largely literary books from Muir’s personal library held in the Huntington Library. In each of them Muir has, as usual, made himself an index of page references and notes of topics on the endpapers. Many of these annotations pick up on references to mountains...

  19. CHAPTER EIGHT Teaching Post-Pastoral Poetry of Landscape (pp. 121-130)

    The fundamental basis of narrative scholarship is that direct experience of a landscape, like walking through it, is mediated through reading and reflection. The examples discussed in chapter 7 concerned prose writers. Here I extend that discussion into a pedagogical challenge for the poet and ecocritic who is a teacher of the writing of poetry. For such a person the development of the notion of the post-pastoral as a tool for ecocriticism also becomes a challenge to the writer and to the teacher. If one’s own writing tries to avoid the idealizing, nostalgic traps of the pastoral, so should one’s...

  21. CHAPTER NINE Tests of Character in Cold Mountain (pp. 133-140)

    When, as mentioned in chapter 5, John Muir wrote in 1873 thanking the Oakland schoolmaster John McChesney for the gift of the works of John Ruskin, he must have known that he had in his hands books that would inform his reading of all other books henceforth (Badè 1924; LL 186). Indeed, as I have shown in chapter 5, Muir went on to read Ruskin’s works at least three times, and the edition had not then been published in which he made the detailed endpaper notes in the books found in his library. Muir took from his mode of reading...

  23. CHAPTER TEN Muir’s Fourfold Concept of the Mountaineer (pp. 143-152)

    “I am hopelessly and forever a mountaineer,” John Muir wrote to Jeanne Carr from Yosemite Valley in October 1874. “I expected to have been among the foothill drift long ago,” he wrote, “but the mountains fairly seized me” (Badè 1924; LL 207). Muir always referred to himself as “a mountaineer,” but what he meant by this is more complex than our modern use of the term. In fact, his fourfold concept of what should be required to be called “a mountaineer” provides another example of his holistic sense of his being at home in the mountains. Something of that complexity...

  25. CHAPTER ELEVEN Toward a Post-Pastoral Mountaineering Literature (pp. 155-168)

    I have emphasized that John Muir did not write his first book, The Mountains of California, until he was fifty-five and that he began his career as a writer by writing for the magazines of his day. In drawing attention to the fact that Muir’s books largely consist of a patchwork of articles drawn from notebooks, journals, and letters to friends, I have suggested, in chapter 3, that it is clear that this shorter mode of writing was his natural form. In the introduction to my book The Joy of Climbing (Gifford 2004, 9), I argue that the magazine article...

  27. CHAPTER TWELVE Post-Pastoral Practice at the Crossroads of Ecocriticism (pp. 171-176)

    In his recent review of ecocriticism Michael Cohen suggests that a number of debates and critiques within ecocriticism have brought the emergent discipline to a crossroads (Cohen 2004). He identifies questions about rural and urban nature, wilderness and environmental justice, ecocentrism and anthropocentrism, nature writing and Environmental Impact Statements, art and activism, “praise-song criticism” and “analytic criticism,” the spiritual and the political, the pastoral and the toxic, ecology and criticism, alternative versions of ecology, local celebrations of landscape and commercial globalization, Deep Ecology and postmodern technology, old dogs and Young Turks. The British ecocritic Greg Garrard, who is still in...

  28. TO JOHN MUIR FROM HALF DOME (pp. 177-178)
  29. APPENDIX A. Introducing Ecocriticism into the University Curriculum (pp. 179-180)
  30. APPENDIX B. Twenty-five Kinds of Post-Pastoral Landscape Poem (pp. 181-182)
  31. APPENDIX C. Advice for New Writers Targeting Outdoor Magazines (pp. 183-186)
  32. Bibliography (pp. 187-194)
  33. Index (pp. 195-201)