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Title: Views in the South Seas : writing Pacific nature, culture and landscape, 1700-1775
Author: Johnson, Sarah Agnes
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2005
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The ‘Views’ of my title signify not only picturesque landscapes, but perspectives and ideas, the viewing of positions in which their culture placed European explorers from Dampier to Cook, and the ‘views’ of exotic nature that their accounts disseminated to readers eager to know the Pacific. The thesis investigates the construction of knowledge, ‘mobilising’ the exotic visual in words. Writers’ creation of landscape by imaginatively applying culture to nature is positioned against a broader backdrop of the shifting and negotiable interactions of nature and culture revealed in their texts. Descriptive discourses discussed include Eden and ideal place tropes; the ‘English georgic’; the new languages of geology and botany; and connoisseurial aesthetics from the realm of landscape gardening. Description of the unknown is always comparative, but this acquires special resonance in an age that expected to draw the whole of nature into one system of knowledge. The chapters on cultivation, taxonomy and connoisseurship show this mindset at work in spheres whose collocation is not coincidental, given the Enlightened gentleman’s triple warrant to be man of science, connoisseur and husbandman. Though my ‘thematic’ treatment may appear synchronic, I wish to emphasis progressive ‘becoming known’. The last two chapters foreground a murky uncertainty in the minds of European voyagers that has been detachable throughout – whether in the discovery of ‘Edenic’ Tahitian infanticide, the jungle’s alarming fecundity or the delusion s inspired by scurvy. Chapter five focuses narrowly on the Easter island statues as objects-in-landscape, exposing an ‘aesthetic crisis’ provoked by indigenous claims on the realm of taste; and chapter six explores the surprising absence of fashionable sublime discourse from Pacific travel-writing, suggesting that its aetheticisation of terror is incompatible with explorers’ very real vulnerability. Cook’s death in Hawaii represented an eruption of all that was dark and uncertain about Pacific exploratory enterprises, but the earlier narratives, which concern me more, show anxiety existing in carefully contained tension with optimism. Explorers and chroniclers must work at ‘preserving themselves in the South Seas’; and this self-preservation extends to the web of cultural associations into which they attempted to draw the strange. The final chapter thus provides a different slant on the project of the whole thesis which is to explore these associations, in terms of their successes and failures as appropriative strategies; and the tentativeness often betrayed between the lines of ostensibly confident reports of a world that, becoming more known, seemed increasingly unknowable.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available