Yarl’s Wood and Pastoral

I’m trying write about pastoral.  I have these essays about the environment and nostalgia and pastoral’s forgotten satirical critique, and instead of writing them I am scrolling down my Twitter feed.  It’s International Women’s Day, 8th March, 2018.

It dawns on me that – rather than deal with something knotty and human and relational – I am escaping into environment.  Even when I bewail the whales’ extinction, even when it is terribly painful to realise that in my everyday behaviours I’m implicated in their extinction, my privileged subjecthood* of wailing is unassailed.

Why is it more comfortable though terribly painful to think about the plastic in the ocean than it is to address myself to the hunger-striking women, indefinitely detained at Yarl’s Wood?  Why is it even easier to think – though in a panic and terror that tightens these asthmatic lungs – about London’s rising pollution levels, the tang of burn and chemical that makes my nostrils tingle – see how I aesthetically enjoy defining it? – than it is to think about the women protesting and imprisoned in Yarl’s Wood?

Huh.  The aesthetic pleasure of repeated questions as a structure.  ANSWER.

It is easier because when I think about environment I feel pure and comfortable.  I feel comfortable being implicated in my privilege, even, in a way that I don’t feel comfortable being implicated when I think about the hunger striking women imprisoned in Yarl’s Wood.

And this reveals the collapse lament-fantasy that my thinking about environment truly is.  Even when contemplating the fatberg, or the rubbish barge spewing out its filth breath over cormorant and black-headed gull on the Thames, I’m subsiding in comfort into elegy and nostalgia, into the static pleasure pastoral can offer.

Meanwhile, women are still imprisoned and protesting and going hungry in Yarl’s Wood.


*white, ‘able’-bodied, in a heterosexual relationship, savings in the bank, middle class, ‘UK National’ …

* NB: edited in: privilege blanking itself out again: I am cisgender! Being a person who menstruates painfully and too much and then not for a bit and then very frequently and who has a fibroid and who is in chronic minor pain most of the time and having to do all this in a world where this aspect of my personhood is generally supposed to be hidden in order for me not to be abject and to still be a person is not a privileging experience and this is something else I’m writing and thinking about at the moment.  Being a person whose occupation of the category of woman is unchallenged because my body and the gender assigned to me have more or less not been at odds, yes, that’s a privilege. 

And am I now congratulating myself on how tender and sensitive and aware I am?  That’s aestheticising again, making comfortable, rendering inert.


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