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Towards Day 10 (Mon, Feb. 24): Counterpastoral

Anne Dalke's picture

smilewithsh, Jenna, Agatha sick today...?

I. Catching up and "keeping course"
* discussing our work with Ava last week--your presentations/her eco-artists/the process?
(esp. all of you who were sick on Wed--aphorisnt, Jessica, Lisa, Sara...?)

* event sponsored by Africana Studies from 3-4 p.m. tomorrow,
in the Special Collections Conference room, 2nd floor of Canaday:
selections from the College's African art collection will be on display--and in conversation--
around the theme of "Art, Family Ties, and Gender Formation: Uncovering Pieces and/of Stories";
the goal is exploration and dialogue (great follow-up to the Shonibare exhibit?)

* Sophia's ideas about how ideas go "in one direction" (from 10 to noon to 2:40...)
can you be the carriers/the connectors? how might economics and education help
as lenses for the literary interpretation we are doing? (think about the farmers in All Over Creation
who are operating on very tight margins....could we discuss their decisions in terms of
opportunity costs, surge pricing, the challenge of measuring welfare,
the possibility of indifference curves...?) I'm also going to put up some links to
articles about the role the field of economics has played in our env'l troubles
(largely the valorization of growth....); we can have interdisciplinary convos on Serendip

* queries re: your written work for me (due by midnight on Wednesday)?

*  with that paper, we will finish the first section of the course,
"Inside/Out; or, what's home got to do with it?"

II. move into the second: "single/multiple: or how much latitude can we allow?"
exploring the "danger of a single story," and the counter-danger,
of having too many (can you have too many?)

* the epigram for this section comes from an essay by Karen Tei Yamashita
(another eco-novelist whose work I considered for this class);
in an interview called The Latitude of a Fiction Writer: A Dialogue, in which she says
that her project is about "discovering a new map behind the old map," she says,

"I think that for fiction writers, there is this latitude that is special - you don't have to follow
any narrow line of thought. You don't have to prove something that is already often obvious.
The presentation in fiction is very free, and you can play with or examine different ideas that
you might not be able to if you have to focus or narrow your investigation."

Ruth Ozeki says something similar in the interview with her that I posted on our course homepage:
"Agenda-driven fiction is antithetical to inquiry. Agenda-driven fiction has its mind already made up....
Writing is how I think, how I interrogate the world, and the novel is my medium...It's a thought experiment....
The novel is not, and should not be, a Trojan horse....

However, I have tons of opinions...We ought to be terrified!...I have a lot of remorse about the myriad
ways that I am contributing to the [environmental] problem. All my novels...have been written from remorse...
The good that I'll never run out of things to feel remorseful about. The bad that I am not
willing or able to eradicate all the many causes of my environmental remorse..."

III. so let's see what sort of "thought experiment" this novel is running,
what ideas/questions/feelings she stirred up for you:
curiousity, remorse, irritation, amusement...?
[call out words, in response to Ava's question:
how did it make you FEEL?]

Take a minute, look through the novel,
your markings in it, or your notes on it.

Find a single passage to read aloud,
and figure out a single sentence you would like to say about it.

Here is mine, from Lloyd's newsletter, p. 67:
"there is an idea in circulation that...'aggressive' non-native plants are harmful, invasive, and
will displace 'native' species. How ironic to hear these theories profounded by people of European
ancestry in America!...Our plants are as immigrant as we are!...anti-exoticism is Anti-Life...I do not
intend to promote Third Reich eugenics in our family garden......[they] are being promoted by
Agribusiness and Chemical Corporations as another means of peddling their weed killers."

[echo from Yumi's conversation with her mother, p. 118:
"'What are these?' Momoko looked at the large, mutant squashes and shook her head. 'I don't know.' Then she started to giggle...She..pointed to Ocean and Phoenix....'Like them. All mixed up'....'What did she say?' Cass asked....'She said squahses were promiscuous.'"

I want to talk about @ Ozeki's insistent equation of mixed race and hybrid plants.
Does it work? How is it helpful (or not) in thinking about the dangers (and advantages)
of monoculture of both kinds?!?

IV. Write your passage on a sheet of paper; hang it on the wall.
Get up, visit them all--put up your comments,
and then let's discuss...
(using a silent discussion to unsettle some of the silences among us....)

V. come to class on Wednesday not only having read through Part IV (to p. 242),
but also w/ some thoughts about how another critic might read this text--
read it, in other words, not just with your own eyes, but with the lenses of others:
you might think about Paula Gunn Allen's ideas about "foreground/background/unified field vision"
(does it use it/how might it?); or about
Martin and Mohanty's questions about "what home's got to do with it'
(how does home operate here? what happens if you foreground that question?)
or about Ursula LeGuin's view from another planet...
how would the story look from that p.o.v?
what might Eli Clare or bell hooks think about the novel?
I hope that some of you might also think about an economist's view:
how could you render it in the form of an opportunity cost memo?
how does it value the environment? how does it measure welfare?

Reading notes from
Melissa Poulsen. 
Hybrid Veggies and Mixed Kids: Ecocriticism and Race in Ruth Ozeki’s Pastoral Heartlands.
Asian American Literature: Discourses and Pedagogies 2 (2011) 22-29
twenty-first century, literary and environmental studies must recognize and engage with the interdependence of spaces traditionally opposed: the natural and the human built, the country and the city, exurbia and the urban….more complex imagining of the environment….Written with and against the pastoral tradition, Ozeki’s novels merge country and city…use modified food to interrupt the possibility of a dichotomous country and city…. And attends to the deep-seated connections between the language of race and the language of biology… through the lens of …toxic discourse…Ozeki questions the silences in the pastoral imagery…

As Lawrence Buell points out…”what we loosely call ‘nature’ has often long since become ‘organic machine’” as the “physical environment is being increasingly refashioned by capital, technology,  and geopolitics.” Such blending of nature and technology is key to the counterpastoral developed in All Over Creation…. heartland farm life is a complicated capitalist engagement…. the toxic reality of their seeming pastoral spaces are revealed… 

All Over Creation highlights the presences of racial others and simultaneously exposes how they are written out of the pastoral…. the pastoral as an idyllic space only for those of a certain color…. the most radical and largely unfamiliar move of the text is its unification of toxic discourse and racialization through the question of bioethics, and an entanglement of plant genetic modification and human multiracial identity…. The parallel between biodiversity and cultural diversity emerges in arguments laid out through the Fuller’s seed company.… Momoko’s seeds…embody the migrations and drifts of people in the United States; her “heroic efforts to preserve the rich diversity” of plants is paralleled to the preservation of the cultural diversity brought through migration. Such dedication to diversity stands in contrast to the farmer of the pastoral heartland, the “large-scale potato farmer, a monoculturalist” made “nervous [by] all that diversity”…. Lloyd attempts to interrupt the imagined pastoral heartland through a questioning of the plant and racial nativism it projects…

Through the sexualized, fertile imagery of crossbred human-plants All Over Creation tracks the lives of multiracial characters and interracial relationships while developing a bioethical argument against genetically modified organisms…. An uncomfortable moral ambiguity begins to emerge as the imagery of plants and humans, and cultural and bio-diversity, merge….genetically-modified potatoes might be read as a form of hybridity….Momoko’s garden requires careful fertilization…to preserve the integrity of the various endangered plants….to preserve the diversity, Momoko has to avoid further diversity…. the uneasy ambiguity Ozeki produces through the simple but insistent equation of mixed race and hybrid plants serves as a reminder of the potential of such slippages…. setting her interracial families in the United States’ Midwest, she pushes readers towards new ways of conceptualizing the crucial but often disconnected meanings of emplacement….