Nature Part 2 (Pessell)

The beginning of the second half of Nature discusses the idea of nature as an enclosed space. He speaks about the recognition that landscapes seen as pristine nature that should be untouched is a European ideal. I really enjoyed the example of Yosemite as a place that  Native Americans used to keep game animals or grow acorns. The valley wasn’t naturally well-kept and pristine, it was actually maintained by the indigenous people, but when Europeans got to it, they assumed Yosemite was like this naturally. Thus, once the Indians were removed, they stopped maintaining the area which led to overgrowth. While the European colonists now saw this area as untouched, natural wonders, surviving indigenous people saw the overgrown area as a shadow of its former self.

Image result for yosemite

Similar to the European vision of Yosemite, the idea of the English country side was also seen as an area to be enclosed from the cruelty of human influence, particularly modes of capital like factories. The quote mentioned in the book from W. G Hoskins on page 112 really captured this idea. Nature was a force that helped turn people away from the sinful or distracting events happening in the cities or towns of England. However, by enclosing these areas of land to promote those forces, it opened a controversy as some people saw it these areas as shamefully inefficient where agriculture was concerned, especially during war-time.

Image result for the english countryside

Another big theme in the latter half of the book is the view of nature from a Romantic standpoint. In the pre-Romantic era, places such as hills and mountains were seen as warts on the face of nature. Areas that were more orderly were seen as the peak of natural beauty. From a Christian perspective, the earth was once completely round, and perfect in curvature until the Great Flood which fractured the earth and made it ugly.

In addition with the Yosemite is the idea of nature as picturesque. Yosemite was chosen to become a park because of the stunning vistas it produced and the massive mountains that soared above the valley. Parks such as Yosemite or Arches or the Grand Canyon raised our standards for what should be enclosed. Areas that were important to the ecosystem surrounding them could be destroyed or dumped on because they’re werent seen as places worthy of being maintained like other picturesque parks.

In the Romantic era however, people challenged picturesque landscapes with the idea of the sublime. Romantics saw all natural phenomena as awe-inspiring or empowering. Romantics were seen as a group that challenged the prevalent religious and scientific ideals of the time, also refered to as the world’s first subversives.

Along with new thinking in Nature as a place, there was new focus on animals through Darwin’s ideas of evolution as well as more research found on the behavior of animals compared to humans. Animals were starting to be seen as more alike to humans as the general populace liked to believe. When it came to the treatment of animals, people began to ask questions like “Do animals suffer?” rather than if they think or if they even have consciousness. A new idea of hierarchy emerged in the 17th century with intelligence being a measure of degree rather than a creature either having it or not. These ideas helped to solidify the idea that non-human nature was not just a place that existed based on a series of scientific and mathematical laws, but through its own perseverance and intelligence.

The idea of nature is now being seen through postmodernist eyes. Previous notions of nature, such as balanced and unbalanced are seen as human constructions we place on nature. There is also the thought of the end of the world. Through various points in history, there have been thinkers who proposed that the earth was in some way a being that was becoming exhausted with the actions being placed upon it. While in modern times we stear away from using such heavy personificiation, but with ever growing challenges of climate change and pollution, it is not hard to take those old ideas for truth.


“We are also gradually recognizing that the landscapes of the American West, which nineteenth-century white adventurers, nature writers and national park promoters hailed as examples of pristine and unadorned nature, were actually created by Euro-American incursion and reconceptualization” p. 111

“The ‘improvers’ regarded them [enclosed land] as an affront to efficient agriculture rather than unsightly.” p. 113

“The new rash of parks indicates that it would be paranoid to assume that the wealthy regarded every bit of natural world as potential fodder for the monstrous maw of an insatiable capitalism.” p. 115

“Prevailing aesthetic canons elevated level and ordered landscapes.” p. 130

“Theological and scientific innovations promoted feelings of awe for physical creation as an ordered system whose perfection mirrored that of its creator and overshadowed man’s work.” p. 131

“The Romantic soul felt empowered by those qualities of mountain scenery that had so appalled and disoriented their predecessors.” p. 133

“…life involved a ‘struggle for existence’…seems a far cry from the Romantic view of nature as a harmonious community of life.” p. 139

“Darwin confined in his diary that ‘Man in his arrogance thinks himself a great work, worthy of the interposition of a deity. More humble and, I believe, true, to consider him created from animals.’.” p. 141

” German thinker Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz who … argued that human and animal intelligence differ only in degree.” p.180-181

Questions and Discussion topics:

  • Does enclosure really conserve beauty?
  • Does enclosure continue to promote ideas of nature being perfect?
  • Picturesque vs. sublime.
  • Should humans be seen as apart of nature as Darwin describes in his diary?
  • Animals vs. humans.
  • Post modern ideas and biotechnologies.



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