Monday, 7 November 2011

International Pastoral

One of the strengths of Raymond Williams's deconstruction of the facile binary 'country'/'city' in his The Country and the City (1973) is the way he follows through his analysis of the way the interpenetration of 'the rural' by Capital* expanded in the 20th-century via that process we call globalisation:
The unprecedented events of the nineteenth century, in which Britain became a predominantly industrial and urban society, with its agriculture declining to marginal status, are inexplicable and would have been impossible without this colonial development. There was a massive export of the new industrial production. Much of the trade of the world was carried and serviced by Britain, from its dominant position in shipping, banking and insurance, the new "City" of London. [335-36]
This remains, of course, one of the key contemporary valences of 'City': a shorthand for international capital focus and flow. Williams goes on:
The traditional relationship between city and country was then thoroughly rebuilt on an international scale. Distant lands became the rural areas of industrial Britain. [336]
This is an excellent point, I'd say: that 'pastoral' now must locate itself either in an idealised past, or in a version of former colonial geographical alterity (the tourist industry feeds this discourse, of course: as does the large literature of, essentially, pastoral ease, erotic play and freedom from care that locates itself 'somewhere foreign') -- or, most strikingly, both at the same time. This helps me come to terms with the way the text that may well prove the most significant pastoral text of the 20th-century -- I mean Tolkien's Lord of the Rings -- is simultaneously promiscously pastward (to a bourgeois 18th-century country gentility in the hobbits, to an idealised Medieval culture in Gondor, to a sturdy Anglo Saxon equine arcadia in Rohan) and international. This last feature is one that has long puzzled me about Tolkien's imagination: the whole of middle earth is essentially pastoral; the wickedness of the 'city', and the industrial revolution, is personalised -- it is what the wicked Saruman brings in his wake. Yet Middle Earth is somehow both a hypertrophic England, and a world-map, with varied and distinct 'foreign' nations and cultures. Williams point explains why this might be, I think.


*Here's Jonah Raskin's summary of part of Williams's argument:
In England, and in this country too, establishment critics have tended to be politically reactionary; they have idealized feudalism, and the slave South, and they have condemned cities as the seats of evil and corruption. Today, Toryism has settled in rural England. Writers have long praised "the Golden Age/' and "the good old days." Williams demolishes the myths about the beautiful, peaceful past. He reveals the commercialism, exploitation, and ruling class brutality in rural England. In the poetry which celebrates the English feudal order he points out that the whole question of labor is generally omitted, that workers are not even pre- sented as figures in a landscape. He reminds us that old property, like new property, was based on theft and conquest. At the same time he presents the continuing struggle in the countryside to improve the con- ditions and the quality of life. Rural folk are not simply idiots or quaint creatures. They have forged vital communities.

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