Georgic Marvel: Agriculture and Affect
Keywords:georgic, affect, marvel, sublime, agriculture
How do humans respond, emotionally and psychologically, to georgic spaces and places? What do we think and feel when we encounter “working landscapes”—those rural places (primarily farms, but also mines and working forests) where labor produces goods that meet our material and metabolic needs? Despite increasing attention to the georgic literary tradition, these questions remain unsettled. In fact, much of the growing body of georgic scholarship disagrees about the kinds of responses generated by georgic landscapes. One task that remains, then, is to map the current scholarly terrain and synthesize, if possible, a theory of georgic affect. A related, equally important task is to ground such a theory as much as possible in the realities of soil and sun and water. Without attention to such fundamentals, the georgic mode will likely remain solely the property of academics or, equally unfortunate, become as steeped in myth and therefore as untethered from the material world as the pastoral mode. Thus, in “Georgic Marvel” I derive from scholarship and experience a nuanced but intelligible concept describing the human response to georgic places. In short, my intention is to begin to do for working landscapes what the concept of the sublime has done for wilderness. I argue that the experience of georgic places generates marvel and humility. At least two different kinds of catalysts initiate this reaction: encounters with either an epic past or with some kind of biotic mystery trigger marvel—a kind of negative hubris that tears down anthropocentrism by reminding us of the past and of other actors and agents. In its challenge to our self-centeredness, georgic marvel approximates the sublime, but relates to a different land use category and represents a distinct response. Whereas terror is integral to the experience of the sublime, georgic marvel creates intrigue and curiosity rather than fear. Marvel leads us deeper. The article concludes with an exploration of the ways in which a theory of georgic affect rooted in marvel would productively reorient our understanding of the human place in the world.
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