Elmer's English 304 Magazine
by Elmer G. Wiens
In "(Post) Colonialism and the Production of Nature," Derek Gregory claims that colonial nations justify exploiting a colony's people and resources through discourses — ways of thinking, talking, writing, and imaging. Through these discourses, the colonial society produces the colonized territory's nature as artefacts that enframe nature as pictures (92). 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.
Gregory maintains that modern colonial and imperial practices enframe nature in a dualism linking "reality" and its "representation" (93). On the one hand, "reality" exists independently of human reason. On the other hand, "representation" draws "reality" into the presence of human perception (92). Representation can produce nature as a constructed space, visible as a framed mental picture, through three steps. Nature is "held at a distance, set up as an object, and structured as a totality" (93). Once representations enframe nature, global financiers can manipulate the political process to obtain systems of property rights, leases, and regulations that empower the rational transformation of nature into commodities (96). To consolidate power, this process removes indigenous cultures from nature's representation (96-7), submitting nature to the dominant culture of the colonizer.
M. Allerdale Grainger's Woodsmen of the West provides a test for Gregory's theoretical discussion. Writing for readers in England at the beginning of the twentieth century, Grainger represents the nature of British Columbia's Pacific Coast as a rugged space of straits, inlets and mountains, lashed by unruly storms, with shores dotted by motley crews of loggers. He begins his novel on Vancouver's Cordova Street, hundreds of miles south of Carter's logging camp on Knight Inlet, and many times removed from polite society. Representing the culture of the loggers, Grainger contrasts the purposeless activities of the men on their trip to town with their "boyish craving for efficient" physical performance logging in the woods (31). Although operators like Carter understand "the practical side of logging," their business skills are those "of a child" (76). Moreover, their logging routines consist of sliding timber down mountainsides into the ocean, and assembling the logs into booms for towing to sawmills to the South. While denuding the shorelines of timber, they leave tangled wreckage on shattered sea fronts (77).
Grainger explains that the government issues timber claims "anywhere on unoccupied Crown lands" to persons composing a rough description of one square mile of forest from a positioned corner post, "subject to the payment of one hundred and forty dollars a year" (44). With these transactions, the government objectifies B.C.'s forests, potentially turning each square mile of Crown land into a commodity, available for exploitation and speculation. These undifferentiated, economically inefficient timber claims neither regulate the loggers' activities nor obtain rent commensurate with the value of accessible timber. Assuming all Crown lands are unoccupied, the government ignores the claims of aboriginals to lands they never ceded to the Crown. With his novel, Grainger exposes an ineffectual government and a forest industry on the verge of anarchy in need of benevolent colonial intervention and enlightened business practices.
Grainger, M. Allerdale. Woodsmen of the West. 1908. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1996.
Gregory, Derek. "(Post) Colonialism and the Production of Nature." Social Nature: Theory, Practice, and Politics. Eds. Noel Castree and Bruce Braun. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001. 84-110.