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Notes Towards Day 22 (Tues, Nov. 27) : The Land Ethic

Anne Dalke's picture

weather prediction:
35 degrees,  6 mph wind,  70% chance of rain or snow

Wanhong is re-situating us in our original classroom, Taylor E

Thursday's site
to be selected by Susan (who wrote, last week, after Shengjia positioned us, @ the last moment, outside her dorm: "I came back to my room and could still see the imprints of our bodies on the grass.  Though the traces were faint, we still left something behind"!!!)

I. coursekeeping

* Anytime before 5 p.m. today, I'm expecting to see postings on Serendip--any reflections on the recent discussions we've had/readings we've done--by Rochelle, wanhong, Zoe and all 4 S's (SaraL, SarahC, Shengjia, and Susan)

* by tomorrow @ 5,
the rest of you should read all these postings, and respond to @ least one of them

make sure, when you post, that your audience is tagged as "EcoLit ESem"--it should happen automatically,
but sometimes it doesn't, and then your comments (while on Serendip) won't be visible in our course forum
(mbackus, your "change of pace" re: "war on men" is one of these....)

* for Thursday's class, read the 30-pp. introduction to Timothy Morton's book, Ecology Without Nature: Re-thinking Environmental Aesthetics. Morton is an English professor @ Rice, a leading research university in Houston, TX; he is the author of 10 books and 70+ articles on philosophy, ecology, literature, food and music. Warning! he writes like the (postmodern) academic he is.

I picked this text as one of our final ones because it encourages you to slow down, to unpack your assumptions, and to keep on thinking: it broadens and "opens up" ecocriticism, puts pressure on the kind of "nature writing" we have been celebrating ("re-enchantment of the world"), really deconstructs what we think we mean by "nature" ("a 'transcendent' term that holds us back from meaningful engagements with what...nature is all about").

There's a lot here--a lot you won't/don't need to get. But try to get this: what is Morton's critique of the common idea of "nature"? Why does he think it is problematic? What is his alternative idea? What might his title--"ecology without nature"--mean?

* By 5 p.m. Fri, your twelfth writing assignment is due. This is the first draft of your final paper for me, going beyond the weekly 3-pp. papers you've been writing for me and your writing partner, in order to speak to the whole Bryn Mawr community -- to the larger world? -- about your current ecological imaginings. What have you learned in this class? With whom would you like to share the most important insights that have emerged for you? What format would be most effective, to say these things to these people? Though not exactly a "summative" paper, it should distill/highlight/foreground something important that emerged for you this semester, or a question you want to keep thinking about "out loud."

* You'll re-write this next week, for posting on Serendip....

* By 8 p.m. on Sun,  in lieu of your "site sit" this week, post a description
of your experience of going exploring with the other class.

II. consulting w/ your writing partners:

what did you learn about form-and-content from reviewing your site sits?
how is y/our writing like-and-different from those of our authors, and one another?

* this a warm-up for your final portfolio, when you will review all your writing (details
available @ the top of our course page; go to Instructions for Preparing Final Portfolio--
review these for class on Thursday, and come w/ any questions....)

* The last day of classes, we will have a teach-in,
when you will share w/ one another what you have learned.
Think of this as your alternative to an exam.
You are invited/encouraged to work together in groups,
to spend an evening brainstorming what has been significant in our shared learning,
and figure out how you want to teach that to your classmates.
This can run the gamut--I've had songs and poems and essays, interactive games and dramas,
power point presentations and videos…I don't need to know ahead of time what you will be doing,
but I will need to know by the end of next week who you will be working with, so that
I can tell you how long you have for your performance.

III. Turning to Aldo Leopold's classic essay on "The Land Ethic"
"Unpack" this essay using an "oral inquiry strategy" known as
 "text rendering," a strategy for reading closely to see what's going on.

Take a few minutes to look through the essay.
Underline a sentence, a phrase and a word.

Now we'll do a "read around," three times,
reading on the first round just the sentences you've highlighted
(including all repetitions--so listen for these);
then, on the second round, your phrases,
and on the third, your words.

We're sort of making a poem, distilling what's diffuse,
so here are the rules of this:
short pauses between each offering, and no comments.
Also: LISTEN FOR THE THEMES you are hearing,
and jot them down (this of course will give us
material for the next step in our conversation!).

What did you hear? Where were the repetitions?
What were the patterns and main themes?

Digging into this/our relation to it:
write out a quote that (for whatever reason)
you found striking, and pass it to me....

[Barometer:] Please stand in a single line.
I will read a sentences you've selected from Leopold's essay.
If you agree w/ the statement, please move towards Gulph Road;
if you disagree, please move towards the woods.
Please explain yourself.
If hearing these explanations affects your position,
please re-locate your body accordingly.

IV. Reading Notes
process of ethical evolution, increasing limitation on freedom
original free-for-all competition replaced by co-operative mechanisms
community instinct in-the-making--but no ethics yet extended to land:
still treated as property, in a strictly economic relation

all ethics assume interdependent parts of community:

land ethic enlarges boundaries of community to include the land
what do we love?
use of resources doesn't affirm their right to continued existence
changes roles of Homo sapiens to citizen, respecting the community
assurance that land serves us is in inverse relation to degree of our education
scientist knows biotic mechanism too complex to be fully understood

many historical events were biotic interactions: plant succession steered the course of history
(cf. importance of plant succession in settling the Mississippi Valley,
w/ erosion and deterioration of soils, plants, animal life in Southwest,
and "carrying the grass to the cow" in Indian regions devoid of sod-forming grass)

Is history taught in this spirit?
something lacking in content of conservation education:
urges only enlightened self-interest (i.e. profitable remidiation only)
obligations exist over and above self-interest: extend social conscience to the land
need for internal change in loyalties, affections, convictions

basic weakness in conservation system:
most members of land community (birds, wildflowers) lack economic value
should continue as matter of biotic right, regardless of economic advantage to us
parallel situation for predators, trees and entire  biotic communities
(marshes, bogs, dunes, deserts): no right to be exterminated

what is ultimate magnitude of government management?
land ethic should assign more obligation to private landowner
only alternative: voluntary conservation (forethought, open-mindedness, time)
system of conservation based on economic self-interest
ignores/eliminates elements essential to healthy functioning

we can be ethical only in relation to something we see/feel/understand/love or have faith in
"balance of nature" in accurate; truer image is biotic pyramid,
w/ each successive layer dependent on what's below for food, services,
furnishing the same to those above
each successive layer is less numerous

lines of dependency: food chains
pyramid a tangle of complex chains in highly organized structure
trend of evolution: elaborate and diversity the biota
land a fountain of energy; food chains conduct energy upwards
in sustained circuit, slowly augmented revolving fund of life

change in one part of circuit requires (often unpredicted
and untraceable) readjustments  in many other parts

some arenas (W Europe, Japan) have resistant biota;
others w/ higher degrees of disorganization, reduced carrrying capacity
violence varies w/ human population density
no density relationship holds for indefinitely wide limits,
all subject to diminishing returns

unsuspected dependencies in up-circuit
unsuspected essential roles in down-circuit
land ethic reflects ecological conscience/individual responsibility
health: capacity of land for self-renewal
conservation: effort to preserve this capacity

cf. groups that see commodity-production, vs. biota
poundage/tonage no measure of food-value of crops
discontent that labels itself "organic farming" is biotic in direction
technical advancements are improvements in the pump, rather than the well
"Mark what you leave"

educational/economic system heads away from land-consciousness
ture modern separate from the land (the space between cities where crops grow):
bored stiff; land is something he has outgrown
attitude of farmer equally serious obstacle to land ethic
higher ed deliberately avoids ecological concepts

quit thinking about land-use as economic problem:
Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and esthetically right,
as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right when it tends
to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.

of course economic feasibility limits the tether of what can be done,
but most land relations are determined by tastes, predilections rather than by purse,
by investments of time, forethought, skill and taste rather than cash
ethic never written, always evolving

mechanism of operation: social approbation
present problem of attitudes, implements
"We are remodeling the Alhambra with a steam shovel, and we are proud of our yardage."
we are in need of gentler, more objective criteria for successful use