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.
*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.