ENGL x ENVI 262 / Studies in Literature and the Natural World

Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, 1:10 – 2:10 p.m.
Spring 2014

A strip mall in Lexington, Kentucky (October 21, 2006).
A strip mall in Lexington, Kentucky (October 21, 2006).

First, what it’s not. This is not a course about “nature writing,” although we’ll certainly encounter language that might fit that description. It’s not about “ecocriticism,” although sometimes we will appear to be engaged in such an endeavor. It’s not even a course that encourages (or tolerates) pieties about the importance of “literature” or the sanctity of “the natural world.”

Instead, this is a course about how literary language enables human encounters with the objects and worlds that environ us. In our work together, we will describe the ways humans have used language to configure natural worlds in the past; we’ll search out the ways in which natural worlds are being written into being around us; and we will invent new literary language for the natural worlds of the future—worlds we fear, worlds we expect, and worlds we hope to live in.

Environment America poster: "Because the Environment Won't Save Itself" (2014)
Environment America, poster (2014), found in the lobby of Carnegie Hall

To accomplish these goals, we’ll make vigorous use of conceptual tools devised by current theorists, among them Bruno Latour, Jane Bennett, and Timothy Morton. To learn about the natural worlds language has built in the past, we’ll read Anglophone texts that think seriously about objects in environments—particularly poetic ones, by (among others) Margaret Cavendish, James Thomson, William Wordsworth, and Gerard Manley Hopkins. You and your colleagues will select more recent texts to bring in for our inspection yourselves. Your own concerns, abilities, and preoccupations will give form to your work in rich and deep ways: assignments will be maximally challenging in content and minimally prescriptive in form.

This course is appropriate for Environmental Studies students (of all 21 varieties), English students (in literature and in creative writing), scientists both natural and social, builders and inhabitants of environments, object-oriented programmers, poets, city mice and country mice, etc. It satisfies certain requirements.