Tuesday 20 September 2022

Writers and Landscape - a book review

 I've recently read two books which look at the relationship between writers and landscape, though they use this starting point to explore other aspects of both the writers and more general issues. 

Romantic Ecology by Jonathan Bate), subtitled Wordsworth and the Environmental Tradition, examines William Wordsworth's relationship with nature and the landscape of England's Lake District and connects that with wider themes around changing political attitudes to ecology. Wordsworth was, in his time, credited with encouraging other writers and thinkers to 'walk with nature' and Bate underlines the importance of the poet as helping to establish an environmental mindset that has continued from the days of the Romantic Tradition (that Wordsworth was part of) to today. 

The book looks at the influence Wordsworth had on other writers and thinkers, including the poet John Clare, the philosopher John Ruskin. It looks at other pioneers of the ecology movement, including the English minister and diarist Gilbert White and Ellen Swallow, who campaigned for clean air and water and was the first to use the term ecology in its modern sense of defining the human relationship with nature.

The book also offers close readings of some of Wordsworth's poetry, showing how he explored 'the relationship between land and inhabitant ... [and] considered the evolving and increasingly disruptive influence of man on his environment.'

This book is quite academic in tone, but still entirely readable and is well worth studying if you're interested in how the Romantic Poets, particularly Wordsworth, influenced our understanding of our relationship with nature.

Romantic Ecology by Jonathan Bate, published by Routledge (1991)


Hiking with Nietzsche by Professor of Philosophy, John Kaag follows the author on two hiking trips around the Alpine landscapes where Nietzsche spent a large part of his life. The first trip Kaag made was as a naive 19-year-old and the second years later with his wife and young daughter. 

The narrative interweaves thoughts about landscape with elements of the life stories and philosophy of both Nietzsche and Kaag. Kaag traces his own love of walking back to his childhood when his mother would take him and his brother on walks. 'These were slow meanders with nowhere particular to go. At first, the pace infuriated me, but she explained - and showed - that it really was the best way to see  things. Things: trees, leaves, bugs, streams, ideas. Things that we, in our everyday lives, run past or intentionally step over.'

The book explores ideas around climbing being a metaphor for life's challenges. Kaag uses mediations on hiking and on Nietzsche's work to explore some of his own issues. He doesn't always come across as a particularly sympathetic narrator or easy travel companion and he shares with Nietzsche a definite tendency to pessimism. 

This is an enjoyable read for anyone who enjoys climbing or who is interested in philosophy. Though having read other reviews, I get the impression that if you want to explore this area of the Alps, you should invest in a good guidebook with maps, rather than try to rely on the route descriptions included here. 

Hiking with Nietzsche by John Kaag, published (2018) by Granta.





Lowcarb team member said...

Thanks for your reviews.

All the best Jan

Simon Douglas Thompson said...

The second book seems really heavy stuff!

Crafty Green Poet said...

lowcarb - you're welcome!

Simon - it isn't actually, it's much more readable than you might expect! And it's quite short too.

Jeff said...

Both of these books sound good! Nietzsche was a landscape writer is intriguing. In one is his last writings, when he was institutionalized, he wrote my favorite line of his that I remember from college: "The whole world is a cow pasture so you better watch your step."

Crafty Green Poet said...

Hi Jeff, thanks, I'd definitely recommend both of them! That's a great quote from Nietzsche.