How is the process of deforestation

Forests and Deforestation

The forest as a border
Endangered primeval forests
The forest beyond humanity
Sustainable life in the forest
Forests as a discourse
Related Links

Literary discussions about forests and deforestation are of central importance, especially in Austrian literature.

The German forester Carl von Carlowitz, in his Silvicultura oeconomica from 1713, was the first to treat forests as a wood resource in the context of sustainability. Carlowitz developed a sustainable method to mine wood so that future generations would not suffer from it and would have access to the same resources as the current generation.

Forests later became important topics in German-language romantic poetry: not from the perspective that they saw as a resource, but as sites of mythical concepts of nature and the role of man in nature, which was to be discovered. Romantic youths wander through mythical forests in these poems, singing romantic songs; others ride horses or drive in stagecoaches over the newly built and expanded road networks; still others make their life in the forest and use it as a buffer zone that enables them to pursue an eccentric lifestyle.

Correspondingly, authors of romantic fairy tales can make use of a rich literary tradition of forests that prevails in European fairy tale tradition. The Grimm Brothers' fairy tale collection is just one source among many in which the forests are full of potential dangers (witches, outlaws and animals are at home), but also in which characters can find shelter and refuge from malicious parents and stepparents.

Drawing of a hunting cabin in the journal Gazebo. Joseph Schmittzberger, Hunting lodge in the high mountains, 1888.

Drawing of a hunting cabin in the journal Gazebo. Joseph Schmittzberger, Hunting lodge in the high mountains, 1888.

Drawing of a hunting lodge in the magazine Gazebo. Joseph Schmittzberger, Hunting lodge in the high mountains, 1888.

In contemporary literature, Austrian writers focus intensely on forest narration and have recently even begun to incorporate the subject of deforestation into their works. The forest is thus often understood and treated in the context of its own disappearance.

A prominent Austrian prose author and painter of the 19th century, Adalbert Stifter, created literary characters who know the ancient stories about forests as places of refuge from civilization and those that allow eccentricity. However, his characters recognize that the forests are retreating and that even the thickest forest can no longer serve as a retreat from the approaching civilization or as a refuge from danger. The modern forest is exposed to more and more human influences, be it through extensive deforestation or through the constantly increasing tourist infrastructure. Most recently, environmental risks, which cause forest dieback and environmental devastation, have become popular literary topics.

In the novel The wall, which takes place in the 1960s, the Austrian post-war author Marlen Haushofer literally places her female protagonist behind a mysterious wall. Here she finds herself alone in a picturesque Austrian Alpine setting, as the only person in the vicinity. She has to learn to manage the section of the forest that has been allocated to her sustainably and to take care of her animals, which becomes a long and arduous process that is only partially successful. Most importantly, the end of this experiment remains unclear.

The forests of Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek, on the other hand, are clearly under the impression of human activities, from extensive industrial timber mining to the dense network of tourist paths and roads. Loggers and loggers demand the right to work and use the forest as a resource for human development. Tourists require access to hiking trails for recreational purposes. Ski lifts are being built everywhere and forests have to give way to downhill slopes. Hikers, mountain bikers and skiers criss-cross the last remaining contiguous forest areas and cars can be refueled at remote petrol stations and rest areas where previously nothing but forest could be found.

The exploitative attitude of the woodworkers towards nature is carried over directly into their abusive treatment of their wives and families. The company of forest workers in Jelinek's play The forest has reached a point where it is simply destructive. Jelinek shapes this situation poetically using nothing but "found" language and common phrases about the forest in her collage - a technique she uses to create the effect that the forest spits back all these clichés to the readers and viewers of the piece.

Literature shapes both the forest and the process of deforestation poetically by emphasizing human attitudes towards nature in this process. Readers and viewers are able to develop critical opinions on the subject if they weigh the perspectives of the various characters against each other. Through these comparative techniques, literature contributes to current debates on environmental issues by supporting and promoting a reflective and reflective attitude towards forests and deforestation processes - processes that are accelerating alarmingly quickly in our globalized world.

The forest as a border

The story of the Austrian writer from the 19th century, Adalbert Stifter, about the fate of the Pechbrenner, later renamed “Granit” (first published in 1849 as “Die Pechbrenner”), became part of the story collection in 1853 Colorful stones. In the story, a grandfather takes his grandson on a long walk through a local forest after a tar seller smeared the boy's feet with oil and his mother is upset about the stains he left on the floor of the house.

A block of granite. Photographed by Michiel Verbeek.

At the beginning of the story, the grandson sits on a granite block right next to his house and enjoys the outstanding view of the surroundings, although he notices the first approach of human settlements in the otherwise idyllic, rural, rural landscape:

In front of my father's birth house, close to the entrance door, lies a large octagonal stone in the shape of a very elongated cube. […] One of the youngest members of our house who sat on the stone was me when I was a boy. I liked to sit on the stone because at least at that time one had great care of it. Now it has been built a little. [...]

- Adalbert Stifter, "Granit" (1849), Chapter 3 in Colorful stones, Munich: Goldmann 1971, online at Projekt Gutenberg.

The Kürnbergwald near Linz. Photographed by Christian Wirth.

I looked out at the plowed, but not yet cultivated fields, I sometimes saw a glass there shimmering and shining like a white fiery spark, or I saw a vulture fly by, or I looked at the distant bluish forest, the one with its jagged edges Heaven, where the thunderstorms and cloudbursts descend, and which is so high that I thought that if one climbed the highest tree of it, one should be able to grasp the sky.

- founder,Colorful stones.

Grazing heather sheep. Photographed by Willow.

At other times I saw on the road that passes near the house, now a harvest wagon, now a herd, now a peddler.

- founder,Colorful stones.

The forest becomes a buffer zone between nature and the areas that are increasingly influenced and shaped by humans: mainly agricultural areas, but also human settlements. In the later 19th century, forests are increasingly being described from the perspective of loss and retreat.

Endangered primeval forests

In addition to literary adaptations of forests as buffer zones against human encroachment, Adalbert Stifter was just as intensely interested in the concept of primeval forests and their disappearance. The grandfather in Stifter's story "Granit" tells his grandson about the forests near his home, which were once much larger. To illustrate the vastness and importance of these larger primeval forests, the grandfather tells him a story about the pitch burners who once lived in and off the forests:

“If the evening sun didn't shine against us like that,” said Grandfather, “and everything was floating in a fiery smoke, I would be able to show you the passage that I am about to talk about now and that belongs in our story. It is many leagues from here, it is just across from us, where the sun sinks, and only then are the right forests. There are the firs and spruces, the alders and maples, the beeches and other trees like the kings, and the people of the bushes and the dense crowd of grasses and herbs, flowers, berries and moss stands among them. "

- founder,Colorful stones.

Typical Central European mixed forest of pine, fur, and beech. Photograph by coati.

Typical central European mixed forest with pines, firs and beeches. Photographed by coati.

In the grandfather's story, the pitch burners mainly retreated to these “real forests” to avoid infection with the plague.

“This bad luck burner,” he continued, “wanted to escape the general affliction that God had inflicted on people during the plague. He wanted to go up into the highest forest, where people never come to visit, where there is never air from people, where everything is different from below, and where he intended to stay healthy. […] But he went even further than where the lake is, he went to where the forest is, as it was when it was created, where no one has worked yet, where no tree kills as if it were from lightning is struck or overturned by the wind; then he lies there and new trees and herbs grow up out of his body; the trunks are high, and between them are the unappreciated and untouched flowers and grasses and herbs. "

- founder, Colorful stones.

Similar to the characters who wander through the woods singing romantic poetry, Stifter's grandfather is still trying to read the book of nature as a system of allegorical signs; a system that shows the first signs of destruction and the loss of traditional knowledge. The pitch burners are part of this culture of destruction and loss, which is no longer sustainable in relation to the forest, but already indicates the modern, increasing dependence on coal, gas and oil - an accelerated process of modernization that is being driven by the impending industrial revolution .

The forest beyond humanity

A novel by the Austrian post-war author Marlen Haushofer - The wall (1963) - tells the story of a woman who accompanies some friends to a hunting lodge in a picturesque alpine valley near Salzburg. The woman is suddenly trapped behind a mysterious wall; the only survivor of an inexplicable environmental disaster that must have occurred on the other side of the wall.

With a hunting dog, a cat and a pregnant cow, the female narrator is stuck in a relatively large but ultimately limited area of ​​alpine nature and has to learn to survive in this environment. All the problems of her urban existence are irrelevant as she now has to focus entirely on surviving.

Drawing of a hunting cabin in the journal Gazebo. Joseph Schmittzberger, Hunting lodge in the high mountains, 1888.

Drawing of a hunting cabin in the journal Gazebo. Joseph Schmittzberger, Hunting lodge in the high mountains, 1888.

Drawing of a hunting lodge in the magazine Gartenlaube. Joseph Schmittzberger, Hunting Lodge in the High Mountains, 1888.

The challenge is to develop a lifestyle that is sustainable and that guarantees the survival of the animals and themselves.

Blooming alpine rose (Rhododendron ferrogineum). Photographed by Muriel Bendel.

Around one o'clock in the afternoon I reached the path that led through the mountain pines and rested on a stone. The forest lay steamy in the midday sun, and warm clouds of scent rose from the mountain pines to me. Only now could I see that the alpine roses were blooming.

Marlen Haushofer, The wall, Düsseldorf: Classen, 1968, p. 62.

As a red ribbon they stretched across the heaps. It was much quieter now than on the moonlit night, as if the forest lay paralyzed under the yellow sun. A bird of prey circled high in the blue, Lynx slept with twitching ears, and the great silence fell over me like a bell. I wish I could always sit here, in the warmth, in the light, with the dog at my feet and the circling bird at my head.

Haushofer, The wall, P. 62.

A Eurasian Griffon Vulture. Photographed by Luc Viatour.

I had long since stopped thinking as if my worries and memories no longer had anything in common with me. When I had to go on, I did it with deep regret, and very slowly on the way I turned myself back into the only creature that didn't belong here, into a person who harbored confused thoughts, bent the branches with his clumsy shoes and the bloody business of Hunting operation.

Haushofer, The wall, P. 62.

Fleeing deer. Photographed by Teytaud.

Humans are a disruptive factor in these alpine forests and as the text implies, it would probably be better for the forest if people stayed away from it permanently. In her story, the author seems to suggest that true peace can reign when man has disappeared. An attitude not dissimilar to the more radical schools of thought in modern environmental protection.

Sustainable life in the forest

Marlen Haushofer's novel The wall (1963) continues with the narrator's self-reflective comment: She comments on her difficulties in living sustainably and in harmony with the nature around her after being taught to simply take in the modern consumer society, which preaches well-being and abundance of resources, what she wanted.

I actually like to live in the forest now, and it will be very difficult for me to leave it. But I'll come back if I stay alive over there over the wall. Sometimes I imagine how nice it would have been to raise my children here in the forest. I think that would have been paradise for me.

- Haushofer, The wall, Pp. 77-78.

Lucas Cranach the Elder, paradise, 1530. Oil on lime, 81 x 114 cm. Held by Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

Lucas Cranach the Elder, paradise, 1530. Oil on lime, 81 x 114 cm. Held by Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

Lucas Cranach the Elder, paradise, 1530. Oil on lime, 81 x 114 cm. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

But I doubt my children would have liked it that much too. No, it wouldn't have been paradise. I don't think paradise ever existed. A paradise could only be outside of nature, and I cannot imagine such a paradise. The thought of it bores me and I have no desire for it.

- Haushofer, The wall, Pp. 77-78.

The process of struggling with a different attitude towards nature - one that is not based on the conquest and exploitation of resources - is themed in the novel. However, it is not portrayed as a success story. The text simply ends when the protagonist runs out of paper after four months of writing about her life behind the wall. It does not contain a literary description of the forest and her life in it from this moment of her adventure.

Today, February twenty-fifth, I finish my report. There isn't a sheet of paper left. It is now about five o'clock in the evening and is already so bright that I can write without a lamp. The crows have risen and are circling over the forest, screaming. When they can no longer be seen, I will go into the clearing and feed the white crow. She's already waiting for me.

- Haushofer, The wall, P. 276.

Crow tracks in the snow. Photographed by Ramessos.

In this narrative, Haushofer radicalizes Stifter's project of giving the forest a greater thematic presence by addressing the issue of sustainability from the perspective of the forest itself. Rather, a sustainable relationship between people and forests should focus on the bond between people and nature.People have to refrain from positioning themselves as conquerors of the forest, who exercise control over the plants and animals located there.

Forests as a discourse

An urban forest in Jakarta, Indonesia. Photograph by Yogas Design.

An urban forest in Jakarta, Indonesia. Photo from Yogas Design.

In the play The forest According to the 1985 Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek, the forest itself - as in the works of Stifter and Haushofer - is no longer present, either as an actor, as a narrator or as a setting. Jelinek's forest consists only of words and discourse: it is a collage of common phrases that describe the Austrian forests. Jelinek's method of montage draws attention to the political and cultural meanings of forests, especially in the context of contemporary Austria and its ongoing efforts to destroy the last remnants of forests.

Three percent of Styria is covered with forest. Wouldn't we go to the mountain if we could? […] We are organized into families, blind embryos. Sport, yes, that also applies to you, even if you are made of plastic! Let's insult the ground with our cross-country hoopla!

- Elfriede Jelinek, The forest,manuscripts 89/90 (1985), p. 43.

Cross-country skiers near Einsiedel. Photographed by Markus Bernet.

Why not, we don't harm anyone, we are the harm ourselves. Forest, even more beautiful than I thought, boom! Even catch your sleep in narrow video films.

Newly laid road through the northern Bohemian Forest. Photographed by ŠJů.

The forest is what is beautiful, wonderful petrol stations during a modern drive through the forest, over which there is a road, by the way, there is no need to describe the road.

- Jelinek, The forest, P. 43.

Jelinek's post-natural forest, made up of nothing but discourse, is the exclusive product of human activity. It no longer has any inherent value beyond the empty phrases that make up the content of the piece. Even the woodworkers associated with the forest have a purely pragmatic attitude towards it - an attitude that is mirrored in their abusive family relationships:

They peek out from under their ideal “family”, that is how they disguise themselves, these birth defects and money recipients. Better to spare the forest with yourself. But put their poisonous breath over the factory settlements and self-built single-family houses of the woodworkers.

Where the workers dismantle their wives into their component parts to see if repairs could make improvements.

- Jelinek, The forest, P. 43.

Workers ’housing complexes in Marienthal near Gramatneusiedl / Lower Austria. Photograph by Joadl.

Workers' housing complex in Marienthal near Gramatneusiedl / Lower Austria. Photographed by Joadl.

The speakers in Jelinek's play are only concerned with money and social capital; an attitude that has completely suppressed any real concern for the forests. The only perspective that matters is economic gain and short term profit. These people have completely sold themselves and the forest to economic interests and the tourism industry. Sustainable attitudes towards forests do not exist.

Related Links

Wikipedia article on the film The wall

Wikipedia article on Haushofer's novel The wall

Elfriede Jelinek's homepage