(con)juncture was lawson fletcher's thought pile. Now blogging at soundofruins.net
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the continuing grip of the lost pastoral

I love how the backyard has become some kind of piss-weak stand-in for the pastoral, a kind of last ditch attempt to recover utopianism in the midst of development and (post)modernity for children. Cf. Adbusters:
In our education-obsessed culture, elite kids play piano and speak three languages by the age of four, but just about every North American kid is deprived. In one of the greatest retreats ever, children are vanishing from a critical piece of territory: their own backyards.

It references the infamous quote from some early twentieth century dictat (good to know childhood 'experts' have been around a few centuries):
Every child ... should have mud pies, grasshoppers, tadpoles, frogs, mud turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb. Brooks to wade, woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hayfields, pinecones, rocks to roll, snakes, huckleberries and hornets. And any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of education.

Nitsuh Abebe dragged out a great quote from Robert Benchley in 1928 regarding the matter:

I remember once a mother whose three children were being brought up in the country (and very disagreeable and dishonest children they were, too) saying, with infinite pity of the children of a city acquaintance, “Just think, those kiddies have probably never seen a cow!” Just what sanctity or earnest of nobility was supposed to attach itself to the presence of a cow in a child’s life I could never figure out. … Among the major inquiries that will one day have to be made is one into the foundation for the belief that intimacy with cows, horses, and hens or the contemplation, day in and day out, of great stretches of crops exerts a purifying influence on the souls of those lucky enough to be subjected to it.

However, so ingrained is this faith in the efficacy of livestock and open spaces in the elevation of the race, that even to question it is to place oneself under suspicion of being a character who will bear watching by the authorities.

That sums it up perfectly - this notion that the environment has some kind of unmediated influence upon our subjectivity and perhaps even our intelligence is flatly ridiculous. Experiences of the natural and the sublime, if anything, are so significant and seemingly pure because we start from the position of the industrialised, modern subject, looking back to some imagined country from the twelth floor. It reminds me of the continued success of the agricultural pavillion at the Royal Melbourne Show, and an exasperated parent I overhead once talking about why the Show was so necessary for city kids, "because some of them think milk comes from a supermarket!" - lady, I don't know about you, but I certainly don't get my milk from the tits of a bovine.


CBards said...

Completely agree with that last point you made. A pure, unspoiled pastoral ideal is myth, complete abstraction, tinged with the golden glow of nostalgia to the point of absurdity. As you commented, it's our positioning in the heartland of the modern industrialised subject that causes us to characterize and mythologize its antithesis as more natural and somehow more desirable.

Dare I say "the grass is always greener on the other side?"

Interesting when you consider that pre-Industrial Revolution, for many people in a rural setting the "backyard" likely represented a site of hard work in consciousness, rather than some arena of unfettered pastoral freedom. Essentially an extension of the domestic chores of the homestead and no less so for the children of the house.

smudgeon said...

Your blog remind me of the time my dad told me that he a lot of my sister's physical complaints would never have been an issue if she'd eaten more dirt as a kid. Apparently, "ordinary dirt" (none of your fancy krasnozems here) is the natural enemy of stomach parasites picked up in China and anxiety.

Much as I love my dad, I feel things are a little skewed towards the "back in my day, we did x and it didn't hurt us" view on life for him...