Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

May 1997


Published in Great Plains Research 7:1 (Spring 1997). Copyright © 1997 The Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Used by permission.


The essays gathered here respond to a series of conferences collectively titled "Reinventing Nature," planned by the University of California at Irvine and held at various UC campuses in 1992 and 1993. More generally (and more importantly), they respond to a watershed in contemporary thinking vis-a-vis "the environment," "nature," and "wilderness." On one side of the divide stand traditionalists who believe in the substantial reality of nature, and on the other postmodernists who are greatly impressed with the degree to which nature is a cultural construction. The authors of Reinventing Nature? are spiritedly critical of the postmodern, deconstructionist view. The argument here shares some ground with the old problem of epistemological realism versus epistemological idealism (does the falling tree, deep in the trackless forest and unheard by human ears, make a sound?). But now, when we see nature profoundly affected by the industrial growth society to the extent that the very temperature and composition of the atmosphere are being unusually rapidly changed, and the community of life on the planet is undergoing a drastic extinction episode-what was once a nice little philosophical debate has taken on consequence. For example, would-be developers of wilderness areas are only too happy to hear, from respected academic sources, that such-and-such a place is not really pristine, and furthermore that pristineness itself is merely a construction, one of the many mistaken ideas flowing from a philosophically dualistic culture.