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Class Notes

Chesapeake Lectures

[1]Art of Environmental Writing

  • Journal (5 minutes):
    •  Three perspectives: share a film or text that offers a good example of either rhetorical, ethical, or aesthetic perspective
    • Overview of Humanities course–Introduction to the Environmental Humanities:
      • Our reading: a blending of scientific and poetic/artistic/ethical/rhetorical vision that is key to environmental writing and thinking.
      • Questions so far? Blog assignment (a chance to take some stuff from journal and journey and pursue it a bit more: stalk, saunter, some fine print—think how Burroughs does this). Use the intersections as a tool for the blog: what does this encounter or particular idea or text look like through this lens? How does this text compare and/or conflict with what I encountered in the field or in another class? Any problems/concerns—email me.
      • What have you “seen”/experienced thus far that you could relate in some way to ideas from Burroughs or Berry or Horton?
        • Reading response structure: Initial Reading, Closer Reading, Further Reading
      • Burroughs: The Art of Seeing Things
        • Keywords for me (think about keywords as you go forward): love, fine print (his notion of book of nature), initiated.
        • How would you characterize Burrough’s ‘art of seeing”—what should we do if we want to learn from him?
          • One example: note how he elaborates, slows down, returns to an idea/image (p. 149-50)—thus the essay is an example of the kind of seeing we should be doing—fine print.
          • What about his notion of love and initiation? What does that mean to you? How might we apply that to CS thus far?
            • Horton: What is natural
              • Consider his definitions for the journey (and focal question): curves, changelessness, wildness.
              • Note his interest—and mine—in irony (recall this from canoe trip class)
            • Berry, Solving for Pattern. What’s the difference between solving for pattern and problem? Note the way Berry also draws attention to our terms.
              • Assignments ahead: first stalking: sauntering from the first journey—include imagery of all sorts as you are able—you can browse some of last years.  Preview: The New World: think of it as example of re-imagining the Chesapeake, also of the kind of patience/sauntering/close reading. A model for one type of exhibition.

[2]Trouble with Wilderness

  • Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness”
    • Overall: what lessons from this argument (and its surprising response to the problem he address, the wilderness thinking is basic to environmental thinking and part of the problem—since there is nothing natural about wilderness) can we apply to the Chesapeake? Where might we consider the trouble with wilderness in the Chesapeake and what you have seen/studied so far? [note: an argument about culture being inseparable from nature at a fundamental level]
    • Source of transformation of wilderness from devilsh to sacred/temple: Romantic sublime, and frontier myth (Turner, etc, rugged individualism)—both cultural constructs.
      • ‘less sublime landscapes’ don’t get protection—is this issue with Ches—not sublime enough?

“The point is not that our current problems are trivial, or that our devastating effects on the earth’s ecosystems should be accepted as inevitable or “natural.” It is rather that we seem unlikely to make much progress in solving these problems if we hold up to ourselves as the mirror of nature a wilderness we ourselves cannot inhabit.

  • To do so is merely to take to a logical extreme the paradox that was built into wilderness from the beginning: if nature dies because we enter it, then the only way to save nature is to kill ourselves. The absurdity of this proposition flows from the underlying dualism it expresses
  • Raises issue of wilderness being a leisure class privilege/recreation—do we see this tension in the Chesapeake?
  • His interest: the middle ground where we actually live {picked up in Berry’s Preserving Wildness}. What at this point does the ‘middle ground’ in the Chesapeake look like—now or in the past? Are there some examples to consider? Maybe the whole region itself as a ‘humble place’ otherwise overlooked by wilderness mythology.
  • Cites Berry: The only thing we have to preserve nature with” he writes, “is culture; the only thing we have to preserve wildness with is domesticity.” [note that Berry shows up in Wennersten]
  • Berry, Preserving Wildness
    • Two extremes: nature (ecocentric, nature romantic) and technology (anthropocentric) extremists—with Berry choosing a middle ground.
      • Have you encountered the extremes? What does Berry’s middle ground involve—what might it be in the Chesapeake?
      • His argument—this middle: human and natural are ‘indivisible yet different’ [519]—back to natural and cultural (and to the overall notion of complexity, irony, intersection)-521: recovery of culture and nature
        • So, a specific thesis (surprise) that we need more culture/humanities to save nature, in part to keep it from the monstrous tendencies of humans.
        • 522: only thing to preserve nature with is culture: apply this to Chesapeake—where might we elaborate this argument?
          • His perspective: only human/cultural can save natural since only human can destroy it. Discuss.
          • 523: loving economy [echoes with Leopold—land ethic; and with his view of marginal farm]
            • value as love, spiritual, not money
  • Horton: Bay Country, focused on Pleasures of the Islands
    • AT this point, how would you characterize Horton’s writing and his environmental vision? If this is a model for you and your final project, for representing your studies, what is the model, what do we do?
    • Ultimate Edge: his focus on edges (128)—similar to ‘roots’, another place where we see Horton’s vision as combining environmental and poetic/aesthetic; edge as both material and symbolic (metonymy—think of it as ecological metaphor)
      • Discuss his view of Parramore
      • Note great example of ‘good irony’: 128.
      • Larger irony problem (good for ecology, bad for development, and for status—in contrast to Yosemite): nothing too well rooted can last (134)
      • The section Ultimate Edge is a great example of writing about the Chesapeake, as good as I have seen. Perhaps our Muir.
      • Smith Island
        • His vision of the way the people are adaptable/dynamic as the ecology. Look for that while there—report back (debrief question).
        • Progging: a smith island form of sauntering? See what you can find out. Is this a model for Chesapeake? Or is it a problem?
  • Questions at this point for Humanities—how might some of these ideas and these examples (of the way writers think, imagine, write) fit in with what you are seeing/studying elsewhere? Keep asking that question.
    • My role from here: a virtual discussion when you are studying farming (response to Berry reading).
    • Work with you on conceiving final projects. Be on the lookout for ideas that might move from journal to blog to larger context for project. At this point, what could you imagine being interested in doing?

Journey 1 Questions:

[1] How do Horton’s definitions of what is natural (curves, changelessness, and wildness) compare to what you have encountered in the Semester so far? Would you add to or revise his definitions based on what you have seen and experienced so far?

[2]Burroughs emphasizes the importance of imagination in understanding nature. In your journey—a particular place or person you have encountered—was the role of imagination in understanding the Chesapeake similarly important?

Journey 2:

An additional question in response to reading from Tom Horton’s Bay Country: In his chapter about Smith Island, Horton argues that there is a crucial link between the dynamism and flexibility of island ecology and the adaptability of the people who live there: “Similar to the species he preys on, the bay waterman has survived down the decades by being flexible enough to switch easily among whatever changing opportunities present themselves…” Thus Smith Islanders are not as resistant to change as many people assume. Is Horton’s assertion still valid: did you observe flexibility in your recent encounters with the islands and the people who live there? Where, in what forms, what did it look like—or not look like, if you found the opposite?

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