Good Nature Writing

Mabel Osgood Wright’s writings reveal her thoughts on what good nature writing should be. She claims that the best nature writing focuses more on the personal discovery aspect of outdoor life instead of the author’s perception of what nature is. The transcendental writings of Emerson and Thoreau meet her criteria because those authors focused on writing about the journey of self-discovery that nature allows people to embark on. She describes Thoreau’s book “A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers” as “our first example of Nature literature pure and simple” (157). Wright feels so strongly about this book as well as other transcendental writings because they do not try to define nature as the author sees it but instead urge the audience to go out and explore nature and make their own personal discoveries. This goal is what Wright feels is the most important criteria for nature writing.

Wright also describes what she considers to be bad nature writing. She feels that authors such as Ernest Thompson Seton and William J. Long are bad for nature writing because they focus on the singular experience of an individual, whether that’s a person in the story or an animal. This style of nature writing fails to meet her criteria because the stories force the reader to believe that what the author is writing is mostly truth and not just a fictional tale based off of true events. Wright feels this is misleading because the authors do not specify which parts of their stories are true and which parts have been overly exaggerated or changed to give the story more literary merit. She writes that, “It is when the authors in this new field insist that they are not only telling ‘the truth and nothing but the truth,’ which moreover, that have personally touched, tasted, swallowed, and digested, that a halt must be called” (161). By trying to write true events in a way that makes for good reading, the authors Wright criticizes miss the mark of what good nature writing entails. 

Good nature writing according to Wright

After reading Mabel Osgood Wright’s essay, her critique of what she refers to as ‘good nature writing’ stems from the idea that the truth is more valuable than exaggerations when questioning literary merit, “Wright more perceptively sees a question of literary merit—and it is as a deficit writer, rather than as a purveyor of falsehoods” (155).  Wright also suggests that good nature writing should encourage people to abandon their primary households of the indoors and city life to venture out into nature to enlighten the audience to the beauties of nature.  Wright claims that by staying indoors people will not obtain the correct perspective of nature resulting in people seeing nature as “mere inventories, and the values given were of food and meat, not loveliness” (155).

 

Wright describes the return to the outdoors as a pilgrimage, giving it a minor religious theme of city dwellers converting to appreciating the outdoors and beauty of nature that leads to “the betterment of physical health and mental energy,” claiming that the outdoors has healing powers.

 

I agree with Mabel Osgood Wright’s interpretation of good nature writing and that due to this style being relatively new publishers and even audiences struggle with the writings.  The Darwinian quote by Wright, “As to the books, let them some, good, bad, and indifferent, the survival will be only for the truest, because in the end they will be found the fittest” (159) describes how good nature writing will be defined in the future as more and more books are published those that not only outlast the others but convey truth over exaggeration will define the genre.

 

However, Wright does not discuss the problem of the gray-area between artistic freedom of the writers and strictly staying true to the facts.  If good nature writing has fictional elements, the writer cannot be expected to be contained to facts.  There needs to be some form of entertainment otherwise there will not be any profit.  I think there shouldn’t be a fine line to distinguish between the two but there shouldn’t be over exaggerations either.

 

Mazel, David (ed). A Century of Early Ecocriticism. Ch./Art: Excerpts p. 154-162. Pub. University of Georgia Press 2001

Good Nature Writing

Good nature writing to Wright would consist of a transcendentalist mentality, “a striving against artificial conditions” of city life, considering nature an eternal duality between male and female, and a “stepping forward” mentality into a future in balance with nature (157). She considers these ideas to be a “public appeal” which has “opened an entirely new field for authors, and been productive not only of much interesting and instructive reading-matter but a great deal that must take a permanent rank as literature” (157). I agree with her criteria, except for the idea of moving forward or backward to achieve a balance with nature because this implies that time is linear, which I do not agree with. I would describe this more as a healing process between nature and humanity. There is no going forward or backward because all we ever have is the present moment. I strongly agree with the idea of nature embodying both sexes since most species have both sexes, allowing for life to be both eternal and fragile. I also agree with “striving against artificial conditions” of city life because losing touch with the natural world feels like losing a tremendous part of what defines our humanity (157). We should spend time learning about the wonders of the world that human hands did not entirely create. I would define good nature writing to consist of the qualities Wright mentions, except for the idea of linear time, as well as a few other ideas. I would define good nature writing to consist of some notion of the people in the text learning how to survive while embarking on a journey out of the city life. I would also hope to see the people working to understand names for different entities in nature, whether plant or animal species. A balance between some sort of civilization for humans and the rest of the natural world would be essential to good nature writing as well. The story also may be apocalyptic and describe a world with imbalances between civilization and nature. The people could act compassionately toward other living creatures, only killing anything if they need to for their own sustenance, or they could create a darker dynamic between humans and other animals to shed light on something the author wants to illuminate to society. Good nature writing should strive to teach a lesson about our relation to the natural world that relates to the way a society lives. Nature writing should have some basis in the author’s personal experiences or else the lesson that is taught won’t hold much water.

Mazel, David (ed). A Century of Early Ecocriticism. Ch./Art: Excerpts p. 154-162. Pub. University of Georgia Press 2001

“The Outlook’s” Effective Nature Faker Argument

Many of the arguments made during the “Nature Faker Controversy” offer conflicting perspectives with the author simply refuting an argument but providing no real examples or substantial evidence for their argument. The controversy is mainly centered on the egotistical opinions of authors who do not write with enough credibility to adequately quell the questions and retorts of their colleagues in nature writing. The continuous back and forth slew of vicious and ill-supported arguments makes it difficult to pinpoint which argument is not only the most convincing but also the most successful.

Ultimately it is the argument made by the editors of The Outlook that is the most well-supported and the most compelling, “Our own careful observation and experience lead us to believe that his [Long] books have, on the whole, done much more good than harm, by interesting the children of this country in the life and welfare of animals…Mr. Burroughs appeals to the adult mind, Mr. Long to the imagination and curiosity of the child” (Mazel 145). While this excerpt may not necessarily be a part of the “Nature Faker Controversy” it effectively sums up the argument without using any belittling or impudent remarks toward either author. With the final sentence, the editors at The Outlook characterize the value of both Long and Burroughs, identifying that each author occupies an important place in the literary world of natural history. What makes this argument so effective is that the editors take no stand on whether they find Long to be an overly imaginative author or Burroughs to be a condescending critic. The editors make a successful critique because they are able to separate their personal biases and implications and focus solely on the words of Burroughs and Long.

Though it can be argued that personality and imagination is what makes or breaks a piece of literature that is not what the “Nature Faker Controversy” was about. This controversy was a result of authors publicly critiquing the work of their colleagues based on opinions and assumptions and while the arguments are numerous for both sides there are too many questions left unanswered by both perspectives to consider any of the arguments truly convincing. Neither side is willing or able to provide concrete evidence to support their argument and for that the credibility of the critique is lost.

Mazel, David (ed). A Century of Early Ecocriticism. Ch./Art: Excerpts p. 26-47, 87-100, 113-147, 154-162. pub. University of Georgia Press 2001

What “Good Nature Writing” IS NOT

When reading this essay, I found that Wright chooses to define “good nature writing” more by what it IS NOT than by what it actually is. This is seen in her denouncement of nature writing that is overly embellished but claims to be the truth. Wright states that the authors of such pieces have made a “grave error” in claiming to be truly good nature writers. Specifically, she condemns the writings of William J. Long for stating that his works are “careful and accurate [observations]” when the reader can clearly see he is elaborating. She does not condemn these elaborations for simply embellishing the truth but merely finds faults in the claims that they are the pure truth, almost as an attempt to lie to readers.

Like Wright, I also find it easier to exclude some works of writing (such as Long’s) from the category of “good nature writing” rather than to try to categorize all works that may or may not fit into the genre. Because, like Wright states, we should not regard all writing as false, and therefore, poor nature writing, simply “because they are not within the range of our own experiences”. I feel that a simpler way to eliminate a poor nature writer is to look at the extent to which he or she is honest with the reader. I think elaborative writing can explain a different, more personal aspect of nature and it can be regarded as worthwhile as long as the aspects of it that are purely fictitious are acknowledged.

In addition to the need for honesty in nature writing, I agree with Wright that good nature writing it also about “stepping forward” and meeting nature as an equal rather than the traditional view of “going back to Nature”. However, this led me to question the pastoral trope and it’s idealization of returning to nature. Perhaps just a reframing of the trope is necessary to categorize pastoral writings as great nature writing because the writer is not so much trying to reclaim lost nature of years past but rather reuniting with nature with “out-stretched hands”.

Group 2’s 6th and Final Blog Post

For your last blog post, pick one of the following options:

  1. Do you agree with Selden Whitcomb’s argument about the trajectory American literature and its treatment of nature by the turn of the 20th century? Why or why not? Use examples from any of our reading this semester to illustrate your points. Feel free to also bring in your knowledge of American literature from other classes or other sources.
  2. Write a response in which you assess Whitcomb’s analysis of either Hector St. John de Crevecoeur or William Cullen Bryant. In your response, you should both reference Whitcomb’s text and cite textual evidence from either “What is an American?” or Bryant’s poetry to support your claims.
  3. Which arguments made during the “Nature Faker Controversy” do you find most convincing? In your response, explain and defend your position. You may want to consider citing from last week’s Seton reading to further illustrate your points.
  4. What criteria does Mabel Osgood Wright propose for “good nature writing?” Do you agree with her criteria? What would you add to her list? In other words, how would you define “good nature writing?”

Remember, your posts should follow these requirements and guidelines:

  • Posts must be at least 300 words.
  • Posts must include at least one quote from the text. If you are writing about both texts, then you’ll need at least one quote from each as support.
  • Stay focused on answering the prompt question above. Avoid repeating the question and be as specific as possible in your answer.
  • Please note that you do not need to answer every “thinking question” I have posted (the questions after the bold directive). These are just options, so you could focus on one or a few. Avoid writing a response that looks like a Q & A or laundry list of answers to these smaller questions; make sure your response flows smoothly and has unity.
  • Your response should make an argument, not summarize the text.
  • Use specific moments from the text(s) to support and illustrate your argument.
  • Be sure to introduce, quote, cite, and comment on all quotes.
  • Don’t forget to tag your posts! Before adding a new tag, check the “choose from the most used tabs” menu to make sure it is not already listed.

Group 1, your blog response is due by class time on Tuesday, November 29. Group 2, blog comments are due by class time on Thursday, December 1.

Lion Country Safari

As I mentioned in class there is a park in South Florida called Lion Country Safari and has been open since the 1960’s I believe.  I did some research to try and find the origin of why and who opened the park and it turns out that a group of South African men decided to open up a park to make money where they could experience the safari that they were accustom to in South Africa.  Majority of the animals are from Africa that are featured on the safari drive.  I found it very interesting especially after reading Berger that the people who run the park are disillusioned by the animals who are just in a really big cage.  The park management believe that the animals are able to function and breed as if they were in Africa just because they are in a larger enclosure than most zoos and that the climate is very similar so the animals won’t know the difference essentially.  But what I wanna know is how can an animal be natural if humans supply them food, shelter, and medicine not to mention that everyday hundreds of cars drive through the exhibit, which is only a four mile tour.

I have attached the website for the park but was unable to attach the video I wished you to see, but if you scroll down you will see a video with a picture of a giraffe that says “Take A Video Tour” click on that and you’ll here an explanation of why the park was created and how they are striving to keep the exhibit natural.

http://www.lioncountrysafari.com/index.html

Oh and as far as the lions, they were free roaming in the exhibit until 2005 when they were placed in a fenced enclosure due to guest opening their doors and windows near the animals.