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.


  1. “The Secret Lion” stands out as assessing a moral/ethical obligation more than the other stories/poems. The reason being is that it describes a boys discovery although the object itself is not "natural" his curiosity is and he and his friend go to great lengths to keep it secret not only from their other friends, but their mothers too. The title of the short story is confusing at first, but then you realize that to the characters this object is incredibly powerful and possibly dangerous, but they decide it must remain a secret. The boy believes that no one will treasure it the same way he and Sergio do in fact they may consider it trash and therefore they decide to bury it. When they come back to dig it up they are unable to find it. This is a good metaphor for once something is lost you can't get it back. It is possible that if the boys had told someone else about the object then they may still have it, but then they would run the risk of it being taken away. So which is worse having something taken or losing it? By the end of the poem they go back to playing in the Arroyo, but this game has lost its luster possibly due to what they discovered and that their treasure is now lost. The ethical obligation in this story is one of care taking, the boys gave themselves the responsibility of caring for this object. Rather than seeking assistance they buried it in the ground never to be seen again. I believe this relates to our care taking obligation to the environment. There are some who want to keep pieces of nature to themselves for aesthetic or financial gain. They believe that no one would care for this environment like they do and therefore cut everyone else out, not even giving them a chance. This not only stops the education about a particular thing or place, but it also stunts the person who discovered it. No one should have the burden on Earth on their shoulders alone and everyone should be responsible for its care.

  2. "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" by Langston Hughes is a reflection of a connectedness to nature. It speaks of the way the environment can be a source of strength and comfort for people in harsh times. "..older than the flow of human blood in human veins," is a line that is not only captivating with its diction but has something to say about the enduring factor of the earth and its rivers.

    "My soul has grown deep like rivers" relates similarly how a person can become dragged and weathered by life and its realities. In this particular piece, it is obviously relating the difficulties of life for a "negro" to the withstanding power of the rivers.

    Its ethical orientation lays in the belief that being strong throughout difficult times will allow for perseverance. The lesson to be learned from this poem is to take away meaning from the world around you and use it to build up yourself and your life.

  3. The poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers", by Langston Hughes gives a brief history and geographical origins of African peoples. This poem also explains of how the environment has had a strong influence and how hearing, “singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans" was calming to the slaves and gave them a peaceful mind in the worst of times. “My soul has grown deep like the rivers” refers to the amount of growth and hardships one has endured. This metaphor is like the life of a human. A river experiences many changes: freezing, overflowing, pollution, etc. However the river also sustains life and plays a major role on Earth.

    This poems ethical orientation is about overcoming the hard times and keeping positive. The African people have held each other together throughout history and have risen above just as the environment has an effect on the rivers. Both the African people and the rivers have adapted and adjusted to the natural change of evolution.

  4. "The Secret Lion" has the most obvious ethical orientation of an environmental sort. The story centers around themes of loss, specifically loss of place on the part of the two boys. The discovery that their paradise is in fact just a golf course adds further complexity to the message of the story, as exhibited by the moment when the narrator inserts his bottle of Coca Cola into the hole on the green--clearly a metaphor for sexual congress and the prostitution of "natural landscape" found in golf courses: if Wendell Berry considered himself husband to the land, then golfers are little more than Johns patronizing their ersatz "wives" for an afternoon on the green. Right? That's not crazy at all, is it? Of course not.