The Narrative Ethics of Leopold's Sand County Almanac

Author(s): James Jakób Liszka
Source: Ethics and the Environment, Vol. 8, No. 2, Special Issue on Environmental Narrative
(Autumn 2003), pp. 42-70
Published by: Indiana University Press
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THE NARRATIVE ETHICS OF
LEOPOLD'S SAND COUNTY
ALMANAC
JAMES JAKOB
LISZKA
ABSTRACT:
Although philosophers
often focus on the
essays
of
Leopold's
Sand
County
Almanac, especially
"The Land
Ethic,"
there is also a normative
argu-
ment
present
in the stories that
comprise
most of the book. In fact the
shack stories
may
be more
persuasive,
with a
subtlety
and
complexity
not
available in his
prose piece.
This
paper develops
a narrative ethics meth-
odology gleaned
from rhetoric
theory,
and current interest in narrative
ethics
among literary theorists,
in order to discern the normative under-
pinnings
of the stories in Part 1. The narrative ethics
approach sidesteps
the need to
ground
the land ethic in ethical
theory
-
which has been a
reconstructive and
problematic
task for the
philosophical interpreters
of
Leopold
-
and
suggests, instead,
that it
emerges
in
Leopold's very
effort
to narrate
his, professional, personal,
and
practical experience
with na-
ture. The involves
examining
the stories in terms of their
emotional, logi-
cal and
performative aspects.
The result is an
analysis
that shows not
only
how these stories
express
normative
claims,
but also
justify
them.
One conclusion of the
analyses
is
that,
in the
narratives,
there is less em-
phasis
on the
problematic
notion of an
over-arching "community"
than
in the
prose pieces,
and more
emphasis
on the
metaphor
of other
living
things
as "fellow travelers" in the
"odyssey
of evolution."
Second,
the
ETHICS & THE
ENVIRONMENT, 8(2)
2003 ISSN: 1085-6633
©Indiana
University
Press All
rights
of
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in
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form reserved.
Direct all
correspondence
to:
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narratives take on an ironic attitude toward the
ecological order,
less
discernable in the
prose essays.
The order itself
may
not be
ethically
ad-
mirable,
but should be
preserved
since it makes
possible any
ethical rela-
tions within it.
Thus,
the narrative
reading suggests
some
temperance
to
the usual holistic
interpretation
of his land ethic and its concomitant
criticisms
especially
the
charge
of ecofacism. We should not take the land
ethic
imperative
at its face
value,
in the sense that the
good
of the order
itself is an intrinsic
good.
In the
narratives,
individuals are shown not
merely
to be means to the
ecological whole,
but the focus of
sympathy
and
concern,
in a manner that demands their
good
should also be an
object
of moral consideration.
My purpose
here is to show how an environmental ethic
emerges
out
of the more narrative elements of
Leopold's
classic
work,
A Sand
County
Almanac. This is
despite Leopold's
own concern that narratives
might
not
provide
sufficient means for
making good
ethical
judgments:
"It seems to
me, therefore,
that
any
artistic
effort,
whether a
picture
or an
essay,
most
often contains less than is needed for an ethical
judgment (letter
to H.
Hochbaum March
1, 1944;
cited in Ribbens
1988, 95).
Leopold
was
happy
to
give just
a
simple prose expression
of his land
ethic,
and seemed
reluctantly dragged
into the business of
story telling by
the interests of his
Knopf
editors in nature
writing (Ribbens 1988, 92-93).
The essence of the land ethic had been formulated
by
him as
early
as 1933
while
Leopold
worked as a consultant in the Southwest for the CCC
(Meine
1987, 34). Yet,
in
many respects,
I would
argue
that the shack stories
-
mostly
made between the
period
of 1941 and his death
-
are
ironically
more
persuasive,
and
yield
a
subtlety
and
complexity
not available in his
prose piece.
In fact the 1947 revision of his land ethic
essay may
have
made
changes
that diminished some of the
credibility
of his
argument,
and
have led to some of its more severe criticisms.
The mantra has been that the three
parts
of A Sand
County
Almanac
form a sort of
hierarchy,
in which the first
part, composed primarily
of
narratively organized
observations and
empiricisms, supports
the
allego-
ries, commentaries,
and
parables
of the second
part which,
in
turn, give
credence to the
prose
and
explicit
statements of the third
part (cf. Tallmadge
1987, 114ff). Although
it's true that the final
arrangement
was in
large
part Leopold's
own
(except
for decisions made
by
his son and editors after
his
death),
we know that
Leopold played
with a number of
organizations
JAMES JAKdB
LISZKA THE NARRATIVE ETHICS OF LEOPOLD 43
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of the material. Given that most of the
pieces
written in Part I were written
last,
it
may
also be
possible
to view them as stand alone
pieces
that reflect
some of his latest
thinking.
The "Land Ethic"
essay
is
problematic
from a
philosophical point
of
view
since,
with the
exception
of a few references to some
popular
ethical
traditions,
it does not connect to
any
serious ethical
theory.
This
suggests
some of the reasons some
philosophers
have belittled its
import,
and dis-
missed it as
superficial philosophy.
Even Callicott's
admirable,
classical
essays (1979, 1987)
on the
conceptual
foundations of
Leopold's
land ethic
remain a reconstruction of how a
philosopher might conceivably ground
the claims made in
Leopold's essay but, still,
we're not sure that
Leopold
explicitly developed
his
thinking
in that manner. In
any case,
that recon-
struction shows
Leopold's
work to be a
loosely
connected set of
threads,
rather than a
systematic argument.
The narrative
approach
dismisses the need to
ground
the land ethic in
ethical
theory,
and instead
suggests
that it can be seen to
emerge
in
Leopold's
very
effort to narrate
his, professional, personal,
and
practical experience
with nature. As
Christopher
Preston
notes, "normativity,
if it
emerges
at
all
[in
the
narrative] emerges
out of the
practices, traditions,
and lives
op-
erating
in the
specific
situations described in the narrative"
(2001, 249).
The
difficulty
with
using
narrative
methodology
is that it is not settled.
There are two
problems
that narrative ethics must address that
especially
apply
in the case of
Leopold:
one is how it is
exactly
that narratives ex-
press
norms and values
and, secondly,
how
might
narratives
justify them,
and so lend themselves to the kind of ethical
judgments
that
Leopold
thinks
they
are little
capable
of
doing. Certainly,
there is usefulness to a
purely
expressive
use of
narrative,
and for some
thinkers,
such as Richard
Rorty,
description
and
re-description
are all that narrative is
capable
of
doing
in
any
case
(1991, 8-9).
Narrative ethics
approaches
in medical ethics have
proven
useful in this
regard (Burrell
and Hauerwas
1997;
Carson
1997;
Chambers
1996, 1997;
Charon
1997;
Clouser
1996;
Frank
1995;
Hunter
1991;
Lauritzen
1996;
Montello
1997;
Nelson
1997).
The sort of thick
descriptions
that these
yield help
in
understanding patients' positions
in
regard
to medical
decisions,
and so enable better informed decision mak-
ing
and facilitated consensus.
But,
in that
case,
it is the extra-narrative
norms that interlocutors
bring
to bear in the context of
dialogue
and con-
versation that
ultimately
matter to the evaluation and
justification
of a
decision,
and not the narrative
per
se
(cf.
Arras
1997;
Childress
1997).
44 ETHK^^^
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If narrative is to
perform
more than an
expressive
function it must
also devise the means
by
which it evaluates its moral claims. Otherwise we
are reminded of
Aesop's proverb
that "one
story
is
good
til another is
told." And
although
this is a
quite satisfactory
situation for
Rorty,
it
dissatisfies a number of
philosophers,
and
non-philosophers
as well. This
is
certainly
true in the case of environmental
narratives,
as
Christopher
Preston
points
out
(2001, 29).
In
any case,
narrative ethics must overcome
the more critical
problems
with both functions. Of course we can't be
expected
to address all these
problems
in these few short
pages.
Suffice it
to
say, though,
that Alasdair
Maclntyre's approach (1981), although
for-
mative,
is
programmatic
and
vague, consequently,
difficult to
apply
to
par-
ticular
narratives,
and also lacks the means to evaluate
competing
narratives
to the extent that it lacks the means to evaluate
competing
traditions. Thick
description theory,
such as Martha Nussbaum's
(1990)
or Peter Levine's
(1998),
is
capable
of
addressing
the narrative's
expressive power,
but does
not have the wherewithal to evaluate
competing
narratives
(although
in
the case of
Nussbaum,
she does not think that narratives can even serve
that function in
any
case
(1990, 27).
The new
casuistry,
such as
proposed
by
Albert
Jonson
and
Stephen
Toulmin
(1988), provides very powerful
models for both
analysis
and evaluation of
particular
narratives
(under-
stood as case
studies),
and works
quite
well in situations where there is
general agreement
about basic norms
but,
for that
very reason,
the
theory
as a whole is
disposed
to conventional
solutions,
as it was the case with its
classical
predecessor
-
the
casuistry
of the 16th
century.
In
addressing
the
problems
with the
expressive
and evaluative features
of
narrative,
I would
propose
that the first
aspect
can be addressed
by
attending
to the
very
rich studies of our friends in
literary theory.
In terms
of the
problem
of
evaluation,
it seems to me that the safest
argument
is to
take the
position
of
Wayne
Booth
(1963, 1988)
that narratives do have an
argumentative force,
but that it is more rhetorical than
logical.
In this
way,
we can combat
Rorty's
weak account of narrative as mere
description. By
the rhetorical
power
of narrative I mean that its
goal
can be
thought
of as
similar to the
goal
of
persuasive speech
-
which,
as Aristotle understood
it,
is
calling
on the audience to make a
judgment
about the direct and
indirect claims made in the
speech (Rhetoric 1377b). But,
as
classically
understood in
Aristotle, good
rhetoric
persuades
at three levels:
logos,
ethos,
and
pathos.
I will want to
argue that,
in the
main,
this account still holds
good,
and show how
good narratives,
such as
Leopold's, persuade by
simi-
"""""""^AMeTm^l/S^

THE NA^ATIVE^rHICS

OF LEOPOLD 45
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lar means. In
fact,
it
may reasonably
be
argued
that a
story
is often more
profoundly persuasive
than
argument alone,
since it addresses the whole
person,
that
is,
in addition to
logical proofs
and
explanations,
it also
pro-
vides what
might
be called character
(correspondent
to
ethos)
and emo-
tional
proofs, following
the
language
of Aristotle in the Rhetoric
(cf. 1356a).
Of
course,
how a
story
does this is somewhat different than how a
speech
might,
but that will be
part
of
my
task to demonstrate its
plausibility.
This is not a far-fetched
approach
to
Leopold's
work. As his 1948
Foreword
shows,
each
part
of Sand
County
Almanac is
aligned
with these
three rhetorical
aspects.
The last
part,
as he
says,
sets forth the conserva-
tion ethic in
"logical form," (1989, viii)
while the second
part
is a
story
of
his own
personal
transformation to that
ethic,
and so is
really
a
story
about his ethos and character.
Although
not
explicitly stated,
it is clear
that the first
part emphasizes
the
pathetic
and
sentimental,
as
emphasized
in the context of
living
with his own
family,
while
living
in the semi-wild-
lands of Sauk
County.
But I think the book should be looked at
fractally:
each
part
-
although emphasizing
one
aspect
of the rhetorical triad
-
reflects
the whole as well.
HOW NARRATIVES EXPRESS NORMS
First,
let me
begin
with a
general
account of how a narrative is norma-
tively expressive.
If we follow our friends in
literary theory
-
especially
those concerned with narrative ethics
(Attridge 1999;
Buell
1999;
Cham-
bers
1984; Eldridge 1989;
Hinchman and Hinchman
1997;
Maclean
1988;
McCormick
1988;
Miller
1986;
Newton
1995, 1997;
Parker
1994;
Pratt
1977;
Schwarz
1997;
Siebers
1992)
-
a narrative
analysis
in this
regard
should consider three
important aspects:
the contents of a
narrative,
their
textual
organization,
and the
performative
conditions under which the
narrative is authored and read
(cf.
Chatman
1978;
Iser
1978).
The content
of the
story (fabula, histoire)
is the stuff out of which a narrative is con-
structed. These include the
story's characters,
events and
happenings
(Chatman 1978, 19).
The
organization (discourse, sjuzet)
is
traditionally
thought
to include character
development, setting, description, plot, point
of view
(or focalizatiori),
and the
story's
thematic
unity (Chatman 1978,
19). Basically, organization
involves how the
story
is
told,
and who does
the
telling.
These
generate
differences between the actual
author,
the
per-
son who has done the work and who will benefit from
any royalties,
the
implied author,
whose
character,
values and norms are inferred
by
the reader
46 ETHICS &

THE e'tTvIRONMENt"
8(2)
2003
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on the basis of the
organization
of the
narrative,
and the
narrator(s),
who
is identified as the narrative's
raconteur, among
several other subtle dis-
tinctions. The
person
of the
narrator,
for
example,
adds further
nuance,
as
is clear in the differences between first or third
person narration,
and the
differences between omniscient narrators and other
types.
The
third,
performative aspect
of the
story
includes not
only
the roles and
responsi-
bilities of the author and teller of the
tale,
but the reader as
well,
and the
normative interrelations
among
them.
These, too,
entail different sorts of
readers, including
the
implied
reader
-
the reader as constructed
by
the
intent of the author
-
and the
real,
actual reader
(cf.
Booth
1988, 128,
457;
Iser
1978,
34ff
).
Certainly
these three
aspects
of the narrative can be
analytically sepa-
rated,
but in
practice they
are
fully integrated
and
interdependent
in the
story
as a
whole,
and act to
produce
its total normative effect.
Analyti-
cally,
we can find
important
normative centers in the narrative. One is its
thematic
unity,
wherever it is
present. Following
the work of
Hayden
White
and
others,
it can be
argued
that the thematic
unity
of a
story
is consti-
tuted
by
three
supervening
levels
(White 1987, 1-25). Temporal contigu-
ity
is the
sequencing
of events in a
story,
and in and of itself reads as a
chronicle
might. Although
it is
necessary
feature of
any narrative,
such
contiguity
is
hardly
sufficient to
produce
a true narrative.
Examples
in-
clude annals and
chronicles,
which are more a list of events than stories
proper.
The true
beginnings
of a
story emerge
when
contiguous
events are
concatenated
by
causal or intentional
connections,
or other
types
of rela-
tionships.
When this
happens,
the
story
becomes
followable (cf.
Ricouer
1984, 149-52;
Gallie
1968).
At this level of
narrative,
a
competent
audi-
ence is shown how one event
may
follow from
another,
and
they begin
to
see a
logic
and coherence to events and
happenings emerge.
What
followability
creates is
discovery.
The events line
up
to reveal
something,
something
new
beyond
the mere
listing
of the events in
chronological
or-
der. For
example,
in a detective
genre
we
may
discover more and more
about the circumstances of a
murder;
clues are
found,
motives
disclosed,
and
suspicions
are
raised;
in
tragedies,
concatenation shows a
complica-
tion, typically leading
to the
peripety
or reversal of fortune.
Yet the mere concatenation of events
may
not be sufficient for a
unified
story.
This is achieved when events cohere under an
ending.
The
ending
is
understood not as the last event of the
story
but the raison d'etre of the
story,
thus
making
the
story
seem
purposive
rather than serial
-
that
is,
~"^^
47
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teleologically
coherent and not
just
concatentated. Based
solely
on concat-
enation,
there is no reason for events to
end, or,
no sense of closure in a
certain subset of events. It is White's
argument
-
and mine as well
-
that
this
teleological
coherence is achieved
normatively,
and
typically
identified
as the thematic
unity
of the
story (White 1987, 21ff).
That which ulti-
mately
makes
something
into a
story
-
understood as a series of events
with an
ending
-
is
simultaneously
what makes it normative. To take a
simple example,
for a
story
to
express
a thematic
unity typical
of a classic
romance
(such
as a
fairy
tale in its
simpler forms),
it will
employ
certain
overarching
norms: that
good prevails
over
evil;
those who act on the side
of
good
are
rewarded,
and those on the side of evil
punished.
These norms
will direct certain outcomes: the
agent
identified as the hero will be suc-
cessful,
and the villain failed
-
although
the
reader,
of
course,
will still view
this as a
tension,
because as far as she is
concerned,
the
opposite
is still a
possibility. Thus,
when the virtuous hero combats the vicious
villain,
if it
has the romantic
theme,
its outcome will be such that the hero
prevails
in
the combat. There is a certain
teleological logic
at work
here,
such that at
the thematic level we move
beyond explanation
of events to what such
events
might mean, normatively speaking.
But,
in addition to the thematic
unity
of the
story,
we must also look
to the
performative, pragmatic
level of the narrative in
assessing
its nor-
mative character.
Generally put,
in
trying
to advocate the conservation
ethic, Leopold employs
a number of ethical frameworks in
performing
that
advocacy.
There
may
be several levels to consider in this
respect,
and
these
may range
from the most radical
questions
of the
right
and
authority
of the author to
speak,
and what norms are inherent in the
generative
aspects
of the
narrative,
that
is,
its
purposes
and
intents;
what roles it
offers to
readers,
and how it constructs them in that
respect,
to the more
mundane
questions
of what roles and
responsibilities
authors and readers
have
(cf.
Booth
1988, 125-53).
It could be
reasonably argued,
that these
performative aspects
frame the thematic
unity
of the narrative. For ex-
ample,
there is no doubt that in order to create
sympathy
for a
character,
that character must be embedded in a certain normative
structure,
the-
matically designed.
But the author must also
anticipate
that an audience's
own normative structures will
align
with those of the text in such a man-
ner as to evoke that
sympathy
in an audience. Without this
alignment
the
narrative will lose its emotional
validity
for the reader: if characters meant
to be
sympathetic
are
not,
then the
story
as a whole will fall
apart,
norma-
48 -g^[^
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tively speaking,
for the audience. As Aristotle
points out,
unless
speakers
adapt
to the ethos of the
audience, they
will not be successful in
persuasion
(Rhetoric 1377b-1378a). Together,
the
performative aspects
of the narra-
tive reflect on the ethos of the author and the narrative as a whole. Aristotle's
remarks on the rhetorical
speech
also
aptly apply
to narratives:
. . . since rhetoric is concerned with
making
a
judgment
... it is
necessary
not
only
to look to the
argument,
that it
may
be demonstra-
tive and
persuasive
but also
[for
the
speaker]
to construct a view of
himself as a certain kind of
person
and to
prepare
the
judge;
for it
makes much difference in
regard
to
persuasion.
. . . that the
speaker
seem to be a certain kind of
person
and that his hearer
suppose
him to
be
disposed
toward them in a certain
way
. . .
(Rhetoric 1377b)
HOW NARRATIVES
JUSTIFY
We can use these
aspects
of the narrative to disclose its normative
features;
their
justification
is met in a different manner. The
story per-
suades
by presenting
a
logical explanation,
a
pathetic proof,
and a
pal-
pable
demonstration of
good
ethos. The
logical
or
explanatory proof
of
narrative is found
principally
in what we have called the
followability
of
the
narrative,
that
is,
the concatenation of events. In this manner the nar-
rative
employs
a
variety
of
explanations
for the
presence
and interrelation
of the events in the
story.
This is
certainly
evident
among historical, scientific,
and forensic
narratives, among others,
but it is found in
ordinary stories,
both fictional and non-fictional. Even in fictional
narratives,
lack of
plau-
sibility
is sufficient for a
story
to fail. Arthur Danto's
early
work on this
matter,
and the work of others
subsequently,
show
convincingly
that nar-
ratives are forms of
explanation (Danto 1985, 233),
and the sort of
expla-
nation
they provide
is not
captured
or exhausted
by
models of
explanation
as found in science. Danto makes his
point
in the context of a discussion of
historical narratives:
The role of narratives in
history
should now be clear.
They
are used to
explain changes, and,
most
characteristically, large-scale changes
tak-
ing place, sometimes,
over
periods
of time vast in
relationship
to
single
human lives. It is the
job
of
history
to reveal to us these
changes,
to
organize
the
past
into
temporal wholes,
and to
explain
these
changes
at the same time as
they
tell what
happened
-
albeit with the aid of the
sort of
temporal perspective linguistically
reflected in narrative sen-
tences.
(1985, 255)
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With some
appropriate modification,
this claim could also be
easily ap-
plied
to forensic
narratives,
certain
types
of scientific
narratives,
but cer-
tainly
the sort of nature narratives
presented
here
by Leopold.
As we'll
see,
he
begins
with the
description
of a
disparate
number of
events, characters,
and
happenings
in the domain of his
observation,
but
by
the end of Part
I,
provides
an
explanation
which connects these events
systematically,
as
part
of an
ecology.
But if narratives were considered
simply
to be another
way
of
express-
ing arguments
and
explanations,
it would seem to be both inefficient and
unnecessary.
What makes narratives
unique
are the manner in which their
explanations
are also embedded in a normative assessment of those self-
same events. This in turn rests on both the thematic
unity
of the
narrative,
and its embeddedness in its
performative
functions. The concatenation of
events in a narrative is not sufficient to
generate
a unified
story
unless
they
are subsumed under a normative
framework;
so it is that narrative
expla-
nations are also embedded in normative
frameworks,
and that is what
makes them
especially unique.
A forensic
story
in the courtroom aims to
prove
the
guilt
or innocence of a
defendant;
a historical narrative
may give
explanation
to the fall of the Third
Reich,
but
thereby
also
imply
the de-
mise of the
regime
was warranted. The fall marks a normative closure to
these events.
To achieve the
right pathetic affect, according
to
Aristotle,
a
story (or
speech
in this
case),
must be
pathetically
valid
(Rhetoric 1356a). By
this
Aristotle seems to mean that the
speech
is so constructed that it evokes the
appropriate
emotion in the audience. In the case of a
narrative,
a
tragedy,
for
example,
is
pathetically
valid if it takes the
right
sort of character
(one
of
high station,
not too
good,
but not too
bad),
and makes him
undergo
the
right
sort of circumstances
(a rise,
a
reversal,
and a
fall),
such that it
evokes
pity
and terror in the audience
(cf.
Poetics
1452aff). Generally speak-
ing, pathetic validity requires
the
happenings, events, actions,
and charac-
ters in a narrative to be
normatively organized
in such a manner that an
audience, ideally
constructed
by
the
author,
would
judge
characters to be
worthy
of certain emotional
responses: sympathy,
moral
outrage,
admira-
tion, disgust,
and so forth. For
example,
moral
outrage
is
pathetically
valid
if it is directed towards an
agent
who has
unjustly
harmed an innocent
person.
The emotion is warranted if: harm has occurred to a
person,
and
the harm was caused
by
this
agent,
whose reasons or motivations for
inflicting
such harm were
ostensibly unjust.
As Aristotle
says
about
anger,
50 ][^J^^
- " ~ - '
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it is
"desire, accompanied by distress,
for
conspicuous
retaliation because
of a
conspicuous slight
that was
directed,
without
justification, against
oneself or those near to one"
(Rhetoric 1378a). Consequently,
the
oppo-
site of
anger, calmness,
can be instilled in an audience
by demonstrating
the
justice
of a situation. This is
similarly
the case with other moral emo-
tions,
such as
indignation, friendliness, enmity, kindness, unkindness,
ad-
miration,
and so forth. All
require
a normative framework to create the
pathetic
effect in an audience. Fictional narratives can more
easily
con-
struct conditions
necessary
to warrant such
emotions;
nonfictional narra-
tives are
additionally
constrained
by
events outside of the control of the
narrator or
author,
and
they
are
obligated
to use those
events,
rather than
ones made
up
for
purposes
of
evoking
the emotion. The emotional
validity
of a
story
is a much different consideration than the determination that an
audience
will,
in
fact, respond
in such a manner. The emotional
validity
of
a narrative
justifies
one in
saying
that
people ought
to feel
sympathy,
or
outrage
at these events. Whether an
audience,
in
fact,
does have the
right
pathetic affect, depends
on a number of factors: for
example,
the inhibi-
tion of identification with the
victim,
emotional
pathologies,
cultural con-
ditioning, ordinary psychological
attitudes such as boredom or disinterest.
Thus,
a skilled writer
may
be able to eliminate
many
of these
pathological
inhibitions
by writing
an
interesting, engaging story,
where the characters
are drawn in a manner that would allow most
people
to
identify
with
them.
The ethos of the
story
is
proven
in the
ways
similar to
discerning
someone's
character,
since its focus is on the normative character of the
real, implied author,
and
any
narrators that
populate
the
story.
All stories
construct the reader in a certain
way;
and because the narrative world
-
especially
fictional ones
-
can
easily manipulate
the
story,
there is
poten-
tial for
manipulation
of the audience. In
discerning
the ethos of a
story,
we must discern whether the author exhibits
goodwill
or
not,
sets us
up
as a fool to be
manipulated,
or as
Wayne
Booth would
say (and thereby
Nussbaum)
-
as an Aristotelian friend
-
and asked to
join
the
process
of
discovery
and
insight
the
story might provide (Booth 1988, 486-87).
In
rhetoric,
the ethos of a
speech
has to do with the character
validity
of
speakers:
are
they trustworthy, honest, sincere, accurate,
and have
good
will and
good
intentions
(Rhetoric 1377b20ff).
The character
proof
-
in
this sense of the term
-
is found in the manifestation of the
performative
features of the narrative.
mf^-^l^
,„-
~™^
- ™
NAR^TIvrETHICS

OF LEOPOLD 51
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AN ANALYSIS OF THE STORIES OF SAND
COUNTY ALMANAC
The Content of Sand
County
Almanac
Ostensibly,
the 22 narratives of Part
I,
relate a number of
disparate,
loosely
connected events that follow the order of the seasons. The
tempo-
ral
contiguity
of the narrative is not achieved so much
by
the causal
logic
of the
events,
as
by
the
temporal ordering
of the
yearly cycle.
In this re-
gard,
the stories in Part
I, initially,
have more the
appearance
of a true
chronicle than a narrative
-
a list of events that come after one
another,
but do not
appear
to be otherwise interconnected. But unlike classical
chronicles,
these are adumbrated with
commentary
and thick
description
of the
events, characters,
and
happenings.
The chronicle of the
story begins
in
January
with a winter thaw. The thaw
ruins the tunnels of a
mouse,
and leads to its
subsequent
death at the hands
of a
rough-legged hawk;
there are
signs
of the death of a rabbit
by
an
owl;
a
skunk meanders
through
the woodland. In
February,
a
lightning-struck
oak
is felled and sawed into wood for the fire. The narrator
-
who is also
sawing
the oak for wood
-
uses the
rings
on the tree as a mnemonic for
recounting
80
years
of the human
activity
that has affected the
ecology
of the
region.
In March the
geese return,
their
numbers, habits,
and habitats are
noted. In
April
the
spring
floods come and isolate the little farm. The smallest
flower in the
area,
the
Draba, blossoms;
a
story
is told
by
the narrator of
how human intervention allowed the bur oak to forest the
prairie.
A wood-
cock "dances." In
May
the
plover
returns from its summer
migration
in
Argentina, 4,000
miles
away.
In
June
there is
fishing
in the creek for trout.
In
July
a number of flora and fauna are noted. The
shrinkage
of the diver-
sity
of flora in the
region
is related. In
August
the effects of a river on its
banks is described. In
September
the
songs
of various birds are observed.
In October various hunts are made for
grouse, geese,
and
partridge.
In
November a
quandary
about which kind of tree to cut is related. The ef-
fects of tree diseases and
parasites
are
catalogued.
In December the fea-
tures of
white, red,
and
jack pine
are
noted;
and there is
speculation
about
the
probable
death of a banded chicadee.
The Thematic
Unity
of Sand
County
Almanac
However,
the chronicle-like character of the Part I stories are deceiv-
ing.
Soon
-
even
by
the second
story
-
we are shown
by
the narrator the
52 J^^^
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underlying
infrastructure that connects these
disparate events, namely
a
systematic ecology. Primary relationships
are discussed: the
prey-predator
relation is illustrated
by
the
story
of the mouse and the
rough-legged hawk,
and the rabbit and the
owl;
the rabbit
is,
in
turn,
a consumer and the oak
a
producer.
There is mutualism
among
the owl and
oak,
commensalism
and
phoresis among species,
and there is
parasitism
in the existence of tree
diseases. Flora and fauna
grow, reproduce,
and die. The stories
depict gen-
erally
an
ecology
in its
yearly cycle.
The causes of
regime change
are noted
and,
the
implication
of human actions on these
changes
are revealed.
Through
all of
this,
what is discovered
by
the naive reader is the web of
relations that connect the characters and
happenings,
and how
implicated
human
beings
are in these set of relations. The
puzzle
of the
disparate
events is solved
gradually
over the course of the stories.
Second,
knowl-
edgeable
readers will
begin
to discern how the biotic
pyramid
-
later to be
explained
in
Leopold's prose
-
is
emerging
here as the
explanation
of these
disparate
events. The narrator is
moving
naive readers from a view
they
probably initially
had
-
a lack of awareness of the
integument,
the infra-
structure which connects the
disparate individuals,
and observations
they
see in their own
part
of the natural
world,
to a full
understanding
of its
import.
But there is
certainly
more to the
story
than the
explanation
it
pro-
vides. This concatenation of
events,
and the set of
relationships
that make
up
this
ecology
are embedded in a certain normative framework that is
initially puzzling,
but
slowly
revealed over time. The
very
first
story
in Part
I, "January Thaw," presents
two characters who seem
opponents
in the
central conflict of the
story
-
the meadow mouse and the
rough-legged
hawk. It is the
thawing
of snow which
disorganizes
the world of the meadow
mouse, robbing
it of the order and
security
found in its tunnels beneath the
snow. This is a time of crisis for the mouse.
But,
at the same
time,
it is a
time of
opportunity
for the hawk
-
the thaw is that which
brings
the
rough-
legged
hawk to the meadows to catch these
very
same mice. The same
event means weal to one and woe to other.
Just
as the
newly exposed
oak
entices the rabbits out of their season of
want,
it also means threat
by
the
owl. The
portrayal
of this
ecology
seems one of a basic conflict between
its citizens. Does the norm of this
ecology
rise
beyond
this
primitive
frame
of
prey
and
predator?
Is there a
justice here,
or is it
simply
the
place
where
force, violence,
and
power play
themselves out? Is it a world of Thras-
ymachus,
or a world of Socrates? Are we to view this world in the
way
in
"""^^
53
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which Blake
puzzles
over the existence of the
"Tyger,"
-
"Did he who made
the
lamb,
make thee?"
In
trying
to
impose
thematic closure on the events in the first stories of
Part
I,
the reader
might experiment
with common models.
Perhaps
the
stories should be taken
melodramatically
-
or as
Northrup Frye
calls them
-
romances
(1973, 186).
In a
popular
romance or
melodrama,
like Star Wars
or
Independence Day,
the thematic
unity
is one of
good
versus evil. It is
often the case that such conflicts occur between one
group
and another
outside of itself. The focal
group,
the one the audience identifies
with,
is
the
purveyor
of the
right norms,
the other
group
is
truly other, alien,
and
threatens what is
right.
The romance
always manages
to find a
way
for
perfect justice
to
prevail
-
the
righteous rewarded,
those who violate the
right
order
punished,
and the innocent
protected
from harm. Do we
imag-
ine, then,
that these woodland scenarios are set
up
as a
Disney romance,
that the hawks and owls are
villains,
the mice and rabbits victims? This
cannot be since the narrator's tone of indifference would lead us to believe
that the
only
character that could count as innocent victim in this melo-
drama is not
portrayed
as such. The narrator inhibits us from
finding
a
point
of
sympathy by
this means.
Perhaps, then,
this first
story
is a
tragedy.
In a
tragedy,
the conflict is
within the
community,
and between those who should
normally
be
allies,
brothers, sisters, lovers,
friends. But there is no indication that
any
one of
these
players
so far introduced has
upset
the norms of this
community
-
if
there are ones. We have no Othello-hawk
here,
who in a
jealous rage
kills
his
wife;
or an
Iago-mouse,
who
envious, betrays friendship.
The norms
implicit
in the
tragedy indirectly support
common norms of the
group.
Members within the
family
should love one another
-
father and
son,
hus-
band and
wife;
the
group
should be
allied,
and no
betrayal.
The
tragedy
always
shows that
things
end
badly
for those who violate such sacred norms
for the
group.
Yet we see no such lesson here.
Nor does this seem a
comedy.
In the classic sense of
comedy
-
best
illustrated
by
A Christmas Carol
-
the conflict comes from a
blocker,
whose
position
of
power prevents
the
happiness
of
others;
true lovers are blocked
from marital
bliss,
a
deserving person
is
prevented
from
attaining
what is
truly
theirs.
But,
in the
end,
the
blocker,
like
Scrooge
or
Egeus
in A Mid-
summer
Night's Dream,
is made to see the error of his
ways,
those who are
blocked find their
bliss,
and the
community
is a better
place.
But here we
are witness to the death of the mouse and the rabbit. If the blockers are the
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hawk and
owl, they
do not see the error in
killing
the mouse and rabbit
-
if it is an error. But in a
comedy,
those blocked would not
perish.
The
norms
implicit
in a
comedy
are the ones
indirectly supported by
the
trag-
edy
-
a
harmony
within the
group through
which all is well because it ends
well.
These false
attempts
at
finding
a normative
unity
to these events un-
doubtedly puzzle
the naive reader. The reader must look
away
from these
common thematic unities to more
complex
ones. In "The Good
Oak,"
the
second
story
in the
series,
the narrator
immediately
introduces us to the
conflict between
producer
and
consumer, autotrophic
and
heterotrophic
organisms,
in this case the
struggle
between rabbit and oak. As the narra-
tor
says, "every surviving
oak is the
product
either of rabbit
negligence
or
of rabbit
scarcity" (1989, 7).
Some
day,
the narrator
says,
a botanist will
show the
frequency
curve of oak
birth-years humps every
10
years,
coin-
ciding
from a low in the
10-year
rabbit
cycle.
In other
words,
when the
oak
prospers,
it is because the rabbit wanes. We are
tempted
to describe
this as a
perfect
zero-sum
game, hence,
a
description
of absolute
competi-
tion. But the narrator comments that it is
by
the
very
means of this
"per-
petual
battle" that both retain an
"immortality."
Should the rabbit
prevail
entirely
over the
oak,
the rabbit will
perish, just
as in
"Thinking
Like a
Mountain,"
the deer herd
begins
to die "of its own too much"
(1989,
132).
The rabbit will not win if it
destroys
this
opponent.
This is
why
we cannot
say
that it is a battle between
good
and evil
-
the rabbit
evil,
and the oak an innocent
victim; for,
first of
all,
in the
previous story,
we
would've had to
say
that the rabbit was an innocent victim and the owl
the villain. What we
recognize
is a basic factum of this
ecology,
that the
competition
or "war" between the
species
is what maintains the survival
of each
species.
But do we
have, then,
a Hobbesian
world,
or a Heraclitean
one
-
constant
strife,
or war as the father of all
things?
But the
picture Leopold presents
is somewhat more
complicated
than
this. If it is
strife,
it is also alliance
-
it is not a war of all
against
all. The
rabbit is a
primary
consumer who needs the oak to sustain its
existence;
the owl is a
secondary
consumer who needs the rabbit to sustain
itself,
but
in
feeding
off the
rabbits,
the owl
helps preserve
the oaks as a
species.
Without the
oaks,
the rabbits would decline
-
perhaps irretrievably.
The
mutualism between owl and oak is such that the
young
oak baits the rab-
bits which feed the
owls,
which
helps
the
young
oaks survive. It is this
circuit of strife and alliance that sustains the citizens of this
particular
"~ ""
'
^^^'
™~
x*HE NARRATIVE ETHICS

OF IloTpOLD 55
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ecology,
and it is the strife that
supports everything.
What controls this
process
is a
natural,
but ironic mechanism
-
the
very weight
of rabbit
popu-
lation success forces its decline. The
up
and down
cycle,
like a
piston
of a
Carnot
engine,
is what
perpetuates
the
species.
This
dependency
between
species
is
expressed
as
complementary, roughly
sinusoid
curves,
whose
success is its endurance in
time,
a
repetitive, relatively
stable
pattern.
We can look to the
particular, primary
relations in this
ecology
for
some normative
guidance.
But a
cursory inspection
of the
intuitively
more
positive relations,
such as mutualism and
commensalism,
demonstrate thin
moral
ground
indeed. Mutualism is a
type
of
symbiosis
that involves a
mutual benefit
-
but such
relationships
involve co-action more than
coop-
eration,
since there is no deliberate
working together
to achieve those
benefits. It cannot be
reasonably said, except metaphorically,
that the owl
and the oak have an
agreement
to benefit one another. As the owl acts in
its own interests in
feeding
on the
rabbit,
it
incidentally
benefits the oak.
By
the
very
fact that the oak
grows,
and so offers
tempting
nutrition to the
rabbit,
it
provides
the
possibility
of a meal for the owl.
Although
for
any
one
organism,
mutualism is
critically essential,
such that all
parts
work
together
for the benefit of that
organism,
in the context of an
ecology,
mutualisms occur in
opposition
to other mutualisms. Granted this benefits
the
ecology
as a
whole,
still it does not benefit the
opposed group. Things
slide
downhill, morally speaking,
from there: commensalism is bare tol-
eration, predation, consumption
and
parasitism
involve
downright exploit-
ative ethics.
If we look to the biotic
pyramid
for an
ethic,
that
is,
if we move from
the
analysis
of the
particular
relations that constitute it to an
emergent
whole,
we
may
still not fare much better. The biotic
pyramid
is constituted
by
a set of
dependency
and
power
relations. The rabbit
depends
on the
oak as a
producer
of its
protein,
the owl
indirectly
as
rabbit-prey.
A is
dependent upon B,
if B is
necessary
for A's survival. In this case the
protein
from B is a
necessary
and sufficient cause of
energy
for A. At the same
time,
the means
by
which A
acquires energy
from B is to consume B.
Thus,
A has a
power
of control over the existence of
B,
but B is
necessary
for the
existence of A.
Consequently,
should A control B in a manner that threat-
ens the existence of
B,
A threatens its own existence. As Holmes Rolston
says
about this: "... this remarkable
competition
where winners
by
their
success alter their environment and become
losers,
a "fortunate"
aspect
of
the "law" of
succession,
a
strange
environmental fitness"
(1987, 260).
56 ETHl'cS "B
TOe'etWIRONMENT; 8(272003"
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Moreover, "predator
and
prey
or
parasite
and host
require
a co-evolution
where both
flourish,
since the health of the
predator
or
parasite
is locked
into the
continuing existence,
even the
welfare,
of
prey
and host"
(1987,
250).
This is
nothing
other than a succinct
description
of
irony which,
we
must
conclude, thematically
unifies
Leopold's
22 stories of Part 1.
Irony,
along
with
tragedy, comedy
and
romance,
is one of the four
major
dra-
matic
themata, according
to
Northrop Frye (1973, 162),
and one of the
most difficult and
paradoxical
to understand. Kenneth Burke describes its
dramatic
logic perfectly:
"... the
developments
that led to the rise
will, by
the further course of their
development, "inevitably"
lead to the fall. "What
goes
forth as
A,
returns as non-A. This is the basic
pattern
that
places
the
essence of drama and dialectic in the
irony
of the
"peripety,"
the
strategic
moment of reversal" . . . .
"
(1969, 517).
Those
very
virtues which allow
Oedipus
to succeed to the
position
of the
king,
act as the
very
flaws of his
downfall. More
generally
Burke
says
-
and this is
expressed
in the more
modern
ironies,
such as Orwell's
1984,
Kafka's The
Trial,
or Eliot's The
Wasteland
-
that "true
irony"
is based on a "fundamental
kinship"
with
the
opponent:
"one needs
him,
is indebted to
him,
is not
merely
outside
him as an observer but contains him
within, being
consubstantial with
him"(1969, 514).
In
irony,
the differentiation between
good
and evil is
palpably diminished;
the
protagonist
is
likely
to be as flawed as
any
an-
tagonist.
What is eliminated from such a theme is a sense of
superiority,
and
replaced by humility.
It
is,
as Burke
says,
allied with the
logic
of dialec-
tic,
both in the Socratic and
Hegelian
sense. The
process
of the
dialogue,
and the dialectical movement
itself, requires
an
opponent, upon
which the
success of the
dialogic process depends.
It is
only
in the
posture
of
igno-
rance and the
humility
that comes with
it,
that Socrates can
hope
to
gain
some wisdom from the
outcome; conversely,
it is
only converting
the
young
Meno's sense of
arrogance
and
superiority,
for
example,
that he
might
also
gain
such wisdom.
In
turn, Hegel's
master-slave dialectic can be viewed as
describing
the
ironic
logic
of
dependency. Applying
it to the biotic
pyramid
foils
any
hier-
archical
interpretation.
It is
tempting
to
say
on the basis of the visual meta-
phors
and
tropes
of the
pyramid design
-
the verticalness of A above
B,
and the fact that A is fewer in number than the
many
Bs
-
that B is for the
sake of A.
Autotrophic organisms pass
on
energy
to
heterotrophic ones,
specifically through consumers,
then
through primary
and
secondary preda-
""-"""j^^
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tors. But
entropy
rather than
teleology requires
that there be fewer het-
erotrophic organisms
than
autotrophic
ones in
any ecology.
It is
just
as
easy
for those who are
supplied by energy
as it is for those who
supply
the
energy
to fall off the
pyramid.
There is no reason
why
Homo
sapiens
is
particularly
needed to maintain the order of the biotic
pyramid.
If
any-
thing,
the biotic
pyramid
should be translated into a
trophic sphere, nicely
articulated
by Leopold:
"Food is the continuum in the
Song
of the Gavilan.
I
mean,
of
course,
not
only your food,
but food for the oak which feeds the
buck who feeds the
cougar
who dies under an oak and
goes
back into
acorns for his erstwhile
prey.
This is one of
many
food
cycles starting
from
and
returning
to
oaks,
for the oak also feeds the
jay
who feeds the
gos-
hawk
"
(1989, 153).
If
anything
there are no winners or losers
among
species
in the
normal,
stable
functioning
of the biotic
pyramid;
the
pyra-
mid is as indifferent to the scene as the narrator in
"January
Thaw." It is a
position
in
many ways
consistent with a materialist version of
Spinoza:
"Nature has no fixed aim in view and that all final causes are
simply
fabri-
cations of men"
(Ethics,
Part
I, Prop.
36.
Appendix). However,
as
Spinoza
also
points
out
indirectly,
from the
vantage
of
any organism
that can have
a
point
of
view,
nature
always
seems well suited to it
(Ethics
Part
I; Prop.
36.
Appendix). However,
that is not due to
any ideological design,
but to
the evolution
tautology:
a
species
that is
surviving
in
any ecology
is well-
adapted
to it. The biotic
pyramid is,
in its
essence,
a flow of
energy
which
permits
the continued existence of the forms of life it has.
Any
viable
ecology, then,
rests on
ethically weak, oppressive,
and
ques-
tionable
relations; yet any good possible
is made
possible, ironically, by
sustaining
such an
ecology
to a
degree
that favors that
good. Thus,
for the
sake of that
good,
the
integrity
of the
ecology
understood as the whole of
its relations and its
stability
-
the flow of
energy through it, adequate
to
support
the
present
forms of life
-
must be maintained. But what
Leopold
is
struggling
for here at this critical
point
is to
persuade
his fellow human
beings
that this
good, yielded by
the
maintaining
the
integrity
and
stability
of
ecologies,
must extend to nonhuman
life.
He is aided in this
regard by
the
preparatory
attitude of
humility engendered by
the ironic
theme,
but
also
logically,
in an
implicit argument
that could be filled out
by
the read-
ers: Because the
struggles
and
suffering
of nonhuman life make
possible
our
good,
then
by
the dictates of our own fundamental ethics we must
reciprocate by including
other
living beings
into the net of our ethical con-
sideration. A
good
citizen of this
ecology,
a "fellow-traveler" as
Leopold
58 ]^^^
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deems
it,
is indebted to the other citizens and travelers. "Man and
beast,
plant
and soil lived on and with each other in mutual
toleration,
to the
mutual benefit of all"
(1989, 99).
It rests
implicitly
on a
sturdy presump-
tion of
justice:
Each who contributes to the
good
of the whole should
benefit from its
configuration,
in the manner in which
they can,
and to an
extent
compatible
with the
good
of others. Even
though
these other non-
human forms of life do not
consciously reciprocate,
do not enter
specific
contracts,
do not form
obligations
towards
us,
and some seek in their
very
nature to harm us
-
all of that makes
possible
our own
good.
We act un-
ethically
when we
configure
this order such that it benefits ourselves alone.
To effect this realization
Leopold
wants to add one more dimension to his
argument
here
-
and that is the emotional.
THE EMOTIONAL VALIDITY OF SAND COUNTY
In the stories of Part
I,
the
primary
means
by
which
Leopold attempts
to
persuade
us that we must consider the
good
of nonhuman life is
by
means of a
pathetic proof (understood
in a manner
explained previously).
Later in Part
II,
he
explicitly expresses
the
particular
sentiment he wants us
to
get:
"It is a
century
now since Darwin
gave
us the first
glimpse
of the
origin
of
species.
We know now what was unknown to all the
preceding
caravan of
generations:
that men are
only
fellow-
voyagers
with other crea-
tures in the
odyssey
of evolution. This new
knowledge
should have
given
us, by
this
time,
a sense of
kinship
with
fellow-creatures;
a wish to live and
let
live;
a sense of wonder over the
magnitude
and duration of the biotic
enterprise" (1989, 109).
In
realizing
that we are all bound to an order that
we
endure,
that
through
this endurance we
manage
to make each other
thrive
-
this realization should
give
us a new valuation of other forms of life.
Leopold attempts
to move the reader towards this sentiment
by
means
of identification and
sympathy.
Personification is the
literary
device he most
frequently
uses to achieve this
-
but in
many respects
he
attempts
to
show,
as an
ecological fact,
the
"humanity"
so to
speak
of nonhuman
species.
In
February,
we learn to mourn the loss of the
good
oak
(1989, 9)
-
and
through
the
eyes
of the
narrator,
its 80
years
of existence is made
unique,
and its center in the web of
ecological relationships
made manifest. What
makes the oak
"good", then,
in
Leopold's
title of this
February story?
The
oak stands at the intersection of these various
types
of
ecological relations,
and so can become a
symbol
of it all. Human
beings
use it for
warmth;
June bugs
defoliate
it;
the
squirrels
feed off its acorns all winter
long.
Dis-
JAMES JAK6B
LISZKA THE NARRATIVE ETHICS OF LEOPOLD 59
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ease attacks the
oaks,
but its windfalls
provide hiding places
for
grouse,
and its diseased leaves and
gall,
food for them as well. Bees find a home in
hollow
oaks;
the dead bark of trees is a
treasury
of
eggs,
larvae and co-
coons for the chickadees. But the
oaks, too,
are invaders of the
grasslands
that once dominated their area. As soon as humans in sufficient numbers
plowed
these fields and
stopped
the fires that once
periodically
consumed
this
area,
the oaks and other trees and shrubs
began
to flourish. The "Good"
Oak,
as the title of this
story suggests,
is the one that
fully participates
in
this
ecology
of relations
-
it is
benefactor,
but also
beneficiary.
Like a
good
soldier,
the oak has served 80
years
in its
ecological duty,
and as such it
deserves our
respect, admiration,
and
sympathy.
In
March,
the narrator
proclaiming
his stern and indifferent scientific
stance
cannot, nonetheless, "impute
a disconsolate tone" to the
honking
of the lone
geese,
and come to the conclusion that
"they
are broken-hearted
widowers,
or mothers
hunting
lost children
(1989, 21).
Like
us,
the ducks
form families and kin
relations,
care for their
young,
and feel at their loss.
The lone ducks are "bereaved survivors of the winter's
shooting, searching
in vain for their kin." The narrator
says,
"now I am free to
grieve
with and
for the lone honkers"
(1989, 22).
In
April
the woodcock does it
sky dance,
seeking
romance and a mate
(1989, 30ff).
After
observing
the bird's
sky
dance,
the narrator is now
changed:
"The woodcock is a
living
refutation
of the
theory
that the
utility
of a
game
bird is to serve as a
target,
or to
pose
gracefully
on a slice of toast"
(1989, 34).
The observations of the
sky
dance
make the narrator realize that the bird is driven
by
the same
biology
as us
-
to seek a
mate,
to have
young.
In
May
we become intimate with the
struggles
of the
plover
in its
migration
from
Argentina,
such that it is a
great
relief to
the reader that it was the federal
migratory
bird laws which saved these
birds from extinction
by
hunters'
guns (1989, 37).
In
June
we learn "how
like fish we
are, ready, nay eager,
to seize
upon
whatever new
thing
some
wind of circumstance shakes down
upon
the river of time"
(1989, 39).
By
the time of
July,
the reader is
prepared
to
accept
the narrator's
point
of
view,
and feel the full
impact
of the loss of
species,
since it means
the loss of
every
individual of
it,
and
every future
individual of it. The
narrator
wryly remarks,
"the erasure of a human
subspecies
is
largely pain-
less
-
to us
-
if we know little
enough
about it. ... We
grieve only
for what
we know"
(1989, 48). Indeed, by
now we have come to know the mem-
bers of the Sand
County ecology,
and we
grieve
their
disappearance,
so
much so that the table of
diminishing species (1989, 47)
has the same
60
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impact
as a
newly
arrived list of war dead. We see now in November what
a
struggle
it is to decide which tree to cut. This is no
longer
a matter of
simply getting
wood for
heat,
it is a decision that has an
impact
on
living,
working,
and
thriving
members of this
ecology
-
that what the human in-
dividual does to the
ecology
affects these other individuals
living
in it. The
trees are no
longer thought exclusively
in terms of their use-value.
They
have an aesthetic
value,
a character-value that
engenders partiality
and
special
concern and care. Our biases are the result of
caring
for the
land,
they
are "indeed a sensitive index to our
affections,
our
tastes,
our
loyal-
ties,
our
generosities
"
(1989, 72).
It is because we can
only
care about
the individual members of this
ecology,
that we come to care about the
system
that
supports
it. But
by
that
very constraint,
we are also
partial
in
our care and concern.
This,
of
course,
is manifest in the evolution of our
own
ecological
conscience
-
from conservation for our own
sakes,
to the
special
treatment of
species
and
aesthetically spectacular lands,
to the rec-
ognition
of the
importance
of the
ecology
for
beings
other than ourselves.
The axe and the shovel become the
metaphors
for humans'
partiality,
and for the effect on the
ecology.
"It is a matter of what a man thinks
about while
chopping,
or while
deciding
what to
chop.
A conservationist
is one who is
humbly
aware that with each stroke he is
writing
his
signa-
ture on the face of his land"
(1989, 68).
The transformation that the nar-
rator wants us to
undergo
is one in which we care about the
ecology
not
just
for our
sakes,
but also for the sakes of those other
beings living
in it.
This sentiment is
acquired
without the
expectation
of
reciprocity,
"for one
species
to mourn the death of another is a new
thing
under the sun. The
Cro-Magnon
who slew the last mammoth
thought only
of steaks Had
the funeral been
ours,
the
pigeons
would
hardly
have mourned us. In this
fact. . . . lies
objective
evidence of our
superiority
over the beasts"
(1989,
110). But,
as we have
seen,
this is an ironic
superiority
that
engenders
our
humility
in the face of the order of
things,
"above all we
should,
in the cen-
tury
since
Darwin,
have come to know that
man,
while now
captain
of the
adventuring ship,
is
hardly
the sole
object
of its
quest
These
things,
I
say,
should have come to us. I fear
they
have not come to
many" (1989, 110).
THE PERFORMATIVE NORMS OF
SAND COUNTY ALMANAC
Ostensibly, Leopold's goal
in
writing
Sand
County
Almanac is to
per-
suade its readers to the side of conservation. Yet we must consider the
._™_^^
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ethics of how this is
performed.
It is here that we would find the means for
revealing something
about the ethos of the book and its author. In
pursuit
of this
analysis,
we should
keep
in mind
questions concerning
the real
author and his intentions for the
work, questions
about the
implied
au-
thor,
as
gleaned
from the overall affect of the
story,
and from the voice and
focalization of the
narrator(s) (cf.
Booth
1988, 128, 457). Similarly,
we
must also
distinguish
the real reader
-
understood as the actual
reception
of a narrative
by
a
specific reading public
-
from the
implied
reader
-
the
sort of
role, meaning,
and normative
pre-configuration
the text sets for the
reader
(cf.
Iser
1978, 34ff).
The
implied author,
as Booth
says,
is the case
where "the author creates ... an
image
of himself and another
image
of
his
reader,
he makes his
reader,
as he makes his second self. ..."
(1963,
137).
In
regard
to real
readers,
we know that the book was in fact
persua-
sive for a
significant
number of the American
public.
It
is,
in Wallace
Stegner's words,
"almost a
holy
book in conservation circles"
(1987, 233).
But in
analyzing
the
implied reader,
we can
get
more to the center of the
normative character of its
performatives,
rather than
just
its rhetorical
effects on an audience.
We know that
Leopold struggled
with the
Knopf
editors on the issue
of the
proper
outlook of the book.
Leopold
wanted the book to be an
outright argument
for
conservation;
the
Knopf
editors wanted it to be
"what-I-saw-while-in-the-woods"
book,
as
Leopold put
it
(Ribbens 1987,
93).
Part I is
Leopold's compromise.
There must have been the
temptation
for
Leopold
to use these stories as
allegories
for his conservation ethic.
Indeed,
some of the earlier versions of the shack stories were
published
in
1941 and 1942 in The Wisconsin
Agriculturalist
and Farmer as conserva-
tion
essays
for farmers
(Ribbens 1987, 92).
As shown
by
his letters to his
student and
illustrator,
Hans
Hochbaum, Leopold
also
struggled mightily
with the tensions between the
right
ethical
judgment
he wanted his readers
to make about
ecological
matters and the
literary
character of the
writings
(Ribbins 1987, 95).
He felt that
showing
readers the evidence sufficient to
make the
right
moral
judgment might
interfere with the
literary
effect of
the
writings,
and
conversely. By
the time he sends his first version of the
book to the
Knopf editors,
he is convinced that he has succeeded in this
regard,
since he feels he does not have to include the
prose pieces
that
make
up
Part III of the book as we now know
it,
"the
object,
which should
need no elaboration if the
essays
are
any good,
is to
convey
an
ecological
view of the land and conservation"
(quoted
in Ribbens
1987, 97).
But
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Knopf rejects
the
manuscript
on the basis that there is no
unity
to the
pieces and,
in
any case, they
are not narrative
enough (Ribbens 1987,
98-
99).
In his
disappointment, Leopold
worked to
provide
more
narrative,
and
employed
the device of a
yearly cycle
of events to
provide
thematic
unity
to the shack sketches. He
thought
also he could add the famous
prose pieces
of Part III after all
-
to extend the book's
length.
But when
he sent these further revisions to
Knopf they
voiced the same
complaints:
lack of the
right
sort of
narrative,
lack of
unity and, furthermore,
there was
no
way
to
unify
the sketches and stories with the
prose pieces. Moreover,
the editors found the
prose pieces "fatuous,"
and "the
ecological argu-
ment
everyone
finds
unconvincing.
..."
(quoted
in Ribbens
1987, 102).
This
time, however, Leopold
is less
willing
to
accept
the criticisms of the
Knopf
editors.
Although
he continued to work on the
manuscript
with the
Knopf
criticisms in
mind,
he sent the
manuscript
off to other
publishers.
As we
know,
Oxford
University
Press
accepted
it in
April
1948.
Thus,
Leopold's
final
product
is much more narrative than he intended it to
be,
but because he was driven
by
motive to
argue
for the conservation
ethic,
the
purpose
of these narrative sketches in Part I are most
likely
intended to
be
persuasive
in that
respect.
If
Leopold
intends his book to be
persuasive
in its
argument
for the
conservation
ethic,
how does he set
up
and construct his
implied
reader?
What is
Leopold's
ethical
posture
towards this audience? In the 1947 Fore-
word to his
manuscript (in
what was then called Great
Possessions), Leopold
is rather
gruff
about his
purpose
for
writing
the book. He
says,
"these
essays
were written for
myself
and
my
close
friends,
but I
suspect
that we
are not alone in our discontent with the
ecological
status
quo.
If the reader
finds here some echo of his own affections and of his own
anxieties, they
will have
accomplished
more than was
originally
intended"
(Leopold 1947,
288).
Here the tone
suggests
he is
writing
to a
restricted,
elite audience
who,
like
himself,
understands the true
importance
of conservation. If the
reader
already
thinks this
way,
then he will
recognize
the truths of this
book,
if
not,
then the book is not for him. In the
beginning
of the 1947
Foreword, Leopold,
the
author, conveys
an ethos of
disgust
for the behav-
ior of humans towards the
land,
and the
general
tenor of the
essay
is a
chronicle of his own
importance
in the
development
of the conservation
movement.
However, despite
this
haughtiness,
he does admit his own er-
rors and the role he
played
in the
regional
extinction of various
predators.
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But he is
puzzled
as to
why
others have not moved on to the revelation he
has received about these errors.
Leopold's writing
reflects a sarcasm that
certainly
borders on
cynicism
and ridicule of
anyone
who
might
not al-
ready agree
with his
position.
In
effect,
those who
might possibly disagree
with his
position,
or would not understand
it,
are un-invited from
reading.
This Foreword is a call to the like-minded
reader,
and for
solidarity
in the
conservation effort.
But,
of
course, Leopold
wrote a
second,
different foreword to the final
draft of the
book,
and the fact that he never had a
chance,
as he
intended,
to include the earlier one as an
appendix
to the
published
work
may
have
been fortuitous.
Compared
with the 1947
Foreword,
the tenor of the 1948
one, published
with the book as we know
it,
is somewhat friendlier and
inviting.
Here the writer is more
humble, although
still
occasionally
burst-
ing
out with
contempt
for the
unsaved,
"we of the
minority
see a law of
diminishing
returns in
progress;
our
opponents
do not"
(1949, vii);
"the
whole world is so
greedy
for more bathtubs that it has lost the
stability
necessary
to build
them,
or even to turn off the
tap" (ix)
. . . The
opening
paragraph
rather than
scowling
at the
rabble, simply points
out that there
are those who can live without wilderness and those who
cannot,
and
what follows is written
by
one who cannot. It makes no immediate con-
demnation of those who can. In the brief remainder of the
foreword,
he
sketches the outline of his
work, showing
more
warmly
how the shack
sketches were made in the context of his
family enjoying
each other in the
enjoyment
of the semi-wildlands at the Wisconsin land.
The two Forewords show
Leopold,
the
implied author, working
in the
normative tension
among
a
variety
of ethical
postures
towards the
reader;
the result is that there is no exact center to them. These
postures
are con-
stituted
primarily by
the roles which the author offers the
reader,
and the
normative framework it
implies.
I believe
they
can be articulated in a man-
ner that echo the
principal
dramatic
genres, comedy, romance, irony,
and
satire.
First, just
as all
genres
have a conflict and
opponent process,
so too
we can cast the
implied
author-reader role in terms of alliance or
opposi-
tion: is the
implied
author
treating
the reader as an
opponent
or as a
po-
tential
ally?
If an
ally,
we can further adumbrate that role in Booth's terms
as kinds of
friendships (cf.
Booth
1988, 179ff). Second,
in what
manner,
in
the broadest
strokes,
are those alliances or conflicts
normatively framed,
comedically, ironically, romantically, satirically?
If
comedic,
and the au-
thor casts the reader as an
opponent,
the
goal
is to convert and
transform
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that
opponent,
and this is
possible
because the
opponent
is viewed as mis-
informed but
salvageable,
and
simply
needs to be
enlightened
about con-
servation. But here the
posture
must be delicate. If the ethos
conveys
haughtiness,
the reader
may
feel she is
being played
for a fool. The author
must
imply humility,
such that the role offered the reader feels like an
invitation to
judge
and
reflect,
to be shown
something
of which the reader
may
be
persuaded
or not.
Certainly
there is some of this
posture
in
Leopold,
but it does not
predominate.
If the
performative
relation between
implied
author-reader is framed as a romance or
melodramatically,
then
rarely
is it
the case that the
opponent
is invited in a
positive reading role;
more
typi-
cally
the
opponent
is the
target,
and the reader is
implied
as a
potential ally
against
that
opponent;
the
goal typically
is to exhort the reader towards
the
right side,
towards her
duty.
The
opponent
is not
salvageable,
but can
only
be defeated. We see some of this framework in
Leopold's prose,
in the
language
of the A/B
cleavage
in the
prose essays,
between those who view
nature as a
commodity,
and those who view it
biotically (1949, 221).
The
satiric
posture
is similar but
subtly
different
-
the
opponent
is also not
salvageable,
but its
goal
is not
hortatory,
but to
present
an
expose,
whose
target
is the
hypocrites,
the blind and foolish. Often we see this tone in
Leopold.
A
reader, then,
is
implied
as one who is
ripe
for
recognizing
what
the author is about to reveal.
Leopold
faced another
problem
which was how to construct the
narrator's voice. The letters to his
collaborator,
Hans
Hochbaum,
show
Leopold's struggling
with the
right
tone and character for the narrator.
Hochbaum
complained
about
Leopold's
initial draft of
many
of the sketches
that now make
up
Part I and II.
They
seemed to lack an
overarching theme,
and the tone of the narrator was "elitist and
cynical" (Ribbens 1987, 95).
He
encouraged Leopold
to reframe the narrator as more of a
self-portrait,
in which the narrator
struggles
with his own
transformation,
"the lesson
you
wish to
put
across is the lesson that must be
taught
-
preservation
of
the natural. Yet it is not
easily taught
if
you put yourself
above other men"
(quoted
in Ribbens
1987, 96).
In other words what Hochbaum wants is
the narrator to take a comedic
posture
towards the
reader,
and to aid in
the transformation of the reader
by showing
the reader his own transfor-
mation. This ironic
tinge
will create the
right
ethos of
humility
for this
audience.
Leopold
took Hochbaum's advice to a
large degree,
so that
"Thinking
Like a
Mountain,"
in Hochbaum's
view,
"fills the bill
perfectly"
(quoted
in Ribbens
1987, 96). Thus,
what we see in the
pieces
in Part I and
___»_
65
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Part II is another
story
above the content of the stories told
-
the
story
of
the narrator's own
realizations, revelations,
and transformations.
In the
end, however,
there is no
strong
center to the normative
aspect
of
performing
Sand
County
Almanac. At this level it is an inconsistent
mixture of
romantic, comedic,
and satiric
voices,
all of which
emerge
or
rise at various
points
in
any
one
story. Nonetheless,
readers have obvi-
ously
self-selected its
voice,
conservationists find it a call to combat
oppo-
nents of
conservation,
others have been transformed into conservationists
by it,
while still others are affirmed
by
its condemnation of the basic
hope-
lessness and
hypocrisy
of human relations to nature. In
any case, Leopold
invites us to live a
greater
life because it includes the consideration of na-
ture. If there are some "who can live without wild
things,"
then
they
are
poorer
for it.
CONCLUSION
I'm
suggesting
that this narrative
reading
of Sand
County
Almanac
may
affect the traditional
understanding
of the land ethic in two
impor-
tant
ways, first,
there is less
emphasis
in the narratives on an
over-arching
community,
and more on the
metaphor
of other
living things
as "fellow
travelers" in the
"odyssey
of evolution."
Indeed,
as Callicott has
noted,
the land ethic
essay
stresses the
language
of
'community'
and
progressively
de-emphasizes
the notion of 'fellow travelers'
-
reference to which
drops
out of the land ethic
imperative altogether (1999, 68).
In the narratives
we are
certainly
shown what
might
be counted as
genuine communities,
but
they
are constituted
by
relations
among
members of their own kind in
terms of
kinship
and association. Because
they
are not unlike our own
communities, Leopold
is able to
generate sympathy
and concern for their
members;
and because
they
contribute to the
functioning
of the
ecological
order he shows us
why
we should
admire, respect,
and
appreciate
these
fellow travelers.
Second,
the narratives make
palpable
the manner in which our fellow
travelers are framed and constrained
by
an ironic
ecological
order. Al-
though
not constituted
by ethically
admirable
relations,
this order man-
ages
to
produce anything
that is
ethically
admirable and
aesthetically
sublime. The order forces all its
living
constituents to use and
compete
with other
living things simply
in order to
live,
"the
only
truth is that its
members must suck
hard,
live
fast,
and die often"
(1989, 107). Leopold's
attitude towards this order alternates between its sublime
appreciation
and
66 J^J^^
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a Stoic indifference but
-
nonetheless
-
always
with a
feeling
of
kinship
and
sympathy
for our fellow travelers who must live under its relentless
constraint.
Thus, third,
the narrative
reading suggests
some
temperance
to the
usual holistic
interpretation
of his land ethic. We should not take the land
ethic
imperative
at its face
value,
in the sense that the
good
of the order
itself is an intrinsic
good.
The narratives
place
an
emphasis
on individuals
and what must be suffered and endured within this order. Individuals are
shown not to be
merely cogs
in the
turning
of the
ecological wheels,
but
the focus of
sympathy
and
concern,
in a manner that demands their
good
should also be an
object
of moral consideration.
By
now we are
quite
familiar with a number of serious criticisms of
Leopold's
land ethic as
traditionally understood, first,
that its ethical ho-
lism
engenders
a totalitarian ethic
(Aiken 1984, 269; Regan 1983, 262;
Shrader-Frechette
1996, 63);
second that it commits us to a functionalist
ethics,
which bases ethical worthiness on function or contribution to a
whole;
third that it demands unilateral ethical
obligations
on the
part
of
humans,
since there can be no intentional
reciprocity
on the
part
of
any-
thing
nonhuman
(Passmore 1974); third,
that an
ecology
is not a commu-
nity,
but functional co-action
(Rolston 1987);
and
four,
the core notions of
stability
and
integrity
of the land are
ecologically problematic concepts
(Shrader-Frechette 1998). Although
the narrative
interpretation
does not
address all these
criticism,
it
may
douse the fire in the
charge
of
ecofacism,
and
may help temper
some of these other criticisms.
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