“Look at These Faces, Sandstone and Woman:” Three Women’s Search for Identity in Landscape
Nature writing as a genre has traditionally been one of the most prominent ways in which nineteenth and twentieth century writers have explored identity and the individual’s place in the world. Among this vast category, there is a group of women who explore landscape as a means to understand the self. While this is a fairly common theme in the genre, their perspectives offer something new in terms of how this knowledge of self is accessed. In challenging traditional Western philosophy’s insistence on using subject-object relationships to define identity, Annie Dillard, Ellen Meloy, and Leslie Marmon Silko develop their own philosophies for exploring the relationship between landscape and the self Because both women and landscape have been marginalized and made the other by the subject-object model, these women, through lack of finding identity by conventional means, explore alternative ways to understand the selfs relationship to landscape. Although each writer’s philosophy is distinct, there are also vivid commonalities. Through essay, novels, and short stories, Dillard, Meloy, and Marmon Silko all discuss the extent to which language hinders interaction with landscape, sensory experience as opposed to reason as the preferred medium to access knowledge, and the identity formed out of seeing landscape in such a way. Ultimately, these perspectives offer a vision that challenges individualism and embraces these writer’s relationship to landscape as one of community.