Rewriting nature tourism in "an age of violence": tactical collage in Marianne Moore's "An Octopus".
An Octopus of ice. Deceptively reserved and flat, it lies "in grandeur and in mass" beneath a sea of shifting snow-dunes; dots of cyclamen-red and maroon on its clearly defined pseudo-podia made of glass that will bend--a much needed invention-- comprising twenty-eight ice-fields from fifty to five hundred feet thick, of unimagined delicacy. --Marianne Moore (Complete Poems 71)
So begins Marianne Moore's complex evocation of, or ode to, Mount Rainier--a mountain also known, in the local Native American tradition, in Moore's poem, and in contemporaneous travel literature, as Mount Tacoma, Mount Tahoma, Big Snow Mountain, Nourishing Breast, and the Mountain That Was God. Like the evasive nomenclature of the peak, Moore's poem is nothing if not "shifting." As with much of Moore's early work, it is difficult to know how to start making sense of this "deceptively reserved" yet strangely radical nature poem. The poem is littered with language and images that alternate between certainty and uncertainty, admiration and fear, potential and kinetic energy. Chronicling a variety of perspectives in relation to the mountain and juxtaposing quotations rather than speaking with a single narrative voice, "An Octopus" is a poem that defies categorization. Its persistent contradictions, variable perspectives, patchwork of texts, and refusal to resolve into a single meaning reflect Moore's understanding that nature, poetry, and finally language are never "clearly defined" but always under construction. The idiosyncratic beauty of this quirky collage poem is its ability to remain flirtatiously aloof from any stable meaning; (1) as Moore writes in "Marriage," "psychology which explains everything, / explains nothing, / and we are still in doubt" (Complete Poems 62). "An Octopus" is in many ways an illustration of that statement.
However, just as there are politics underlying the naming of Big Snow Mountain, (2) there is method in Moore's madness. Moore composed the poem after two visits with her mother and brother, in 1922 and 1923, to the recently designated Mount Rainier National Park. During the first of these visits she ascended to the Nisqually glacier, the "octopus" that is her poem's ostensible subject. She inscribed her initial working notes on the pages of the National Park Service (NPS) Rules and Regulations brochure--a 52-page pamphlet with information on safety, accommodations, and activities in the park (including guided tours up the mountain of the sort that Moore herself took), which park visitors received free at the entrance. The fact that Moore drafted "An Octopus" on the inside of this brochure indicates the extent to which the poem's "meaning" relies on its relation to the texts it engages. The poem's very origins are intertextual--quite literally dependent on other texts--and "An Octopus" is certainly aware of, even as it embodies, such intertextuality. Her encounters with the mountain were physical, textual, and intellectual: she experienced the direct and strenuous contact of the climber, the linguistically mediated and physically distanced perspective of the tourist, and the more cerebral positions of poet and naturalist, all of which enhance her narrative approach.
Moore's poem engages the tension between these perspectives, implying that none is entirely truthful or authentic. Rather, as Stacy Carson Hubbard explains, "scrawling her nascent poem between the lines of the park ranger's prose, Moore treats the naturalist's account much as the poem treats the mountain--as a remakable or a rewritable thing" (21). In depicting various ways of seeing and experiencing the mountain--the birds' eye view of the glacier, the tourist eyeing the peak from the meadows of "Paradise," and the climber's slow ascent--she suggests all are mediated and imperfect. Perhaps due to these shifting perspectives, what "An Octopus" is primarily "about" remains elusive, despite a wealth of writing about it. Recently, Vicki Graham laments that
close scrutiny of the detailed descriptions of the natural world in "An Octopus" reveals misrepresentations and inaccuracies, asking for re-evaluation of Moore's reputation for accuracy and raising larger questions about the responsibility of the poet to the natural world. (167)
Graham claims such inaccuracies perpetuate an anthropocentric approach to nature and do an injustice to the integrity and authenticity of the specific place. However, critics like Bonnie Costello have argued persuasively that the poem has larger ambitions than mere accuracy, that "ultimately this is not a poem about Mt. Rainier ... [it] is about nothing less than the earth and our institutional and imaginative relationship to it" (Shifting Ground 100). (3)
I contend that the poem--only superficially about Mount Rainier--manipulates different perspectives to engage in a particular critique regarding nature, American tourism, scientific knowledge, and language itself. Such a critique is suggested by Moore's 1923 notebook, which envisioned "An Octopus" and "Marriage" as a single poem, beginning as follows:
An octopus of ice so cool in this age of violence so static & so enterprising heightening the mystery of the medium the haunt of many-tailfeathers these rustics calling each other by their first names a simplification which complicates ... (qtd. in Willis 247) (4)
Although most of this did not make it into the first published version of "An Octopus" (in the Dial, 1924) or the later versions either, (5) their juxtapositions are compelling. While it seems ambiguous who or what is "so static & so enterprising"--is it the "cool" octopus or the "age of violence" that surrounds it?--the poem distinctly contrasts nature, as represented by the glacial octopus, with the violence it locates in the time period. (6)
Through a historical analysis of the collage elements in "An Octopus," I hope to generate new insight into Moore's use of quotations as well as her treatment of nature: "An Octopus," as Moore eventually published it from these working notes, specifically implicates promotional travel literature--most obviously, that of the National Park Service--as participating in an "enterprising," capitalist venture to exploit nature's economic value. Such a reading confirms Moore's importance as a nature writer and suggests new connections between collage poetry and environmental discourse. Few of "An Octopus"'s numerous critics have paid much attention to the poem's most striking collage element: its direct engagement with NPS discourse.
A handful of critics have addressed Moore's use of the Rules and Regulations brochure, but not to the extent that this primary text warrants. Hubbard notes:
Moore levels her sights on the mountain through the lens of the pamphlet itself, treating the visitor's guide as one piece of necessary equipment ... which makes it possible to view the potentially blinding splendor of the peak. (21)
However, Hubbard doesn't analyze just what kind of "view" the pamphlet promotes. She likens its multiple perspectives to the poem's own without adding that its rhetoric represents the kind of utilitarian approach to nature that Moore challenges. Instead, Hubbard suggests that the pamphlet "was admired by Moore for its phrasing and for its precise descriptive details" (14). Elisabeth Joyce also sees what she calls "ostensibly serious regard for the Department of the Interior's rules and regulations" (81) but glosses over the "ostensible" character of that alleged regard. Joyce does appreciate how Moore's collage "enables her to denigrate entrenched social institutions, such as marriage and the established use of elite sources for literature," and Hubbard sees that "Moore's use of the pamphlet as primary source for the poem's language prevents her from being blinded by prior poems, in particular those which pit their linguistic powers against similar summits" (21). Neither, however, really examines the particular social institution of the NPS or the ways in which the "elite source" of the Rules and Regulations brochure governs tourist experiences and sanctions problematic treatment of nature. Thus, these critics don't consider how the NPS is itself a powerful "primary source"--not a poetic one, perhaps, but an institutional source that is influential in delineating how Americans understand and experience nature both in Moore's time and today. Indeed, it is the primary source with which Moore takes issue in the poem.
Costello comes closest to developing a reading of the role of NPS rhetoric in "An Octopus" when she comments on Moore's invocation of the brochure's text:
Moore is fully aware, in quoting the promotional rhetoric of the park administration, that nature's intention is a human fiction. But our plunder and presumption are more than matched by its mysterious geologic presence ... [The] thrilling encounter with place is intercepted repeatedly by the comic presence of tourists who are "happy seeing nothing," and businessmen "who require 365 holidays a year." The sense that we have turned Mt. Rainier into a theme park for tourists enamored of the pseudo-rigors of outdoor life contends with proliferating details and jolts to our orientation that the contemplation of this place provokes. (Shifting Ground 100-01)
Costello's reading is attentive to Moore's teasing tone toward the NPS but less interested in her challenges to the NPS's construction of natural space and tourism. In this essay I offer a more sustained critical attention to Moore's treatment of the NPS by fleshing out the intertextual origins of "An Octopus," especially her use of the Rules and Regulations brochure. Unlike Hubbard and Joyce, I argue that Moore invokes the park brochure primarily to challenge its constructions of nature and tourism. At the same time, she implements its text in the service of the poem's larger goal: to model an approach to nature that, contra popular contemporaneous discourse about nature tourism, is neither aesthetic nor utilitarian. Building on Costello's observations, I suggest that by tactically reappropriating sections of the Rules and Regulations brochure, Moore moves beyond mere humor toward a more serious critique--using the brochure's own words--of the NPS's anthropocentric approaches to nature and its manufacture of Mount Rainier as a commodifiable resource.
Looking at "An Octopus" in the context of its time--particularly as part of the dialogue defining American relationships with the natural world during the early years of the NPS--yields a new reading of the poem that contributes to environmental, poetic, and critical conversations of the present day. In contrast to Cristanne Miller, who asserts that the sources Moore consulted "are not individually relevant to the commentary of the poem" (184-85), I argue that reading these sources more closely is essential to a rich appreciation of this fascinating collage poem. In the remainder of this essay I examine the Rules and Regulations brochure along with three other contemporaneous sources--the US Railroad Administration's An Appreciation of Mount Rainier National Park, Clifton Johnson's What to See in America, and a travel brochure titled Four Hours--Tacoma to the Glaciers--to see how placing Moore's poem in dialogue with promotional tourist literature of the period can help illuminate how her quotations work to challenge the commodification of nature in its incipient stages. (7)
A look back at this promotional literature sheds a different light on Moore's use of quotations and suggests that a subtle, ironic argument can be found in "An Octopus": her collage resists seeing Mount Rainier as a ready-made image to be appropriated by the NPS or other sources of tourist propaganda and instead models a way of writing about nature that does "violence" only to the discourses that seek to contain it, leaving the mountain itself unharmed. In the process, Moore draws attention to the specific traits of the mountain itself, illustrating a type of tourism based on local knowledge and turning promotional literature against itself to expose its brutal simplification--and resulting commodification--of one of America's unique "resources."
The "playgrounds of the people": rules and regulations, scientific discourse, and patriotic tourism
Tahoma--the Mountain That Was God! Thus the aboriginal Indians christened the sublimely majestic peak which broods over one of earth's most beautiful playgrounds--Mount Rainier National Park. --US Railroad Administration (3)
Nature has not always been conceived of as a "beautiful playground," nor has tourism always been considered a valuable way of experiencing nature. Tourism emerged as a result of specific historical events and corresponding ideological shifts that turned the natural world into a space of recreation for Americans. As what William Cronon calls "the nation's most sacred myth of origin" (77), nature in the US has a complex history of being alternately respected and romanticized or feared and tamed. Throughout much of the nineteenth century, wilderness was "a place to which one came only against one's will, and always in fear and trembling" (71). But toward the end of that century, rapid industrialization and the official closing of the frontier in 1890--coupled with Frederick Jackson Turner's influential frontier thesis three years later--contributed to a reversal of the earlier wilderness ideology. As industrialization marched steadily forward, more Americans cultivated a nostalgic antimodernism to help alleviate anxieties accompanying technological, economic, and social developments of the time. Correspondingly, wilderness was no longer a scary place in need of taming but a valuable asset in need of protection. By the turn of the new century, nostalgia for nature--particularly for the lost space of the frontier--had been catapulted into the forefront of the national imaginary, and the nation began to embrace a new "ethic" of preserving and touring its dwindling natural "resources." (8)
In the context of these changing understandings of the natural world and their popularization by figures like Theodore Roosevelt, (9) the establishment of the NPS in 1916 crystallized the burgeoning preservation movement within a political institution. The agency emerged as the culmination of decades of politics, activism, art, literature, and increasing public appreciation for nature. Some credit George Catlin's vision of a "nation's Park" in 1833 as the first articulation of the national park ideal (Spence 9-10), and Yellowstone became the first official national park in 1872, soon to be invoked as a model for other parks' preservation.
The NPS's institutional beginnings depended on several factors: the creation of origin stories, the positing of tradition as a key facet of the agency, the constitution of tourism as a primary way of experiencing nature in America, and the displacement and sometimes death of the "aboriginal Indians" who called these spectacular places home.
While the NPS has yet to fully come to terms with the expulsion of Indians that was necessary to its formation, the agency is now more candid about its utilitarian values. The current website explains how the NPS's mission is fraught with the need to balance preservation of resources with promotion of them--a conflict embedded in the language of its institutional goals. (10) In describing its early years, the agency's official website admits that
the idealistic impulse to preserve nature was often joined by the pragmatic desire to promote tourism: western railroads lobbied for many of the early parks and built grand rustic hotels in them to boost their passenger business. (Mackintosh)
This economic relationship between the railroads and the NPS is apparent in the early literature of both. Publications put out in the 1920s by both the NPS and the US Railroad Administration to promote tourism to Mount Rainier National Park often cross-reference one another directly, in addition to using many of the same photos and even verbatim written blurbs to describe the park. In order to foster the tourism that was important to each organization, both the new government agency and the railroad business were invested in advertising the parks' accessibility, their proximity to towns, and their link to a national heritage based on the natural world.
In the early twentieth century, a new brand of "cultural nationalism" based on touring the country's natural wonders "grew out of a nostalgic ideal of America as nature's nation" (Shaffer 146). Promotional travel literature helped cultivate this ideal. For instance, the US Railroad Administration's brochure An Appreciation of Mount Rainier National Park begins with this nationalistic description of the park:
The glories of mountain-and-valley scenery in the Swiss Alps excel the beauties of Mount Rainier National Park in only one particular- the fact that they enjoy the advantage of a thousand years of advantageous advertising. Some day our people are going to waken to the realization that in our own America, our Land of the Best, Nature has given us scenic charms and natural wonders which surpass those of every other land. (2)
Several controlling interests quickly become evident: advertising is an "advantage" for the park, domestic travel is better than international, and America's nature is superior to that of other countries. The merging of domestic tourism and patriotism in "our Land of the Best" continues on the third page of the brochure, which includes this brief note signed by the Secretary of the Interior:
Uncle Sam asks you to be his guest. He has prepared for you the choice places of this continent--places of grandeur, beauty and of wonder. He has built roads through the deep-cut canyons and beside happy streams, which will carry you in to these places in comfort, and has provided lodgings and goods in the most distant and inaccessible places that you might enjoy yourself and realize as little as possible the rigors of the pioneer traveler's life. These are for you. They are the playgrounds of the people. (3)
Here parks are deemed "playgrounds," specifically places of leisure activity, far removed from "the rigors of the pioneer traveler's life." The US frontier had been officially "closed" for just over 25 years at the time of this brochure's publication, and the text exhibits no desire to return to the strenuous, work-based relationship with nature that it locates in the past. Rather, the rhetoric of the NPS subsumes modern nature into a particular kind of consumptive nationalism--one based on leisure, wealth, and the exploitation of resources. The deification of "Uncle Sam" here mirrors a subsequent reference to the Native American deification of the mountain: "Little wonder that the child-like mind of the Indian, unable to understand this mountain, unable to explain its volcanic origin and its unusual phenomena, should deify it!" (4). The condescension toward Native Americans here is important, but so is the reason for this attitude: the "child-like" people did not have the scientific ability to "explain" the mountain. By contrast, "Uncle Sam" has the know-how to "prepare" nature for consumption--to build roads, to erect lodges, and to provide for the leisurely enjoyment of these natural "playgrounds."
Clifton Johnson's What to See in America--a travel guide published in 1919, from which Moore takes several passages for "An Octopus"--represents nature in a similar fashion: as an aesthetic and material "resource" for human use. Johnson exhibits an odd mixture of awe, admiration, and brutality toward nature. He makes no effort to hide the human destruction of nature but in fact celebrates it, interspersing information about land use with comments about nature's value in its pristine state. His travel guide often juxtaposes nature and industry un-self-consciously. For instance, when speaking of whales in the Puget Sound, Johnson calls them "monsters" and details the rarity, economic value, and methods of killing these ill-fated creatures--all in the same breath. He admires the age and beauty of Washington's conifer forests, comparing the "virgin forest['s] clean trunks of standing timber" to "the columns of a wonderful cathedral" (537). "Many of them," he notes, "have been growing since the time when Columbus found this continent of ours--and they are all doomed to be destroyed by puny bustling swearing men with saws and axes." (11) And he revels in their destruction: "A falling tree fills the air with torn branches and fragments of the smaller trees that are in its shattering path, and smites the ground with the noise of thunder, and with a force that makes the earth tremble." Overall, there is a congratulatory tone to his description of the cutting of the forest. In celebrating man's power to "make the earth tremble" (despite his "puny" size), Johnson typifies a time when many people were apparently too enamored of industrial achievements to notice the contradictions between aesthetic appreciation and destruction of natural "resources." (12)
From its inception, the NPS embodied similar contradictions. As historian Richard West Sellars explains, "the national park movement pitted one utilitarian urge--tourism and public recreation--against another--the consumptive use of natural resources, such as logging, mining, and reservoir development" (15-16). Early park publicity celebrated recreational tourism as a use that would enable protection against "consumptive" uses like logging or mining. In effect, however, public access in many ways depended on and perpetuated other kinds of development, like road building, and preservation was often a secondary concern. The NPS (then as now) needed to encourage tourism in order to obtain more funds from Congress; in this way, "tourism and development would sustain and energize each other through their interdependence" (Sellars 21).
The NPS Rules and Regulations brochure--the most frequently cited source of "An Octopus"--was published in the midst of such institutional tensions. I turn now to this brochure in order to examine its central ideological assumptions and to explore how Moore effectively complicates them in her poem. Given Moore's direct confrontation with this aptly titled brochure and its obvious impact on her, it makes sense to read it closely, as she did, so as to better understand her subversion of the brochure's attempts to structure and guide her experience of the park.
The NPS's interest in promoting the park is evident in the order in which information is presented, the ways in which charts and tables display data, and the large photographs that bookend the text. A casual perusal of the brochure reveals a subtle salesmanship: moving from "general description" to "scenic approach," it carefully draws the tourist in, shows her how to get to the park, then provides the practical information necessary once she is sold on a visit. The brochure is clearly designed to market a commodity--a trip to Mount Rainier--and explain how accessible the area is and how easy the trip will be. On examination, several key ideologies emerge: nature is an aesthetic spectacle, a national resource to be consumed, a valuable participant in an economic market, and a space for convenient, safe tourism. Tourism, for its part, should be fun and easy, involving transportation, leisure, and finally, comprehension of the nature it seeks to experience.
Since photographs appear on both covers and would likely be seen first by most visitors, they are an obvious place to start uncovering the brochure's ideologies. As Hubbard points out, "the illustrations with which the pamphlet begins suggestively prefigure the problems of perspective which inform the pamphlet's written descriptions, and of which Moore made note" (20). The brochure does indeed struggle with "problems of perspective," but I suggest that it actively privileges certain perspectives over others through presenting photos of two basic types: dramatic frontal shots of aestheticized nature and images that highlight human use. (13)
While there are several pictures of the first variety--notably the close-up shots of flowers and the classic frontal shots of Mount Rainier--most photos are of the second kind: they display human development against the backdrop of nature's creation, often in order to liken humanity's innovations to nature's impressive dimensions. In the inside cover photo of Paradise Inn, for example, this "grand rustic hotel" is framed by both the mountain and the wild flowers, which the reader is instructed to note (2). Yet Paradise Inn does not seem at all dwarfed by Mount Rainier. Instead, the photo showcases both spectacles "in grandeur and in mass," suggesting that the "grand" scale of the hotel is comparable to that of the mountain. The outside back cover foregrounds human invention of a different sort: transportation. The shot of the public campground displays cars conspicuously parked between the tents and the mountain, and its caption directs our attention to these vehicles, informing us that "Motorists bring their own camp equipment and camp out in this lovely spot." The photo below lets travelers know that "In winter, the bobsled replaces the automobile," as several visiting men glide along a wintry road and gaze at snow-covered trees (52).
Taken together, the photos render nature a spectacle to consume and attribute ownership to visitors: this is your playground to drive through, to gaze at, to use. Perhaps a tendency to aestheticize is to be expected of photographs, but similar anthropocentric trends can be seen in the brochure's charts, tables, and maps. These features might seem to provide detailed information in neutral formats, but even they imply certain values. For example, the table of national parks on page 3 lists the parks "in order of creation" and details their "distinctive characteristics." The term creation carries religious overtones and highlights the nation's role in "making" the park. The "distinctive characteristics" turn out to be mostly superlatives--"highest," "greatest," "largest," "world-famed," "only" and "most sublime." Even as the parks are ranked in relation to one another, they are ascribed value in human terms as well: to Zion National Park is attributed "great beauty and scenic interest," while Hot Springs and Platt national parks offer "curative properties" and "medicinal value" respectively. In this system of knowing the national parks, utility and aesthetics--particularly spectacular aesthetics--prevail.
The table of contents implies similar assumptions and priorities. Again, aesthetic value comes first--this time in the form of a "general description" of the park that emphasizes "Mount Rainier's great proportions," "Its lofty height," the "glacial octopus" that is the subject of Moore's poem, and the "Wealth of gorgeous flowers" that contribute to the park's beauty (5). Significantly, nature's value derives not only from its beauty but also from the fact that this beauty can be commodified and sold. The term wealth here is representative of a language of economy that pervades the promotional travel literature of the time: nature is natural capital--a resource whose value is determined largely by the marketplace.
The awe that the brochure expresses for nature is matched by a comparable amazement at the human ability to access, exploit, and navigate the natural world. Statements like the following are commonplace: "How the road ever came to wind [the Nisqually Canyon's] very lip is one of the marvels that only the engineer can explain" (11). Development is often held up as "evidence of civilization," as when the National Park Inn is described as an embodiment of such. There is even a pervasive sense that nature itself sanctions and, in a sense, sponsors human usage of it. For instance, the brochure informs readers that "Near the lower end of the canyon is a great commercial enterprise made possible by the great glaciers of Mount Rainier National Park," and proceeds to describe the $2,500,000 electric plant from which light and power "are furnished in abundance" for nearby citizens (11). (14)
The implication is clear: nature is most valuable when humans use it. Accordingly, the next sections supplement discussions of aesthetics with descriptions of accessibility; they outline the "Scenic approach from Tacoma," suggest "What to wear--What to take with you," include a brief blurb on "Administration," and detail "How to reach the park." A subsection of this last section is, of course, "Railroad information"--essentially an advertisement, complete with ticket prices and contact information. Convenience is the core message of these sections. The brochure focuses on describing roads and trails, both of which are touted as "appropriate development" in line with the NPS's understanding of such as "that which supported the traditional needs of recreational tourism, such as roads, trails, hotels, and park administrative facilities" (Sellars 50). Like the NPS itself, the brochure insists that increased human access is consistent with nature's preservation--an assertion that has historically proven rather dubious.
In addition to comparing human development to natural wonders and arguing for nature's economic value, the park packages nature in ways expected to generate touristic interest. The section of Rules and Regulations titled "Twelve characteristic park birds" illustrates the brochure's tendency to anthropomorphize. Birds have "vocal versatility" and "informal manner," perform "comical struggles," and are "a personification of the elusive and mysterious inward spirit of the majestic forest." One bird is named the "most interesting bird citizen." Another is "fond of human society ... alternately bold and shy. Comports himself with much dignity and the appearance of respectability and worldly wisdom, but is something of a villain in spite of that" (24-25). (15)
In imagining the tourist's reaction to the park's nature, the brochure assumes and constructs a particular kind of visitor: one who wants to be comfortably entertained. Visitors are addressed as wealthy tourists--specifically vacationing businessmen--not naturalists. Their goal is escape: "to forget the cares of business life and see nature at its best" (22). They are "motorists," accustomed to the comfort and convenience of mechanized transportation. They need equipment to experience the park--cars and cameras. They want to feel adventurous but not afraid. Rather than encouraging risk-taking or exploration, the NPS literature and railroad promotional brochures emphasize the accessibility and safety of visits to Mount Rainier, even as they tout the mountain's impressive features--some of which, in actuality, are quite dangerous.
Throughout Rules and Regulations, danger is flirted with but safely contained. The primary road runs "perilously" close to the abyss yet climbs "gently"; even as it "plunges, through timber so dense the earlier forests seem pigmy," the NPS carefully emphasizes that "no serious accidents have occurred on this road, although from 12,000 to 15,000 automobiles pass over it annually with many thousands of visitors" (11). The section "How to climb Mt. Rainier" stresses the dangerousness of the climb. While describing how to "attack" this mountain, the text cautions visitors against attempting the summit without the aid of experienced guides and adopts a paternalistic tone toward those for whom climbing "is not ... a daily experience." But this danger too can be contained. Climbing guides can predict "Rainier's many moods" and combat its "fickleness" with careful planning, strictly regulated behavior, and knowledge of the route (17-18).
Ultimately, the brochure suggests it is possible to "know" Mount Rainier--to capture it with photographs or descriptive language or scientific names or simply the human gaze. Even when words and observations fail, it is still possible to "comprehend it all":
With such a variety of natural beauty and splendor as here shown, words fail of description and the sense of observation palls, there fore it is only after many visits that the eye becomes accustomed to and the mind begins to comprehend it all. (15)
It is just such comprehension that Moore challenges in "An Octopus," as she attempts to carve out a unique experience of this national park over and against the one being constructed for her and other visitors.
Challenging the "odd oracles of cool official sarcasm": Moore's tactical collage
Moore's written account of the park refuses to adopt the expected tourist perspective and instead treats the NPS instructions as, first and foremost, "rewritable." Much like Mount Rainier's glaciers, her poem is structured yet unstable. As Jeanne Heuving has argued, Moore's poetry works by "juxtaposing phrases that have been 'said in the very best way'" while "destabilizing and relativizing the meanings of these phrases" (111). "An Octopus"'s collage pushes the boundaries of referentiality in provocative ways, as her quotations both refer to and call into question their origins. While I concur with Hubbard's assertion that Moore "manages to multiply [Rainier's] qualities of otherness rather than suggesting its domestication" (21), Moore also directly challenges this domestication in important ways.
Examining "An Octopus" in the context of contemporaneous discourses about the value of nature--specifically those propagated by the NPS--yields a new and more nuanced reading of Moore's tactical collage. I contend that it is in the meaningful interaction between how the quotations function in her poem and how the same words are used in their original texts that "An Octopus" achieves its ironic beauty and critical significance. Questions of original or copy as "truth" become irrelevant, Moore's quotations suggest. What matters instead is what alternative "truths" can be found in the contrast, or gaps, between the two categories--how the copies appropriate and redefine the originals.
In this sense, "An Octopus"'s quotations operate as what Michel de Certeau would call a tactic: the temporal, political use of everyday objects, words, or actions to move beyond and potentially redefine ideological realms. De Certeau opposes tactics to strategies: hegemonic master narratives that are dependent on space and visibility to establish a sort of panoptic power. Tactics, by contrast, work temporally, using the materials, languages, and structures that are established by systems of power, but in ways that "remain heterogeneous to the systems they infiltrate and ... sketch out the guileful ruses of different interests and desires" (34). Since collage removes its source texts from their original space and relocates them in a new context that is transient and temporal, this particular kind of poetry seems especially tactical. Moore's appropriations thus wield the language of institutional "authorities"--scientific discourses of the time, a tradition of romantic American poetry, and most importantly, the NPS--to let it expose and condemn their own strategies.
If it is true that Moore usually "focuses her critique on the foibles or more serious flaws of the individual without typically extending that criticism to the institutional structures that encourage the behavior and beliefs she deplores" (Miller 25), then this poem is atypical: The primary critique "An Octopus" makes, I contend, is actually of the NPS's institutional structure and the touristic behavior it recommends. Faced with the set of NPS ideologies packaged as information in the park brochure, Moore responded tactically, undertaking what Joanne Feit Diehl calls "a critique of an aggressive, exploitative culture" (74). At the same time, the poem resists a troublesome tendency that Barry Lopez describes: to reduce the "essential wildness of the American landscape [to] attractive scenery" (131). Rather, Moore pits local knowledge, scientific data, and intimate, personal experience against the government's strategic attempts to establish and "project a national geography" which, "to be broadly useful ... must, inevitably, be generalized and ... romantic" (133). These "false geographies," Lopez claims, are based on
the packaging and marketing of land as a form of entertainment. An incipient industry, capitalizing on the nostalgia Americans feel for the imagined virgin landscapes of their ancestors, and on a desire for adventure, now offers people a convenient though sometimes incomplete or even spurious geography as an inducement to purchase a unique experience. But the line between authentic experience and a superficial exposure to the elements of experience is blurred. And the real landscape, in all its complexity, is distorted even further in the public imagination. (135-36)
While Lopez articulates what he perceives to be primarily a recent problem, resulting from media's increasing impact on the tourism industry, the packaging of the parks was present in their early days as well. Early park promotional literature strove to redirect nostalgia for the lost frontier into a new way of "taming" the wilderness: tourism.
Over and against this "packaging and marketing of land" as "entertainment," Moore challenges both the "generalized" language of travel literature and the presumed link between nature and nationalism. Her use of W.D. Wilcox's The Rockies of Canada--which, as the title implies, does not address the mountains of the United States--to describe an American landscape calls into question the nationalism promoted by the NPS's promotional brochure. Although it is unlikely that Moore privileged The Rockies of Canada as any more "authentic" than American promotional literature, it is telling that the travel literature of one place can be so easily layered onto a different place, implying a generalized agenda for this literature that is transparent, predictable, and applicable to any location. Rather than creating another "spurious geography" based on generalities and utilitarian propaganda, "An Octopus"'s focus on a specific region distinguishes it from national narratives about the area. Contra the presumptuous nationalism associated with "our Land of the Best," Moore suggests that nature supersedes nationality and, like the Rocky Mountains, transgresses national boundaries.
Moore looks for ways to find "authentic experience" instead of "superficial exposure," but finds that the "real landscape" is already textually constructed. Her attention to such linguistic mediation contrasts with travel literature's attempt to contain the natural world via the rhetoric of "official pronouncement," as in Four Hours--Tacoma to the Glaciers, a tourist pamphlet:
it is literally true, according to official pronouncement, that these glaciers winding throughout an area of 45 square miles constitute the greatest and, in every way, the most interesting system of glaciers in the United States, but really the most interesting fact about them is: They are the only glaciers in the world quickly reached by automobile. (n. pag.)
Far from equating "truth" with "official" institutions or "interest" with human accessibility, Moore's ironic appropriation of promotional tourist language counters the ubiquitous marketing of the landscape. She recognizes that "the naive phase of exaltation in nature's physical immensity [has] dwindled within a commodity culture" (Costello, "Marianne Moore" 10) and challenges us to see how linguistic constructions underlie the very real, material commodification and ultimate destruction of nature.
"An Octopus" illustrates the contradictions of institutional language, even as Moore herself blurs the line between exploitation and enjoyment of nature. In doing so, the poem challenges the notion that nature is there to "serve" mankind and hints that nature and industry might not be as compatible as promotional literature often claims. For instance, her mention of the mountain climber's "toys" as a source of "invigorating pleasures ... for which trees provide the wood" mimics the NPS's presumption of nature's generous providence. She casts considerable doubt on the assertion put forth by the NPS that nature is "essentially humane" in "afford[ing] wood for dwellings" or "stimulat[ing] the moral vigor of its citizens" (Complete Poems 75).
As part of its critique of such utilitarian treatment of nature, "An Octopus" sets up the Greeks as rational straw men of sorts, whose desire for "smoothness" and failure to achieve an emotional relationship with nature limit their experience. By linking the utilization of natural "resources" for human "toys" with the hyperrationality and desire for resolution of the Greeks, Moore clarifies a problem with both: the need to establish fixed meaning, and so control, translates directly into the exploitation of the natural world. In typical Moore fashion, the object of analysis becomes both distant (the Greeks, who are temporally removed) and very close (the NPS literature, which she uses verbatim). The calculated interspersal of Greek qualities with the language of NPS management suggests a common critique:
"Like happy souls in Hell," enjoying mental difficulties, the Greeks amused themselves with delicate behavior because it was "so noble and so fair"; not practised in adapting their intelligence to eagle-traps and snow-shoes, to alpenstocks and other toys contrived by those "alive to the advantage of invigorating pleasures." Bows, arrows, oars, and paddles, for which trees provide the wood, in new countries more eloquent than elsewhere-- augmenting the assertion that, essentially humane, "the forest affords wood for dwellings and by its beauty stimulates the moral vigor of its citizens." The Greeks liked smoothness, distrusting what was back of what could not be clearly seen, resolving with benevolent conclusiveness, "complexities which still will be complexities as long as the world lasts" (Complete Poems 74-75)
In isolation, we might take the invocation of the NPS brochure here seriously. However, since the quotes are bracketed by discussions of the Greeks, whose primary errors are the simplification and intellectualization of nature, the combined activities of obtaining "wood for dwellings" and cultivating "moral vigor" seem incompatible. It is partly the Greek's "benevolent conclusiveness" that Moore laments, as we see from the determined inconclusiveness of her poem. She insists on letting "complexities" remain complex as she critiques both the need to "resolve" meaning and the ways in which this resolution fuels exploitation.
Moore also troubles the penchant for anthropomorphizing the natural world. In the same way that we relegate nature to a "resource," we describe and contain nonhuman nature through discourses--whether scientific or romantic--that inscribe on nature our own values, traits, and aesthetic preferences. Her descriptions of the park's animal residents again invoke the language of the NPS brochure in order to mock it. Moore's selection of anthropomorphic adjectives can't help but sound ridiculous in the context of her poem: the water ouzel feels "passion for rapids and high-pressured falls"; the ptarmigan wears "winter solid white"; and the 11 Western eagles are "fond of the spring fragrance and the winter colors." Moore punctuates her list of the park's "creatures" (Complete Poems 73) with the oft-cited and incisive phrase she claims to have "overheard at the circus": "'They make a nice appearance, don't they,' / happy seeing nothing?" "They" here is an ambiguous pronoun. One would imagine it is the animals that "make a nice appearance" for park visitors; however, the poem suggests it is really the tourists who are "happy seeing nothing." By anthropomorphizing the natural world and responding primarily to "nice appearances," visitors to the park remain unable to fully experience it.
Even as Moore ironizes the anthropomorphizing, she also naturalizes humans. In her list of the "diversity of creatures" to which Big Snow Mountain is "home," she lists the tourist and mountain guide first--"those who 'have lived in hotels / but who now live in camps--who prefer to'"--in what can only be an ironic gesture since, as Hubbard rightly points out, "'An Octopus' invites visitation, not residency" (31) for the humans who come to the park. Moore reminds us that human "creatures" are not the rightful owners of the park; rather, "this is the property of the exacting porcupine, / and of the rat" as well as of beavers and bears. Her use of the term "property" contests the language of economy so prevalent in the NPS brochure, through which it is suggested that humans own the natural world.
Moore further questions the role of humans as "the rightful subduer[s] of nature" (Schulze 7) through her deployment of scientific discourse. Distrustful of science's self-assurance but attracted to its accuracy, "An Octopus" walks the line between scientific observation and spiritual recognition as it "juxtaposes two very different views of nature: the progressive, scientific perspective of the West that works to dominate and use nature," and a view of nature that "humbly accepts the integrity of nature and its processes" (15-16). By highlighting scientific information from the Rules and Regulations brochure and importing details about the area's flora and fauna, the poem leaves space for nature to maintain its "integrity." As Robin Schulze argues, Moore's poetry "implies the need for an approach to nature that can blend a scientific quest for accuracy and familiarity with a profound poetic respect for nature's otherness" (3). The self-congratulatory owner and self-declared "creator" of nature, "Uncle Sam" reduces respect to a perpetual "quest for accuracy" and so represents the antithesis of Moore's approach. Without diminishing the importance of accuracy, Moore's poem combats hyperrationality by implying that a lack of comprehension is also needed to "understand this mountain." Moore thus does not champion an entirely scientific "reading" of the mountain. Just as she uses the NPS's language to condemn its own exploitative tendencies, she invokes scientific observation in her poem to critique the extent to which modern science has objectified the natural world. When she invokes the language of scientific knowledge it is usually with a sense of mockery. For instance, the tongue-in-cheek mention of "glass that will bend--a much needed invention" in the opening lines must be read ironically, especially given her notes regarding the source. (16) This superfluous invention is quickly overshadowed, moreover, by nature's far more impressive "invention": "twenty-eight ice-fields from fifty to five hundred feet thick." Calling into question the NPS brochure's equation of human development with nature's "invention," Moore suggests nature's creations far exceed our own.
As Schulze points out, Moore recognizes the assumption of Western science--and, I would add, of the NPS--that we can "know" and control nature and illustrates the limits of that assumption in the face of nature's immense power. Hence, while in the NPS brochure the park is safe for consumption, "An Octopus" figures nature as dangerous. The lines ascribing "accuracy" and "fact" to the glacier--"Neatness of finish! Neatness of finish! / Relentless accuracy is the nature of this octopus / with its capacity for fact" (Complete Poems 76)--are followed immediately by images of nature's mystery, omnipresence, and raw power. Despite the exclamation point, "Neatness of finish!", a peculiarly human aesthetic value, sounds pathetically inadequate compared to the unpredictable strength of the glacier (which, by the poem's end, is "Creeping slowly as with meditated stealth, / its arms seeming to approach from all directions") or the winds (that "tear the snow to bits / and hurl it like a sandblast / shearing off twigs and loose bark from trees") or the mountain itself:
the white volcano with no weather side; the lightning flashing at its base, rain falling in the valleys, and snow falling on the peak-- the glassy octopus symmetrically pointed, its claw cut by the avalanche "with a sound like the crack of a rifle, in a curtain of powdered snow launched like a waterfall." (76)
This powerful climax leaves the reader with a sense that the mountain, despite our attempts to narrate it, has maintained its agency. If "like the crack of a rifle" is an anthropomorphic simile, nature still gets the last word: the "powdered snow launched like a waterfall" translates the poem's potential energy into kinetic energy at last. Woe to the tourist who stands at the base of this peak when it chooses to unleash its power.
Ultimately, Moore suggests that both science and tourism fail to fully acknowledge this power partly because of the rigid rules that dictate how nature will be experienced. Commenting on these rules, she begins by critiquing the Greeks' sublimation of emotion to rationality:
"Emotionally sensitive, their hearts were hard"; their wisdom was remote from that of these odd oracles of cool official sarcasm, upon this game preserve where "guns, nets, seines, traps and explosives, hired vehicles, gambling and intoxicants are prohibited; disobedient persons being summarily removed and not allowed to return without permission in writing." It is self-evident that it is frightful to have everything afraid of one; that one must do as one is told and eat rice, prunes, dates, raisins, hardtack, and tomatoes if one would "conquer the main peak of Mount Tacoma (Complete Poems 75)
Readers have to wonder who is the ambiguous "one" of which "everything [is] afraid." Some critics have suggested that "one" refers to Mount Tacoma, since it is arguably the peak that generates fear and awe within spectators. However, given that both the preceding and subsequent lines directly cite the Rules and Regulations brochure, the "one" can persuasively be read as the NPS--the institution that insists "one must do as one is told ... if one would 'conquer the main peak.'"
Moore takes particular issue with the NPS's warning that "disobedient persons [will be] summarily removed / and not allowed to return without permission in writing"; the list of prohibitions stands out for its excessive length, suggesting a pedantic oppressiveness. Again deploying the NPS's own words to critique the institution, Moore's collage of rule-bound rhetoric here gestures toward larger issues surrounding tourism. To what extent should one "do as one is told" by tourist information? Will one achieve an authentic experience in nature if one follows the rules? And given that one might be "summarily removed" if those rules are broken, is there any way to experience the park according to one's own rules--to tactically redefine what the park should be? With all of the "prohibitions" of "cool official sarcasm," how is one to keep from falling into the trap of the Greeks and engaging with nature on a detached, merely rational level?
"An Octopus" models some provisional answers to such questions: one should occupy shifting visual perspectives; read the promotional literature of a place skeptically, as only one of many discourses; and step beyond the comfortable but deluded mental state of "comprehension." A strictly scientific approach glosses over nature's flux, while utilitarian, anthropocentric, or overly romantic approaches cast nature too narrowly in human terms. All such approaches thus limit our ability to see what's there. Unlike the tourist imagined by the Rules and Regulations brochure, Moore's ideal tourist is one who, like the poem's bear, encounters the park by "inspecting unexpectedly" (Complete Poems 72)--seeing beyond romantic preconceptions, scientific certainties, or economic motives.
Moore thus refrains from prescribing what a "fully experienced" visit to Mr. Rainier might look like. As many critics have noted, "An Octopus" does a better job of breaking down than of building up. Hence Moore cautions: "Completing a circle, / you have been deceived into thinking that you have progressed" (71). If we haven't exactly progressed, though, the poem does model an alternative approach to nature: it offers collage as both format and forum for new ways of talking about the environment that are not totalizing (17)--that don't simply contain the natural world in human terms. The use of collage to theorize nature produces the instability that Moore wants to emphasize; nature eludes human definition just as collage avoids adding up to a unified "meaning." De Certeau claims narratives embody the stories they tell--"they say exactly what they do," and so serve as tactical models for action (81). In this sense, the meanings of "An Octopus" are inseparable from its use of quotations. As Hubbard argues:
There is both precision and deception at work here, for Moore's quotations are themselves often not what they seem; she fails to set quotation marks around some of what the poem quotes, while placing marks around much of what has been rephrased, or telescoped into more workable rhythms. The poem's construction reflects a tension between the found and the usable, the natural and the man-made, which renders it comparable to the mountain. (19)
The "honesty" of "An Octopus," then, is in not attempting to "restore innocent vision" but rather enacting how experiences are governed and manipulated by social "texts" (Costello, "Marianne Moore" 10). Moore insists that nature's "complexities ... will still be complexities / as long as the world lasts," and human attempts to characterize them are clumsy at best. I have suggested that "An Octopus"'s main tactic is to draw attention to the ironies inherent in the prevailing conceptions of human relationships with nature during its time period. In juxtaposing texts in nonhierarchical ways--but still reflecting critically on these texts--Moore's collage highlights how nature exceeds language and enacts a respectful rather than consumptive appreciation for its natural subject.
Collage, environmentalism, and the production of nature
In struggling with the "violence" inflicted on nature--underwritten, in part, by linguistic representations like those of the NPS brochure--Moore's collage explores how language can contain and limit its subjects even as she tries to avoid this pitfall in her own poetry. Yet she takes this critique a step further, expanding contemporary understandings of nature to include the ways in which human narratives contain, shape, and even create what "nature" is. Mount Rainier, in "An Octopus," is both natural and cultural; it is produced, in part, by the texts that construct it. (18) Moore's linguistic recreation of the "always already mediated status of the natural" (Hubbard 21) grapples with a hermeneutic paradox that continues to confound contemporary environmental theorists: how can we "know" nature when it can't be separated from human discourse about it?
I propose that "An Octopus" models a response to this question by tactically challenging the language of the park's promotional literature and the ways that literature delineates human encounters with the mountain. By treating the peak as what Bruno Latour calls a quasi object (We Have Never 51-55)--a hybrid of both nature and culture--the poem prefigures the recognition that nature is "something made--materially and semiotically, and both simultaneously" (Castree and Braun 4). Likewise, Moore attends to "how social natures are transformed, by which actors, for whose benefits, and with what social and ecological consequences" (5). If, as Bruno Latour points out, political ecology's "saving grace" is that it is "unable and has never sought to integrate all its very meticulous and particular actions into a complete and hierarchized unity" ("To Modernise" 230), (19) then again Moore's democratic treatment of the natural world--and critical treatment of the discourses that produce it--exemplifies a nonhierarchical approach to nonhuman nature.
Significantly, "An Octopus" resists the most troublesome temptation of poststructuralist thinking when examining the natural world, namely, "locating agency only at the level of 'culture' or 'discourse,' erasing the role that organisms and physical systems play in nature's remaking" (Castree and Braun 6). Instead, this tactical collage acknowledges agency for its natural subject through an ironic reappropriation of discourse and a stubborn refusal to totalize. While drawing attention to the everyday processes by which humans participate in nature's "remaking," "An Octopus" withholds universal judgment, leaving conclusions up to the attentive reader. Moore accomplishes a feat that stymies contemporary writers: she explores the important connections between humans and the natural world without eclipsing nature's agency. Mount Rainier remains a powerful, sovereign entity throughout the poem, while humans are teased, chastised, humbled, and perhaps educated by the poem's dramatic finale.
While "An Octopus"'s intertextuality has been frequently explored by scholars, its related tactical approach to environmentalism calls for further attention, especially as it involves collage. Obviously, the ways we experience nature have changed significantly since Moore's time. Today's outdoor enthusiast might hop into an SUV, fill up at Exxon, buy new gear from REI, grab coffee and a pastry at Starbucks, drive several hours to a national park, pay the entrance fee, and finally "get back to nature." Given the global environmental repercussions of an international commodity culture and the neoliberal policies of "free trade," merely participating in our economic system can become problematic for those who want to maintain a respectful relationship with nonhuman nature.
In theorizing what such a relationship might look like, Neil Smith has argued that the notion of the human domination of nature is becoming obsolete: this framework implies a separation between humans and nature that allows humans to influence (and often destroy) nature from an external position. Smith reframes the issue in terms of production:
how, by what social means and through what social institutions, is the production of nature to be organized? How are we to create democratic means for producing nature? What kind of nature do we want? (50)
Moore's poem anticipates these difficult questions and addresses them by suggesting a need to become aware of how the collaged "texts" of one's everyday life are interconnected. While Smith's formulation seems to me too anthropocentric, his goal of a socially just future for both nature and human beings accords with Moore's vision of nature's agency. Both Smith and Moore want to make "a future of nature plausible" (50). Both wish to do so by linking local analysis of nature and politics to the national and global discourses that surround particular environments. Both strive to curb human exploitation, consumption, and destruction of the natural environment. Both resist romantic narratives that reify a transcendental awe of nature or posit a human expert who observes it. Most importantly, both suggest that the key to social change is attention to the intertwined discursive and material productions of nature that together shape its meanings.
Moore's attempt to see more than just the reflection of human ideals--whether romantic, scientific, or economic--in nature raises questions for academics and concerned citizens alike. And just as "An Octopus" considers the mountain from both close up and far away, the problems it introduces demand attention at various scales. The largest implications are global, but the poem also speaks nationally, in ways that bear on the contemporary politics that govern the NPS. Today's agency finds itself hampered by an insufficient budget and operating under increasing pressure to privatize its heretofore public resources to garner financial support by marketing itself to private "partners." As a result, the natural "resources" the agency is charged with managing will suffer the consequences. (20)
While the agency's goals are sometimes compromised by under-funding, managerial ignorance, or pressure to privilege tourism over preservation, NPS employees are known for their genuine dedication to preserving nature unimpaired for future generations--arguably the more important half of the agency's double mission. A common saying among NPS interpretive rangers is: "through interpretation, understanding; through understanding, appreciation; through appreciation, protection" (Tilden 38). (21) "An Octopus" encourages such protection by teaching readers "to develop our regard for what is beyond our power to circumscribe, to quantify, and to sell off" (Costello, Shifting Ground 98).
As environmental concerns move to the forefront of global politics, Moore's vision becomes more important than ever: the human relationship with nature should be more than economic or utilitarian. At regional, national, and international scales, the stakes of linguistic violence are high, and "An Octopus" reveals these stakes in ways that still strike readers as innovative. If we read Moore's tactical collage as a model for discourse and environmental politics, "An Octopus" seems just as pertinent today as it did at the height of modernity, and its implications remain vital--for tourism, nature "management," our relationship with the earth, and our understanding of language.
1. Those who want to give her poems an "essence"--such as William Carlos Williams, who insists that "the essence is not broken, nothing is injured" (126) by Moore's lack of "connectives" or T. S. Eliot, who suggests "the detail [of her poems] has always its service to perform to the whole" (x)--engage in the sort of totalization that Moore shuns. For an examination of Moore's work in relation to her male modernist counterparts, see Jeanne Heuving's Omissions Are Not Accidents, especially her chapter "Moore's 'High' Modernism: A Comparison with Her Male Peers."
2. When George Vancouver, the English explorer, came into Puget Sound and saw the mountain from a distance, he named it after his friend Peter Rainier, an admiral in the British navy. For obvious historical and political reasons, the British name stuck, and the Native American name was relegated to the past--a name that is often invoked with a certain nostalgia, mixed with condescension, in regional and national literature about the mountain (Four Hours 2).
3. Contra Graham, Costello would suggest that poetry plays a special role in conceptualizing landscape by "foregrounding its acts of mediation" (Shifting Ground 10). She contends that Graham falls into the ecocritical trap of privileging "referentiality over textuality ... [and] real world over rhetorical and aesthetic concerns" (14), which Costello rightly identifies as "misguided."
4. Willis's essay contains invaluable information about Moore's poem in all its stages of envisioning and revisioning.
5. Many of the lines did, however, become integrated into "Marriage," the "other half," so to speak, of "An Octopus."
6. One might call the 1920s, when Moore first visited the fledgling Mount Rainier National Park, a violent era from a female nature poet's perspective, particularly when thinking about the ultramasculine strain in the modernist tradition and the NPS's commodification of the nature it was just beginning to "preserve"--all of which are "simplification[s] which complicate" the relationships between humans and nature.
7. The Rules and Regulations brochure was a direct influence on Moore, and Johnson's travel guide was also a primary source for Moore's work. The other two are contemporaneous publications that Moore may or may not have seen. However, their ideologies and sometimes their very language overlap with that of the NPS brochure. For this reason, these texts are relevant to an examination of the ways in which regional and national publications constructed the tourist experience of Mount Rainier National Park.
8. It is important to question the "ethics" involved in nature's preservation, since that preservation was contingent on the displacement of American Indians. Spence provides a detailed account of that displacement. See my essay "Longing for Wonderland" for a close look at the emergence of nostalgia for nature during the period of the NPS's formation.
9. See Gail Bederman's insightful chapter "Theodore Roosevelt: Manhood, Nation, and 'Civilization'" in her book Manliness and Civilization for an examination of Roosevelt's preservation politics.
10. The stated mission of the NPS is distressingly ambiguous: "to provide for the enjoyment of [the parks] in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations" ("National Park System"). The tension between present "enjoyment" and leaving the resources "unimpaired" continues to be an underlying paradox in park management.
11. Interestingly, this language is repeated almost verbatim in William Faulkner's "The Bear" (186). However, Faulkner is much more critical of the effects of fear than the NPS, whose literature tends to celebrate fear--in small, safe doses--as part of the tourist experience and, as such, a necessary component to taming wilderness in order to maximize human access. Moore's use of the phrase "puny bustling swearing men"--which appears in the 1935 edition of "An Octopus" in Selected Poems (86), but which she edits out of her Complete Poems--is taken from this longer passage.
12. Johnson's language elicits as many questions concerning originality as Moore's poem does. He uses words from other promotional literature and copies phrases verbatim with abandon, even "paraphrasing" a passage by John Muir that is used in much of the park literature.
13. Of course, some humans' use was deemed more worthy of celebration than others. As the brochure's cover photo suggests, "Indian Henry's Hunting Ground" refers to a historic rather than contemporary use. Relegated to the past, Indians were essentially equated with nature--and often "managed" as natural resources rather than enjoying the same sovereignty as white tourists.
14. Four Hours--Tacoma to the Glaciers takes a similar tack, explaining that "the streams ... are now harnessed in more than a million horse-power of hydroelectric energy, to do man's bidding."
15. In fact, part of this particular passage appeared in The Dial's 1924 publication of "An Octopus," indicating how important this theme of anthropomorphic metaphors is to Moore.
16. Moore's note begins, "Sir William Bell, of the British Institute of Patentees has made a list of inventions which he says the world needs" (Complete Poems 273), and it proceeds to reproduce the list. Given the extent and content of the list, it is hard to imagine that Moore is serious about the value to mankind of glass that will bend.
17. For a definition of this word I turn to Linda Hutcheon:
The function of the term totalizing, as I understand it, is to point to the process (hence the awkward 'ing' form) by which writers of history, fiction, or even theory render their materials coherent, continuous, unified--but always with an eye to the control and mastery of those materials, even at the risk of doing violence to them. (59)
18. In her insistence on the role of human language and thought in producing our relationships with nature, and in her struggle to reconcile the shifting discourses of poet, park ranger, naturalist, and tourist, Moore anticipates present-day environmental conversations such as those spearheaded by William Cronon in Uncommon Ground and taken up by the field of "science studies" led by interdisciplinary academics such as Bruno Latour and Donna Haraway.
19. See "To Modernise or Ecologise?" for a discussion of the political possibilities of what Latour calls ecologising.
20. To give but one example of these shifts, many park campgrounds are being turned over to private companies that can better finance and repair them than the underfunded government agency. What is lost in this transfer of power is the presence of rangers, who are trained to educate the public about the park and to help ensure that visitors experience it safely and responsibly. Rangers will be sorely missed by many campground users, who enjoy interacting with men and women in uniform as part of their park experience. More importantly, "the resource" will suffer, as visitors lose this important layer of educational interaction and inevitably impose their ignorance on the park's ecosystem.
21. First coined in Freeman Tilden's Interpreting Our Heritage (38), this phrase has since become common among park employees. Catherine Paul and Anne Raine each discover a similar vision in Moore's poetry. Paul suggests her work "contains a ... transition from appreciation to education" (163). Raine describes Moore's hope that "close attention to 'still subjects' could foster respect for nonhuman nature, and thereby encourage more harmonious relations among human beings as well as between human beings and the nonhuman world" (179).
Thanks to Brian Reed and Jeanne Heuving for reading early drafts of this essay and providing insightful direction. Thanks also to Greg Giuliano at the Rosenbach Museum and Library for his help in accessing Moore's notes on the NPS brochure.
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|Author:||Ladino, Jennifer K.|
|Publication:||Twentieth Century Literature|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2005|
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