Elmer's English 304 Magazine


English 470: Reading the Rainforests

The instructor for this course is Joel Martineau. The course focuses on British Columbia's rainforests as political spaces. Indiscriminate logging has decimated British Columibia's rainforests leaving huge clearcut logging scars on the Pacific Coast Mountains. The following essays use a constructivist methodology to examine how the social construction of nature influences the power struggles concerning the use and exploitation of British Columbia's forests.

1. The Political Economy of British Columbia's Rainforests

The British Columbia government leases forests, owned collectively by citizens, to privately owned companies who log the timber for profit. Under this arrangement of private entitlements and public property, forest companies harvest vast tracts of B.C.'s forests, providing a stream of wealth for the government, forestry workers, companies and shareholders. Recently, First Nations peoples challenged the rights of these entities to B.C.'s forest wealth by reasserting their claims to aboriginal lands ostensibly owned by the government in right of the Crown. Environmental activists and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as the David Suzuki Foundation and Greenpeace, contested the type of nature the for-profit market place produces. Meanwhile, some forest industry spokespersons and analysts promote the privatization of B.C.'s forests, claiming that private property provides the correct incentives to maintain forests over the long run.

2. Salvaging British Columbia's Rainforests

The environmental organization,Greenpeace, wants to preserve a significant share of the old growth forest within the Great Bear Rainforest, owned collectively by the citizens of British Columbia. The provincial government allocates logging rights through tenure agreements with private companies who obtain favourable policies and administrative measures through powerful lobbying associations, such as the Council of Forest Industries and the Coast Forest Products Association. To counter these vested interests, Greenpeace pitches its campaign at citizens who express their sympathy by voting in the fifty urban electoral districts of B.C.

3. The Political Construction of Nature

If cultural and historical discourses produce the common sense notions of nature and the material states of nature, the accepted wisdom and physical status quo is provisional and subject to political manipulation. Whose interest does the relevant political process support? Do humans have an ethical right to exploit nature at will? Ontologically, does physical nature exist as an "independent, moral" being? How is nature itself represented in the political construction of nature? Dominant groups can usurp political power and through education and the media control the process by which ideas become common sense. The resulting ideology maintains the groups' hegemony, permitting them to exploit the political process in favour of their agenda. However, when people realize they have the power to refute these contrived attitudes toward nature, they can oppose powerful, established groups who subjugate nature for private profit.

4. Framing Nature

By reducing nature to objects, a colonial society can compare and contrast its domestic nature with the socially constructed nature of subjugated regions, experience their differences, and configure the apparatus of power that rules the colonized people. Discourses establish the colonial society's systems of knowledge, and bind its power to its perception of reality. Power permits the colonizer to take political and economic advantage of the residents and resources of a colonized territory. Modern neo-colonial practices, where influence is cultural and economic, draw on similar discourse strategies to dominate nature.

5. The Ontological Construction of Nature

Taking nature as an a priori category forecloses an analysis of the roles that politics and power play in determining what a society understands nature to be. As people in a community speak of nature, "something called 'nature' comes into being as an object of knowledge." How does a community's discourse about 'nature' stabilize it as a specific concept? If people in a community speak of nature in a definite way, they will interact and produce physical nature in specific ways. Over the last two decades, forest companies, forest workers, the Ministry of Forests, First Nations peoples, and environmentalists fought over the future of British Columbia's rainforests. At issue are not only their competing stakes, but also what society includes and excludes from the meaning of the word 'rainforest.'

6. Muting the Rainforest Discourses

Political processes shape the knowledge society accepts about the rainforest. Knowledge processes construct society's understanding of the rainforest, and society's acceptance of political decisions that determine the rainforests' future. The struggle for British Columbia's rainforests took a dramatic turn on April 13, 1993 when the provincial government gave forest companies permission to clear-cut log the rainforests of Clayoquot Sound of Vancouver Island. During the next seven months, environmental protestors blocked Macmillan Bloedel's logging roads. When the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested these demonstrators, the media turned a local, provincial matter into an international incident, with potentially adverse political consequences for the New Democratic Party (NDP) government.

7. British Columbia's Sustainable Rainforests — A Survey of the Issues

Maintaining British Columbia's rainforests involves many issues and many parties with an interest in how these forests are used and preserved. Particpants in the rainforest discourses use many terms which may be unfamiliar. Collected here are definitions of such terms as sustained yield, allowable annual cut, mean annual increment, rotation age, normal forest, Hanzlik formula, stumpage fees, Forest Practices Code, eco-system management, British Columbia's Forest Act, sustainable employment, and sustainable rainforests. Participants with an interest in the rainforests include the First Nations, B.C. Government, the Ministry of Forests, logging companies, sawmills, pulp and paper mills, citizens of B.C, purchasers of forest products, local residents, environmentalists, tourists, and other industries dependent on B.C.'s forests.

8. Strategies of Difference and Opposition

Western civilization privileges masculine reasoning and meanings, and depreciates the experiences and feelings of women. The masculine languages of society perpetuate the male domination of women and nature. Hélène Cixous' feminist programme challenges these conventional languages by rejecting strategies that oppose masculine modes of discourse. Instead, Cixous undertakes strategies of diffemerànce — strategies that defer and differ from male methods. Using her approach, feminists can construct a programme for sexual difference, create their own history, and develop a different understanding of society's relation to nature.

Keywords: feminist, masculine, history, nature, rainforest, and strategies of writing

English 227: West Coast Mobility Fictions

The instructor for this course is Joel Martineau. The course focuses on three novels and seven short stories and articles that deal with Hispanic and Asian migration, and migration from former British Colonies to the west coast of North America. Each Monday we workshop essays we wrote in response to Joel's challenge regarding a concept related to one of the novels. Collected here are the papers I contributed.

1. Villaseñor, Victor. Macho!. New York: Dell, 1991.

2. Marlatt, Daphne. Ana Historic. 1988. Toronto: Anansi, 1997.

  • Ana, Annie and Daphne
  • Eroticism and Ecstasy
  • Negotiated Identities
    This research paper explores how feminist writers like Daphne Marlatt negotiate how language is used in determining gender identities. I argue that Wittgenstein's theory of language games reveals how feminist discourses can rid language of its male prerogatives embedded in the patriarchy. Feminist writers correctly perceive that the key to transfiguring language is not to refute accepted patriarchal theories, but to block and suspend their pretensions of providing truth and meaning.

3. Ng, Fae Myenne. Bone. New York: Harper, 1993.

  • Imagine Chinatown
    I use the postmodern concept of the rhizome to explicate the status of Chinatown as a Creole nation in Chinatown discourses.

4. Adderson, Caroline. "Gold Mountain." Bad Imaginings. Erin, ON: Porcupine's Quill P, 1993. 21-43.


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