Narration as "de-metaphorization" via "environmental imagination": a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary approach to and the war is over: a novel by Ismail Marahimin.
What ecocriticism further suggests is the possibility of showing the reality of nature by stripping it of all "conventional reality," which means, as I call it, a necessary process of de-metaphorization for better understanding of our literary texts through, but beyond, a human- centered perspective.4 As a critical term, de-metaphorization highlights the problem of our traditional "discourse, including reason, that submerged nature into the depths of silence and instrumentality" and how the "nonhuman remains 'banished from Critique,' under 'the double dominance of society and science" (Manes 17). It also makes us aware of how "nature has been doubly otherized in modern thought," and therefore "the natural environment as empirical reality has been made to subserve human interests, and one of these interests has been to make it serve as a symbolic reinforcement made of the subservience of disempowered groups: nonwhites, women, and children" (Buell 21). It thus raises the questions whether it is possible for our "vision [to] correlate not with dominance but with receptivity, and knowledge with ecocentrism" (Buell 82). But where can we find a model with which we can finally see a world "more interesting ... from the perspective of a wolf, a sparrow, a river, stone?" How can we find an "approach to subjectivity [which] makes apparent that the 'I' has no greater claims to being the main subject than the chickens, the chopped corn, the mice, the snakes, and the phoebes--who are somehow also interwoven with me"? How could we "get this point ... to be able to imagine nonhuman agents as bona fide partners" (Buell 178)?
This model is not, according to Anderson, one we can find in Zhuangzi, even if he "is the most sharp-eyed observer of the nonhuman world among Daoist writers," because, as Anderson argues, "his observations of animals and plants are rarely realistic.... Nature is a source of fantasy and imaginative symbol, not a reality to record" (165). Instead, we may find it in Confucius and Mencius, because "by contrast," so argues Anderson, "the Confucian tradition, from Confucius's hunting rules to Mencius and the Liji, reveal a genuine knowledge of, understanding of, and desire to work with nature" (167). He asserts that "there is nothing to match the conservationist teachings of Confucius and the Liji" (177). Neither can we, according to Johnson, find a model for this new approach in Thoreau, but must turn instead to Susan Fenimore-Cooper. While Thoreau's celebration of nature may sound vivid, like "brag[ging] as lustily as Chanticleer in the morning ... if only to wake my neighbors up," it "seems markedly more self-assured and self-centered than Cooper's description of herself sans metaphor" as a "rustic bird-fancier" who has completed a "simple record" or "trifling observation" on "the seasons in rural life" (181). It is because, the former, according to Johnson, "often relies on metaphor not only to communicate his purposes in representing his Walden experiment but also to convey many aspects of his physical surroundings," whereas the latter tries to give nature the most authentic description with clear awareness of her human approach by "point[ing] critically to the use of this rhetorical device in describing her place" (182).
What environmental imagination calls for is a new approach, a process of de-metaphorization, which, I argue, will significantly enrich our imagination by stripping it of all conventional reality or metaphorical fanfare. As a result, we will be able to see and understand nature, and then everything else, more accurately according to the way nature truly is, beyond our deeply entrenched, human-centered perspectives, regardless of whether we could ultimately understand nature from the precise vantage point of "nonhuman agents."
And the War Is Over, an Indonesian novel by Ismail Marahimin, provides good examples of this de-metaphorized persepective. With its lucid, unabashed and acutely measured, authoritative voice, which often suggests the "transparent eyeball" of a God-like, all-seeing, all-knowing "nonhuman agent," (5) the novel simultaneously illuminates, and is illuminated by, the concept of de-metaphorization. The novel is essentially about a group of Dutch POW's and their Japanese captors. It has a clear-cut plot line which, however, resembles an absurdist existential drama from the Sartrean fictional world, such as "The Wall," in which a perfect lie to the Nazis about a hideout leads to the arrest and execution of the very person that lie is meant to protect. In Marahimin's novel, the POW's, not knowing that their freedom is near at hand, try to escape from the prison camp with the assistance of the local people. But they are captured and executed by an order from the Japanese commanding officer, Ose. Ose performs his duty faithfully regardless of his own deep doubts or overall reservations about the war; in addition he knows that the war is over, even though his duty is not officially over. Thus, even when the war finally comes to the end, everything still occurs in the usual way, as if to confirm once again, in great earnest, all the absurdity and atrocity of war through an intense and irreversible inertia. All is carried out in the name of patriotism and duty, but with immeasurable cost and damage to humanity.
What is particularly significant in the novel is not so much the intricate relationships among the Dutch captives, local Muslim population and Japanese occupiers, which the novel depicts vividly, but the impossible love between a local Muslim woman, Satiyah, and the Japanese commanding officer, Ose. One is the victim of rape by the Japanese, her happy family completely destroyed because of Japanese occupation, and the other is traumatized by his own war experiences and the betrayal of his unfaithful and ultra-patriotic wife. Across the unbridgeable abysses of cultural, racial and religious differences, and through the impassable maze of misunderstanding and hatred, these two suffering souls of humanity seek and find each in the other inside a dense jungle. In the novel the all-seeing and all-knowing authorial voice is authentic and accurate in fine-tuning the narrative, but it remains barely "visible" or "audible." It de-metaphorizes the story in a dry tone of wisdom and irony that often suggests the viewpoint of a certain thoughtful "nonhuman agent." It implies a comic "transparent eyeball" that appears periodically to raise doubt about every answer one can possibly think of for the seemingly innocent or unassuming questions about humanity that constantly pop up in the neutrally toned narrative. What is important is that this authorial voice does not occur often. It appears only briefly, when and where it is most needed and least expected, to punctuate for a pensive pause or create a moment of stepping back; it is as though a certain distant and divine voice insisted that "emotion [be] recollected in tranquility" in ways that make one feel how life can indeed be at once a tragedy and a comedy, depending on how we come to feel or think of it. (6)
The following brief and straightforward authorial comment on Ose's deep interest in tea ceremony, for instance, occurs in such a context, as a "flashback" on Ose's pre-war life that provides insight into the ironical and paradoxical aspects of human life.
It is not usually the lower social strata of a culture who maintain the traditions that outsiders view as characteristics specific to that culture. Or if they do, it is in a watered-down form which a more orthodox representative of that tradition would find upsetting if not shameful. (8)
Everything in the novel, including Japanese war crimes and atrocity, seems to be depicted de-metaphorically, as if through the utterly indifferent but precise viewpoint of a "nonhuman agent." But such a viewpoint often carries sarcasm--not only about one nation but about humanity as a whole--as indicated in this concise authorial comment:
It is difficult if not impossible to fathom the ins and outs of human life. Who determines where a person is born, where he will raise his children, where he will be buried? While one person might be born at the South Pole, spend his life on the equator, and die at the South Pole another person might never leave the village in which he was born. There seems to be a kind of master train schedule regulating the course of human life, determining where a person must be and what time he must be there to meet those who are destined to escort him onward to happiness, disaster, or perhaps only to the memory of a chance and fleeting encounter. (7)
The authorial voice emerges once again as the novel moves to its end:
Now it appeared the war was over and whatever sense of involvement had once excited, suddenly faded. Whatever people felt about the war, whether they approved or disapproved was no longer important. Its end created an entirely new situation. People no longer knew where they stood or where they were to go. Revenge, suffering, sacrifice were suddenly matters of no consequence. Their importance had vanished as quickly as a nightmare after waking. (114)
The authorial voice can also be heard in the matter-of-fact depiction of how Japan is dragged or pushed into war through incessant domestic pressure and contagious patriotism which bring much disaster to Japan itself, let alone to all the neighboring countries invaded and occupied by Japan. But all is suggested as in the following passage through a concise depiction of various incidents of "domestic war" between Ose and his wife, who is determined to make a hero out of him with her unyielding argument, "how am I supposed to show my face to my friends whose husbands have gone off toward to defend this country?"
When Ose returned from work a few days later he found hanging in the center room a banner of white cloth. Written in red kanji on the banner was a Kami teaching: "Placing the eight corners of the world beneath one roof." A debate ensued from that night onward. It was only when Ose finally decided to enlist that some kind of peace returned to the house. But the peace was false and one-sided. (56)
With a detached eye that sees all and filters all "metaphorized facts," even cases of utmost human atrocity that inevitably provoke sentimentalized and sensational description are reflected on as part of daily occurrences, but with an accuracy and emphatic precision that conveys how locals feel about the Japanese. In the following passage, Ose observes that "the countries that Japan occupied did little to help [in its war efforts].... They were busy with their own affairs and felt much closer to their old masters than their new ones who, Ose had to admit, had brought about a great deal of suffering" (57 emphasis added). Such atrocity is also referenced in this passage: "The Japanese were harsh and the Dutch prisoners were beaten regularly. Some were beaten to death. Those who died were buried beneath the rail embankment or thrown into the river" (64, emphasis added). Atrocity is certainly revealed in brief descriptions regarding how "the difficult conditions of the Japanese occupation forced almost everyone to seek extra sources of income," or how "farmers were forced to devise increasingly clever means of hiding their rice for later sale to black market traders" because "under the Japanese, rice was taken directly from the farmers by Japanese soldiers or their helpers" (112-3, emphasis added). Sometimes, it is suggested in a slightly more emphatic tone that "the Japanese era began and the world turned upside down' as "good, upstanding people ... faced destitution while people of little account prior to the coming of the Japanese saw their stars rise" (113, emphasis added).
Such a case of de-metaphorization is particularly observable in the description of Ose, a person who is at once very complicated and very simple, who finds himself suspended in a very existential condition. All the traditional values that sustained him previously, such as his belief in his country and his family, become questionable, and Ose is forced to respond to the fundamental meanings of life with nothing but his own bare humanity. He has to redefine and redeem himself for his lost humanity through probably the most unlikely agency of a Muslim girl in the Muslim land that he has his own share in desecrating. In Ose we see all the contradictions or inconsistencies regarding our common humanity quietly exposed. He may act like a well-trained dog, but he is also a Hamlet in distress. He is like the nameless neighbor in Robert Frost's "Mending Wall" who acts like a "savage" because he can only repeat what his father says about the need for a good fence, but he may also appear at the same time as the "thinking persona" who constantly questions the necessity of mending the wall, even though he has neither a right answer to the situation, nor does he refuse to be part of the dubious "neighborly" endeavor. He is also like Starbuck in Moby-Dick who, as the only clear-minded person, has much doubt about Ahab's mad quest yet remains a reluctant but loyal participant in action.
Ose, for instance, does not like Sergeant Kiguchi, his immediate subordinate, for acting like well-trained dog or the mindless "savage" that Frost alludes to, because he is "100 percent military. A simple man ... ,the most often heard expression from his mouth was 'hai, or yes, sir,' and that statement alone, [for Ose,] was enough to reveal what the man was thinking" (79). But what makes the situation even worse, as Ose sees it, is the simple fact that there are "hundreds and thousands of soldiers like Kiguchi." But Ose does not seem to be less atrocious in performing his military duty. Often, as suggested in the following scene, where, somewhat like Camus's Meursault, the indifferent "Stranger" who commits murder with senseless or mindless precision, Ose appears as an objective critic of his own thoughts and actions. He remains simultaneously engaged with and detached from his thoughts and actions, as if they were not his own. His mind could be so mingled with nature and punctuated with the rhythm of nature that he becomes utterly aloof from his own thoughts and actions but, at the same time, in the following passage he seems indifferent to the natural scene that nourished him in tranquility only minutes before.
Ose saw all of this clearly. The quail had returned to their nests and silence blanketed the scene. The wind barely moved. Faintly, from the direction they had come, came the sound of the drum for magrib prayers. The three people had no idea what kind of fate awaited them. "Shoot," Ose cried out. Ten guns spat bullets and flames. Thunder rolled and the three fell without even a chance to scream. The soldiers fired again and again until all their bullets had been spent. Sergeant Kiguchi jumped forward and plunged his bayonet into Pastor's body, now little more than a pile of meat wrapped in a bloody and soiled cloth. The quail rose in a flight once more with their wings beating a low and swift path. (163, emphasis added)
But no matter how Sergeant Kiguchi's "stupidity and simple-minded appearance appalled him (79)," Ose has finally come to realize that "he too was part of this war and part of the people involved in it. He was not only a spectator, but a participant who had helped to lead the men under him to shame and defeat" (154).
Equally representative of de-metaphorization is the way that Islam is described. Anyone who wants to read about Islam in the novel, since it is work from a Muslim nation, would be simultaneously disappointed and delighted, because Islam is not the way one might imagine it to be. It is not the focus of the novel but, at the same time, it is exactly what the novel is steadily focused upon. This is simply because Islam is everything, pervasive in the way of life itself. On one occasion, Islam appears in the form of a respected social institution: "That Haji Zen was in fact a haji was apparent to everyone because he never took off his pilgrim's hat, even when he was working" (65). Sometimes it comes out as a character-building power that instantly commands awe and respect cross-culturally, such as Ose's bewilderment and respect for Satiyah as "a religious woman" who "would voluntarily endure hunger." Often, it is identifiable through local customs that present a hierarchy of values stated as a matter of fact.
Satiyah's marriage to Ndoro Alimin was a very important event for her family because through him the status of her own family was raised. It wasn't that the position of a teacher was highly respected nor that his wage was so man golden per month. It was because Alimin came from a santri family, a deeply religious family with a strong leaning toward Mecca. Rarely was a santri girl permitted to marry a non-santri man. Exceptions were made if the young man was very religious and enjoyed a good position. Similarly, a santri man did not take an "ordinary" woman as his wife unless she were truly something special--beautiful, for instance--and when Satiyah was a young woman she was very attractive. (58-9)
Islam is "localized" or "de-metaphorized" in simple and plain language, so that it becomes the natural quality of life itself and does not need to become a particular focus. Thus the absence of Islam makes it powerfully ubiquitous.
To understand further the ubiquitous power of Islam as the narrative so de-metaphorically depicts, we need to see what "a religious woman" Satiyah really was in terms of her daily activities, especially her sexual life with her husband and others, which is depicted in a very straightforward, natural or de-metaphorized language. "The sexual needs of Satiyah's husband, the man who had become the pride of her family and who had once been the most sought-after young man in Mersi, were voracious. They made love at least once a night. Satiyah served her husband willingly and with happiness and pride" (78). The intimacy of their happy life is also described in other passages in equally rich but matter-of-fact detail, as in the following scene.
Realizing that Satiyah was making fun of him, Alimin grabbed a ruler and chased his wife around the room. Satiyah laughed and held her large stomach. "No. Mass, be careful. The baby ... " "All right, give me your hands I'm going to rap your knuckles ten times." He tried speaking to Satiyah as he would to a student but could not keep from laughing. "But my hands didn't do anything wrong, Mass," Satiyah pleaded. "What did then?" "My mouth." "Okay, give me your mouth." They kissed. Later that night they expressed their affection for each other once more with passionate, yet careful lovemaking. "Be careful, Mass. The baby," Satiyah was forced to remind her husband time and again. (78)
Without resorting to any emphatic "figures of speech," Islam is described as if to say that it is no more or no less than life itself.
If de-metaphorization, as Greg Garrard suggests, also means de-culturalization, it nevertheless does not call for depriving our texts of cultural elements; this is practically impossible, even in terms of the very logic of Garrard's own argument, because "culture is always already involved in nature at every level of culture" (206). De-metaphorization thus simply means to be critically aware of the specific cultural elements that have already become an integral part of nature, such as "the drum for magrib prayers." In this serene scene of nature, "The quail had returned to their nests and silence blanketed the scene. The wind barely moved. Faintly, from the direction they had come, came the sound of the drum for magrib prayers." De-metaphorization thus only suggests that we should be sufficiently prepared for genuine humanity to emerge in eco-critically self-conscious ways that would otherwise be impossible. While the novel may be de-metaphorized to such a "pure" degree (as if it is not about any particular culture but humanity itself), it is, however, a novel of Islamic culture and excellence. Everything in the narrative appears sufficiently Islamic, that is, at once thoroughly Indonesian and at the same time reflective of our common humanity.
De-metaphorization in this work should also be observed with regard to how nature itself is described. Nature in the novel is invisible but ever present. It parallels the authorial vision and voice in that it barely reveals itself except very briefly, at the most crucial moment. The novel, in other words, makes nature powerfully present or ever-present by making it absent. The depiction of nature is often brief and casual, yet extremely accurate, as in the serene scene of nature just quoted in this exemplary passage: "... The quail had returned to their nests and silence blanketed the scene. The wind barely moved. Faintly, from the direction they had come, came the sound of the drum for magrib prayers." Then all of a sudden, with the crying or der from Ose, "... the guns spat bullets and flames. Thunder rolled .... The quail rose in a flight once more with their wings beating a low and swift path" (163). The brief appearance of nature is decisive. It forces us to pause, to ponder and to re-evaluate the very meaning of humanity. Under the eye of nature, what is taken for granted, such as the unquestionable value of patriotism, appears dubious, because it can drive humanity to be deliberately monstrous. The body-tearing and ear-piercing gun shots that temporarily disrupt the course of nature leave long-lasting echoes in the minds of those who pause to reflect.
This unusual effect of the usual war situation, as revealed through the simple juxtaposition of quails and gunshots, is typical of de-metaphorization. It suggests a better seeing, beyond the human-centered perspective or, as Buell would say, "vision [that] can correlate not with dominance but with receptivity, and knowledge with ecocentrism" (82). It indicates, in other words, how we might see it through viewpoint of "quail that rose in flight," thus responding to Buell's question of "whether the word would become more interesting if we could see it from the perspective of a wolf, a sparrow, a river, stone" (178)? (7)
Following such a precise depiction of what has happened, one need not be Qu Yuan, Hamlet or King Lear to pose ultimate questions about what is really going wrong with humanity. (8) The sheer echoes indeed compose an endless string of questions that beget further questions. But when the peace-disturbing echoes of gun shots die down and the noises of the train fade away, what has also "returned to normal" is Ose's mind, which seems to adjust itself gradually to the "perspective of a wolf, a sparrow, a river, stone."
The train moved slowly forward, twisting, turning, climbing, and descending through the jungle heart of Sumatra. The locomotive groaned and every once in a while stopped to build up steam for a climb or to pick up people in need of a ride. The jungle panorama receded.... The sun had completed nearly three quarters of its daily journey. The wind had died, leaving the branches of the trees hardly moving at all. It was so strange, Ose thought. Even in the middle of the dry season and even with no clouds to block the glare of the sun, the air in this country never felt really hot. The leaves were perpetually green. Thousands of animals inhabited this jungle. They merely disappeared when the sound of the train went past. After the train passed, jungle life returned to normal. Static. Relaxed. (146, my emphasis)
Everything in this passage is witnessed so precisely through this de-metaphorized "transparent eye," that nature seems to become the embodiment of something divine, whether one is religious or not. How much, if at all, this novel should be read as Islamic, or in any religious perspective, is really hard to say. But certainly the novel could be appreciated in this way. As far as the narrative structure is concerned, the divine seems to be invisible in the same way nature is. Its vision and voice are revealed rhythmically--through the frequency of its appearance and the way the power of nature is punctuated--with one brief scenic episode after another. The novel is beautifully composed, concise and lyrical, straightforward and interwoven, as if God or Allah were at once invisible and present, distant and nearby, giving his accounts of the "human comedy" for us to comprehend as best we can. The "narrator" has a perfect rhythm regarding where to stop, about how much is sufficient for us "poor" humans to digest. No wonder Confucius, who feels the rhythm of Tian in the process of seasonal vicissitudes, challenges those who are insensitive to the "divine" rhythms of nature with such a rhetorical question, "Does Tian ever speak?"
De-metaphorization in this case does not mean "no use of metaphor," but rather its precise use without resorting to sensationalism. Ironically, de-metaphorization is sometimes activated through accurate metaphorical expression, the way nature is--indifferently; but its characteristic indifference always suggests something else. One could easily have the impression that the "transparent eyeball" that sees all in this way must be like a great surgeon with all his/her human compassion distilled into "nothing" but the precise motion of his/her operation. This precision appears in the following scene of seppuku by a Japanese officer upon hearing the news of Japanese surrender. (9)
He threw his body forward. He did not cry out. Only a small moan escaped from his throat. Then his body began to convulse, like a chicken with its head cut off.... No one attempted to stop the man's struggling as he fell and twisted and squirmed like a fish thrown from the water onto land. (106, emphasis added) (10)
If we re-think de-metaphorically through the environmental imagination of humanity, in which we all participate, what do we see in this scene? What does it say about the authorial voice, which seems to indicate a special kind of indifference with both rare accuracy and an empathy possible only when certain "nonhuman agents [become] bona fide partners"? The laconic description and the precise use of metaphors reveal everything about our vulnerable humanity so fully that we seem to have no choice but to look squarely into our own "self," to examine "the ungraspable phantom of life" which has been de-metaphorized with surgical accuracy and precision.
If this is after all an Islamic novel, I enjoy it for exactly what it is, because Islam in the novel is of life itself in its utmost humanistic version. The ultimate wisdom revealed de-metaphorically through the narrative makes it impossible for us not to read either the novel or reality with restraint and compassion. Thus purified de-metaphorically to reveal the astonishing beauty of simplicity and authenticity, the novel makes the profound precise and the universal local, or the other way around. Environmental imagination enriches our minds de-metaphorically, so that we are destined to see what we otherwise cannot. We are destined to detect nature's subtle and ubiquitous influences not only where they seem most obvious but also where they seem least possible. We are thus destined to innumerable serendipitous rendezvous with our literary and philosophical canons, not only along the roads not taken, but also on roads that are well-travelled.
Anderson, E. N. 2001. "Flowering Apricot: Environmental Practice, Folk Religion, and Daoism." In Daoism and Ecology: Ways within a Cosmic Landscape, edited by N. J. Girardot, et al. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Buell, Lawrence. 1995. Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. 1950. The Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, edited by Brooks Atkinson. New York: Modern Library.
Garrard, Greg. 2000. "Wordsworth and Thoreau: Two Versions of Pastoral." In Thoreau's Sense of Place: Essays in American Environmental Writing edited by Richard J. Schneider, Foreword by Lawrence Buell. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.
Girardot, N. J., et al, Ed. 2001. Daoism and Ecology: Ways within a Cosmic Landscape. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Johnson, Rochelle. 2000. "Walden, Rural Hours, and the Dilemma of Representation." In Thoreau's Sense of Place: Essays in American Environmental Writing, edited by Richard J. Schneider. Foreword by Lawrence Buell. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.
Kasulis, Thomas P. 2002. Intimacy or Integrity: Philosophy and Cultural Difference. Honolulu: U of Hawai'i Press.
Manes, Christopher. 1996. "Nature and Silence." In The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology, edited by Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm. Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press.
Marahimin, Ismail. 1986. And the War Is Over: A Novel. Trans. John H. McGlynn. Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press.
Schneider, Richard J. 2000. Ed. Thoreau's Sense of Place: Essays in American Environmental Writing. Foreword by Lawrence Buell. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. 1961. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, trans. D.F. Pears and B. F. McGuinness. Introduction by Bertrand Russell. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
(2) With regard to its power of invisible ubiquity, especially in association with nature, Dao is probably more like air than water.
(3) The situation is very much like "the possibility of describing a picture ... with ... a given form," which, according to Wittgenstein, would "tell us nothing about the picture"; rather, "what does characterize the picture is that it can be described completely by a particular [module or form ...] chosen over other alternatives because we want to describe the world more simply with one system ... than with another" (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 1961, 139 emphasis added). Indeed, a metaphorical expression is a picture that pictures a picture of reality as we see it--the way an opaque mirror reflects not only an ambiguous image of reality, but also our actual capacity and motivation to see or to perceive it.
(4) It is truly invisible but indeed ever-present. In the Zhuangzi, there are in fact quite a few satirically amplified cases of the implicit absurdity and detrimental consequences of the human-centered perspective; for instance, when the good-hearted, bird-loving Prince Lu innocently "tortures" his beloved bird to death simply because he wants to treat it the way he himself wants to be treated, that is, with the best palace to house it, the best meat and wine to feed it, the best music to entertain it, and the best hordes of servants to accompany it.
(5) However fully he is aware of "immediate dependence of language upon nature" (16), Emerson still holds that "the whole of nature is a metaphor of the human mind" (18). But when he declares, "I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all" (6), he is close to the idea of the "environmental imagination." The statements which follow this passage seem to suggest a subtle shift from a human-centered perspective to that of a "nonhuman agent," "The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable. I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me, and I to them ... Yet it is certain that the power to produce this delight does not reside in nature, but in man, or in a harmony of both" (7).
(6) Horace Walpole and Wordsworth obviously both argue for detached contemplation by making such comments. When Walpole argues "life is a tragedy for those [who] feel and comedy for those [who] think," he also suggests the importance of detached contemplation as does Wordsworth who calls for "emotion recollected in tranquility."
(7) In the following complete passage from which the above quotation is taken, the possible benefits of de-metaphorization through the constructive power of environmental imagination becomes clearer.
The effect of environmental consciousness on the perceiving self, as I see it, is not primarily to fulfill it, to negate it, or even to complicate it, although all of these may seen to happen. Rather the effect is most fundamentally to raise the question of the validity of the self as the primary focalizing device for both writer and reader: to make one wonder, for instance, whether the self is as interesting an object of study as we supposed, whether the word would become more interesting if we could see it from the perspective of a wolf, a sparrow, a river, stone. This approach to subjectivity makes apparent that the "I" has no greater claims to being the main subject than the chickens, the chopped corn, the mice, the snakes, and the phoebes--who are somehow also interwoven with me. To get this point across environmental writing has to be able to imagine nonhuman agents as bona fide partners. (178)
Such "environmental imagination" or "environmental consciousness" could probably be further explored in terms of what Thomas Kasulis tries to differentiate in Intimacy or Integrity: Philosophy and Cultural Difference. On the one hand, there is, according to Kasulis, humans' special responsibility for nature, based more or less on a cultural model of integrity; on the other hand, there is also what he calls humans' responsiveness to nature, in accordance with "an ecological ethics" based on the cultural model of intimacy. For Kasulis, "in the integrity orientation ethics is primarily a morality of principles; in the intimacy orientation, however, ethics is a morality of love. Integrity's moral demand is to be fair to the other person; intimacy's is to be there for the other person. Integrity generates a morality of responsibility, whereas intimacy generates a morality of responsiveness" (120). Even though the authors quoted in the paper may sound at first like traditional environmentalists with a human- centered perspective that justifies humans as special stewards of the planet, their views ultimately suggest a more ecological view very similar to what Kasulis's intimacy model suggests. De-metaphorization implies a possible combination of both orientations.
(8) Like Hamlet and King Lear, the Chinese poet of Chu (ca. 340 BCE - 278 BCE), with his "Tian Wen (Questions to the Heaven)" does wonder aloud how humanity and the world could be so "out of joint," or turned so upside down.
(9) In Kawabata's description in the beginning chapter of Snow Country, the "transparent eyeball" in the text could be seen as so "transparent" that it becomes transparently opaque, thus resembling a window and mirror at the same time. Like the eyeball of the pretty girl staring impassively outside from her window seat caught on the window of a fast moving night train, it transforms itself into a nexus or focal point where everything overlaps in rapid succession from both inside and outside--the impenetrable darkness outside, the glimmering dimness inside; the curious pupil of a man staring at the beautiful eyeball on the window from behind, and the glittering second that occurs to the pupil and in the pupil as the dim light inside glides occasionally with some glimmering lamp light outside.
(10) The language of the narrative often seems to be as stripped to the bare necessity as in Kafka and Camus, especially in The Stranger. Its precise use of "simile" also conveys the beauty of Homer in Odysseus, where the images of animals are often evoked with frequent and precise use of similes. In a sometimes sharp contrast, Virgil's Aeneid is loaded with metaphors. Johnson would probably also say here that Virgil "often relies on metaphor ... to communicate his purposes," as Thoreau does in "representing his Walden experiment," in addition to "convey[ing] many aspects of his physical surroundings" (181). But regardless of the possible similarities, what this novel reveals is a consistent and eco-conscious effort to see things or to involve nature with a kind of self-restraining and open receptivity via constructive environmental imagination. Characteristic of adopting "nonhuman agents as bona fide partners," this de-metaphorized environmental imagination is also well-reflected in the Chinese poem "Sitting Alone with Mt. Jingting ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.])" by Li Bai [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]), the eccentric Tang poet (701-762 A.D.). "All birds fly high and away, Gone adrift is also the last patch of cloud. Not tired of watching each other are only those, Mt. Jingting and me ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.])" (My own translation.)
Shudong Chen (1)
(1) Thanks to my colleagues, Professors Carolyn Kadel and Bob Perry, who, as the co-directors of JCCC's Title VI Grant on Islam, have so timely and thoughtfully brought the grant project to our campus, the wonderful diversities of Islam, which are especially "well-documented" in fiction, are now no longer beyond the radar of my attention. I also thank my colleague Professor Andrea Kempf. Her thoughtfully compiled and annotated list of fiction by Muslim writers worldwide brought to my attention this praiseworthy novel, which I would have otherwise missed. I am also very grateful to Harriette Grissom for her marvelous work in repairing my English and strengthening and smoothing out my argument.