John Haines and American Nature Writing: An Environmental Ethic of Quiet Attention

2020-07-30T12:39:43Z (GMT) by Sam T Dobberstein
The idea of “wilderness,” of nature itself, is being interrogated in history, philosophy, and English departments throughout the academy; books on our place in the natural world have prominent spaces on shelves in bookstores; newspapers feature editorials on climate change and nature preservation. More attention than ever is being paid to environmental philosophers and nature writers as the ongoing climate crisis slowly but steadily worsens. All the while, however, some important thinkers on these subjects of nature and wilderness are utterly forgotten. My thesis focuses on the work of one of these neglected thinkers, the poet and essayist John Haines (1924-2011). Haines’s name is not mentioned often, if ever, in discussions of prominent American nature writers, and I aim to demonstrate why that is an unfortunate exclusion. Guided by his decades as a subsistence hunter and fur-trapper in the Alaskan bush, John Haines offers a perspective on the world outside of us that deserves consideration. I compare and contrast his ideas with those of other nature writers and poets, as well as environmental philosophers and theorists, and argue that he offers a unique and transformative vision of our relationship to the natural world and the non-human animals that live all around us.