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This Ecstatic Nation

This Ecstatic Nation: The American Landscape and the Aesthetics of Patriotism

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    This Ecstatic Nation
    Book Description:

    Americans’ cultural love affair with their country’s landscape started in the nineteenth century, when expansionism was often promoted as divine mission, the West was still the frontier, and scenery became the backdrop of nationalist mythology. With a promise of resources ripe for development, Manifest Destiny–era aesthetics often reinforced a system of environmental degradation while preserving the wide and wild view. Although the aesthetics have evolved, contemporary media are filled with American landscape images inspired by the nineteenth century. Terre Ryan examines this phenomenon by exploring the overlapping trails of national mythology, landscape aesthetics, patriotic discourse, and public policy. Tracing her journeys around bombing grounds in Nevada, logging sites in Oregon, and energy fields in Wyoming, she argues that business and government agencies often frame commercial projects and national myths according to nineteenthcentury beliefs about landscape and bounty. Advertisements and political promotional materials following this aesthetic framework perpetuate frontierera ideas about the environment as commodity, scenery, and cultural trashlands. Transmitted through all types of media, nineteenthcentury perspectives on landscape continue to inform mainstream perceptions of the environment, environmental policies, and representations of American patriotism. Combining personal narrative with factual reportage, political and cultural critique, and historical analysis, Ryan reframes the images we see every day and places them into a larger national narrative.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-003-1
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    In December of 1997, desperate to live out West, I traveled from my home in New York City to Washington, D.C. A casual observer might have remarked that I needed a better map, but I was headed for the National Gallery of Art and the first retrospective of the work of nineteenth-century landscape painter Thomas Moran. Moran was only one of the luminaries in an era when Americans, seduced by their country’s beauty, fell in love with their landscape. American landscape imagery, wildly popular, graced the walls of galleries and homes and the pages of magazines and newspapers. Landscapes of...

  6. 1 Pass the Bottle: Scenic America
    (pp. 7-26)

    My first awareness of landscape as a package of values imposed on a portion of earth came when I was still quite young, and since I was an American kid from the suburbs, I experienced this great awakening in the family car. I was ten or so, probably carsick, and crammed into a station wagon with my entire family for a Sunday drive. Ours was a Ford Country Squire, a name that implied an aristocratic version of the Jeffersonian pastoral. That image was entirely out of sync with the lemon-colored station wagon—furnished with 1960s state-of-the-art faux-wood side paneling and...

  7. 2 In the Name of the Bomb: The Wasteland’s Atomic Bloom
    (pp. 27-50)

    It was morning in Nevada, President George W. Bush was in office, and all over America’s party capital, people were waking up or turning in. At 7:00 a.m., the boomtown’s glitter had dimmed to grit. A couple of miles off the Las Vegas strip, where a Statue of Liberty stands a few city blocks from a Cinderella castle fringed with palm trees, a security checkpoint siphoned me onto a bus outside the Atomic Testing Museum. I was making a pilgrimage to another kind of boomtown, a mission I could undertake because the Department of Energy (DOE) had determined that I...

  8. 3 Timber Culture: Scenic Oregon and the Aesthetics of Clearcuts
    (pp. 51-88)

    I keep a postcard of Oregon taped to the wall above my desk. The image is classic Americana: In the distance, bright sunlight illuminates Mount Hood’s snow-mantled shoulders. Richly timbered mountain slopes give way to green and gold farmland, where a neat fence frames the yard around a red, tin-roofed barn. Beyond an orderly bristle of orchard, a farmhouse nestles in a shelterbelt. A ruffle of cattails frames the foreground. Behind the mountains, as if typeset by the hand of God, the word OREGON rises from the horizon to the roof of the sky. The scene looks rich and inviting,...

  9. 4 Open (for Business) Range: Wyoming’s Pay Dirt and the Virtual Sublime
    (pp. 89-122)

    On my first drive west to my new home in Montana, I was so happy that I probably could have fueled my car with my own adrenaline. I had left New York City behind, trading pastel suits and a skyscraper job for jeans and a small town-teaching position; in a few more weeks, I would toss out the lipstick, too. I pounded the horn for joy when I reached Wyoming (almost there!), startling several horses in a roadside pasture. A year later, on a circuitous trip along western back roads, I cheered like a Yankee fan, howling and bouncing on...

  10. Conclusion: Green Patriotism: From “Moral Geography” to “Moral Ecology”
    (pp. 123-138)

    The works of nineteenth-century American writers and landscape painters often reflected the belief that God was to be found in nature and that “moral values [were] inscribed in the landscape”—what Amy DeRogatis calls a “moral geography.”¹ According to Angela Miller, landscape imagery also played an “essential role” in the formation of American nationalism.² Post–Civil War American landscape artists frequently conjoined images of the sublime frontier and the notion of building an American empire. Since the sublime was understood as the province of God, such works served as totems that sanctified empire-building and melded the idea of the divine...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 139-166)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 167-171)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 172-172)