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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


MEYER, Susan. Nature writing as ecosystem: An analysis of Boomkastele: 'n Sprokie vir 'n stadsmens (Schalk Schoombie). Part 2. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2017, vol.57, n.1, pp.154-167. ISSN 2224-7912.

In the first part of the present study, published in the December edition of this journal, I explored the theoretical underpinning of a new concept of viewing nature writing, introduced by David Barnhill. Barnhill attempts to improve on taxonomies of nature writing that do not acknowledge the inner complexity and diversity of individual works. He calls his scheme an ecosystem, reminding us that such a system involves the interactions between a community and its non-living environment as well as interactions between the elements in it. According to Barnhill (2010:279) each piece of nature writing is an ecosystem in which various elements of nature writing are developed and integrated in a unique way. The abstract categories into which works are placed in a taxonomy become multiple elements within individual works, working in concert with or influencing each other, such as the organisms in an ecosystem. The internal qualities of such works are analysed and described in order to discover the interplay between different elements and how the character of an ecosystem emerges from this. Barnhill (2010:279-282) distinguishes several elements of nature writing: accounts or descriptions of nature, personal experience in nature, social experience of nature, philosophy of nature, spirituality in nature experiences, ecological consciousness, concern with language in representing nature, and ecosocial politics - the latter a term reflecting the interconnectedness of environmental and social issues. Boomkastele: 'n sprokie vir 'n stadsmens (2015) is Schalk Schoombie's first novel and Barnhill's theoretical approach to nature writing is directly relevant to studying this novel. A prominent narrative line is constructed around Hannes Moerdyk, the researcher in the novel, and his affectionate ties with the trees in his backyard in suburban Johannesburg. These trees, which grow on the boundary between his and his neighbour's premises, are unexpectedly cut down to make way for the new flats that the neighbour is planning to build and lease. This enrages the researcher, who estimates the trees to be more than half a century old and blames the neighbour for his short-sightedness and hisfinancial greed. This incident leads to a private war; the researcher sets his heart on avenging the death of the trees and this obsession eventually comes to dominate his mind This analysis of Boomkastele puts Barnhill's theoretical instrument to the test. The hypothetical point of departure is that the novel resembles an ecosystem comprising the characteristic elements of nature writing found in it. This method of approximation focuses on analysing the internal complexity and diversity of Schoombie's novel and arriving at a more complete understanding and a more nuanced description of this work. This investigation firstly aims at determining which elements of nature writing are presented in Boomkastele. Close attention is paid to the content and detail of these elements, the relative emphasis of each, the interrelationships among them and the way in which each element is developed and integrated in the whole of the ecosystem to be found in the novel. Eco-social criticism, a dominant element in Boomkastele, functions in support of various other elements. Criticism against the destruction of trees is linked with the researcher'spersonal experience of nature: trees are his friends and he obsessively focuses on avenging their death. The eco-social criticism in this novel also emphasises the description of trees as treasures of nature. The significance of trees, which are described as having limbs and lives, is being ironised by the criticism on their fate, namely losing those lives and limbs because of man's short-sightedness. The researcher decides to plant new trees and to build a wooden cabin in one of them as a way to celebrate the splendour oftrees and to bring back something of a glorious partnership between humans and trees. The construction process of this cabin is planned carefully so as not to harm the tree at all; it will sit like a nest between the branches and will naturally mingle with the tree itself. The eco-social ideals that are included in this tree-friendly way of building a cabin, function in support of another element, namely ecological consciousness. This is expressed in the novel by means of details about the researcher's growing identification with and deep-felt respect for the trees. The element of eco-social critique is also integrated strongly with the focus on language to represent unique experiences in nature, especially when the wounding of the trees is depicted. Barnhill's approach to nature writing creates a sharpened awareness of the qualities that characterise this genre. Applying his method of describing and evaluating texts to Boomkastele has led to the discovery of the interactive connection between diverse elements in the novel, which lends it the nature of an ecosystem and affirms its multifaceted character.

Keywords : Boomkastele; Schalk Schoombie; Boomkastele; nature writing; ecosystem approach; David Barnhill; ecocriticism.

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