This post is fresh material for all those who’ve ever asked me, “What can you even do with American Studies?” And I don’t even mind.
Two weeks ago, I did something I had been wanting to do for a long time: With a good friend, I packed my bags, hiked up a mountain, pitched a tent, and woke up early to watch the sunrise in a beautiful spot. Check that off my bucket list.
I love nature. I love spending time in nature. Thus, because I am now a smart-aleck university student, I want to talk about… the study of the love of nature. Yup, that’s what I learnt about this past semester (among other things equally important).
In a course called Call of the Wild, we talked a lot about transcendentalism, which was a philosophical movement in the U.S. in the first half of the 19th. It sought true happiness in nature, because nature and humans itself were considered inherently good but corrupted by society. So, if you are mean, don’t worry: You have simply been corrupted by civilization.
The two main representatives of Transcendentalism, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, coined many of the quotes you will find upon typing in ‘nature’ or ‘nature love’ into Pinterest. You know, the perfect Instagram captions.
“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.”
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
But what even is nature and wilderness? What is left of it? Hasn’t everything been civilized through satellites and maps? Is wilderness constructed, because there would be no wilderness without civilization/us? What is the value of wilderness?
Isn’t it unfair that some landscapes are considered far more beautiful — scientists would say ‘sublime’ — than others and thus more worthy of protection? Because I just posted four pictures of the exact same mountain that is super hyped in Switzerland, because it is on the Toblerone packaging (among other reasons).
We also talked about ecofeminism. This is a philosophy that connects feminism and ecology, because feminine adjectives are so often attributed to nature (especially by Emerson and Thoreau). In American literature in general, nature is often depicted as a female refuge: the untouched land, which can be moody but is undeniably beautiful. Funnily enough, society was also associated with female adjectives: clingy, domesticated, and overprotective.
Ecofeminism draws parallels between the suppression of nature and women. While it sounds far-fetched, it is actually very interesting. One could argue that the suppression of nature was justified by ascribing female characteristics to it, e.g. conquering the virgin land.
Of course, I myself don’t consider these characteristics female, however, a lot of people have in history and sadly still do. I know a ton of clingy, moody, domesticated men.
When I told my brother about my topic for my term papers this summer, he said he couldn’t imagine anything more irrelevant and boring. Maybe you’re thinking the same after reading what I learnt this past semester. That is fair enough, but I absolutely love my major and getting to know more ‘irrelevant’ stuff on a daily basis.
And I also love nature, which is why I had the best time exploring the Matterhorn area. Last summer, I flew halfway across the world to experience nature and forgot thereby that everything I could ask for in nature is right here: in my beautiful home country.
Live in the sunshine. Swim in the sea. Drink the wild air. (Yes, that is an Emerson quote.)