Nature, Naturalists and Naturalism [Reblog]

Photo credit: Nina Lyon

The latest monthly-or-thereabouts email newsletter from Paul Kingsnorth (author of Uncivilisation: The Dark Mountain Manifesto and the 2014 Man Booker-longlisted The Wake) included a link to his just-published review of Nina Lyon’s Uprooted: On the Trail of the Green Man for the New Statesmen. Before last night I had heard neither of Lyon nor the Green Man, but Kingsnorth’s review immediately had me googling both in a kind of unblinking fever. I then found my way to Lyon’s Bodley Head and Financial Times Essay Prize runner-up Mushroom Season, which is available for free on the iBook store.

The essay more than validated my interest in Lyon’s upcoming book (probably all her upcoming books), so much that I decided to reblog this piece on naturalism from her website (below) and to also review Uprooted following its release next month. I won’t attempt to summarize the piece (it will take only minutes of your time), but as with all of the work I share here, there are several ideas worth special mention for, merit aside, being especially germane to my present interests. Key among them, questions about the role of fiction versus of biography (a focus, also, of my prior reblog) and how these roles complicate when considering historical fiction.

As I will soon enter research for a short story set in a time and culture and on a continent I have never stepped foot, not only is the “fictive element” disconcerting, but so is—for my purposes as writer—the non-fictive element. It has now been, as of this month, a full two years since I have spent any time on fiction at all, and while a research (and malaise) intensive reintroduction isn’t likely to be a gentle one, the fiction writer and artist in me (the most “me”) has not made it much of a choice.

You, however, have a simple choice before you now; it involves a mouse, a trail, and—if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, I suppose—mushrooms. If you decide on all three, do me a favour: let the Green Man know I’m on my way.

Observing the Great Nature Schism, as it is unlikely to be called in the future, I found myself thinking about naturalism too, in both its philosophical sense as the empirical study of the material world and its literary sense as the supply of detail to create a staged impression of the material world.

It seems as though the sort of writing the avengers of the correct, pure type of nature writing are advocating, at least on the surface of it, is mimetic writing. It is as though we need more writing that seeks to identify the fine detail of things – in this case living things that are not human – and to pin them down in the collector’s case of Nature Writing. If you muddy the pursuit of mimetic detail with things that are less pindownable, like allusions or ideas or, heaven forfend, sub-plots, the illusion of the text providing…

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