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"?


  1. There are two pieces of literature that we read that will really stick out in my mind. Edward Abbey's "Desert Solitaire" and Mary Austin's "Land of Little Rain". The reason these are the two most prominent texts in my mind is because they are truly different from each other. Both are considered environmental literature, but I believe their commonalities stop there. Abbey's novel is very anthropocentric, even as he tries to eliminate this focus. Unfortunately, I think I enjoyed the book so much because it was. The novel allowed me to see the desert through his eyes (a view I was never very interested in seeing). I actually had an emotional reaction to the text and that is also true of "Land of Little Rain". The novel "Land of Little Rain" was beautifully written, and once I got over my initial "Zzzzzzzzzzzz", I realized this and began to enjoy her descriptions. Outside of this class I would have never looked twice at this book. Unlike Abbey, Austin took on the job of observer not participant and the absence of human interference was surprisingly enjoyable. I must confess that neither text changed my attitude toward the environment, but I believe that when these books were written the audiences were more ignorant to the human effects on the environment. I'm not saying that we don't have anything to learn, we most certainly do, but I am saying that the message Abbey and Austin bring is something my generation has heard before. This does not diminish the text, it amplifies them. They represent a history in literature. No one questions whether our ancestors thought of religion, human rights, or technology. It is my hope that our future generations will believe through environmental literature that we thought about it and cared.

  2. Edward Abbey, for all his vitriol and extreme tendencies, seemed to have a genuine love for the landscape he championed as perfectly fine the way it was. He has a knack for description balanced by action, and approaches his subject with an openness and passion that did not often appear in the texts examined for this course. I've always hated arches--I have in the past described it as being no more than death-colored rock all the way to the horizon--but Abbey's conviction that that sterile landscape had something to offer those who could stand to contemplate it at length has come close to changing my mind. That, it seems to me, is the chief goal of any piece of environmental literature: to cause the reader to reexamine his assumptions about the subject.

  3. In my opinion, the piece of literature that really sticks out in my mind is Hart Crane's "The Tunnel." I know it isn't a conventional piece of environmental literature because it didn't talk about "nature," but I think that is why I liked it. It created an environment out of a place the most people would think of when they think of this class. It talked about a real world environment that people actually live in and can relate to. And yet, he was able to relate the piece to the environment through specific little details, like describing the tunnel as a river that "rivered under rivers" or relating the newspaper to the wings of a bird as the tunnel dips down under the river, the newspaper took flight. As much as I love being outdoors in nature, I think what I like more is to enjoy the beauty of a city. It is one of the most majestic and aw-inspiring places to be, and I think it is a little humbling too because it was all created by men. I am reminded of a quote from one of my favorite movies, The Boondock Saints II:

    "Men build things, then we die. It's in our f**king DNA! THAT'S WHAT WE DO! And when it all falls down? We build it right back up again."

    I really look forward to reading his complete poem outside of class and I never would have been introduced to it had it not been for this class. :)