• Edited by Melinda A. Cro (Kansas State University) & Rachel Paparone (Ithaca College)

Pastoral literature and socially engaged literature are two terms not often seen together. The word "pastoral" most often calls to mind bucolic landscapes peopled by rustic shepherds, attractive shepherdesses, and frolicking sheep. Indeed, scholars often characterize the pastoral genre, at least in its more classical forms, as an idealization of the landscape and its inhabitants, accusing the genre of glossing over the difficulties of rural life. American scholar Richard Schneider emphasizes the escapist tendencies of pastoral, pointing out that the mode "tends to privilege a past when humans were closer to nature, everything was better than today, and there were no problems of everyday living so that one had time to contemplate the meaning of life" (vii). Such critiques are not unusual--Raymond Williams is equally harsh in his critique of pastoral in his seminal work, The Country and the City (1973), arguing that the “living tensions” inherent in “classical pastoral,” such as “pleasure with loss; harvest with labour; singing with a journey; past or future with the present [...]” are “excised” in the Renaissance adaptations. In fact, Williams argues that the reality of country life, even when it is rarely presented in pastoral works from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, is largely ignored by scholars as “utilitarian or materialist, perhaps even a peasant response” to the classical tradition (18).

Yet characterizing pastoral literature as idealized or simplified is to ignore its enormous potential as a vehicle of social, religious, moral, and environmental criticism. American critic Lawrence Buell notes, “[...] pastoralism is a species of cultural equipment that western thought has for more than two millennia been unable to do without” (32). As scholar Arto Clerc reminds us, the pastoral genre is, and always has been, fraught with tension: between rural and urban, past and present, ideal and real (171). One need only look to the works of Jean Giono, Paul Valéry, and André Gide to find fruitful examples of this tension transposed to the twentieth-century and set against a backdrop at once tantalizingly evocative of and yet markedly different from that of classical Arcadia. Indeed, Catharine Savage Brosman notes, “The recourse to pastoral figures, conventions and themes among modern writers covers a range of uses and responses. While some are chiefly personal, others are intended more generally as a means of criticizing the 20th-century world [...] and provoking a change in the reader’s attitude” (222). 

Terry Gifford points out, however, that the cultural reality in which we find ourselves posits the term "pastoral" as highly contestable and deeply suspect (147). Indeed, given the current political and environmental climate, idealization of the landscape seems at best trivial and at worst a dangerous denial of the real threats facing contemporary society. As opposed to the tendency of pastoral representations toward idealization, anti-pastoral and post-pastoral tropes call attention to the highly romanticized landscape of pastoral, thus providing an implicit critique of the genre. Yet both post- and anti-pastoral modes of representation rely on the pastoral tradition to lend them their framework, since they can only be understood in relation to the more traditional pastoral trope. Gifford distinguishes anti-pastoral from post-pastoral, indicating that the latter is informed by the development of ecocriticism (as Buell had noted previously in his description of pastoralism) and what might be termed the ‘ecocritical’ conscience; that is, the recognition of the indissolubility of nature and culture, as opposed to satirical or ironic uses of the anti-pastoral that expose the “distance between reality and the pastoral convention” (128). Of particular interest to note is that Gifford argues that the same work can demonstrate characteristics of pastoral, post-pastoral, and anti-pastoral all at once, lending a certain richness to the pastoral text in terms of engagement that has often been overlooked.

How, then, does contemporary literature, film, and music respond to or grapple with the notion of pastoral? How does this mode ever-present in western thought find expression in the literature, film, and music of the twentieth- and twenty-first-centuries? Furthermore, how do pastoral texts today engage with recent social, cultural, artistic and even theoretical developments, such as ecocriticism or sound theory? How do authors utilize the inherent tensions within the mode, the conventions of escape and return, to express the development of the modern? How do these works demonstrate and contribute to the development of the ecocritical conscience? Do these works dialogue with the classical pastoral past and, if so, to what end? This special issue of Studies in Twentieth- and Twenty-First- Century Literature seeks to answer these questions across the French, German, and Spanish-language literatures.1

Articles must be written in English and should not exceed 7,500 words in length. Articles may address French, German, and/or Spanish-language texts. Proposals that make use of the innovative and interactive potential of the journal’s online platform will be of particular interest. Authors must provide a 500-word abstract along with a brief CV (2 pages), complete contact details, and academic affiliation.

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  • 1. Works Cited
    • Buell, Lawrence. The Environmental Imagination. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1995.
    • Clerc, Arto. "Engagements pastoraux et utopiques au XVIIe siècle."MLN. 120.1 (2005): 170-180.
    • Gifford, Terry.Pastoral. New York: Routledge, 1999.
    • Savage Brosman, Catharine. “The Pastoral in Modern France: Forms and Reflections.”French Forum9.2 (1984): 212-224.
    • Schneider, Richard J. "Introduction."Dark Nature: Anti-Pastoral Essays in American Literature and Culture. New York: Lexington, 2016.
    • Williams, Raymond.The Country and the City. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1973.