Bruce Braun, The Intemperate Rainforest

I've been meaning to read this book since I first saw its title, and I'm pleased to report that Bruce Braun's The Intemperate Rainforest: Nature, Culture, and Power on Canada's West Coast is a seriously thoughtful book. Mind you, some of its key insights don't seem all that shattering to me. He expresses himself clearly, and he pulls ideas together in useful ways, but I'm having a hard time figuring how unique the book's approach really is.

My main quibble - just to get it out of the way - is that he comes across as new to some of the theoretical sources he deals with. Why Spivak, I wonder, for example? There are all kinds of deconstructionist folk, and I don't see why Spivak is the most useful to Braun's argument; she's well known, and her work addresses the related topic of postcolonialism, but otherwise I don't see a reason why her in particular. The clearest example is that he keeps talking about "Romantic ecology" and never mentions Jonathan Bate or his 1991 book entitled Romantic Ecology; as well, his main environmental history references are several years old, and by 2002 good stuff had been done since the admittedly exceptional collection edited by William Cronon entitled Uncommon Ground, which of course includes Cronon's own influential "The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature."

Otherwise, yeah, this book is well worth reading, and I'll be including sections in coursepacks for my BC literature courses.

A thoughtful person alert to the nuances of the variously posited environmental debate in BC would already be well aware of the perspectival poverty of describing it in binaristic terms, and one of Braun's key points is that we need to quit being binaristic about this sort of thing, because there aren't just loggers and environmentalists, and their opinions aren't entirely opposed. (To which I can only say, I'm not especially binaristic. Are you? I don't know that many people who're as crudely binaristic as Braun's imagined communities....) But his route to this concept is a very good walk indeed, and I'll be walking parts of the path a few more times before I try to guide anyone along it.


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