By Alfred K. Siewers (auth.)
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Extra resources for Strange Beauty: Ecocritical Approaches to Early Medieval Landscape
There is only you and the forces of nature. You have been stripped of civilization, of culture; you are left with the most primal instinct of survival. 110 It was in this physical environment that monastics on islands such as Iona engaged in ascetic practices that included standing in natural bodies of water while praying for extended periods. 112 The Otherworld of the Ulster and Irish Mythological Cycles of stories overlaid the Irish landscape just as the biblical Paradise was envisioned as somehow atop the earth in Hiberno-Latin cosmological writing, amid the lower aerial waters of the cosmos that melded with the sea.
185 A Zen master—or perhaps desert ascetic? 187 Long deemed heretical in dominant Western Christian discourses, Eriugena’s philosophical analogue to the Otherworld trope is now widely understood as imbued with biblical and patristic traditions. 188 A contemporary North American “geography of desire” can be traced at the Confluence of the Susquehanna River near where this is written in central Pennsylvania. The Blue Hill’s bluff s on the west bank loom high above the coming-together of the West and North Branches of North America’s longest non-navigable river.
This shaping of a face for place as a dynamic landscape (in line with ecology), rather than an object (as on a GPS matrix), connects the psychological landscape of the Otherworld with visual Christian iconography of the early medieval era and the Maximian-Eriugenan cosmic semiotic of logoi. 128 In early Irish Sea otherworldly narratives, place is a nexus of connective energies—divine, human, and what might be called environmental—with ethical meaning. In the Irish story Tochmarc Étaíne, the otherworldly mounds in the landscape form a network of resistance to the objectifying military power of the high kingship, as two lovers flee into the land from the king by transforming into swans.