Intro to Lit: Literary History

Literature, Culture and the Environment:

The field of English studies has recently seen the rise of new fields of theoretical and critical study; one new area of interest concerns the environment. This field is known as ecocriticism or the environmental humanities. Through paintings, novels, essays, poems, film (Koyaanisqatsi), and popular culture (Greenpeace pictures of whales, the “Blue Marble” photo of the Earth taken from the Moon, Apple commercials, Exxon commercials), we will take a journey through the representation of nature in literature but also in popular culture in recent years. This course will explore how representation of nature has framed issues such as individualism, beauty, solitude, primitivism, indigenous studies, the “west,” majesty, lifestyle, gender, as well as habitat loss and toxic environments. Of particular interest will be recent concepts such hyperobjects, posthumanism, the Anthropocene, and the transcorporeal.

However, the influence and importance of the term “nature” has been critically important for western literature and philosophy before these recent developments in Ecocritical Studies. To address these issues there will be material from a few “background books” and articles such as The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution by Carolyn Merchant, The Idea of Wilderness by Max Oelschlaeger,  Nature’s Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas by Donald Worster and “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis” by Lynn White.  Considerations of the varying cultural definitions and understandings of “nature” will be looked into as well. Readings will include “classic” authors such as Thoreau as well as more recent authors such as Val Plumwood. We will read excerpts or short poems from Henry David Thoreau, Walter Pater, William Wordsworth, Herman Melville, Rachel Carson, Robinson Jeffers, Karen Yamashita, Gretel Ehrlich, Terry Tempest Williams, SueEllen Campbell, Gary Snyder, Val Plumwood Wendell Berry, Ed Abbey, Mary Oliver, Rachel Carson, Mary Austin, and others. We will examine paintings of Albert Bierstadt and the Hudson River School artists, Casper David Friedrich, JMW Turner, Mark Rothko, Julie Mehretu and others. Possible books for the course listed below; these have not been finalized yet:

Hunting for Hope, Scott Russell Sanders

On Beauty and Being Just, Elaine Scarry

The Solace of Open Spaces, Gretel Ehrlich

Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams

Desert Solitaire Ed Abbey