Monday, May 3, 2010

A real softball of a question . . .

Here is your last blog prompt! Congratulations for reaching the end of the semester! I sure hope you enjoyed the class. For this last prompt, I would love to read your comments on which text -- or two-- from this term served as the most powerful example, the most memorable example, of "environmental literature." Why was this the case for you? Was the text memorable because it inspired in you an activist attitude (or action)? Was the text memorable because it, as an environment in itself, was beautiful, or captured a place or landscape in a visually "true" way? Was it convincing to you as a piece of environmental literature because it foregrounded the role of "environment" in a way that was novel to you, in a way that many texts do not? Finally, what, in your opinion, might be the lasting impact of prominent examples of "environmental literature"?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Plow and sunset

On Wednesday, we discussed a few interpretations of Cather's image of the plow silhouette in the setting sun. I indicated that I found it helpful to read the plow as a "bidirectional" emblem. What did you make of this concept of "bidirectionality"? What does that mean? And, I also want to give you an opportunity here to tell me what you think the plow silhouetted in the setting sun conveys, in regard to the novel's narrative, in regard to the settlement of the Plain, to technology, to our treatment of the environment, etc. I will look forward to reading your replies.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Word Hoard for Edward Abbey's _Desert Solitaire_

Below is the collection of words that you all offered in class today. In your comments, feel free to address any of these ideas and to connect them as you see fit in regard to Abbey's memoir.

naturalistic existentialist
his truck (Chevvy)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Edward Abbey

On Wednesday, we decided that it might be a good idea to review internet (and print, of course) resources for information on Edward Abbey's reception. This followed on our initial question of Wednesday's class, regarding whether Abbey is an environmentalist (and if so, what kind) or an existentialist. How is he received as an environmentalist? How are some of Abbey's more problematic pronouncements from _Desert Solitaire_ received by literary critics, by book reviewers, by members of those potentially offended groups? Let me know what you find out!

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Sensorium and Place

Today in class we discussed the ways in which The Land of Little Rain functiosn as an analogue for the human senses (or the "sensorium" as I called it, following Diana Fuss). Austin spends a great deal of time discussing the "sense" that certain aspects of the physical environment convey. The passage we read in class today discussed the powerful and memory-inscribing smells of a certain place. I speculated that if we looked through the book closely that we might be able to locate other passages, as extensive as the one we read today, in which she considers powerful sensory delivery to other senses by aspects of the environment. Please find a passage other than the one we discussed today and comment on how it reveals the "sense-ness" of Austin's account (today we discussed smell, so look for a passage that delivers a powerful taste, touch, or sound message).

Monday, February 8, 2010


We have examined the distinctions between "space," "place," and "land" as conceptual and physical descriptors. Yet, it seems like we have the greatest difficultly distinguishing between "place" and "land." In today's class, we listened to analyses and participated in discussions of poems by Robert Frost and Wendell Berry. How did these ideas -- "place" and "land" -- come into play in these poems? Also, what benefit derives from distinguishing between these two terms? Does distinguishing simply help us to be more precise and help us to identify the physically activist from the abstractly ideological?

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Environmental Literature and the Ethical Obligation

For Monday, you read a few poems that took as their central concern physical places or the manner in which a physical place imprints a body or an ancestral history. We discussed in class the criteria some eco-critics have established for evaluating whether a piece of literature is a piece of "environmental literature" or not. One criteria that Buell established for this assessment was that a text must have an "ethical orientation" to be a piece of environmental literature. Of the poems you read, which did you read as having a strong "ethical orientation"? Please explain your response and provide and example or two.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Welcome to "Literature and the Environment"!

I am excited to start this semester with all of you. We will be reading many texts out of an anthology: poems, short stories, articles, philosophical pieces. We will also be reading a novel (Willa Cather's My Antonia), a work of literary nonfiction (Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire), and a collection of stories and essays (Mary Austin's The Land of Little Rain).

My hope is that all of you enrolled in this class because you have a certain interest in the way people have written about the places in which they have lived, the places they have perhaps assessed as vulnerable, the places that have invigorated or frightened them. When we think of "environmental" writing, we probably often think of writing with an activist purpose, writing that intends to save or make a necessary change on behalf of a place. We might also think of "environmental" writing as "nature" writing and most people would quickly think of Thoreau's Walden (an excerpt of which we will read for Monday). These are just some ideas that come to my mind when I think of our course title. What comes to your mind? What is "nature writing" to you? What is "environmental literature"? Are these the same thing?

If we think of our course title--"Literature and the Environment"--I hope we will be spurred forward by my use of "and" rather than "of." In essence, I am hoping for us to not only engage with texts (visual and written texts) that have been called "environmental" or "nature" writing but also for us to engage with the ways that certain places create and effect textual output. The last point should make us aware that by using an "and" in our course title, we have really expanded our interpretive horizon.

I am excited to read any comments you have at this time on these initial ideas!