Lit 373 Literature and the Environment – Fall 2011 Essay on Unit Three: Cross-cultural, Post?colonial



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LIT 373 Literature and the Environment – Fall 2011

Essay on Unit Three: Cross-cultural, Post?colonial



Due Friday, 12/9 by email (Subject Line: 373 Your Last Name Essay)

(plus drafts in hard copy or separate file attachment with electronic copy of Writer’s Checklist and 2 Peer Editing Responses)

To articulate some of your thoughts about how these voices speak about ecocritical issues in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, write one 3- to 5-page essay, discussing our readings from at least two authors, including at least one from Unit 3 (since 11/8). Please avoid repeating a focus you wrote about in the earlier exams. You may focus on this final unit’s writers (Lopez, Ortiz, Reed, Allen), and/or compare any one of them to any of the writers earlier in the semester (Glotfelty, Armbruster, Momaday, Dillard, Percy, White, Silko, Le Guin, Abram, Snyder, Kerouac, Selby, Kolodny, etc.). Respond to our readings, lectures, and discussions in this overview of the ways different voices construct possibilities for defining wilderness and civilization, for the dynamics between nature and culture.


We have discussed dialectical versus dialogical ways of thinking about nature and culture, where the dialectical tends to take a dualistic view and the dialogical tends to take a more systematic view of the dynamics of nature/culture systems. In a dialogical view, there emerges an ethical dynamic whereby more of the voices in a system speak and listen to each other. Ecological approaches have tended toward that dialogical view as a more holistic approach to understanding and to resolving issues. Ecocriticism follows that dialogical pattern in exploring how literary representations of nature and culture work on the page to reinforce dialogue on and off the page. Applying this broad context of ecocritical reading, consider a specific issue of concern to the writers we’ve covered this semester, and discuss how they reinforce or block dialogue across the nature/culture “boundary.”
Required -- Write a self-evaluation after the Works Cited: as you hand it in, what do you feel are the paper’s strengths and weaknesses, and what might you change about the paper if you only had the time.
Refer to the guidelines handout for writing and grading criteria. Whether you start or end with these two key steps to building a thesis, be sure you do them both: 1) narrow the topic, and 2) make a clear assertion about it. Optionally, consider 3) previewing your main points in your thesis. Be sure your thesis is analytical, with an assertion, rather than only descriptive as a summary. Your essay should go beyond a book report into analysis. Look for specific passages that reflect your larger ideas, and quote those passages as you develop your thesis. (Thus a bibliography is required. Note: use a single final bibliography, not a separate one for each essay.) Feel free to write both critical analysis and personal response, to be autobiographical, to discuss the reader as well as the text -- as long as you tie the discussion closely and critically to textual passages. Remember to use oodles of citations from the texts, shaped by your commentary. See Diana Hacker’s A Pocket Style Manual for proper MLA in-text citation and bibliographic form, or you are welcome to use the standard format from the discipline of your major.
Format The essay should be double-spaced, with one-inch margins, in type of no less than 10pt. An optional cover page with your name, the course, the date, and the assignment is ok (to add space to the essay pages). Include an original title. Again, the essay should include short, direct quotations from the texts to support your thesis. Plenty of quotations are welcome toward close reading. Use MLA format for in-text citations. A final page should include a Works Cited, also in exact MLA format (followed by the self-evaluation).
The paper will be graded on form and content, with an average of the two. Form includes clarity and style, grammar and spelling, bibliographic format, other mechanics of the presentation, plus paragraph topic sentences, transitions, and paragraph coherence and development. Content includes a single-sentence, arguable thesis focusing, again, on textual analysis with supporting logic and examples, plus range and depth of argument, originality, complexity, and awareness of opposing views.
In any writing task, all the elements are immediately in play, so they all count, though I will give you feedback where your needs are greatest. Be sure to go over and hand in the Writer’s Checklist, be sure to proofread and/or get help with proofreading, and please read carefully through the following more detailed guidelines.
Combine and customize our class discussions for a topic to fit your special interests. Strive for close reading of particular textual passages, expanding from those lines to elucidate larger themes. If you like, you can shape any question as a comparison/contrast between two writers. You also may build from the discussion question handouts.
1. How do the poetics of structure, diction, line breaks, etc. in Simon Ortiz reinforce his poetic purposes? What is he writing for? and how does his poetic craft work for or against those purposes?
2. Consider Paula Gunn Allen’s analysis of indigenous symbolism as non-dualistic and apply that aesthetic lens to one or more of our poets or prose writers.
3. Consider T. V. Reed’s principles of social engagement in “Toward an Environmental Justice Ecocriticism” and apply that theoretical lens to one of our writers.
4. How does the Zen minimalism of Snyder’s style or Kerouac’s spontaneous expression of abundance relate to the poetry of Simon Ortiz?
5. Consider Kerouac, Snyder, Lopez, or Ortiz as they relate to one of the Transcendentalists; e.g., how is Kerouac’s engagement with nature similar or different from Fuller’s or Thoreau’s? What does Ortiz’s text deal with that is not conceived of in Whitman’s poem “The Open Road”? etc. How are Kerouac or Snyder similar or different from Whitman in language use and themes, form and content?
6. Apply one of Emerson’s key principles in “Nature” to one of the other writers we’ve discussed so far.
7. Explore the theme of sacrifice in these writers. What are the dynamics of sacrifice? How does it work? What does it accomplish or not? How does an understanding of sacrifice affect nature/culture relations in different writers? What is the relation between sacrifice and compromise? How do some of our writers navigate those relations?
8. Consider the idea of elemental fears of death and violence as they apply to cultural projections onto “nature” as that “other” place where mystery and danger reside. Where in the texts we have read is there evidence of such projected fear? How do different writers navigate those dangerous waters? What significance is there in the writing and reading experience in dealing with such universal matters?
9. What does it mean to live “in between” nature and culture, life and death, human and animal, woman and man, etc., in some of these writers?
10. Consider the colonial dimensions of American mainstream relations with nature. How do Indian/ white relations compare to wilderness/ civilization relations? Is it accurate to read an underlying presence of violence in nature/ culture relations? Looking closely at Lopez’s use of language (imagery, characterization, dialogue, etc.), how does his story, “Light Action in the Caribbean” play out some of these issues or questions?
11. In Kerouac, Snyder, Lopez, or Ortiz consider the issue of “natural violence” as it can or cannot become “civilized.” Is there any positive role for any kind of violence in human culture?
12. Many of our writers have addressed the challenge of death as natural, and our class discussions have carried that topic in the direction of sacrifice as cultural. What does it mean to “make sacred” when dealing with fatality? What different approaches to death do you find among some of these writers, and what to those approaches suggest for a human role in nature?
13. Different writers among our readings have addressed the concept of time in radically divergent ways. What are some of those ways, and how does a consideration of time affect our understanding of culture in relation to nature?
14. What are the specific assumptions in any of our authors about the ways that nature “teaches” us things we need to know? What do those assumptions say about their view of the nature/culture dynamic, and what are some social or ecological ramifications of those views?
15. How is the issue of white cultural appropriation of Indian ways an ecocritical concern?
16. What are some economic class dimensions of particular ecological debates, and how can we ecocritically map the voices of some of our authors on that territory of class?
17. Are there gender differences representations of the nature/culture dynamic that we can see between male and female writers in this course?
18. Take a key idea from one of the essay handouts, such as “Loss of the Creature” or “Beyond Nature Writing,” and apply it to one of the other readings in the unit.
19. Consider the role of poetry and song in these different voices and compare or contrast audience, purpose, and tone of specific poems and lines.
20. Using several key examples, discuss the imagery used by two or more authors from this period to characterize a specific theme in American approaches to the environment. What do those images imply about the possibilities of cultural exchange between binary and nexus options?
21. Construct an argument to summarize two or three key themes among the male writers in this unit – do they or do they not share key themes? Or argue that they do not share themes. Similarly, construct an argument for or against a summary of two or three key themes among the women writers in this unit. Are there race or class complications? Then contrast/compare those thematic situations among different voices. Show how those larger issues move through specific lines of prose or poetry. What significance does such a comparison/contrast hold for questions of American environmentalism?
22. Can we ever get rid of our cultural projections and expectations and “fully experience” nature? What do our writers say about this possibility?

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