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Thursday, 21 February 2013

Strange Pastoral


Polluted Landscape. 'Due to the vast exploitation of coal mines, meadows in Holingol City, Inner Mongolia, China, are left degraded and no cattle or sheep exist there. In order to maintain the image of the city, the local government sculptured more than 120 sheep, as well as cattle, horses and camels in the Horqin grassland': photo by Lu Guang, 2012 via, via The Guardian, 21 February 2013

The feeling that life is essentially inadequate to the human spirit, and yet that a good life must avoid saying so, is naturally at home with most versions of pastoral; in pastoral you take a limited life and pretend it is the full and normal one, and a suggestion that one must do this with all life, because the normal is itself limited, is easily put into the trick though not necessary to its power. Conversely any expression of the idea that all life is limited may be regarded as only a trick of pastoral, perhaps chiefly intended to hold all our attention and sympathy for some limited life, though again this is not necessary to it either on grounds of truth or beauty; in fact the suggestion of pastoral may be only a protection for the idea which must at last be taken alone.

William Empson: from Some Versions of the Pastoral, 1935

File:Ren on Disco-tour.jpg
Reindeer on Disco-Tour, northern Sweden: photo by Jürgen Howaldt, 2004

Survivors.'This century-old building in the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh does not harbour ghosts of the past -– it shelters living and hopeful souls, braving life in the present. It is home to 80 families of sweepers -- one of the most neglected and downtrodden communities, despite rendering an important service making it deserved to be noticed and respected':
photo by GMB Akash, 2011 via The Guardian, 21 February 2013

Model Housing. 'Designer housing lies almost empty unsold after the housing boom ends in Spain; just some of the estimated 1.2m empty properties that Spain has on offer. This estate near the coast is eerily quiet with only a few properties occupied; concept living that has made it to construction but with no one to move in. We seem to have an innate need to order and compartmentalise our lives, often more obvious from the air': photo by Steve Brockett, 2012 via The Guardian, 21 February 2013




"in pastoral you take a limited life and pretend it is the full and normal one" -- sheep grazing in Holingol City, Reindeer on Disco Tour, building on outskirts of Dhaka, model housing boom in Spain.


light coming into sky above black plane
of ridge, jet passing above pine branch
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

from which it, what then is
that in which with it

does not exist, in relation
to itself, “isolated”

silver circle of sun rising above ridge,
cloudless blue sky to the left of point

Hazen said...

The idea of the pastoral goes back to the beginning of this whole “spreading catastrophe”, to the sodbusters versus the herders, to Cain v. Abel, with hunter-gatherers relegated to the fringes of a rapidly metastasizing civilization that could only laugh at these nomadic foragers for their (mis) perceived poverty and lack of sophistication.

For foraging societies, life must have seemed more than adequate to the human spirit; perhaps they didn’t even draw such distinctions, but rather, saw life and spirit as a cooperative arrangement. How else could they not only survive but flourish for hundreds of thousands of years, before some as-yet-undetermined cataclysm unnerved the planet and moved some of them to commit "civilization" in the form of, first, agriculture, and then urbanism? Ten thousand years downhill. Who’s laughing now?

TC said...

That encapsulates the history quite nicely, in forensic terms.

" commit 'civilization'" -- a mere misdemeanour on the cosmic scale, no doubt.

That's about the only scale on which it would be possible to get the joke.

Talking of strange pastoral, those fake sheep really do chill the blood in one's ancient veins.

When the fake sheep grow old and rusty, do you suppose they will simply be dumped in the river, adding that extra soupçon of toxicity?

Checking out the Chinese idea of industrial progress, I see visions of many poisoned rivers to cross.

Have you heard the one (today) about the Chinese regional environmental officer who turned down a cold 50K in cash when he refused to take up a local merchant on a dare to have a short dip in the river?

"A senior environment official of a town in eastern China said his bureau was 'not responsible' for a polluted river after he was challenged to swim in the water for 200,000 yuan.

"Bao Zhenming, the environmental protection bureau chief of Ruian, in coastal Zhejiang province, was offered the reward (HK$246,000) by an entrepreneur who wanted to bring attention to waste-dumping in the river.

"'We are not responsible [for the pollution],' Bao told the Web site of the official broadcaster China National Radio, on Monday.

"'The responsibility does not lie with us, but we will pay attention to it,' Bao said.

"Passing on the responsibility, he added he had alerted the water conservancy bureau about the river pollution.

"On Saturday, the Hangzhou entrepreneur, Jin Zengmin wrote on Sina Weibo: 'If the environmental protection bureau chief dares to swim in [Ruian's] river for 20 minutes, I will pay [him] 200,000 yuan.'

"He also uploaded several photos of the river, which looked entirely blocked by floating rubbish. Jin accused rubber overshoe factories along the river for [sic] dumping industrial waste into the river, and he complained about the environmental bureau’s inaction."

I especially enjoyed the bit about "we will pay attention to it". Now there's a relief.

The environmental chief declined the offer, by the way.

Scenic views of the polluted river await your innocent eyeballs here.

(Make sure to be holding your virtual nose.)

TC said...

Stop the presses: This just in. It's turning into an epidemic.

New offer made to another official to swim in polluted river.

And the hourly update:

"Two days after a Zhejiang entrepreneur offered a 200,000 yuan reward to an environmental official if he could swim in a polluted river, a similar offer was made in the same province, a local newspaper reported.

"This time the reward was 300,000 yuan (HK$370,000), and it was offered to another official if he swam in a polluted river for 30 minutes, 10 minutes longer than the first offer.

“'All waterways in Longgang town are filled with stinky, polluted water, critically threatening people’s health ... Based on this, I offer a reward of 300,000 yuan to Cangnan environmental protection bureau chief Su Zhongjie if he can swim for 30 minutes in the polluted river,' said the announcement, made on Monday on Longgang's internet forum.

"The post, made by a 'Wenzhou netizen', quickly drew attention after another user reposted it the next day on microblogging website Sina Weibo.

"The post included a photo of a small river filled with yellow and green foam.

"Weibo user Lin Kaixiao commented under the post that the polluted river flows through the town centre, and the dark water smells horribly.

"A resident who lives near the river said the waterway has been polluted for years.

“'Those nearby have to live with the unbearable smell. We do not dare to open our windows in the summer,' said the resident who was identified only as Chen."

There has lately been some reporting, even (!) in the Chinese press, of a burgeoning cluster of "cancer villages". Mere coincidence, no doubt. Nothing to do with the massive pollution surely.

Wooden Boy said...

The negotiated fantasy that Empson describes with such delicacy and care gives way to those chilling fake sheep.

I guess we all know the dream was over a long time ago.

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...


Yes, as far as the welfare of good old Mother Earth is concerned, I'm afraid the "nays" carried the day.

TC said...

I keep thinking about those Inner Mongolian fake sheep. Although perhaps "thinking" is the wrong term. What would be the word for what the mind does when formulating the images of nightmares?

Exactly whom are the fake sheep meant to fool?

That's an extremely remote location, for one thing.

China National Highway 304 (G304) runs northwest from Dandong, Liaoning towards Holingol. It is 889 kilometres in length. Holingol is the end of the line. It is not a tourist destination.

Furthermore, there is the creeping fear -- irrational no doubt -- that the fake sheep might actually be real sheep, done up for the occasion in aluminum paint.

But then again... what occasion??

It's a long, long way to the nearest KFC.

Do they fry aluminum-painted sheep in deep fat in the Colonel's Forbidden City??