Stories of Snow and Fire: The Importance of Narrative to a Critically Pluralistic Environmental Aesthetic

John Charles Ryan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Downloads (Pure)


Written narratives enable humans to appreciate the natural world in aesthetic terms. Firstly, narratives can galvanize for the reader a sense for another person’s experience of nature through the aesthetic representation of that experience in language. Secondly, narratives can encode and document for the human appreciator as writer an experience of nature in aesthetic terms. Through different narrative lenses, the compelling qualities of environments can be crystallized for both the reader (who vicariously experiences nature through language) and the human appreciator (who directly experiences nature through the senses). However, according to philosopher Allen Carlson’s “natural environmental model” of landscape aesthetics, science provides the definitive narrative that represents nature on its own terms and catalyzes appropriate appreciation. In this article, I examine Carlson’s claim and argue for an environmental aesthetic philosophy of narrative multiplicity. Such a model would draw from scientific, indigenous, and journalistic narrative modes toward a critically pluralistic environmental aesthetic of the natural world. The ethical framework I propose—the function of which I characterize simply as narrative “cross-checking”—acknowledges the value of narrative heterogeneity in expressing and generating aesthetic experience of environments. This article’s thesis is forwarded through extensive treatment of these three narratives expressed within two examples, one of geographical place and one of environmental practice. As I will suggest, Denali, the prominent Alaskan mountain, can be aesthetically appreciated through the diverse narratives enumerated above. As a second case study, the traditional burning regimes of indigenous peoples reveal collectively how a critically pluralistic environmental aesthetic of narratives can be applied to—and identified to exist within—ecocultural practices, such as firing the landscape.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-118
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Stories of Snow and Fire: The Importance of Narrative to a Critically Pluralistic Environmental Aesthetic'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this