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Poetics and Politics of Place in Pastoral

International Perspectives

Edited By Bénédicte Chorier-Fryd, Charles Holdefer and Thomas Pughe

In a time of global environmental crisis, pastoralism may seem beside the point. Yet pastoral ideals are still alive even though they often manifest themselves by ironic indirection. What can the pastoral tradition teach us about our ties to particular places?
The contributors to this volume attempt to lay the groundwork for the ongoing concern with pastoral and with its critical revision.
This volume brings together new essays that focus on painting, photography, poetry, essay, fiction and film, from the Renaissance to the present. They also take into account an astonishing variety of pastoral places, in Europe, Africa, and North America; country and city; suburbia and industrial zones.
Poetics and Politics of Place in Pastoral is not only about reassessing the past, but also provides a sense of future developments as the pastoral reinvents itself for the 21 st century.
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The Pasture and the Freeway in Thomas Pynchon’s California


Pastoral retreat and its political implications play a central part in Pynchon’s Californian opus. The pasture and the clearing among the woods in Vineland (1990) and the Southern California coast in Inherent Vice (2009) both provide the setting for episodes of strife between political and economic superstructures, on the one hand, and post-agrarian, informal libertarian communities or marginal individuals, on the other. These confrontations do elicit some of the simple binary oppositions that conventionally structure the pastoral (order/disorder, work/play, life/death, animal/human, purity/corruption, power/rebellion). Yet these oppositions are also subverted by a complex network of ambiguities, notably regarding questions of power and oppression.1 Pynchon’s pastoral locus is no stage for any clear set of values – neither a rural landscape fit for the expression of the Jeffersonian agrarian ideal, nor the refuge of primitive forces resisting the encroachment of modernity. The in-betweenness of the generic pastoral space, between the wilderness and the city, between nature and culture, may foster complexity and ambivalence instead of the balance and harmony exemplified in the middle-ground. Pynchon’s Californian groves take on a near-Gothic quality or are reclaimed by the wilderness in a post-pastoral twist, or else provide a complex ground for a subversion that does not preclude lethal implications. In both works, pastoral retreat is de-localized and disseminated onto the open road – a quintessential American locus that allows the rise of moveable pastoral communities remote from the founding figure of Crevecoeur’s farmer. ← 155 | 156 →

Vineland’s Pastoral Retreat: a Complex Space

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