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Long and Wandering Forest': Sidney Clouts, Geophilosophy and Trees

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Rilke here establishes in poetic form the central metaphysical problem that is the concern of this essay: how we come to know, and come to know our place in relation to, the apparently real and independent objects of the natural world. It's a perennial and perhaps ultimately insoluble issue, of course, and I will do no more here than gesture towards the phenomenological tenor of Rilke's verse; relate this to similar poems about trees and forests in South African poet Sidney Clouts's oeuvre; and use this as a starting-point for some thoughts about the philosophical basis for ecologically-orientated criticism in South Africa. Clouts-as difficult and elusive as Rilke himself-remains unforgivably neglected; and 'ecocriticism' in South Africa remains seriously under-theorised. By way of helping address both these shortcomings, I here examine selected poems by Clouts through a phenomenological lens, drawing especially on the work of Gilles Deleuze, but also touching on that of Spinoza, Merleau-Ponty, Gaston Bachelard and Freya Mathews. These thinkers are by no means always in agreement, and I am far from competent to unpack their complex interrelations; but I sense sufficient congruence between them to make possible a broadly phenomenological approach to explicating the role of poetry within ecologically-orientated critical practice.
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Keywords: Ecologically-orientated criticism; Phenomenological approach; Poems about trees and forests; Rilke; South Africa

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2007

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