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Refiguring the Map of Sorrow

Refiguring the Map of Sorrow: Nature Writing and Autobiography

Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 199
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  • Book Info
    Refiguring the Map of Sorrow
    Book Description:

    Recent decades have witnessed an explosion of interest in both autobiography and environmental literature. In Refiguring the Map of Sorrow, Mark Allister brings these two genres together by examining a distinct form of grief narrative, in which the writers deal with mourning by standing explicitly both outside and inside the text: outside in writing about the natural world; inside in making that exposition part of the grieving process.

    Building on Peter Fritzell's thesis in Nature Writing and America that the best American nature writing blends Aristotelian natural history and Augustinian confession, this work of literary interpretation draws on psychoanalytical narrative theory, studies of grieving, autobiography theory, and ecocriticism for its insights into how nature writing can become an autobiographical, healing act.

    Allister examines works by Terry Tempest Williams, Sue Hubbell, Peter Matthiessen, Bill Barich, William Least Heat-Moon, and Gretel Ehrlich in order to demonstrate the difficulty of hearing nature speak, and of translating terrain and self into language and form. As he focuses on the many ways in which humans connect-often deeply and urgently-to animals or the land, Allister vastly extends our understanding of "relational" autobiography.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-2194-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Writing as a way to work through grief is as old as art itself. And ever since romanticism’s glorification of reflective individual expression, such writing has often taken the form of autobiography. From Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater, Henry Adams’s The Education of Henry Adams,and Edmund Gosse’sFather and Sonto Richard Wright’sBlackBoy and Mary McCarthy’sMemories of a Catholic Girlhood,autobiographers have constructed narratives to articulate the pain and make sense of it all. In this study I examine a related but distinct form of grief narrative: books in which the writers...

  5. 1 Writing the Self through Others
    (pp. 11-33)

    Each of the thirty-six chapter titles of Terry Tempest Williams’sRefugefocuses on a particular species of bird. A naturalist by profession, Williams fills her book with careful descriptions of the numerous avian species that flock to Great Salt Lake or the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge for resting or nesting. For example, in her chapter “White Pelicans”:

    Hundreds of white pelicans stand shoulder to shoulder on an asphalt spit that eventually disappears into Great Salt Lake. They do not look displaced as they engage in head-bobbing, bill-snapping, and panting; their large, orange gular sacs fanning back and forth act...

  6. 2 Living the Questions, Writing the Story Sue Hubbell’s A Country Year
    (pp. 34-57)

    In her essays “Bad Government and Silly Literature” and “The Edge of Town, Duluth, Minnesota,” Carol Bly, a long-time farmer, writer, and teacher from rural Minnesota, decries the lack of ethical consciousness in most American writing and sees the act of “nature-describing” as an avoidance of naming that which is evil, wrong, or immoral in our society. Bly sharpens her criticism in words quoted on the back cover of a collection of poems by Joe Paddock: “When a poet wants to avoid pain, he or she sometimes settles for sharp imagery that excites readers but leaves them free to work...

  7. 3 An Unnatural History Made Natural Terry Tempest Williams’s Refuge
    (pp. 58-80)

    Refugeand Hubbell’sA Country Yearserve as bookends for this study.

    Whereas Hubbell sets the “present” of her book near the end of her grieving, as she is moving from disorganization to reorganization of her life, Williams writes from the beginnings of her trauma—when her beloved bird refuges begin to drown, when her mother is diagnosed with cancer—and ends before we see the new directions her life will take. Whereas Hubbell writes an understated, quiet book, filled with scenes where she shows herself weaving and being woven into numerous “texts of suitability,” Williams challenges angrily the place...

  8. 4 When All the World Is Cancerous Bill Barich’s Laughing in the Hills
    (pp. 81-100)

    The books in this study confound the catalogers at the Library of Congress.A Country Yearis listed under Natural History, Missouri and the Ozarks; and Country Life, Missouri and the Ozarks.Refugeis listed as Williams, Terry Tempest–Health, Breast Cancer Patients Utah Biography; and Natural History, Utah and the Great Salt Lake Region.Laughing in the Hills,according to the catalogers, is a book on horseracing and horse-race betting. And indeed,Laughing in the Hillsis considered one of the finest documentaries of thoroughbred horse racing, but descriptions of thoroughbreds, parimutuel betting, and jockeys all intermingle with reflections...

  9. 5 Constructing a Self on the Road William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways
    (pp. 101-124)

    Near the end of his stay at the racetrack, Barich recalls lines from a Grateful Dead song that have taken on symbolic significance: “Lately it occurs to me / What a long strange trip it’s been.” Though he has left his home and taken up residence at the track, Barich’s strange trip has been internal, a matter of emotions and psychology, depression and recovery.In Blue Highways,William Least Heat-Moon actually takes to the road, his only plan to circle the country, driving those back roads marked in blue on old maps.

    Perhaps because this country’s history has been largely...

  10. 6 A Pilgrimage to Fashion a Zen Self Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard
    (pp. 125-144)

    Like Heat-Moon, Matthiessen begins a journey in grief, leaving for a two-month trek through the Himalayas not long after his wife dies of cancer. But unlike Heat-Moon, who sets out with no plan other than to drive the blue highways of America in a loop, Matthiessen intends to make a religious pilgrimage to the Crystal Mountain in Inner Dolpo, Nepal. A student of Zen Buddhism, he hopes to visit the Lama of Shey, the most revered of all therinpoches,the “precious ones” of Tibetan Buddhism. To go step by step across the greatest mountain range in the world, Matthiessen...

  11. 7 Making a Home on the Range Gretel Ehrlich’s The Solace of Open Spaces and Western Myths
    (pp. 145-168)

    We all know now how the founding of the American West was made legendary, was and is romanticized. We know that there were and are many Wests, and that this “founding” of a land that had been found centuries before uprooted long-established cultures of Native Americans and Mexicans. We know that the history of the European-settled West is most notable for its boom-and-bust cycles, for how states took government handouts while proclaiming independence. But years after the correctives, we also realize how enduring are the heroic images of Western frontier life.¹

    James Olney has written, in words numerous critics have...

  12. Epilogue: “We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live”
    (pp. 169-172)

    Joan Didion, in a masterful essay about California culture, “The White Album,” juxtaposes fifteen vignettes to capture the bizarre qualities of the sixties, from the politics of the Black Panther Party to the nihilism of The Doors’ Jim Morrison. Her collage of snapshots attempts to make sense of a time that has become so senseless to her that she winds up in a psychiatric hospital, unable to cope with the effort to comprehend and then mediate reality. She is supposed to have a script, she says, a plot, but she has mislaid it. Life is not meant to be all...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 173-182)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 183-192)
  15. Index
    (pp. 193-200)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 201-201)