ENGLISH 320 - Literature and the Environment
Section: 001 Environmental Imagination
Term: WN 2018
Subject: English Language and Literature (ENGLISH)
Department: LSA English Language & Literature
Requirements & Distribution:
Waitlist Capacity:
May not be repeated for credit.
Primary Instructor:

This class begins from and tests the premise that cultural and historical context largely determines the content, shape, and defining qualities of the human/environment relationship. We take as our starting point William Cronon’s contention in “The Trouble with Wilderness” that our valuation of the human/wilderness relationship (a particular type of human-environment relation) is predetermined by our cultural, historical context. Cronon contends that different historical moments necessarily view the relation between human beings and wilderness differently. For instance, given their religious training and orientation, Puritans could not view wilderness as other than a satanic place of chaos and misery (i.e., as something the Puritans were destined to domesticate, order, and “convert” into a garden). By contrast, in the romantic moment (Cronon offers William Wordsworth, Henry David Thoreau, and John Muir as exemplars), wilderness becomes something of a divine sanctuary where human beings can see and experience something like the face of God and the meaning of the universe.

We are going to test this hypothesis through a set of analytic readings and interpretations. Thinking of “mode” or “modality” both as the way something happens and how it is experienced, we will try to describe the different ‘modes’ of human/environment relation that we find in a wide array of texts and contexts drawn from cultural, literary, and intellectual history in the U.S. We will focus on the “American” context as a matter of convenience not because the same questions and analysis would not be apt in other cultural, historical contexts. But by examining one context closely, we can formulate an analytic strategy that would work in other contexts as well.

Our readings will move from the exploratory moment (e.g., John Smith, William Bradford) to the suburban movement (Richard Yates) and, finally, to more recent calls for a more original or primal human-environment relation (e.g., Edward Abbey). Our perambulations will emphasize breadth rather than depth (though you will go into greater depth in your papers). Most of these readings will be either handed out as photocopies or you will find them on the class Canvas site. You will have to purchase a few books and print out a few readings.

ENGLISH 320 - Literature and the Environment
Schedule Listing
001 (LEC)
TuTh 10:00AM - 11:30AM
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