10:10a-12:05p W (15) 3 cr.
TOPIC: IMAGINING NATURE
Themes of risk, danger, thrill, heightened experience, threats of
death and extinction, tampering with nature, finding god in nature,
adapting to nature, and playing god with nature run through recent
autobiography,biography, nature narrative, "environmental literature,"
cultural criticism, and "ecocriticism." This course will study the
imagining of nature from these risk and heightened-sense points of
view. These themes are sometimes Darwinian. Quite often, they come to
us as updated brands of traditional natural theology. Neocreationism
versus Darwinian evolution controversies have many counterparts in the
current literature and criticism on "nature." We'll interrogate some
of those theological and evolutionary controversies.
The course reading will mostly but not entirely come from the past few
decades. We'll read Jon Krakauer's bestselling biographical narrative
Into the Wild whose protagonist "in his fashion, merely took
risk taking to its logical extreme." We'll also read Krakauer's other
gripping narrative on extreme mountain activity and risk, Into Thin
Air: a Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster We'll read
Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire: a Season in the Wilderness.
Our main literary anthology in the course will be Literature and
the Environment, an anthology of works by Annie Dillard, Ursula K.
Le Guin, Pat Murphy, Joyce Carol Oates, Sarah Orne Jewett, Ernest
Hemingway, Jack London, John McPhee, Peter Coyote, Aldo Leopold, and
many other major twentieth-century writers on nature. The anthology
also has a section on cultural commentary featuring writers from
Rachel Carson to Rush Limbaugh and beyond. We may also read William
Faulkner's short novel The Bear.
Evolution, risk, and specters of extinction loom large in some of the
best cultural criticism and commentary on science from our times.
We'll read W.J. T. Mitchell's fine piece of criticism, The Last
Dinosaur Book which explores the dinosaur fascination among
children and all the rest of us. In conjunction with Mitchell, we'll
read the novel Jurassic Park and also see the film based on
that novel. Speeded up adaptations and experimenting with evolution
also loom large in Jonathan Weiner's The Beak of the Finch: a Story
of Evolution in Our Time, probably the best and clearest popular
current book on Darwinian evolution. While thinking about evolution,
we may or may not manage to fit in Kurt Vonnegut's futuristic novel
Galapagos. To gain some historical perspective, we'll also
read a few selected excerpts from nineteenth-century natural
theologians, nature religion, and evolution writers.
This is a small class. Our weekly meetings will mostly be devoted to
discussing the assigned readings and the issues raised by them.
Students will write short informal commentaries on the readings
(usually of paragraph or so length), a short 5-6 page paper, and a
longer seminar term paper in the 12-15 page vicinity. We'll also
attempt some trips out into local Indiana nature, weather permitting.
I don't foresee our excursions taking any great risks or being too
extreme. However, we will try to think about the relationship between
our readings in literature and criticism and our own diverse ways of
experiencing and imagining nature.