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What Else Is Pastoral?Renaissance Literature and the Environment$
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Ken Hiltner

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780801449406

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801449406.001.0001

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The Nature of Art

The Nature of Art

Chapter:
(p.19) 1 The Nature of Art
Source:
What Else Is Pastoral?
Author(s):

Ken Hiltner

Publisher:
Cornell University Press
DOI:10.7591/cornell/9780801449406.003.0001

This chapter makes the case for a green reading of Renaissance pastoral by drawing upon the ancient debate over nature and its representation recorded in Plato's Cratylus. It considers Plato's doubts over whether we could ever be truly successful in our efforts to represent, by way of language, the physical environment revealed through sensory experience. It argues that when faced with a similar question, some Renaissance poets and artists, including those that produced pastoral works, sidestep this issue by largely avoiding mimesis and representation. When confronted with an environment wildly in flux, these artists sometimes turn away from representation and its challenges, choosing instead to gesture to what lies outside of the work. Consequently, Renaissance nature writing, which is frequently in the pastoral mode, often works best when it neither mimics nor represents anything. The deployment of such a gestural strategy helps explain the general lack of lavish description in Renaissance pastoral. Recalling Plato's anxiety over the challenges that come with the representation of nature, which was still very much alive in the Renaissance, it should come as little surprise that early modern poets often avoid lavish descriptions of the environment. What should come as a surprise, however, is that literary theorists have often ignored the simple fact that nature writing, as well as works of art more generally, can function gesturally without significantly deploying mimesis.

Keywords:   nature, Plato, Cratylus, Renaissance pastoral, nature writing, Renaissance poets, Renaisscance artists

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