- "Faecebook":Ironies of Pastoral Narcissism
A piece of flesh I hand you as I fall into myself— Peter Minter, "Faecebook"
In the context of contemporary environmental and ecological textual practices, the pastoral has become an increasingly political subject. Of all the genres of poetry, it is the pastoral which continues to be selected to comment on a range of social, political, and economic questions about how societies should interface with environmental contexts. At least in Australia, such attention given to the idealistic literary form involves a constitutive irony. The irony is this: pastoral notions of an Arcadian New World were used to justify the dispossession of and irreversible damage to Aboriginal cultures of over 60,000 years of sustained existence on this continent. However soon in colonial history one pinpoints disenchantment with the pastoral imaginary for a great Southern Land, the Australian nation remained a pastoral ideal of virgin country unfettered by existing title or environmental biodiversity waiting for the European shepherd. Nation was imagined in a pastoral spirit, and its discontents stemmed from the obstacles that would preclude its realisation.
In this essay, I want to hone in on the innovative treatment of the pastoral engaged in by a central figure in Australian Indigenous Studies and contemporary poetry, Peter Minter. I discover in one of Minter's major contemporary poems, "Faecebook," a new strategy for extenuating the already political nature of this form in the Australian context (Minter 2013a). To contextualize the attitude and scope of this poem, I want first to elaborate on why the pastoral in Australia exists as an inherently political genre, and turn to John Kinsella's theory of "radical pastoral" (Kinsella 2007) as a praxis for a political poetry suitably and reflexively alert to the problematics of this old Western form in an Australian context. In addition, a short history of the form will clarify the background to Minter's poem, highlighting what opportunities of the form's politics are made by the poet. Studying more closely the dialectical irony of the pastoral in the classical period in Ovid's work provides a connecting line to Minter's decolonial revision. Minter, I [End Page 137] find, is concerned with metamorphosis. Through this discovery, I examine the ways in which irony is a political property of the pastoral and how Minter exploits it. Specifically, I suggest that irony unnerves fixed subjectivity's dwelling in the pastoral environment, privileging metamorphic encounter and relation over self-love, and enlarging the paradoxes of ideal relations between the subject and the environment that govern the modern pastoral imagination.
Entangled in "Faecebook" and its ironic expansion of a pastoral environmental sensibility is the problem of anthropocentric narcissism in the subject, that is, the notion that the human subject is the ideal subject in the environment when acting as its shepherd. "Faecebook" deserves lengthy analysis for its unravelling of such ironies of the pastoral form in the Anthropocene, where the human shepherd undoes the possibility of the ideal pasture. Minter's metamorphic pastoral imaginary develops the political possibility of irony conveyed especially in the work of Ovid. More obviously, eponymously implicated in the critique of narcissism happening here is the medium de jure of contemporary self-love: Facebook. Thus, by way of an analysis of "Faecebook," I discover that Minter's politicization of the pastoral lies most of all with a deconstruction of its anthropocentrism. Indeed, such deconstruction exposes the pastoral's existing investment in an environmentalism of human self-perception, rather than larger metamorphosis and change. So, through a discussion of pastoral, Minter's bizarre fusing of social media and the botanical imagery in "Faecebook" can be clarified. I suggest that Minter indicts the subjectivity of narcissistic anthropocentrism through a metamorphic disfigurement of the character of Narcissus where Kinsella exposes narcissistic anthropocentrism's "solastalgic" consequences (Albrecht 2006).
Why the Pastoral is Political
In contemporary Australian poetics, the critical writing and poetic practices of Kinsella have typified the movement to revise and revolutionise the pastoral's legacy within a larger Western pastoral imaginary for land, habitation, and the natural. On Kinsella's "Field Notes from Mount Bakewell," for example, critic Harold Bloom once wrote that "[t]he poignance...