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The Beauty of Subjectivity--For All Nature Writers

wanhong's picture



My Ecological Imaginings Class at Bryn College led me to an amazing adventure, rather than journey, to explore the concepts of nature and write about it. The most important thing that I have noticed, after writing essays and participating in class discussions, is that there should be no scale for writing nature when we are thinking ecologically. It is important for every nature writer to know that there is always an essential and unavoidable diversity in writings due to various personal background and beliefs, and what we should try to do is, rather than objecting other peoples’ opinions severely, developing new ideas based on them.

The author of almost every reading material for our class was trying to tell us how we “should” perceive the relationship between human and nature or what the standard of “good, natural” writing is, and it had taken me a long time before I realized that I could academically benefit from their seemingly judgmental ideas. In his introduction to The Dream of the Earth, Thomas Berry wrote that “we must now understand that our own well-being can be achieved only through the well-being of the entire natural world about us” (<?xml:namespace prefix = st1 />Berry, Introduction XV). In Women Writing Nature—A Feminist View, Barbara J. Cook pointed out that “to be an effective nature writer one must love the wild things and feel that they are loving back”. (110-111) In Unnatural Writing, Gary Snyder said that “ordinary good writing is like a garden that is producing exactly what you want, by virtue of lots of weeding and cultivating…but really good writing is both inside and ourside the garden fence.” (176-177)The words that they have used, “must”, “effective” and “good”, sounded too judgmental for me to accept from the start.


Also, when discussing my own paper with my classmates, we often have diverting opinions. For example, while discussing an individual paper, I felt Shengjia Zhu’s essay was a little limited by the given questions, but she thought I should take more effort to answer them. The structures of our papers were completely different and the ideas were developed in various logic patterns even when we were writing the same topic. In addition, at the end of the semester I found that every one in the class took a unique route through the semester to accomplish the adventure of Ecological Imaginings. When I exchanged the analytical essay on site reflections with Elizabeth, I found that her opinions had achieved a smooth, gradual shift from egocentrism to deep ecology, while mine had been spontaneous jumping between ideas throughout the semester. I didn’t like to hear negative comments, nor did anyone else in our class. However, after we reluctantly tried to partially accept them as instructed, we were surprised. Our individual pieces of writings have different style, and as the semester had passed, each person has made pieces of ideas into a unique collage of ecological exploration.


There were conflicts, arguments, discussions, but no ultimate solutions could be generated, since perceiving and thus writing nature involve individual thinking. While writing nature, some people tend to go to extremes. Accordingly, other people would support or object, at least partially, their opinions. Then, new ideas were came up, and the process continues.


I think my literary “interaction” with Gary Snyder could be a perfect example of developing new ideas based on old ones that I didn’t like at first. After reading Snyder’s essay on “Unnatural Writing”, I became interested in his comparison of natural with unnatural writing. Since I was asked to Use Snyder's terms to characterize what you(I) wrote” in class assignment (Dalke, “Ecological Imaginings ESEM”), I experimented with Snyder’s idea, tried to change the order of paragraphs I wrote back into its chaotic pieces and examined what was lost and gained by changing ordinary writing into the natural writing Snyder was talking about. Doing so gave me the idea of “Green House Language”. Snyder has defined wild language as alluding “to a process of self-organization that generates systems and organisms”; it is a kind of language that “does not impose order on a chaotic universe, but reflects its own wildness back” (Snyder, 174). I based my concept “Green House Language” on this idea. In addition to obeying most of the order of cognition process proposed by Snyder, I have used parallelism format like “More people, more laughters, more trees” (Zou, “Chaotic”) to put words in the order of increasing emotional attachment. This form of writing, so far, has been the best one for me to express my thinking and emotional process in my poem. I explicitly say“the best for me” to emphasize that I was being subjective.


Although I used to feel that serious writing is all about being objective, I have now learnt that this is not entirely the truth. Subjective opinions do play an important role in writing, especially writing nature, as every single person thinks in a unique dimension. These opinions contribute to people’s learning and thinking process, and are the foundations of new ideas generated in the future. In general, if everyone could give up fighting about which nature view is “right” and realize the important role diversity plays in the idea generating process while reading or creating literature works about nature, more beautiful, playful natural language that enriches our soul will be created.




Works Cited

Berry, Thomas. “Introduction”, The Dream of the Earth. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1988. P.#s


Cook, Barbara J. “Teaching the Trees: How to Be a Female Nature Writer”, Women Writing Nature: A Feminist View. Lanham, MD. Lexington Books, 2008. P.#s


Snyder, Gary. “Language Goes Two Ways”, A Place in Space: Ethics, Aesthetics, and Watersheds. New and Selected Prose. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1995. P.#s


Dalke, Anne. “Ecological Imaginings ESEM.” Serendip Studio. 10 May. 2012.

<Serendip: /exchange/courses/esem/f12>


Vandenberg, Elizabeth. “Adventures with Little Meaning: A Look Back at My Relationship with Nature”. Ecological Imaginings, Emily Balch Seminar, Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA. November 27. 2012.


Zou, Wanhong. “Chaotic.” Serendip Studio. 28 Oct. 2012. </exchange/chaotic>.



Lee C's picture

Ride on!

Surfing through a google search of "nature writing opinions" I came across your piece here, and was encouraged by the insight I perceived. To me, if one really cares about a subject and believes that a broader audience should be aware, then as much diversity as possible in presenting it should be welcomed. Such is akin to the web of life where extensive diversity of life forms is necessary in continuing the renewal of physical life cycle. In contrast, presumably as a means of getting our heads around all the different aspects of life, the academic mindset can seem to be overly occupied with pigeonholing all manner of information, which beyond broader categorizations can get to the point of distracting from the matter at hand.

As a case in point, in my declining years, I'm attempting to write a book with a natural world workings thread through a storyline, in the hope of reaching a broader audience. A two chapter preview of my work-in-progress book effort is at:

Keep your eye on what you're trying to accomplish, and you might just make a difference.

Lee C

Shengjia-Ashley's picture

I am a little offended

Wanhong, I finally decided to say that I am a little offended by your essay.

If you are going to use my remark of your paper in your essay, I suggest that my words need to be cited. You didn’t even write about which particular essay you felt that I was limited by the “given questions” (you mean the prompt of the essay?). The wording you used misleads some people to think that you have read all my essays and perhaps all of them are limited to the prompt while in fact you only read two. I do not remember ever suggesting you take more effort in answering the “given questions”. When we met for peer editing of your essay The Power of Nature I remarked you do not need to pour several historical facts to prove one sub point of your essay which I think is redundant.

I also think you should not use my full name in your essay since Serendip is supposed to be anonymous.

I have to ask you to use my Serendip user name, cite my words, and correct your wording. You should do the same for Cahier as well.

Barbara's picture

I like how you have built a

I like how you have built a conversation with the writers we have read. In paragraphs two, the words you underlined are very eyecatching and acutally reflect a typical instructive tone of certain authors. In my view, their writing is more like a discussion of how to write than acutual nature writing. This is the academic part in our course and they are indeed provocative. Writing as a medium can sometimes become barrier of sharing thoughts as well. Writing is a brain work where we think about prose as much as about the content itself. In contrast, your natural writing piece “Chaotic” escaped the trap of the logic that we usually emphasize in written/formal languages. It is natural because it is spontaneous. I bet that in writing “naturally”, you made less changes than in formal writings. We have been taught to write logically and explicitly. This does not go with "Chaotic", however, as a reader, I still understand and have pleasure in reading it. Maybe this is because of the common background knowledge that we share so that I am able to construct what you want to express without seeing all the logics behind. Besides, I think that personal sensibility is a big part in approaching to nature. Therefore, I agree with you that subjective writing should not be criticized in natural writing. Knowing and being subjective is different from ignorant of the fact of being subjective and imposing individual ideas to others.