Contemporary debates about social matters often appeal to nature to decide them. Parties debating a common issue will attempt a familiar gesture: each will claim that its position is natural and therefore true. Why would an appeal to nature decide a social issue and what relationship between society and nature does this appeal assume?
This course will consider what literature can contribute to an understanding of nature and society and their relationship. While mining the literatures of disparate times and places, we will explore the implications of different modes of seeing the relationship between the natural and the human: as one of opposition, continuity, determinacy, etc. We will also consider the multiplicity of “natures” that have been generated in different cultural contexts, historical moments, and individual situations.
As we consider nature from the various vantage points offered by our literary texts, you will be encouraged to think about the argumentative appropriation of nature in contemporary debates: gender, race, class, sexual orientation; development versus conservation; local versus global; old versus new; science versus religion; man versus animal; and individual versus collective.
In addition to focusing on the ways in which nature and society appear within the texts, we will also examine the role of fiction in shaping our cultural values and public policies with regards to nature. Why would one choose the written word as an approach to the natural world in the first place? What can literature do that other ways of thinking about nature cannot? Most urgently, what kind of solutions or insights can literature offer to those of us trying to address problems and tensions in the world beyond the written page?
Throughout the semester, we will ask how reading about fictional worlds can be a means of better understanding our lived world: how do the situations and characters we encounter in the texts invite us to reflect upon our own lives, experiences, and decisions? In addition to emphasizing critical reading skills, we will hone our written and oral communication skills by striving to express our ideas and observations with ever-increasing clarity and ever-sounder argument.
Authors may include Wordsworth, Yeats, Eliot, Faulkner, Baudelaire, Carson, Aristophanes, Carpentier, Wells, and Plato.