Why should we care about pastoral literature? The love songs of its melancholy shepherds don’t seem particularly useful for negotiating the contingencies of real human relationships, not to mention the fragmentation and alienation of the late capitalist world. And its idyllic landscapes filled with brooks and groves and green pastures come off as a pathetic fantasy compared to the world we live in, one that is choked with polluted waters, largely deforested, and overtaken by industrial monoculture farming. In this context, the pastoral world and its communities seem like nothing more than an irresponsible delusion.

But just as the impersonalized motifs of environmental degradation threaten to blind us to the fragility and complexity of the ecologies that surround us, the stereotypes of pastoral belie its diversity and its attention to the connections between the human and the natural world. The artificial environments and self-conscious speech of the pastoral are compelling when seen as a matrix through which to examine our own constructed and increasingly virtual world, a world populated with synthetic human bodies everyday denatured by toxins and plastics and pharmaceuticals.

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