saltwater crocodile

Being Prey Commentary

Being Prey is a short, nonfiction text written by Australian environmental activist, feminist, and later, philosophical animist, Val Plumwood. It details her account of canoeing through Kakadu National Park, Australia, in 1985, and being attacked by a saltwater crocodile. Plumwood is also the author of Feminism and the Mastery of Nature[1] and Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason[2]. Professor Deborah Bird Rose, a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, wrote of Plumwood, ‘She was one of the great intellects of the late 20th century; she is included in the Routledge publication Fifty Key Thinkers on the Environment, along with Gandhi, Buddha, and others.’[3]

Not only do I have a profound respect for Plumwood’s ecological work, but after her attack, she maintained that any account of it should not be published, so as not to cause any backlash against the creatures of Kakadu. Plumwood wrote, ‘Crocodile attacks in North Queensland have often led to massive crocodile slaughters, that’s why I tried to minimize publicity and save the story for my friends alone.’[4] However, after hashed-up versions hit the headlines, Plumwood was forced to tell her version of events. It was ten years later when Plumwood wrote Being Prey, more as a means of catharsis and because ‘passing on our stories is crucial, a way to participate in and be empowered by culture’[5]. Though this text was never traditionally published, it remains freely available online.

When I first read Plumwood’s piece, I found myself stopping to search for images of Plumwood, the environment and saltwater crocodiles. Not content with the words alone, though not because of a lack of quality in the writing, I needed the visual element to fully form, and perhaps heighten, my experience of the text. Christian Vandendorpe suggests that images ‘present the senses with a vision of an immediate reality’[6], and by taking in the visual aspects of the narrative, the text immediately took on greater authenticity.

I found myself wanting to provide this experience for other readers of the text, and so created an app, as a literary companion, using Mag+, which encompassed the visual elements my reading had benefitted from. But why an app? Why not simply a web-gallery? Plumwood’s text is one I have found myself going back to multiple times, and so a visual companion for keepsake is an inviting prospect. ‘Apps are applications that are downloaded and installed on your mobile device, rather than being rendered within a browser.’[7] They are permanently located, and easy to find, on a mobile device; they also have the practical advantage of not needing internet connection to view them.

Apps also allow readers to interact with the content. Readers can choose their path and physically navigate their own way around the materials, which gives the reader control and creates a deeper engagement with the content. On a subconscious level, I want the reader to get a sense of Plumwood as an activist and explorer, which is why an interactive app is that much more fitting to the piece rather than a static website.

My app opens with a map of Kakadu National Park, complete with the east, south and west alligator rivers (Plumwood was attacked on a channel just off the east alligator river). I have used the concept of digital mapping to create this as a contents page with map markers designed as interactive links to pages on Plumwood, (a bio) including a video on her life and work, Kakadu National Park, and the saltwater crocodile. I chose to use digital mapping, as maps in literature give readers a strong sense of place – especially important with this particular text – and engage them beyond the text’s capability. Franco Moretti says, ‘the spatial pattern of a map adds a clarity by “opening with a linear perspective, and then shifting to a circular one”’ so that the reader is given a new spatial reality from which new qualities emerge.’[8] This then adds an immediate, interactive, and authentic element to the app.

With the use of digital mapping, high-resolution images and video, plus background information on the author, environment and the pre-historic creatures in question, I hope the app will make for a successful literary companion; its intent is to provide a heightened, authentic, and ultimately exciting experience for the reader – one I hope the late Plumwood would have approved of.

[1] Plumwood, Val Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. London & New York: Routledge, 1993.

[2] Plumwood, Val Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason. London: Routledge, 2002.

[3] Rose, Deborah Bird ‘Val Plumwood’s Philosophical Animism: attentive interactions in the sentient world’. Environmental Humanities, 3, 2013, pp.93-109.

[4] Plumwood, Val cited in Kurungabaa: A Journal of Literature, History and Ideas From the Sea Being Prey – By Val Plumwood, 2011. [Online] Available from: http://kurungabaa.net/2011/01/18/being-prey-by-val-plumwood/ [Accessed 1 April 2015].

[5] Ibid.

[6] Vandendorpe, Christian From Papyrus to Hypertext: Toward the Universal Digital Library. Illinois: Uinversity of Illinois Press, 2009. p. 95.

[7] Human Service Solutions Mobile Website vs. Mobile App (Application):
Which is Best for Your Organization?
[Online] Available from: http://www.hswsolutions.com/services/mobile-web-development/mobile-website-vs-apps/ [Accessed 1 April 2015].

[8] Moretti, Franco Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History. New York: Verso, 2007. p. 38.

Bibliography

Human Service Solutions Mobile Website vs. Mobile App (Application):

Which is Best for Your Organization? [Online] Available from: http://www.hswsolutions.com/services/mobile-web-development/mobile-website-vs-apps/ [Accessed 1 April 2015].

 Moretti, Franco Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History. New York: Verso, 2007. p. 38.

Plumwood, Val cited in Kurungabaa: A Journal of Literature, History and Ideas From the Sea Being Prey – By Val Plumwood, 2011. [Online] Available from: http://kurungabaa.net/2011/01/18/being-prey-by-val-plumwood/ [Accessed 1 April 2015].

Plumwood, Val Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason. London: Routledge, 2002.

Plumwood, Val Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. London & New York: Routledge, 1993.

Rose, Deborah Bird ‘Val Plumwood’s Philosophical Animism: attentive interactions in the sentient world’. Environmental Humanities, 3, 2013, pp.93-109.

Vandendorpe, Christian From Papyrus to Hypertext: Toward the Universal Digital Library. Illinois: Uinversity of Illinois Press, 2009. p. 95.

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