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!


  1. I look forward to this class. I am intrested in the way people have written about places,and were they lived.When I think about "environment" there alot of ideas that come to mind.Just a few ideas would be to change or save that area.There also areas that I could write on the appearance.This is a different approach I would like learn.

  2. Environmental writing, as I think of it, has social and political connotations, emphasizing conservation with regard to nature and natural resources, and is generally written from an activist standpoint. Nature writing does not have such connotations in my mind. It is more a reflection on the relationship of humanity with nature and vice versa. (These notions pulled out of the air, of course.)

    The "environment" in any work of literature (especially fiction or creative non-fiction) carries heavy symbolic significance. What comes to mind in example is Virginia Woolf's essay "The Death of the Moth." Before she takes note of the title insect, she is struck by the lively surroundings outside her window, which she describes in vivid detail. Once it becomes clear that the moth is not long for this world, these details all change to reflect the fact: Woolf's description of the landscape becomes instantly more subdued, giving everything within the scope of her vision a solemn, even morose character. Such use of the environment is typical of Woolf and other writers not usually considered to be of the "environmental" type.

  3. I look forward to taking this course because I enjoy writing, and because I want to be better at placing my thoughts down on paper with more strength and clarity. I have never heard the term "environmental" writing, however I look forward to gaining a better understanding of that term throughout this course.

  4. I actually tried to post this last week, but I guess it didn't stick. I thought quite a bit about what makes material Literature and it is strange how difficult it is define. I believe it is much easier to locate what isn't than what is. For instance I do not believe that the movie/documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" is literature. The film itself had a definite agenda which pushed shame and a call to action. I believe it would be better described as a PSA then literature.

  5. I agree with much of what Earl said above, but at the same time, I'd like to note that the term "environment" does not necessarily mean "nature". Although naturalistic settings are what come to mind initially when we hear "environment", it is merely a way to describe the place and space in the physical sense and more of a feeling in the the more idea-based sense. In other words, in the intersection of those two things.

    An environment is anything that surrounds you. It can be a cityscape or a more open space. It can be physical as those two are or a feeling, more of an aura really, that causes you to feel one way or another. And essentially that is how I think of environment- it is a physical experience that combines with a mental/spiritual/internal one to create a complete personal meaning.

  6. Wow. I never realized how much thought people put into things such as nature. I LOVE the mountains. I grew up in the mountains and hope I will always be able to live in or very near the mountains. But my love for them never went to this degree of analyzing it and interpreting it. Interesting.