November 09, 2006

Annette Kolodny on ‘Unearthing Herstory: An Introduction’

Writing about web page http://filebox.vt.edu/users/lcorriga/femKolodny.htm

In this essay, Kolodny is interested in fantasies of a natural maternal realm that dominate green campaigns. The fantasy is that of ‘harmony between man and nature absed on an experience of the land as essentially feminine—that is, not simply land as mother, but the land as a woman, the total female principle of gratification—enclosing the individual in an environment of receptivity, repose and painless and integral satisfaction’ (171).

Kolodny turns to accounts of explorers in the Americas such as that of Arthur Barlowe of 1584. In such accounts the Indian women stand as emblem for the hospitality of the land. The marriage of Pocahontas and John Rolfe in 1614 was an objective correlative for the claiming of virgin land according to Kolodny.

Universal mythic wishes are expressed in the New World landscape figured as a maternal garden, but Kolodny hastens to add, this paradise was real, even if it did not always live up to expectations. America is mythologized as a site of maternal ease and a throwback to a lost state of innocence. Kolodny is fascinated by how the inhabitants of America were ‘experiencing those fantasies as the pattern of one’s daily activity’ (173). But in sixteenth and seventeenth century, was the fantasy a dream or real? Kolodny notes that in order to create a habitable environment, the settlers either had to rape the landscape to create an urban centre or reject that course for ‘easeful regression’ (174). Either way, the land was despoiled.

From such dilemmas, what Kolodny calls an American pastoral vocabulary emerges. This is ‘a yearning to know and to respond to the landscape as feminine’ which Kolodny describes as the American ‘pastoral impulse’ (175). Kolodny finally adds that for the settlers this way of seeing the land was essential due to ‘the threatening, alien, and potentially emasculating terror of the unknown’ (176).

The Ecocriticism Reader . Ed. Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm. Athens and London: The University of Georgia Press, 1996. 170-181.


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