Mnemographia Canadensis

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I’ve been at the internet site Canadian Poetry.org for several years. One of this site’s sub-sections is entitled Mnemographia Canadensis. The content of this sub-section is largely the result of "Matters of Memory," a graduate course designed in 1994 by the principal contributor of the essays in this collection.

The course was offered by the Department of English at the University of Western Ontario in London Ontario in 1996-1997. I did not participate in this course in Canada since, at the time, I was in the last two years of my teaching career as a lecturer in a college in Western Australia.

I learned a great deal about the concept of memory in reading the essays at this site, and I apply it in this essay to my life experience in the Baha'i community.

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Mnemographia Canadensis

  1. 1. I’ve been at the internet site Canadian Poetry.org for several years. One of this site’s sub-sections is entitled Mnemographia Canadensis. It is largely the result of "Matters of Memory," a graduate course designed in 1994 by the principal contributor of the essays in this collection. The course was offered by the Department of English at the University of Western Ontario in London Ontario in 19961997. I did not participate in this course in Canada since, at the time, I was in the last two years of my teaching career as a lecturer in a college in Western Australia. The course was aimed at exploring the literary and material manifestations of what has variously been called "collective," "cultural," "social," and "public" memory in Canada. The course consisted of two components: (1) a series of presentations by the instructor, D.M.R. Bentley, Western's School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, part of the Faculty of Health Sciences. This series of presentations focused on commemorative practices in Canada between the late eighteenth century and the present day, with particular emphasis on the relationship between literary and material manifestations of memory; and (2) a series of presentations by the other members of the seminar that focused on a selection of national, regional, and local sites of memory such as the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa and the Montreal Massacre monument in London’s Victoria Park. The difficulties surrounding even the term "memory" in a collective context and of the impossibility of dealing with any matter of purportedly collective memory in Canada without also considering issues of community or society, and environment or landscape, became quickly obvious to the organizers. I thought to myself as I read this essay, this introduction to
  2. 2. the subject of collective memory and the course at the university of Western Ontario by Professor Bentley that the program had a broad application to the community I had been associated with now for 60 years. This community to which I refer was, and is, an international community, not a national one, and it has a history going back at least as far as the late 18th century and into the present day. Just as the division of this series of essays Mnemographia Canadensis into two parts entitled: (i) Muse and Recall and (ii) Remember and See reflected the two components of the Matters of Memory Seminar, so the subtitle of the collection —Essays on Memory: Community, and Environment in Canada, with Particular Reference to London, Ontario— reflected the breadth, complexity, and specificity of the topics addressed by members of the seminar. London Ontario was just down the road, about a 90 minute drive, from where I grew-up in southern Ontario. Back in 1964 I had a summer job while at university in Hamilton working just outside London toward St. Thomas. This division in the subject of memory, I continued to muse, could just as easily be applied to the international Baha’i community. I began my involvement with this community as far back as 1953 when I was in the years of my late childhood, ages 9 to 12. I continue to be a part of the Baha’i Faith at the age of 69 in 2013 60 years later, but I no longer live in Canada but at the other end of the world in Australia. The series of essays entitled, Mnemographia Bahaensis, is the product of a single author and this series that I introduce here raises many broad cultural and social concerns. Perhaps it is not too much to hope that in form as well as content Mnemographia Bahaensis reflects a Baha’i internationalism that is simultaneously aware of the achievements and shortcomings of the Baha’i Faith’s history. I hope I am able in these essays to face the challenges and possibilities of
  3. 3. creating a multi-ethnic vision of the future and a more pluralistic vision of this Faith’s past than, arguably, it has enjoyed thusfar, in the more than two centuries of its history. Being the sole author at this stage in the evolution of this series of essays, these essays will be, inevitably limited in their range and content. I am no specialist in the field of memory. I am just one of the academic generalists with an interest in memory, especially as I head through these middle years, 65 to 75, of my late adulthood. Old age, according to one model of human development in the lifespan, begins at 65. I rather like the model in which old age begins at the age of 80. That gives me another decade before I am old. Perhaps by the age of 80 I might have put some solid meat on these essays. Time will tell. While the essays that I hope to write will frequently touch and draw upon recent and not-so-recent literary and other theories in the humanities and social sciences----in their readings and soundings of commemorative, communal, and environmental matters---I intend to make a concerted effort, in the interests of accessibility and the avoidance of academic terminology which is only familiar to a literary coterie, to avoid unnecessary theoretical terms and to provide definitions of ones that are necessary either contextually or in footnotes. Given the medley of approaches that it is possible to take in this collection of essays, a collection that I trust will increasingly characterize the growth and development of the international Baha’i community; and given the "imagined communities" in the more than 120,000 locations in the world where Baha’is lived by the end of the twentieth and the first years of the 21st century, a Procrustean theory of the nature and function of collective memory should neither be expected nor missed in the following essays. With the preliminary help of James McConkey’s The
  4. 4. Anatomy of Memory: an Anthology (1996) these essays were able to get off the ground, so to speak. I follow McConkey’s own autobiographical work Court of Memory, a work which expands the theme of memory to give it the "sense of special importance that memory has for us today." In his Preface McConkey quotes E.M. Forster(1879-1970), the English novelist, short story writer, essayist and librettist who is known best for his ironic and well-plotted novels examining class difference and hypocrisy in early 20thcentury British society. In his Aspects of the Novel, Forster wrote about expansion in these words: "expansion is the idea the novelist must cling to; not completion. Not rounding off but opening out.” I would add that this is equally true and, a fortiori, of the poet and essayist. “When the symphony is over,” writes Bobby Matherne, in his review of McConkey’s anthology, “we feel that the notes and tune composing it have been liberated; they have found in the rhythm of the whole their individual freedom. Cannot the novel be like that?" With the help of the contributors to The Anatomy of Memory, James McConkey has certainly created such a symphony or expansion on the theme of memory. It is my hope that I can achieve at least as good a result with the series of essays which follow. Also of use in this literary exercise which I have begun in the evening of my life after nearly 60 years of being part of the community at the centre of this series of essays, the Baha’i international community, is the Aaron L. Binenkorb Professor Emeritus of International Studies, Government & Asian Studies at Cornell University, Benedict Anderson(1936- ). Anderson defined a nation as "an imagined political community - and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign". But I will come to Anderson’s work later, after making some concluding
  5. 5. comments on McClonky’s ideas. An imagined community, writes Anderson, is different from an actual community because it is not---and, for practical reasons, cannot be---based on everyday face-to-face interaction between its members. Instead, members hold in their minds a mental image of their affinity: for example, the nationhood felt with other members of your nation when your "imagined community" participates in a larger event such as the Olympic Games. As Anderson puts it, a nation "is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion". Members of the community probably will never know each of the other members face to face; However, they may have similar interests or identify as part of the same nation. The media also create imagined communities, through usually targeting a mass audience or generalizing and addressing citizens as the public. This is true, a fortiori, of the international Baha’i community and its several million members. These communities are imagined, as I say above, in both limited and sovereign terms. The Baha’i community, for me, as well as for all of its members, is limited in that it has "finite, if elastic boundaries, beyond which lie other individuals and communities. The Baha’i community is also sovereign since no other community can claim authority over it except in terms defined by the Baha’i community itself. The concept of an international community, any international community, was born perhaps as long ago as the time when homo sapiens sapiens moved out of Africa, group by group and over many years, and began to inhabit the regions of the
  6. 6. earth beyond the African continent. In our modern world, though, the international community could be said to exist in the years after the Enlightenment and Revolution which together began to see the destruction and the legitimacy of the divinely-ordained, hierarchical dynastic-monarchical realms. In the last two centuries our modern world has been transformed into a single global community, planetized, as one writer put it. The coming to maturity of nations has taken place at a stage of human history when all nations dream of being free under God or under law or both. The gage and emblem of this freedom has been the sovereign nation state, and increasingly the international community of nations. Even the most devout adherents of any of the universal religions were inescapably confronted with the living pluralism of all global religions. There is, and there has been, a direct relationship between each faith's ontological claims and their territorial stretch. Along with these nation states there has slowly evolved, as I say, an international community. With it, at least since the late 18th century, the Babi-Baha’i community has also been increasingly evolving within this essentially international arena. Even though we may never see anyone in our imagined community, we still know they are there through communication. This international Baha’i community is an imagined community because, regardless of any actual inequality or any exploitation its members face, any tests and difficulties that may prevail in any part of it, it is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately it is this confraternity that has made it possible, over the past two
  7. 7. centuries, for so many of its members to give their lives for such limited imaginings. According to Anderson, the creation of imagined communities became possible because of "print-capitalism". Capitalist entrepreneurs printed their books and media in the vernacular, instead of exclusive script languages, such as Latin, in order to maximize circulation. As a result, readers speaking various local dialects became able to understand each other, and a common discourse emerged. Anderson argued that the first European nation-states were thus formed around their national print-languages. The international community was also formed due to the lingua Franca of English, international trade, indeed, a cornucopia of internationalizing tendencies in our modern age, tendencies which are a subject itself. Imagined communities can also be seen as a form of social constructionism which is an ongoing, dynamic process that is and must be reproduced by people acting on their interpretations and their knowledge of the process. It’s on a par with Edward Said’s concept of imagined geographies. Edward Said(1935-2003) was a Palestinian-American literary theoretician, University Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, and a public intellectual who was a founding figure of the critical field of post-colonialism. There is an utopian element in internationalism. According to this theory of imagined communities, the main causes of internationalism are the declining importance of privileged access to particular script languages such as Latin because of mass vernacular literacy; the movement to abolish the ideas of rule by divine right and hereditary monarchy; and the
  8. 8. emergence of printing press capitalism—all phenomena occurring with the start of the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century. Ethnic groups, and a plethora of sub-cultures, are different from nations. Nations are the result of a triple revolution that began with the development of capitalism and they have led to a bureaucratic and cultural centralization along with a loss of power by various institutional religions. With the environmental crisis of the 20th and 21st centuries comes a crisis of the imagination, a need to find new ways to understand nature and humanity’s relation to it. This is the challenge Lawrence Buell(1939- ) takes up in his book The Environmental Imagination, the most ambitious study to date of how literature represents the natural environment. With Thoreau’s Walden as a touchstone, Buell gives us a far-reaching account of environmental perception, the place of nature in the history of western thought, and the consequences for literary scholarship of attempting to imagine a more "eco-centric" way of being. In doing so, he provides a major new understanding of Thoreau’s achievement and, at the same time, a profound rethinking of our literary and cultural reflections on nature. The green tradition in American writing commands Buell’s special attention, particularly environmental non-fiction from colonial times to the present. In works by writers from Crevecoeur to Wendell Berry, John Muir to Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson to Leslie Silko, Mary Austin to Edward Abbey, he examines enduring environmental themes such as the dream of relinquishment, the personification of the nonhuman, an attentiveness to environmental cycles, a devotion to place, and a prophetic awareness of possible eco-
  9. 9. catastrophe. At the centre of this study we find an image of Walden as a quest for greater environmental awareness, an impetus and guide for Buell as he develops a new vision of environmental writing and seeks a new way of conceiving the relation between human imagination and environmental actuality in the age of industrialization. Intricate and challenging in its arguments, yet engagingly and elegantly written, The Environmental Imagination is a major work of scholarship, one that establishes a new basis for reading American nature writing. The Environmental Imagination was written by Laurence Buell, a Harvard American literature professor, and was published in 1995. With 425 pages of text, and 150 pages of small print notes, it's an intimidating academic treatise. But it’s also a popular gospel proclaiming a paradigm shift–a millennial new order of words and things. On the second page, Buell introduces that gospel with a quote from Earth in the Balance a 1992 book by then Senator Albert Gore: "we must make rescue of the environment the central organizing principle for civilization." Buell notes the sixfold increase of membership in environmental organizations between 1961 and 1980, and a widely-felt need for a changed way of living and thinking to stave off impending ecological catastrophe. His book addresses that need for rescue or salvation, not with a program of action but with a search through America’s cultural heritage for tools to remake a worldview. He discovers them in a tradition of nature writing whose centre is the life and work of Henry David Thoreau. Like Thoreau’s, Buell’s prose is dense, difficult and
  10. 10. delightful. It’s full of unexpected traps and surprises. And like Thoreau’s, Buell’s work is open to interpretation and questioning. Reading it closely encourages me to reaffirm my own beliefs on the environment, and reading it critically forces me to recognize some of the limits and paradoxes of those beliefs. Environmentalism, genuine and fake, has permeated more and more aspects of American, western and international culture: science, art, technology, agriculture, business, ethics, politics, religion, sports, fashion and the media. Many local councils now appoint an environmental coordinator, a person whose function is to deal with environmental questions, as a major staff position. Newspapers often feature one and sometimes two reporters and weekly sections devoted to Environment. Numerous departments at tertiary educational institutions include the word environment in their names, including Environmental Horticulture, Environmental Engineering, and Environmental Design. An instance of this nomenclature boom is the birth of a discipline in literary studies called Eco-criticism, also known as Eco-crit or Eco-lit. PMLA, the flagship professional journal in humanities, printed a special symposium on the subject in its October 1999 issue, and New Literary History, the trendiest of quarterlies, devotes its current issue to the phenomenon. A new worldwide organization, The Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment publishes its own journal, Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment. Some of the principles of Eco-criticism are stated by Janet Arnold, Professor of English at Harvey Mudd College, as
  11. 11. follows: Looking at texts for their ideas about the natural world results in a cross fertilization of the humanities with other academic disciplines: when literature combines with biology, cultural theory, biochemistry, art, ecology, history and other sciences, any combination of these fields forms a cauldron of brand new perspectives. Through eco-critical practice, the humanities can play a unifying role in creating a new form of knowledge. (1989-90) Buell’s book has become a founding text in this field. A moral and political commitment informs its scholarship. Buell calls that commitment "Eco-centrism" or "Biocentrism," terms which he sets in opposition to "homocentrism," and defines with quotations from a number of its practitioners. Philosopher Timothy O’Riordan states that Eco-centrism "preaches the virtues of reverence, humility, responsibility, and care; it argues for low impact technology but it is not anti-technological; it decries bigness and impersonality in all forms…it seeks permanence and stability based upon ecological principles of diversity and homeostasis" (Environmentalism 2d ed. London Pion 1981 p.1.) Political scientist Robyn Eckersly says that Eco-centrism regards "the question of our proper place in the rest of nature as logically prior to the question of what are the most appropriate social and political arrangements for human communities." (Environmentalism and political theory: toward an eco-centric approach Albany: State University of NY Press, 1992, p. 28.) According to Jean Arnold, Eco-centrism finds that "… all human culture resides in the natural world…every penny of
  12. 12. economic worth ultimately draws on resources of the natural world…" Buell asserts that Eco-centrism responds to a pressing demand: "…western metaphysics and ethics need revision before we can address today’s environmental problems…environmental crisis involves a crisis of the imagination the amelioration of which depends on finding better ways of imagining nature and humanity’s relation to it."(2) And Eco-criticism can fill that demand by looking searchingly at the most searching works of environmental reflection...to find...both the pathologies that bedevil society...and some of the alternative paths that it might consider."(2) The kind of revision he advocates recalls other controversial revisionisms in humanist studies during the last 30 years: ethnic studies, feminism, new historicism, deconstruction, post-colonialism. Eco-centrism rewrites accepted canons–of important texts, of methods of teaching and learning from them, and of individual leaders whose lives and works are worthy of emulation. Eco-critics have replaced Emerson with Thoreau as the key figure of early American thought. They have added forgotten or unappreciated authors, like Susan Fenimore Cooper, Celia Thaxter, Mary Austin, John Burroughs, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Edward Abbey, Barry Lopez, Wallace Stegner, Rachel Carson, and Annie Dillard, to their reading lists. They have resuscitated observation, accuracy, and realism as literary values, reversing "postmodern" assumptions about the disjunction among text, mind and physical world. They have crossed barriers between fiction and non-fiction, autobiography and exposition, creative writing and criticism. They consider writers about evolutionary biology, geography, and social ecology as models of literary
  13. 13. reflection. Eco-criticism emphasizes a connection between canonized texts, teaching methods and the obligations of citizenship in a world where "Ecocide is more of a threat than nuclear war."(6) And eco-criticism emphasizes opportunities of citizenship in American democracy which is more conscious of that threat and yet more "consumption addicted" than any other in the world. The political significance of eco-criticism stems from the fact that, "We live our lives by metaphors that have become deceptively transparent…for instance ‘progress..’" and that "Aesthetics can become a decisive force for or against environmental change."(4) The Environmental Imagination is ambitious, innovative, and provocative enough to warrant its own scholarly symposium. The book's subtitle indicates its breadth of scope: Thoreau, Nature Writing and the Formation of American Culture. In the first paragraph the author states his subject as a "broad study of environmental perception, the place of nature in the history of western thought, and the consequences for literary scholarship and … humanistic thought…of attempting to imagine a more ‘eco-centric’ way of being…."(1) Buell gains authority for taking on such an extensive project with the quality of his scholarship. This was already established in previous books, here praised by one reviewer for their…wide speculative range, their engaging of current critical concerns, their informed attention to literary and scholarly origins, and above all their ability to open up issues in ways that provoke further considerations from the reader rather than closing down upon terminal truths. (John McWilliams Nineteenth Century Literature)
  14. 14. He seems to have closely read everything related to his subject, from obscure nineteenth century advertisements and editorial correspondence to philosophical brain twisters by Heidegger and Merleau Ponty. And his analysis of literary works I’m familiar with, from Edmund Spenser’s The Shepherd’s Calendar to Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony, is sound and original. Buell’s writes ruminatively, chewing over subjects, swallowing and digesting them more than once. For example: Consider Thoreau on the subject of muskrat houses, "singularly conspicuous for the dwellings of animals." (J5:440) Their regular appearance in autumn he always looked forward to and seldom failed to note, often at length. Thoreau had an engineer’s interest in the details of muskrat construction, but more noteworthy is his stylization of the inert data so as to enliven it with place-sense. Muskrat nests are not things but habitats, dwellings remotely like one’s own that provide a basis for erasing the line between village and outback and seeing both as variant forms of settlement in place. At times this language gets inflated or clotted, at times paragraphs or sentences are so intricate that it’s hard to follow the thread of the argument. But the complexity of the style reflects the subject. Buell finds a similar characteristic in his master's prose: "One of Walden’s more frustrating charms is that it so easily loses the reader in the landscape of the text." A book this dense and expansive needs to be mapped, and Buell does that with section and chapter headings, with prefatory and retrospective summaries and with explicit or sometimes hidden transitions. He divides the whole into
  15. 15. three sections, each of which is long, rewarding and selfcontained enough to take up a separate book. But my second reading discovered the shape of the whole and produced a coherent cumulative effect. From the preparatory abstraction of section I, it progresses to an engaging ramble through the eco-literary landscape of section II, and it concludes in section III with a pilgrimage to the shrine of the saint, an homage to his achievement, an encounter with his presence, and a blessing to take home. Section 1 drably titled "Historical and Theoretical Contexts," surveys the whole field of eco-literature. Chapter 1, introduces the genre as a version of pastoral--the cultural tradition based on the "idea of a (re)turn to a more ‘natural’ state of existence." Buell notes the paradox that the pastoral tradition both contributes to an environmental aesthetic and blocks it by artificially romanticizing or ironically satirizing natural life. Similar paradoxes are explored in chapter 2, "New World Dreams and Environmental Actualities," where Buell shows how America’s historically acquired pastoral identity as a world of nature rather than civilization has led both to appreciation and pillage of the environment. Chapter 3, "Representing the Environment," derives a method of reading and writing about nature from examples that combine scientific observation with literary tools like metaphor, analogy, and shifting perspective. Buell calls this method of representation "dual accountability" to scientific and aesthetic truth. Chapter 4, "Walden’s Environmental Project," elaborates two ways that Thoreau models ecocentrism: first, his personal evolution away from human interests and toward purely natural ones--toward what Aldo Leopold called "Thinking like a mountain." Second is his staking out the territory of eco-centrism with six major
  16. 16. concerns: 1.the glorification of nature 2. the correspondence between natural and spiritual 3. economy or self-regulation 4. interest in environmental science, 5. landscape aesthetics, and 6. a political program to conserve natural resources. Section II of the book, "Forms of Literary Eco-centrism," takes a less schematic approach. Buell leads the reader on a kind of docent’s walk through characteristic features of environmental texts. Incidentally, such recurrent rhetorical topics are technically called "topoi," Greek for places in a landscape. Chapter 5, "The Aesthetics of Relinquishment," is about "epics of voluntary simplicity." Buell links Thoreau’s retreat to his small cabin with traditional pastoral celebrations of leisure and solitude, early Puritan notions of austerity and holiness, and Benjamin Franklin’s ideals of economy and practicality. The same "master plot" shapes the writings of Aldo Leopold, John Muir, Annie Dillard, Scott and Helen Nearing and Bradford Angier. In this plot, material possessions and comforts are exchanged for inner awakening and a restored connection to nature. A variant of the plot is relinquishment of the individual ego. This is achieved by Wendell Berry through immersion in the village life of rural communities and by Robinson Jeffers through a claimed transcendence of both social and self-preservation instincts– an identification with sky, wind and rock he called "inhumanism." Another variant of eco-centric relinquishment is pure "extrospection"–that is, the effort to experience and record the world without any mediating feeling or thought–as practised at times by poets like W. C. Williams, Wallace Stevens, Theodore Roethke, A.R. Ammons and Gary Snyder.
  17. 17. Acknowledging the problematical quality of such endeavours, Buell concludes this chapter by noting how Thoreau uses the pronoun "I" less and less prominently in the course of his career as his understanding of nature grows. Chapter 6, entitled "Nature’s Personhood," surveys environmental literature’s theme of personification, often referred to as "the pathetic fallacy." Buell lays out the old conflict between pagans who find deities in trees and rivers and Judaeo Christianity’s abhorrence of nature gods. But despite religious and rationalistic objections, the impulse to personify nature still survives both in pietistic notions of kind or abused mother nature, and in Darwinist parallels between human competitive brutality and the struggle for existence, such as those portrayed by "naturalist" writers like Jack London or Frank Norris. Thoreau continually indulged in personification–Walden Pond whoops and farts (208). James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis, stating that earth itself is a living organism, has achieved some credibility among scientists, and the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973 gives legal standing to natural species. In Native American myths which present animals, plants and landscape features as different kinds of "people," in narratives of bonding between gorillas and humans, in modern goddess religions worshipping the great earth mother, Buell finds metaphors of kinship between humans and nature, which, "whether true or not, when accepted as language can strengthen an environmental ethic."(218) Chapter 7. "Nature’s Face/Mind’s Eye: Realizing the Seasons," follows the trail of the previous chapter but switches back from projecting human traits outward to discovering the natural pattern of the seasons within human existence. Buell attributes the ancestry of this convention to
  18. 18. agricultural poems called Georgics, pastorals like Spenser’s The Shepherd’s Calendar, and heroic narratives like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Detailed analysis of seasonal motifs in Walden, in James Thomson’s The Seasons, and in works by Celia Thaxter and Annie Dillard show how this popular convention is fragmented and dislocated for sophisticated poetic effects. However, no matter how subtle, all literary parallels between seasons, moods and life stages "Tease us toward awareness of ourselves as environmental beings." (251) If the cycle of seasons illuminates nature’s influence on human time, another aspect of environmental writing locates human existence in natural space. Chapter 8, called "Place," examines the topic of territoriality. Buell begins with cultural geographer Yi Fu Tuan’s observation that place-sense holds "psyche and society together by supplying a deeply satisfying sense of home base or home range…" and Wendell Berry’s assertion that "Without a complex knowledge of one’s place, and without the faithfulness to one’s place on which such knowledge depends, it is inevitable that the place will be used carelessly, and eventually destroyed." Environmental writing conveys knowledge and love of place with descriptions, maps and itineraries enabling people to appreciate their location as do aborigines or animals. Such literature also enlivens the experience of everyday places with new facts and rhetorical devices that can "recalibrate familiar landscapes…to keep alive a sense of the ‘undiscovered country of the nearby’"(262) Susan Fenimore Cooper, for example, describes her town from the vantage of an pinegrove, "Seeing things new, seeing new things, expanding the notion of community so that it becomes situated within the
  19. 19. ecological community…"(266) The principle of dual accountability to scientific and aesthetic truth applies here, in terms of what Buell calls "Map knowledge and place sense." In Arctic Dreams, Barry Lopez charts the landscape with official maps and then describes the same territory with traditional Eskimo markers. William Least Heat Moon sets an account of the Dakota prairies divided into survey quadrangles against an account divided by drainages and migrations. Thoreau, the surveyor plays the mathematical mapping of Walden pond with soundings and calculations against symbolic tales of its false bottoms and mysterious depths. These writers direct both official and intuitive knowledge toward "topo-philia," the love of place. Chapter 9, "Environmental Apocalypticism" somberly concludes Buell’s tour with literary visions of environmental catastrophe. The whole order of Nature has been represented by various "master metaphors": a machine, an economy, a chain of being, a balance, a mind, an organism, a web. Buell shows how the web image is used by two authors to prophesy that unintended consequences of human interventions with nature can lead to worldwide disaster. Rachel Carson in The Silent Spring and Leslie Marmon Silko in Ceremony tell stories in which the introduction of DDT into the food chain and the release of atomic energy in bombs and uranium mines tear and eventually collapse the whole web of life. Apocalypse is another religious metaphor, one effective in lending urgency to calls for individual and social change. Indeed, as Buell points out, Carson’s doomsday book played a significant part in outlawing the use of DDT and in passage of the Endangered Species Act.
  20. 20. Section III of The Environmental Imagination, entitled "Environmental Sainthood," devotes even more attention to Thoreau than the others, but here we encounter him less as a text and more as a person, an icon and a spirit. In this section, Buell cleverly uses religious language to illuminate ways that any leader who bears a vital message of rescue or salvation can be elevated to sainthood by a combination of personal creativity, institutional support, historical accident, and audience appeal. Chapter 10, "The Thoreauvian Pilgrimage," traces parallels between Thoreau’s lifelong migration toward eco-centrism, the "master narrative" of his pastoral retreat to Walden, and journeys of disciples like John Muir which included a visit to the holy shrine of the pond itself. Chapter 11, "The Canonization and Re-canonization of the Green Thoreau," recounts the long history of Thoreau’s image as crafted by business, academic and political interests. Chapter 12, "Text as Testament," moves from the way Thoreau lionized himself in his writing to the ways his surviving personal presence affects later readers, sometimes with transformative power. Succeeding generations’ regard of Thoreau confirms Buell’s observations that "Most people need role models as points of reference for constructing their lives,"(312) and that "Figures seen as ‘major’ or ‘great’ have the potential…to further the process of cultural change…" While disposing of silly arguments about the "death of the author" that preoccupy some literary critics, Buell makes the important point that personal admiration for a real author can awaken a reader and motivate political action. He distinguishes such admiration from slavish hero worship by emphasizing the subtlety, complexity and evolving nature of Thoreau’s
  21. 21. thought–qualities which make faith and imitation a broadening rather than narrowing experience. "Certainly Thoreau wrote Walden in such a way to help us to this liberated form of discipleship…"(384) This description is echoed by what the reviewer I quoted earlier said about Buell’s own work. Though I am deeply grateful for this book, I have some reservations about it. First are stylistic ones. I think if Buell or his editor had considered his audience to be educated readers rather than academics, his prose might have been more jargon-free, fluent and lucid. And though he says coyly "I consider myself as a pretty fair natural historian,"(11) the author only includes one unimpressive passage of his own nature description: "the grove of second growth white pines that sway at this moment of writing, with their blue-yellowgreen five-needle clusters above spikey circles of atrophied lower limbs, along a brown needle-strewn ridge of shale forty feet from my computer screen…is not the woods imagined by American criticism." (10) Second, in respect to understanding the pastoral tradition, I was disappointed that Buell left out Arthur O. Lovejoy’s research on the history of the ideas of Nature and of Primitivism, research which could clarify and complicate Buell's central and I think oversimplified concept of ecocentrism. Buell’s opposition of eco-centric vs. homocentric outlooks is useful but limited. Theodore Kaszynski might be a model eco-centrist, but is he a more effective protector of nature than say NASA scientists with supercomputers who study global warming? Is corporate helicopter logging more homocentric than slash and burn clearing of rainforests by peasants? Is the environmental imagination distinct from, or
  22. 22. just one dimension of the human imagination? A negative reply to this last question is at the heart of another big book called Landscape and Memory(New York: Knopf, 1995) published the same year as Buell’s by former Harvard professor Simon Schama. Its 625 pages are also devoted to the analysis of nature writing and painting, its section headings are labelled "Wood," "Water," and "Rock," and its epigraph and closing words are quotations from Thoreau. Schama’s language is more graceful than Buell’s-as evident in their books' titles--and his many passages of descriptive writing are beautiful and vivid. But his thesis runs counter to the tenets of eco-centrism. Rather than polarizing eco-centric vs. homocentric, or nature vs. culture, Schama claims that they overlap, and he mocks the distinction: The founding fathers of modern environmentalism, Henry David Thoreau and John Muir, promised that "in wildness is the preservation of the world," …but of course the healing wilderness was as much the product of culture’s craving and culture’s framing as any other imagined garden." (7) Though neither Schama nor Buell cites the other, their opposing views are useful correctives. Schama acknowledges "…that the impact of humanity on the earth’s ecology has not been an unmixed blessing," but claims "neither has the long relationship between nature and culture been an unrelieved and predetermined calamity."(9-10) He "unequivocally share[s] dismay at the ongoing degradation of the planet and much of the foreboding about the possibilities of its restoration to good health." And like Buell, he hopes to ameliorate the problem "by revealing the richness, antiquity and complexity of our landscape
  23. 23. tradition." But, "Instead of assuming the mutually exclusive character of Western culture and nature, I want to suggest the strength of links that have bound them together."(14.) Though this sounds reasonable, European-born Schama’s own biases are evident in the revulsion with which he describes environmental activists, California forest-dwellers, and what he maintains is his children’s abhorrence of primeval wilderness: "…when they saw the redwoods, these seemed more like monsters than marvels. Their vague discomfort and irritability turned into something like fear… they wanted out of the reptilian tomb of prehistory." (242) These books mirror my life experience and my reading. In 1970 my wife Jan and I followed the master plot of Aesthetic relinquishment when we moved from New York to the wilderness of British Columbia to seek a life of voluntary simplicity. During our first four years of adjustment, what we found was anything but simple, and during the second four years simplicity turned to boredom. My sojourn there ended with writing a PhD dissertation and a book on pastoral literature which concluded that life in the hinterlands is good for young people and old ones, but that middle aged citizens find a home in the city, where they can do more for the planet and themselves than off in the woods. The departure from the pastoral world is another master plot, one not treated by Buell. These books also challenge me to state where I stand on the political issues they raise, issues which are unavoidable by those who appreciate their surroundings–here on California’s central coast or anywhere on earth. Last night San Luis Obispo’s City Planning Commission discussed the pros and cons of building a pedestrian and bicycle trail along the undeveloped section of the creek between Marsh Street and
  24. 24. Madonna Road. Arguments flew among homo-centrists who want to parkify the creek for people, eco-centrists who want to leave it alone for bird and fish habitat, and auto-centrists who want to fill it with concrete for parking spaces and flood control. I think I prefer to make the creek a resource that can be shared by people and wildlife while it runs through the city, a resource that will demand energy to keep free from pollution by industrial garbage, by non-native weeds, and by various forms of human waste. But I’m not sure. What I know I don’t want is for us to follow the third alternative, like those in Southern California who paved over almost every natural watercourse and wetland in the hundred fifty miles between Santa Monica and Huntington Beach. Raymond Williams’ recognition of the "selectivity" of what passes as "tradition" in "Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory" (1973), an essay which is relevant to the present collection, comes partly through the offspring that it helped to create, most notably The Invention of Tradition (1983), edited by E.J. Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, and Hobsbawm’s own Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality (1990).3 No less of a presence in the background of the collection are the meditations of Joseph Priestley in his Lectures on History, and General Policy (1788) on the merits of "visible monuments" and "historical poems" in "perpetuating memory" (76) and the prognostications of George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) on the manipulation of history to serve the needs of the present and, as important, on the contribution to communal solidarity of actual or imagined conflicts with some fearsome and detested "Other." It is surely not fortuitous either that so many of Canada’s monuments and long poems commemorate military sacrifices and events or that anti-Americanism became a
  25. 25. defining feature of Canada’s embryonic culture during and after the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Are the great monuments and commemorative cemeteries of the First World War, then, the evidence of Canada’s coming-of-age or attempts to manipulate popular consciousness? Could they be both? Such questions are never far from the centre of the essays here, whether the focus be on the National War Memorial in Ottawa, the Sesquicentennial Celebrations in Hamilton, or the Celebrate the Thames project in London. In approaching the subject of (collective) memory itself, the Matters of Memory Seminar benefitted greatly from a vast and rapidly growing body of scientific and critical literature.6 With Maurice Halbwachs’ La Mémoire collective (1950; trans. 1980),7 Jacques Le Goff’s Storia e memoria (1977; trans. 1992),8 Pierre Nora’s Les Lieux de mémoire (1984-1992),9 and Steven Rose‘s The Making of Memory: from Molecules to Mind (1992)10 as principal points of departure, the seminar ranged widely and eclectically in the field of memory studies, but with a growing recognition of the importance of the work of Sigmund Freud and his heirs on mourning and melancholy11 and of several major thinkers and scholars in specialized areas—of Frances A. Yates and Henri Lefebvre on the relationships between place and recall,12 of Endel Tulving on "episodic" and "semantic" memory,13 of Paul Connerton on the role of rituals in sustaining and conveying memories,14 of Ian Hacking on the development of the sciences of memory in the late nineteenth century,15 and of Gayle Greene on the need for feminists (and, by extension, other progressives) to remember the past in order to avoid repeating its errors.16 If there is one theory of the nature and function of individual and collective memory underlying all of the present essays, it is the constructionism of the British psychologist F.C. Bartlett. "[W]hen a subject is being asked to remember,"
  26. 26. Bartlett writes in Remembering: a Study in Experimental and Social Psychology (1932), very often the first thing that emerges is something of the nature of an attitude. The recall is then a construction, made largely on the basis of this attitude, and its general effect is that of a justification of the attitude" (207). As sceptical of the notion of collective memory as he is convinced of the constructive nature of individual remembering, Bartlett nevertheless concedes that "[s]ocial organization gives a persistent framework into which all detailed recall must fit, and it very powerfully influences both the matter and the manner of recall" (296).17 In other words, only individuals have the capacity to remember, but preliminary, and, indeed, prior, to the process of individual recall there exists a mental (pre-)disposition that has been at least partly shaped by a social or communal environment: to speak of the "memory of [a] group" is to reify and transcendentalize; to speak of "memory in [a] group" is to acknowledge both the singularity of individual recollection and its relation to a surrounding society or community—Canada, say, or London. Of the numerous other assumptions and characteristics that these essays have in common, one more is worth mentioning here. It is simply the hope that, in its small way, Mnemographia Canadensis may help to awaken an "attitude" of recall and create a "framework" of remembrance that will enable Canadians to retain consciousness of their unique and fragile communities and environments and thus to resist the homogenizing and degrading effects of multi-national capitalism and consumerism. "Forgetfulness…is driven by an unshakable belief in progress," wrote Russell Jacoby in 1975 of a "social and economic dynamic" in which "oblivion and novelty feed off each other and flourish" in the same shopping mall as "planned obsolescence," "rampant subjectivism," "blind materialism, and superficial humanism" (1, 4, 150).
  27. 27. Memory, it could be said in 1998, is crucial to the reclamation of men and women’s full humanity—their sense of a continuity, even a comradeship, between present, past, and future generations—without which the human race and its sustaining environments are doomed to become the victims of the pernicious cultural and personal values diagnosed by Jacoby.18 In part because it is a society of immigrants, a "tomorrow’s country," adjacent to one of the most powerful manufacturers of the goods and evils of progress, Canada has been especially prone to "social amnesia," to the "refusal or inability to think back" (Jacoby 3-4), that undermines people’s abilities to think critically, to use language accurately, to understand and exercise their democratic rights and responsibilities. As Sara Jeannette Duncan long since observed in The Imperialist (1904), Canada is a "new country already old in acquiescence" (64-65), a society rich in history and values as well as hopes and resources, a vast and privileged portion of the globe in which memory and understanding may yet so nourish right thinking and right action that they become, in the words of Margaret Avison’s "Snow" (1960), the "rhizomes" that "quake" the "astonished cinders" (27). ------------------------------------------------------------------------A Note on Citations, Dates, and the Index To identify the sources of quotations as precisely and concisely as possible, page references have been given in roman type and line references to long poems in italics. Thus, "Lampman, Poems 180-81" refers to pages in Archibald Lampman’s Poems and "Malcolm’s Katie 3: 9-13" refers to the given part and lines of Isabella Valancy Crawford’s long poem. To assist the reader in establishing the temporal contexts of discussions, the date of a work’s first publication is supplied
  28. 28. with initial citations. Unless otherwise indicated, such dates refer in the case of literary works to their first publication in book form under their author’s name. The Imperialist, for example, was first published as a book in 1904 and "Snow" was first collected in Avison’s Winter Sun volume of 1960. An Index to the collection appears at the end of the second volume. --------------------------------------------------------------------------- Notes A slightly revised version of "Forgetful of Former Care" appeared in The Canadian Essay (1991), edited by Gerald Lynch and David Rampton. [back] 1.Originally a musical term referring to a composition in which each part has an independent melody, "polyphonic" (literally, many-voiced) and the related term "polyglossia" have been influentially used by M.M. Bakhtin in The Dialogue Imagination: Four Essays (1983) to describe the variety of social voices and distinct languages to be heard in the novel. In form as well as content, the essays gathered here under the title Muse and Recall aim to allow a variety of individual and representative voices to be heard both as distinct utterances and as part of a continuing discussion. As will quickly be recognized, the essays in the first volume also use such devices as emblem, exemplum, parable, synecdoche, and supplement (an addition that
  29. 29. signals incompleteness [see Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology (1967; trans. 1976) 144-45]) to indicate the partiality (in both senses of the word) that inevitably inheres in a project of the scope indicated by the full title of the present collection. [back] 2.See also Richard Terdiman’s "Deconstructing Memory: on Representing the Past and Theorizing Culture in France since the Revolution" (1985) and Present Past: Modernity and the Memory Crisis (1993). 1. 2. 3. See Jonathan F. Vance’s Death So Noble: Memory, Meaning, and the First World War (1997) for a detailed exposition of the Great War as Canada’s rite of passage from colony to nation. [back] In Monumental Accusations: the monuments aux morts as Expressions of Popular Resentments (1996), Marilène Patten Henry adds that "war monuments have always been considered manifestations of gratitude to those who gave the supreme sacrifice," but they may also be "not so silent expressions of a blend of resentment, anger, and misery directed at the war and the way in which it was conducted" (9). [back] M.N. Young’s Bibliography of Memory (1961) remains a useful starting point for memory studies and P.E. Morris’s "Theories of Memory: an Historical Perspective" (1978) provides a succinct survey of "the
  30. 30. development of thinking about memory" (1) from classical times to the contemporary period, though, of course, both need to be heavily supplemented by more recent and more detailed materials. [back] 4. Halbwachs defines collective memory in contradistinction to autobiographical memory, and subdivides it into three categories or sites—the family, religion, and social classes—where the memories of the group are kept alive in the minds of its constituent members through commemorative festivals and the like. For a succinct and perceptive discussion of the context and content of Halbwachs’ work, see Lewis A. Coser’s Introduction to On Collective Memory (1992), and, for a refinement and elaboration of the concept and implications of collective memory, see James Fentress and Chris Wickham’s Social Memory (1992). 5. In the course his wide-ranging and informative study of "the relations between history and memory," Le Goff not only sees memory, "[w]hether mental, oral, or written… [as] the living source from which historians draw" (xi), but also notes its importance for individual and group identity—that is, for "who I think I am and who others think I am or…who we think we are and who others think we are" (Merrill 2). "[A]t a
  31. 31. metaphorical but important level," writes Le Goff, "in the same way that amnesia is not merely a local disturbance of the individual’s memory but causes more or less serious perturbations in his personality, the absence, or voluntary or involuntary loss, of collective memory among peoples and nations can cause serious problems of collective identity" (53) 6. Les Lieux de mémoire (The Sites of Memory) is the title of several volumes edited or written by Nora in the nineteen eighties that examine the monuments, holidays, and other nodal points (including historical personages such as Joan of Arc) that have helped the citizens of postrevolutionary France to achieve a sense of national identity. In Canada, such lieux or sites include, at the national level, the maple leaf flag, "O Canada," Dominion (Canada) Day, the R.C.M.P., the C.P.R., the Group of Seven….and, at the provincial and local levels, but with some national impact, Evangeline, the Bluenose, Bonhomme Carnaval, Laura Secord, Anne of Green Gables, the Rockies, Haida carvings…. Almost needless to say, many of Quebec’s lieux de mémoire serve to cement the Québécois rather than the Canadian sense of identity. The National Film Board documentary, Evangeline’s Quest (1996) is an engaging treatment of the evolution of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s heroine
  32. 32. into a local and, to an extent, national icon (see also Essay 8: Literary Sites and Cultural Properties). In National Dreams: Myth, Memory, and Canadian History (1997), Daniel Francis provides provocative discussions of several of Canada’s national "myths," including the C.P.R, the R.C.M.P., and "the North." 7. Among the many merits of Rose’s book are its lucid expositions of the contributions of two immigrants to Canada, the Montreal psychologist Donald Hebb and the Montreal neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield, to the sciences of memory (see 130, 150-51). Himself a distinguished memory researcher, Rose observes that in the form of "hebb synapses" and "hebbian rules of association," the hypotheses laid out by Hebb in The Organization of Behavior (1949) "have become… the raw materials for modellers and theorists of memory ever since his book appeared" (153). (See The Organization of Behavior 12-13 for Hebb’s conception of the "memory" or "mnemonic trace" as a "structural change in specific neural cells" that constitutes the "basis of memory" and "the basis of learning.") While Rose’s primary interest lies in the workings of "personal memory" (7), he frequently touches upon "collective memory," which, he concludes, creates "a certain type of social cohesion and viewpoint about the world and how we could and
  33. 33. should live in it" (327). In addition to "serv[ing] purposes that transcend the individual" and "welding together human societies by imposing shared understandings, interpretations, ideologies," collective memories are for Rose "the means whereby we remember the past, our history" and, thus, "they both guide our present actions and shape our futures" (327). 8. In addition to Freud’s seminal essay, "Mourning and Melancholia" (1917), see Nicolas Abraham and Marià Torok’s The Wolf Man’s Magic Word: a Cryptonomy (1976; trans. 1986) and the introductory essay by Jacques Derrida, "Foreword: Fors: the Anglish Words of Nicolas Abraham and Marià Torok." 9. In addition to providing an authoritative discussion of the use of architectural places and images as prompts to recall from classical times to the Renaissance and beyond, Yates’s The Art of Memory (1966) points generally towards the interdependence of place and remembrance: a particular place is most likely to prompt memories and to be memorable when it has an historical or personal association— what Henri Lefebvre describes in The Production of Space (1974; trans. 1991) as "an affective kernel or centre" provided by a "sense of what happened" there (42, 37).
  34. 34. 10. "Episodic memory receives and stores information about temporally dated episodes or events, and temporal-spatial relations among these events" and "[s]emantic memory is the memory necessary for the use of language. It is a mental thesaurus, organized knowledge a person possesses about words and other verbal symbols, their meanings and referents, about relations among them, and about rules, formulas, and algorithms for the manipulation of these symbols, concepts, and relations" (Tulving 385, 386). 11. Agreeing with Williams, Hobsbawm, and other Marxian analysts that "our experiences of the present largely depend upon our knowledge of the past…and…our images of the past commonly serve to legitimate a present social order," Connerton argues in How Societies Remember (1989) that "images of the past and recollected knowledge of the past…are conveyed and sustained by (more or less ritual) performances"— that is, by ritualistic and commemorative ceremonies that "automatically impl[y] continuity with the past," which "draw…the attention of…participants to objects of thought and feeling…[that] they hold to be of special significance," and which, therefore, "play a significant role in the shaping of communal memory"
  35. 35. and identity (3-4, 45, 44, 48). 12. While Hacking tends to underestimate the importance of modernity, particularly urbanization, in directing the attention of nineteenth-century writers, scientists, and philosophers towards issues of memory and identity, his Rewriting the Soul: Multiple Personality and the Sciences of Memory (1995) provides a brilliantly illuminating analysis of the emergence of the modern sciences of memory in France in the years (18741886) following the trauma of the Franco-Prussian War. According to Hacking, a major cause of the interest in memory in the late nineteenth century (and, perhaps, still today) was the emergence of a "scientific world view" that sought to replace the soul as the constitutive element in the mind and body with a faculty amenable to research: "[i]nstead of studying a unitary moi"—a "transcendental, metaphysical or spiritual self or ego"—scientists and philosophers "should study memory" and "forgetting" (amnesia) as the principal constituent of the personality (163, 208). 13. "[M]emory is especially important to anyone who cares about change," writes Greene in "Feminist Fiction and the Uses of Memory" (1991), "for forgetting dooms us to
  36. 36. repetition" (292). See also Yates 36869 on the transformation of mnemonics during the Renaissance from "a method of memorising the encyclopaedia of knowledge, of reflecting the world in memory, to an aid for investigating the encyclopaedia and the world with the object of discovering new knowledge." 14. The focal point of Bartlett’s discussion here is Halbwachs’ Les Cadres sociaux de la mémoire (1925). "Whether [a] social group has a mental life over and above that of its individual members is a matter for speculation and belief," concludes Bartlett; "[t]hat the organised group functions in a unique and unitary manner in determining and directing the mental lives of its individual members is a matter of certainty and of fact" (300). 15. Numerous reasons have been advanced for the near obsession with memory in Europe and North America in recent years, including the impending end of the millennium, the disappearance of species and environments, the ageing of the postWar generation, the Modern rejection of the past, and the quality of contemporary leisure. See, for example, George Lipsitz, Time Passages: Collective Memory and American Culture (1990), Andreas Huyssen, Twilight Memories:
  37. 37. Marking Time in a Culture of Amnesia (1995), Michael S. Roth’s The Ironist’s Cage: Memory, Trauma, and the Construction of History (1995) and David Lowenthal, The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History (1996).

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