I have mixed emotions toward Coates’ Nature: Western Attitudes Since Ancient Times as I was both highly interested and incredibly board, almost simultaneously. I thought that the examples Coates used to illustrate the intersections of nature and culture over time were quite interesting and offered new perspectives that I have never been exposed to before, but lacked in presentation as I found myself often bored and distracted. Perhaps if these stories were condensed and broken up by topic better, I would feel less overwhelmed by the reading.
Coates provided extensive background and illustrative examples of how various cultures and time periods intertwined with nature. Many of the attitudes of these cultures were religiously based and called for use of nature in co-ordinance with religious law. Other cultures, such as the Greeks and Romans, that made nature utilitarian for social purposes were largely invasive and detrimental in comparison to other cultures and time periods. Overall, I believe Coates would argue that these cultures, even the ancient ones, laid the foundation of our relationship with nature today.
In addition to providing support of various peoples, he also provided literary support for these arguments through some of the most iconic scientists and philosophers including Thoreau, Leopold, Heidegger, Galileo, and more (although surprisingly not Kuhn, even in his section on scientific revolution). Interestingly enough, just yesterday I was examining the work of Heidegger and the particular piece being discussed on pg. 67. Coates captures the essence (pun intended if you are familiar with this piece) of the modernity of nature as Heidegger is trying to conceptualize in this work about “standing reserves.” In our discussion we talked extensively about the environmental undertones of Heidegger’s work and I can see the connection between him and Coates about exploring the exploitation of nature for utilitarian benefit.
One criticism I had of Coates was his tend of sexualization of nature. I thought this was quite Freudian and was off-putting at many points. Where I see the topic of ecofeminism as an important one for discussion, I thought he went too far in his descriptions and was insensitive and inappropriate.
I still remain “in the middle” on how I feel about this text and I am curious to find what the rest of the book will bring.