By John Agnew, Jonathan M. Smith
First released in 2002. Routledge is an imprint of Taylor & Francis, an informa corporation.
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Finally, in heroic nature it was nature that saved humans from the corruption of artifice, whereas in abused nature it is human artifice, in the form of science and technology, that saves nature from corruption. In the United States at the end of the twentieth century, iconic places of abused nature began to invert the original poetics of heroic nature in this way. This is evident in the genesis and development of one particular icon of abused nature, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio. As I’m sure nearly every student who took environmental studies courses in the 1970s was told, the Cuyahoga was the river that burned.
It was not lawn, nor pasture, nor mead, nor woodland, nor lea, nor arable, nor wasteland. It was the fresh and natural surface of the planet Earth . . ” (Thoreau 1906: 71, 78). These lines express as well as any the persistent American prejudice that true places of nature are places apart, anti-landscapes that should be pristine, unspoiled, and free of human artifacts. A place of nature in America was properly spectacular and pristine, because these qualities convey the wild element in the poetic form of heroic nature.
The quality of the earth’s surface as human habitation is highly uneven, and although all human groups have shown remarkable ingenuit y in making the most of their allotment, this fundamental environmental inequalit y has contributed to even grosser inequalities of productivit y and wealth between human societies. “All human societies contain inventive people,” physiologist Jared Diamond writes, “it’s just that some environments provide more starting material, and more favorable conditions for utilizing inventions, than do other environments” (Diamond 1997: 408).