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L. L. G riffin, F R A N E D E N S. Black and w hite photograph. From Griffin’s exhibit Something That a Cowboy Knows, which first appeared in the Arvada Center in 1994, then traveled under the auspices of the Colorado Historical Society. It will continue to travel through Wyoming, Nevada, and Oregon. Griffin has published a book by the same title as her exhibit. D e s ir e o f t h e M id d le G ro u n d : O p p o s itio n , D ia le c t ic s , a n d D ia lo g ic C o n t e x t in G r e t e l E h r l i c h s T h e S o l a c e o f O p e n S p a c e s B o n n e y M a c D o n a l d To read John McPhee is to witness physical, geological form batholiths, basins, and faults— through the mediating vehicle of McPhee’s reports. Similarly, to read Ann Zwinger is to visit alpine tundras, parched deserts, and the minutely cataloged array of wildlife that move past the inquiring observer and to take part in what Franklin Burroughs calls “limit-loving sanity” (935). By contrast, to read Terry Tempest Williams’s Desert Quartet is not only to visit or be a guest in a western landscape of natural forms— of high rocks, bril­ liant blue skies, and sparse, gray-green brush— but also to attempt with her help to go beyond the status of guest and visiting observer and break through to the realm of sympathetic participant.1 In a 1996 interview, in which she articulates the response desired in Desert Quartet, Williams tells Ona Siporin that her intention was dif­ ferent than in other projects. With Quartet, she recalls, ‘“I wanted to explore what it might mean to write out of the body and to create a narrative where it was of the flesh, and even ask the question, “What might it mean to make love to the land?””’ (Siporin 111). By posing this question and, in Desert Quartet, by seeking the loss of “control” and “thought” as she “dissolve[s]” into the lake, wishing and saying, “I am water,” Williams courts a radically and purely eroti­ cized landscape and follows, in so doing, a trajectory articulated by John Muir (Desert Quartet 23-24). Recalling the grazing lands in the shadows of Yosemite’s sublime heights, Muir suggests, “You bathe in these spirit-beams, [and] [presently you lose consciousness of your own separate existence: you blend with the landscape, and become part and parcel of Nature” (“Twenty Hill Hollow” 85). With his sen­ suous accounts of “gushing” and “throbbing” rivers, “columns” of water converging in the waterfalls (My First Summer 236), “pulsing rocks” and “storm[s] of mountain love,” Muir makes explicitly erotic those blendings of body and nature that Ralph Waldo Emerson had 1 2 8 WAL 3 3 ( 2 ) S u m m e r 1 9 9 8 offered in his transparent eyeball scene in Nature (qtd. in O ’Grady 62). Reaching for “polymorphic relationships with things,” as John O ’Grady suggests, Muir “was wildly and innocently making love with the world” (58). The potential problems suggested by this tradition of sensual iden­ tification with landscape are multiple: a personification of nature and the enactment of the pathetic fallacy; a tendency toward leaving behind the social and the public for the private, noncommunicable revelation; a participation in the long-standing American attempt to locate an unmediated, revelatory, and ahistorical sublime in a non­ human environment; and, finally, the use of nature and/or the idea of the wild for escape and private pleasure. While knowing well the genuine and powerful temptation to read and feel a boundless west­ ern landscape from within this tradition of ecstatic reverie, I want nonetheless to examine some of the consequences of that tradition. My point here is by no means to dismantle or discard subjective desire in nature writing by pitting it against the less personal...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 126-148
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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