L240 LITERATURE AND PUBLIC LIFE
Scott Sanders

1:00p-2:15p TR (25 students) 3 cr., A&H, IW.

TOPIC: “The Fate of the Earth: Writing About the Natural World”

We’re made of the Earth, muscle and bone. What else could we be made of? We drink its water, breathe its air, eat Earth’s produce at every meal. Likewise, our sensory apparatus, our language, and our imagination have been tuned by this planet’s creatures and patterns. Everything we use, from aluminum for soda cans to zinc for computers, derives from Earth. If we exhaust this bounty, we impoverish ourselves and our descendants. Everything we cast off, from tailpipe fumes to out-of-fashion shoes, returns to the planet. If we poison the Earth, we poison ourselves and our descendants. The quality of human life is wholly dependent on the health of natural systems, all of which are millions if not billions of years older than our species, and most of which we’ve scarcely begun to understand. The fate of the Earth is our fate.

In this course we will read, discuss, and write about literature that seeks to understand this intimate bond between people and planet. Most of this literature will be by American writers, and mostly from recent decades. Such writing raises a host of questions: How is Earth suffering from the impact of human activities? What can we do about it? Should we care about the survival of other species? Should we care about the welfare of future generations? Are humans just clever animals, or are we somehow special? If everything is made from “nature,” can anything be “unnatural”? Does a concern for “nature” imply indifference to social problems, such as racism, sexism, poverty, and war? How do we speak or write about a reality that transcends language? How can we understand our lives as woven into the story of the universe? Our readings for the course will be drawn from Robert Finch and John Elder, eds., Norton Book of Nature Writing (Norton), and from several single-author texts, such as the following: Alison Deming and Lauret Savoy, eds., The Colors of Nature; Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild; arbara Kingsolver, Small Wonder; Barry Lopez, Crossing Open Ground; Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge.

This is a discussion class, a semester-long conversation in which insights and ideas carry over from session to session. For this reason it is crucial that everyone be there consistently, and that everyone enter into the dialogue. If you expect to skip classes, or if you are reluctant to speak in class, you should not sign up for this course.

Because this course satisfies the Intensive Writing Credit requirement, we will be doing a lot of writing and revising, and we will devote a significant proportion of our class time to discussing the writing process. You will be asked to write a brief response to the readings for each day on which readings are to be discussed. In addition, you will also be asked to write three short essays (3-5 pp.) and one longer final essay (7-10 pp.) deriving from ideas and materials explored in our class. There will be no exams. Roughly three-quarters of the grade will depend on the response papers, essays, and final project, one-quarter on the quality of your participation in class.