Steven Knepper’s “Seeing the Countryside: Behind the Pastoral and Progressivist Veils” appears in Telos 162 (Spring 2013). Read the full version online at the Telos Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue in our store.
Building upon the work of Raymond Williams, this essay questions the lack of critical scrutiny given to the countryside and its cash crop monocultures. It holds that simple narratives of decline and progress contribute to this strange invisibility. Simple narratives of decline often contrast an idealized countryside and an insidious city, drawing a pastoral veil over the problems and economics of the actual working countryside. Simple narratives of progress often suggest that we have left the countryside behind entirely. When they do acknowledge continuing agricultural realities, they display what Vandana Shiva calls a “monoculture of the mind.” They present contemporary agribusiness as the only way to feed the world, thereby deflecting critical attention. In order to truly see the countryside and its centrality to modernity, this essay suggests we must draw back the pastoral and progressivist veils.