articles and essays

Mediating the Tree: Infrastructures of Pulp and Paper Modernity in the Bowater Papers

Article written with Rafico Ruiz based on a short-lived trade publication produced by the Bowater paper mill in 1950s Newfoundland.

Excerpt from the introduction:

Thinking of paper via the tree requires some new conceptualizations of environmental media theory. First, trees are a problematic model of an “extractive” logic, since they are not exactly extracted from the land but cleared, razed, felled, harvested, and exploited. This act of deforestation can—at least in theory—be fol- lowed by its opposite, reforestation: trees are an example of a resource that is not finite and that can be replaced. Second, paper provokes an expansion of what constitutes elemental media, broadening from the four elements (earth, water, fire, air) as used by John Durham Peters (2015), to include other primary matters, such as the tree.4 This might lead to the question: could there be a media philosophy of tree, or wood, or forest? Could we think of these together under a common rubric such as “xylomedia” (from the Greek “xylo” or “relating to wood”), and would such a material enfolding be a useful way to approach a materials-based media theory? And third, while paper in this case is articulated through the tree (and thus as grounded, metaphorically, to the Earth), the pulp and paper industry’s reliance on water as mixing agent, energy generator, and mode of transportation means it is also part of a hydraulic network and politics. Already in the nineteenth century, trees and water were considered in tandem as Canada’s “crucial raw materials” (Kuhlberg, 2006, para. 5), and as Harold Innis argues, lumber, pulp, and paper took their place as Canadian staple commodities, while waterways have allowed the flow of these and other staples across the vast settler Canadian territory.5 It is the expansive presence of both trees and water that makes it impossible to consider Canada’s pulp and paper production as separate from its geography.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.22230/cjc.2021v46n2a3859 (feel free to email me for a PDF if you don’t have access)