The New Earth Reader: The Best of Terra Novaby David Rothenberg
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This is a collection of the best essays, stories, and interviews from Terra Nova, the cutting-edge literary journal. It explores the complex and multifarious ways humanity is loose in the natural world. Find out who really wrote the famous Chief Seattle speech. Read why Jaron Lanier wants to turn us all into giant squid so we can talk to one another without language. Rick Bass travels to the country with the most grizzly bears per square mile: Romania. Gary Nabhan dreams of raven stew. Val Plumwood is half-swallowed by a crocodile and lives to tell the tale and affirm her vegetarianism. Charles Bowden enters Tuna Country in Mexico and struggles to find his way back across the border. Ray Isle fights with a wild turkey; see who wins. And find out why filmmaker Errol Morris thinks that human dreamers are the most endangered species around.
The Utne Reader
- MIT Press
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- 7.31(w) x 9.54(h) x 0.86(d)
Read an Excerpt
The Terra Nova Dream
I dreamt I was naked on the ice. It was cold, and the snow was burning against me. I didn't know where I was. Pages were flying all around. Pages marked up with red. The proofs. I was correcting the proofs of Terra Nova, volume 1, number 1.
"You can't call your magazine Terra Nova," said a cool, deep voice. It was Robert Falcon Scott. We were lost in the Antarctic. "That's the name of my ship. Get up, get some clothes on. We've got to keep moving. We've just left the South Pole and we're heading home."
"Wait a second," I thought. I knew we weren't going to make it. We were destined to freeze to death out here. This expedition was the famous example of bad judgment that had resulted in failure. We had reached the Pole, but no one would survive.
I did as I was told, pulling on some warm sealskins. But I was there for a reason: to protest. "I want the name," I said. "Eighty-five years from now I will start a magazine. It will be called Terra Nova."
"Can't do that," said the Captain. "If this expedition makes it, the name will refer to the glory of our mission, our boat, forever. If we don't ..." [he was beginning to see the future] "then it will be a term of disgrace, insidious failure."
"But the new world, the new land, the new earth? How can the hope inside those words ever be lost? The future will need hope even more than the past." I tried to make a case.
"So you know about the future?" He took some more interest, shaking thesnow off his parka. "What will the Earth look like then? What will Antarctica become?"
Wars will come, more terrible than any imaginable. More cruelty, more extremes of destruction. The destruction of the Earth will be called an "environmental crisis," and we will all be held accountable. Antarctica will still seem largely untouched, but greedy countries will carve it up, penguins will be burnt as fuel, trash will be strewn about the Pole. It will be the last wilderness, as the world wears itself out ... I told him what I thought was enough.
"And you want to start a magazine in the midst of all this? What use are words at the end of the world?"
This was the question.
The ice went black. It was time to get up, but I stayed in the dream so I could claw out an answer to him:
I don't have the answer, but won't abandon the questions.
Time is running out, but we don't know how to stop it.
There are too many views on each problem
Subtlety will not be dissolved into polemics.
We must not despair, we must evoke, and celebrate.
Celebrate the poetry in the mundane.
Recognize the nature in all things,
not just the wilderness, not just the green,
but also the soot, the gray, the black of smoke and the yellow of poison.
Human nature: a connection to matter that makes human life possible
progressing, transforming, rebuilding the world,
yet never forgetting the rhythms and desires we have been given. No one
is completely free nor completely determined.
That's just the way it is.
"So what does your magazine have to do with nature?" he asked, picking the ice out of his eyebrows.
"Everything, and nothing," I said. "The whole distinction is a human idea. Like Snyder says: `No nature.' Saying no, and at the same time wanting to know. `We do not easily know nature, or even know ourselves ...' The greatest respect we can pay to nature is not to trap it, but to acknowledge that it eludes us ..."
"All right, but you're eluding me. Now let's get up. We have to march north."
And I followed the leader's order. I buttoned up my snowsuit, preparing to walk into history and face what could only be a certain death.
Terra Nova. It's that New World, the place of hope and possibility on the other side of the ocean, the indistinct future waiting for human transformation. It's Scott's ship on the ill-fated Antarctic expedition. It's a name no one can own. It comes from an ancient language, yet it speaks plainly of the unknown future. What is new? what is old? How can one be sure of these things?
Everything that connects humanity to the world around us brings the mind closer to nature. We begin as part of nature, but as we continue, we see and describe it as separate from us, finding new ways to both fit in and run away from where and what we are. We are neither necessary to the Earth as witnesses, nor are we a blight that will destroy the planet. But we are here nonetheless, and we look to nature for example, instruction, salvation, and for food and fuel.
We have had to narrow the idea of nature in order to turn it into something fragile that we need to protect. But nature is also powerful, greater than our knowledge or use of it can ever be, formidably beyond our possible conceptions of it. There is more to the world than any of us can ever know. And that belief is necessary for knowledge to grow and push forward, and for evolution to continue.
Environmentalism has always been a curious mix of the old and the new. A romantic notion of past and distant cultures as being closer to the Earth juxtaposed with visions of an enlightened tomorrow when the whole world will share values of respect for our habitat and join together to make sure we will not run it down.
Who can love a word like "environment," so technical and far from the real immediacy of our surrounding home? "Nature" is hardly better, with its all-encompassing ambiguity. There are choices that seem more tangible: ocean, air, life, sky, green, blue, cloud, wind, ground. Yet the intricacies are still one step removed from the sudden call. Environmentalism, ecology, conservationthese words have become politicized. But the affinity for nature is not a single point on the left-right political scale; it is a deeper cultural tendency that will not go away.
My intention when I started Terra Nova was not to go after the sensational, the factual, or even particularly the relevant immediacies of possible impending environmental doom or revelation. I believe in a more subtle approach. It is my feeling that the connections between humanity and nature are far more diverse, mysterious, and confusing than most ecological writing has been willing to admit. I don't believe in easy answers. Nor do I believe in the truisms of nature writing, in which polemicists travel all over the world and urge everyone else to stay home.
Enough admonishment. There is ambiguity, magic, struggle, effort, and confusion in making peace with the more-than-human world. Nature is the strongest challenge we have. It is never easy to face it as it is: indifferent, resilient, impervious to word or image. I want to see new ways of celebrating and criticizing nature, ones that have not been given voice before. I want readers to be surprised and challenged, to be thrown together from different camps and asked to reckon with conflicting sides and irreconciliable views. No environmental problem is simple, no encounter between the wild and the tame can be seen in just one way.
Old stories will become new when told in new ways. New stories will work if we remember them forever. Neither optimism nor pessimism is appropriate. What is called for is an honest attempt to push toward the truth, recognizing how hard it is to be honest in the placing of words upon experience. The fact of nature is at the heart of what it means to be human. Nature abhors its own absence. It will always be there. There are few human creations in which nature doesn't have a place. Technology, medicine, design, mathematics, psychology, and religioneach one of these challenges us human beings to take stock of its context, what surrounds it. What is us, and what is not? It is hard to be sure.
In describing this venture, I have made much of my desire to cross borders with the work published here. The blending of different genressay, environmental thought and literaturebrushes against so many standards of credibility Each side expects something else, and the walk between them is a fine lineto ensure that the work will be appreciated and not be allowed to fall between the cracks.
There is also the border between academia and the rest of the world, perhaps imagined, and sometimes widened by those standing on opposite sides. It is certainly true that the academy has always encouraged among its members a kind of hermetic style of writing, which only those within its borders are meant to understand. Strong intellectual work should be made comprehensible to the nonspecialist. Some pieces of writing may at first be difficult and take some effort to read, but they should be worth the effort. It has certainly been my objective to toss different kinds of writing together, to show that there are many ways of expressing awareness of the mystery that lies in the confluence of the civil and the wild.
I am not in favor of popularizing stories, nor of sensationalizing stories to make them more appealing. The world is interesting enough as it is, if we know how to pay attention. This journal has brought together different kinds of work: fiction, analysis, poetry, reportage, essays, and art on all aspects of the human-natural continuum.
We can't escape environmental problems except by solving them. And after each small step forward there is still more to discover. We can celebrate the unknown if we admit it is there.
Of course, you don't have to agree with any of this to fit in. You're already here.
Welcome to the best of Terra Nova.
David Rothenberg, editor
What People are saying about this
Mitchell Thomashow, author of Ecological Identity, Director of the Antioch New England Doctoral Program in Environmental Studies.
Meet the Author
David Rothenberg is Professor of Philosophy at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and founder of the Terra Nova book series. His most recent books are Always the Mountains and Sudden Music: Improvisation, Art and Nature.
Marta Ulvaeus is former Associate Director of Terra Nova projects at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
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