Return of the Repressed: Native Presence and American Trauma in the Landscapes of Muir's Boyhood and Youth

Authors: Sarah A Moore*, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Paul F Robbins, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Topics: Geographic Theory
Keywords: Lacan, Muir, Landscape, Trauma
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Ambassador Ballroom, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The work of naturalist John Muir has been noted often for its relative silence on the role of native peoples in occupying, forging, and tending the environments that he so-often described as wilderness. His work, even when acknowledging or lamenting the status of native peoples, is further marked by the absence of reflection on the elimination of native peoples from the land in and around the exact locales he revered most in his writing.

We draw here on Lacanian theory to argue that, in contrast to the above, the native presence in Muir's last significant piece of writing, Boyhood and Youth, represents the return of repressed trauma affecting the American psyche at the time. While repression as described above is an often-deployed Freudian notion, three innovations by Jacques Lacan are also instructive here. For Lacan, subject formation takes place in the symbolic register, in the language and discourse that allow communication, but language is never able to fully capture what it is trying to represent; experience always exceeds language The realm or order of the real can therefore cause or enhance trauma, because it cannot be reconciled with the subject's story about the world as told in the symbolic. Here, we examine how the figure or image of the Indian, in this sense, lurks in the real of the landscape in a way that continually haunts its discursive erasure in Muir's work


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