|Chapter 1:||Historical Erasure and Recovery in Gretel Ehrlich’s“The Solace of Open Spaces” and Janet Campbell Hale’S “Bloodlines”: “Odyssey of a Native Daughter”|
Ehrlich’s regeneration of a self “with no alibis” (ix) is enabled by encounters with a landscape crucially imagined as limitless and sexualized, a process that complicates critical readings of Ehrlich’s humility in the face of a powerful natural environment. Gretchen Legler claims that Ehrlich produces “a postmodern pastoral” that eroticizes the landscape in order to criticize the unmediated, individualistic representations that characterize much canonical nature writing. Legler contends that Ehrlich seeks to “embrace nature itself as a speaking subject” and thereby give agency to a formerly passive landscape (“Toward a Postmodern Pastoral” 54). For Legler, Ehrlich’s sexualized metaphors “embrace the erotic” (54) in order to foster more harmonious perceptions of the natural world. Although Ehrlich’s writing is indeed permeated with eroticized depictions of landscape, this language is instead part of the text’s colonizing project because it represents a (seemingly benign) form of consuming and possessing the land.3
At the same time that erotic representations of the land personify the dynamic and active qualities of the natural world, they are also embedded in colonial processes. That is, one might question whether Ehrlich’s declaration—that “I want to lie down in the muddy furrows, under the frictional sawing of stalks, under corncobs which look like erections, and out of whose loose husks sprays of bronze silk dangle down” (130)—in fact emphasizes the land’s agency. Rather, this passage seems to project onto the landscape anthropomorphic notions of sexuality and evoke colonial images of the land offering itself for possession. A similar question can be asked of Ehrlich’s claim that “nature expresses itself as a bright fuse, irrepressible and orgasmic” (74). Mary Louise Pratt’s notion of the “imperial eye” of colonialist travel writers is instructive here. Pratt demonstrates how colonialist discourse assumes that “the country ‘opens up’” as the “eye ‘commands’ what falls within its gaze” (Imperial Eyes 60). The political and rhetorical implications of these descriptions are to convey that Ehrlich “belongs” to the land (and that the land belongs to her).
Just as these landscape descriptions assume an unmediated understanding of the (eroticized and open) qualities of the land, the essential qualities of the westerners who inhabit this landscape are neatly and resolutely summed up in homogenized portraits: