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“Distant woods”: the matter of books and the modernist pastoral


This paper is part of a broader project that aims to examine the importance of the materials used in the making of illustrated books from a medial and ecocritical perspective. I focus on a specific case study in which I explore the attitude to nature encapsulated in the use of and reference to wood in British interwar wood-engraved illustrated books. My departure point is the English artist Paul Nash’s Places (Heinemann, 1922), a short collection of prose poems and wood-engravings. An elegy produced at a time when Nash was trying to come to terms with the aftermath of the First World War, Places was published after he made the great war paintings depicting the human losses and the ecocide perpetrated on the Western Front. Examining the possibility of the pastoral in the face of deforestation, the volume bears the haunting traces of the war and constitutes a problematic attempt to restore the damaged relationship between man and nature. To young wood-engravers like Nash, the significance of wood was foregrounded by the specificity of the medium, at a time when the craft was undergoing a revival. I revaluate this modernist principle by looking at the affordances of wood within the wider context of the graphic arts as competing media in the modern ecosystem that developed from the 1880s. Often described as a responsive material, wood is one of the materials used for human expression. But it also has an agency of its own and provides specific medial benefits that may be described as forms of entanglement. Paul Nash’s Places is an intermedial work that engages with its own materiality in an ambivalent way, caught between the recognition of the human exploitation of nature and a utopian wish for reversibility.
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hal-03461283 , version 1 (20-12-2021)


  • HAL Id : hal-03461283 , version 1


Sophie Aymes-Stokes. “Distant woods”: the matter of books and the modernist pastoral. Third International Colloquium on Writing, Sound, and Image, Université Fédérale de Minas Gerais, Oct 2021, Minas Gerais, Brazil. ⟨hal-03461283⟩


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