Tropical Landscapes and Nature-Culture Entanglements: Reading Tropicality via Avatar
Keywords:tropical landscapes, nature-culture entanglements, Avatar, exoticism, primitivism, rhizomatics, archipelagic consciousness
Landscape integrates both natural and cultural aspects of a particular geographical area. Environmental elements include geological landforms, waterscapes, seascapes, climate and weather, flora and fauna. They also necessarily involve human perception and inscription which reflect histories of extraction and excavation, of planting and settlement, of design and pollution. Natural elements and cultural shaping by humans – past, present, and future – means landscapes reflect living entanglements involving people, materiality, space and place. A landscape’s physicality is entwined with layers of human meaning and value – and tropical landscapes have particular significance. The Tropics is far more than geographic and needs to be understood through the notion of tropicality. Tropicality refers to how the tropics are construed as the exoticised Other of the temperate Western world as this is informed by cultural, imperial, and scientific practices. In this imaginary – in which the tropics are depicted through nature tropes as either fecund paradise or fetid hell – the temperate is portrayed as civilised and the tropical as requiring cultivation. In order to frame this Special Issue through an example that evokes tropicality we undertake an ethnographic and ecocritical reading of Avatar. The film Avatar is redolent with images of tropical landscapes and their nature-culture entanglements. It furthermore reveals classic pictorial tropes of exoticism, which are in turn informed by colonialism and its underlying notions of technologism verses primitivism. Furthermore, Avatar calls to mind the theories of rhizomatics and archipelagic consciousness.
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