Elegy, Pastoral, and Sounds in and Out of Thoreau
This chapter chronicles the hazards and resilience of the planet through two other genres, elegy and pastoral, each bearing witness to prospects of non-survival faced by humans and nonhumans: by frogs and toads, wolves, loons, and Native Americans. Taking these genres through an emerging field, sound studies, the chapter traces a history of near-extinction as a sonic history, running from the works of Thoreau to Maya Lin’s “What is Missing,” a sound installation and “last memorial” to all endangered and vanished species. This history, though dire, is not without a counterpoint. In the climate activism of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the Dakota Access Pipeline and Keystone XL Pipeline, coupled with the resurgence of indigenous languages and the eloquence of recently elected Native legislators, we hear an audible alternative to the silence of extinction. A call to action rather than an act of mourning, these newly arisen sounds are those of a crisis-honed "new pastoral," reaching beyond elegy to propose an experimental genre for the twenty-first century. Dedicated to life while mindful of death, this is a "green print" improvised out of devastation, responsive to both past and future, and honoring ancestors and descendants both.
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