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Natalia Bielica

Natalia Bielica

Title: Between History and Geology – Landscape as a Palimpsest

Abstract: “During the fifteenth century the task of locating Eden and re-evaluating nature had already begun to be served by the appropriation of the newly discovered and colonized tropical islands as paradise” (Grove 23). With its exotic fauna, luxuriant plants, and abundant forests, the Caribbean islands became for the newcomers a locus amoenus[1]. However, under the construct of an earthly paradise lies the desire to possess and exploit earthly commodities. Through falling victim to imported landscape fashions and the desire for profit, the postcolonial landscape of the Caribbean may be interpreted as a palimpsest, whose layers speak the story of conquest. The model of the palimpsest can also be implemented in smaller spaces such as gardens, which should not be underestimated, for as put by Olive Senior, “Gardening in the Tropics, you never know / what you’ll turn up” (1-2). It is also through horticulture that Jamaica Kincaid becomes aware of the stories of conquest surfacing also in the form of plant names growing in her garden in Vermont. Therefore, facing the garden and delving into botany emerges here as a confrontation with the past – her immediate one and that which is connected to her (Kincaid 8). The garden gives her an opportunity to meditate on what torments her – people’s prejudice, plants that are not blooming, and the colonization of the Caribbean – and at least partially recuperate her anger. Especially in the case of the story of conquest, the garden becomes the place where she can claim her agency and demonstrate her power. However, upon thorough examination, not only Kincaid is exercising power over the flowers, but it arguably happens in reverse, too. This is a space over which we have control only to some extent, for sometimes, after hours of labor, broken gardening tools, blisters, and sore muscles, seeds just won’t germinate (Kincaid 78). To fulfill her horticultural desires, she has to attune herself to the cycles of the garden. Hence, gardening emerges here as a humbling experience, questioning the human domination over flora.

The metaphor of the palimpsest allows us to further explore history through its layers, recalling the practices of geology. Therefore, the metaphor of the palimpsest may be used as a technical one to describe the elements which connect the humancentric and the geological worlds. The earth, bearing marks of human activity transforming and overlaying existing natural systems and landscapes, draws our attention to the actions of our antecedents but also to the role we play in shaping the future trajectory of the planet.

[1] “pleasant place” – used by modern scholars to refer to the literary topos of the set of descriptions of an idyllic landscape, typically containing trees and shade, a grassy meadow, running water, song-birds and cool breezes (Hardie).