Saturday’s Guardian featured an article by Stephen Poole titled ‘Is Our Love of Nature Writing Bourgeois Escapism?’ Given my recent post After London: dreaming Wild England, I found this fascinating.
I think it’s a bit tired to dismiss anything as bourgeois, not just because it’s usually a case of people in glass houses, but also because it’s an unworkable generalisation. And the author takes an unnecessarily violent swipe at George Monbiot, going so far as to suggest, rather wildly, that a concern for the effects of alien species in the countryside might be part of the same mindset that creates fascists. But it’s a well-researched and intelligent article once you get past the Julie Burchill syndrome, and asks questions which can only sharpen exactly how and why we worship, and try to protect, the natural world.
Monbiot has responded to the article, understandably hurt and angry. He returns the unfair swipe (which branded Monbiot as part of all that I imagine Monbiot finds abhorrent) by painting Poole as a zombie on the juggernaut of corporate domination. But in doing so, he makes a better point:
“Unlike most art, the wonders of nature often stand in the way of attempts to extract resources or to build airports or shopping centres. Corporate attacks on people who love and seek to defend the natural world have seeped into every pore. Culturally hegemonic, the developers’ view finds expression in the most unlikely places.
So those of us whose love of the natural world is a source of constant joy and constant despair, who wish to immerse ourselves in nature as others immerse themselves in art, who try to defend the marvels that enthrall us, find ourselves labelled – from the Mail to the Guardian – as romantics, escapists and fascists. That, I suppose, is the price of confronting the power of money.”
It’s not new thinking, but it cuts through a lot of chatter to the heart of the matter.
The whole spat is a reminder that there’s so much unnecessary confrontation used to discuss these things freely, even among those with similar values. Stephen Poole has some important questions to ask, and it’s best summed up by the most recommended comment on his article, from Mark 56:
“Though I love many of the works described above, I’ve often wondered about the bourgeois, uh, nature of nature writing in the past. Not so much the outcomes, but the roots – they’re mostly written by people of a similar, often quite well-to-do background, and present a rather narrow spectrum of relationships with the natural world. Or if not narrow, then repetitive. It would be brilliant to read about more diverse interactions with the landscape, rather than embarking upon a middle-class quest all the time. It’s why I quite liked Neil Ansell’s writing, since he comes at this business from a different angle – more of that, please. And there aren’t anywhere near enough female nature writers, come to think of it.”