LITERATURE OF THE EARTH: AN INTRODUCTION TO ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANITIES
In this course we explore how literary narratives shape our knowledge and experience of the natural world. Covering several literary genres over the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, we gain critical perspective on how literature informs our planetary and environmental consciousness. Over the course of the semester, we develop a critical vocabulary for thinking about environmental issues while examining the history of concepts such as “nature” and “wilderness” and their entanglements with cultural and literary projects.
THE COMING SCARCITY: ENERGY AND RESOURCE WARS IN SCIENCE FICTION
How do we imagine our future with energy? From the barren, post-apocalyptic landscape of The Road Warrior, to the terraformed surface of Mars, we will examine the centrality of energy in the imagined futures offered to us in science and speculative fiction and film. This course begins with science fiction’s preoccupations with energy scarcity, as represented by resource wars, energy collapse, and the interstellar search for raw materials. However, we will also read texts on the other end of the spectrum, namely those that imagine unlimited energy sources and technologies that power travel to the far reaches of the universe and make possible the complete integration of human and machine. Our readings will prompt us to think critically about energy in relation to exploitation, colonization, resource inequality, technology, ecology, post-humanism, and the future of the human species.
OIL AND THE NOVEL
This course will consider the literary project of knowing what Amitav Ghosh has called “The Oil Encounter,” namely the “far-flung political, military, and cultural encounters” occasioned by the rise and expansion of the fossil fuel industry. As Ghosh argues, the Oil Encounter has resisted representation in both literary texts and cultural awareness because the relationships, exchanges, and conflicts it assembles spans many languages, nations, and perspectives. Moreover, the oil industry has a complicated and troubling political and environmental history. The readings of this course will explore a range of issues and questions about the Oil Encounter and the novel, with particular focus on how the conflicts between indigenous communities and those seeking resources has been represented or obscured in literary texts. In order to approach the Oil Encounter, then, we will need to consider international literary traditions not commonly put in conversation with one another, including those of the Middle East, Africa, Native America, and Canada. This course considers not only the relationship between oil and community, it also works to incorporate of the question of energy into our analysis of literature and culture.
ANTHROPOCENE THEORY AND FILM
This course considers recent work that contends directly with the consequences of the scientific community announcing a new geologic epoch of the Anthropocene. The studies that grapple with the Anthropocence consider a variety of complex questions such as the co-constituting conditions of the natural world and human societies, mass extinction, food security, energy infrastructures, climate change displacement, capitalism, alternative kinship systems, and Indigenous knowledge frameworks. As we work through the theoretical, social, and historical challenges of the Anthropocene, we will examine films of several genres (fiction, documentary, film essay) that are invested in the same questions. As we do so, we will focus on and deepen our understanding of the techniques, vocabulary, and formal elements of cinema as we explore these theoretical questions in conversation with the moving image.
LITERATURE AND PHILOSOPHY OF THE NON-HUMAN: PLANTS, ANIMALS, MINERALS
Over the last several decades, projects across the humanities, social sciences, and sciences have worked to develop and elaborate the insights of ecological thought. Within the literary tradition, experiments in narrative form have created new ways of seeing and thinking from non-human perspectives. This course examines the theoretical and narrative project of understanding non-human agency, deep ecology, and, as Donna Haraway has described, “multispecies becoming-with.” In the process of taking on the perspective of the animal, plant, and mineral, the texts examined in this course necessarily reconsider what it means to be human.
INTRODUCTION TO CRITICAL SCIENCE STUDIES
The twentieth century saw rigorous and prolific debate about the nature and authority of scientific knowledge, and these conversations are far from over. How should we understand the status of scientific facts among other beliefs and statements? What is the relationship between knowledge production and social and material practice? How have definitions of objectivity changed over time? How does public opinion and institutional structures influence the direction of scientific research? Beginning at the turn of the twentieth century with the movement of logical empiricism, we will follow the subsequent critiques and reformulations of scientific knowledge that emerge from the discourses of pragmatism, sociology, history, philosophy, and feminism. This course provides a critical introduction to and roadmap through these debates, and it makes fine distinctions about different disciplinary conversations (Philosophy of Science vs. Sociology of Science vs. History of Science) that fall under the rubric of “Critical Science Studies.” Reading will include selections from theorists such as Karl Popper, Willard Quine, Ludwick Fleck, Michel Foucault, Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend, Sandra Harding, Donna Haraway, Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Bruno Latour, and Lorraine Daston.
NATURALISM IN LITERATURE AND SCIENCE
"Naturalism" is a broad term that has currency in a many disciplines, including literature, philosophy, science, and sociology, especially at the turn of the twentieth century. It has a distinct meaning and history in each field, yet its commonly emphasizes a turn towards scientific methods of seeing and knowing the natural world. In this course, we will think about the movement of American literary naturalism in conversation with the broader context of naturalist projects. Over the course the semester, we will examine American naturalist literature for how it engages with a new scientific discourse about nature (particularly after the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859)) and for how it created a distinctive narrative account of the landscape of everyday life. For instance, how were natural and urban environments now understood to be alive with forces that could alter behavior and physiology? How did authors imagine the legacy of embodied instinct and biological inheritance in their accounts of social environments? How did naturalist narratives reflect and create ideas about “natural” and biological normativity? This course will end by considering the recently coined termed “cybernaturalism” in literary studies, which refers to the environment of cyberspace and claims that cybernaturalist literature elaborates some of the same themes developed in early twentieth-century naturalist narratives. Readings will include authors such as Rebecca Harding Davis, Stephen Crane, Jack London, Frank Norris, Kate Chopin, and Don Delillo.
In this course we will consider the challenge of representing and conceptualizing climate in the era of climate change. Climate has traditionally referenced the weather it gathers, the mood it creates, and the setting it casts. In the era of the Anthropocene—the contemporary epoch in which geologic and atmospheric conditions and processes are overwhelmingly shaped by human activity—climate indexes not only atmospheric forces but the whole of human history: the fuels we use, the lifestyles we cultivate, the industrial infrastructures and supply chains we build, and the possible futures we may encounter. In other words, with every weather event, we have become acutely aware that the forces indexed by climate are as much social, cultural, and economic as they are environmental, natural, and physical. Covering literary texts in several genres, we will explore the narrative project of mediating and knowing the various forces embedded in climate.
AMERICAN REALISM: LITERATURE, REPORTAGE, & DOCUMENTARY FILM
The turn of the twentieth century saw the rise and rapid dissemination of mass print media in the United States as well as the production of the earliest documentary films. Many writers of this era were not only professionally involved in journalistic and documentary projects, they also wrote about newspapers and incorporated journalistic writing into their fictional narratives. In this course, we will consider the experiments with literary realism and the crises of objectivity that played out in journalism, literature, and film during the first half of the twentieth century. We will investigate how literary realism and reportage became modes through which writers and filmmakers investigate, experiment with, and question narrative authority and objective accounting more generally. What results is an array of formal strategies that attempt to produce objective narratives, to multiply the realism(s) that can be narrated, and to critique the project of realism through the form itself. We will examine early documentary films and the work of authors associated with journalism and literary realism, such as Rebecca Harding Davis, William Dean Howells, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Charles Chesnutt, Kenneth Fearing, and John Dos Passos.