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Towards Day 6 (Mon, Feb. 10): "Vegetable Love"

Anne Dalke's picture

I. warming up
* reports on ice storm, and recovery...?
reflect on our attitudes/assumptions re: extreme weather events?
our rights to shelter, warmth, internet access?

* how accessible/challenging are you finding the reading?

(you come from so many different disciplines...)
Jo, Sara may remember the idea emerging in "The Rhetoric of Silence"
last year that inaccessibility can be a good thing:
slow you down, make you dig deeper, not presume you've 'got it'....?

II. Last Wednesday, we complicated the concepts of 'home' and 'exile'
with those of 'transcorporality'--what if we are so porous to the world
that we can not be removed from it, cannot be exiled? what if we are
so strange (to ourselves and others), that we can never be @ home?

your (more porous!) postings on the 'placeless' and the 'porous'-->

The course forum was nicely porous and responsive last night—thank you!

Aphorisnt opened the conversation by evoking a Vlog Brothers’ video
about the infinite improbability of creation (and of any particular part of it)--
as giving a larger, longer perspective on questions of home and exile

Kelsey came back with the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics:
it’s not just that there are multiple complex causes for all that exists
(as the Vlog Brothers and Aphorisnt point out), but also that
everything that did not happen in our universe may have occurred in some other one.

this got Sophia meditating on the infinite ecosystems all living within,
in response to, and because of, other ecosystems….

and Jessica on the idea of everything having a connection to
something before it or after it, penetrable and permeable

and Jenna on both the multiple circumstances that lead us
to where are, and the uniqueness of particular, differing circumstances

which got Lisa thinking about Morton’s challenge to the limitations of being bounded to one location

all of which led finally (though the whole conversation was less linear than loopy!) to
’s expanding on the idea of alternate universes:

what our lives would be like if we were living on a Pangaea-like supercontinent...
would the unity of the land-form encourage a more porous approach to life and place?...
this little Pangaea-tangent has got me thinking about how much the land itself ..
may influence our connections to the world. 

III. which brings us directly! to the “thought experiment” of Ursula LeGuin!
We turn from essays "about" these eco-ideas to a science fiction tale
that embodies them: a character who is absolutely porous/open/
vulnerable to the world around him.
Ursula LeGuin invites us to imagine a world in which plant life is @
the center--> she invites us to re-imagine our relation w/ plants.

Let's (re)start this conversation (as always!) w/ our own experiences in this realm.
We spoke last week about our relationship to bugs--the microbiome within us all-->
how would you describe your relation to plants? What has been your experience?

What do you know of plant life? How does it affect your own?
How central have plants been to the two essays you've written,
the one you did for me about "belonging,"  and the other for Jody
about your own early relationship with your ‘environment"?

(Write about this for 5 minutes....)

Go around and read these.

In her Forward to "Vaster than Empires...," LeGuin said,
The relation of our species to plant life is one of total depen­dence and total exploitation—the relation of an infant to its mother. Without plants the earth would have remained bare rock and water; without plant respiration we'd suffocate promptly; without vegetable food (firsthand or, as in meat, secondhand) we starve. There is no other food.

Deo, Demeter, the grain-mother, and her daughter/self Kore the Maiden called Persephone, raped by the Godfather's brother and buried to rise again, are myth-images of this relationship, recognized by 'primitive' farmers as fundamental. It is still fundamental, but can be completely ignored by a modern city dweller whose actual experience of plants is limited to florists' daisies and supermarket beans. The igno­rance of the urban poor is blameless; the arrogant ignorance of the urban inex­cusable. There is no excuse for deforestation, for acid rain, or for the hunger of two-thirds of the children of the earth.

A very savvy genre, science fiction often acknowledges our plant-dependence—filling a room in the spaceship with hydro-panic tanks, or 'terraforming' the new planet so the colonists can raise grain—but with some notable fiction lacks much real inter­est in what's green. The absolute passivity of plants, along with their absolute resistance to being replaced by an industrial-age substitute (we can have iron horses, steel eagles, mechanical brains, but robot wheat? Plastic spinach? If you believe in that you must eat the little green hedge on your sushi plate) prob­ably makes them terminally uninteresting to the metal-minded and those to whom technology is not a way of living in the world, but a way of defeating it.

All the same, the story is...quite conven­tional science fiction...a story about boldly going where, etc. In it I was, in part, trying to talk about the obscure fear, called panic, which many of us feel when alone in wilderness. I have lost the trail on an Oregon mountain in logged-over second-growth forest, where my individual relation to the trees and undergrowth and soil and my relative position in their earth-and-ocean-wide realm, as an animal and as a human, were, you might say, brought home to me....

Let's talk about this idea: that this is a story about our deepest fears...of the wilderness.
What is the source of fear in this story? Why are we/might we be afraid, alone in the woods?

IV. I also want us to think about genre, the kinds of writing that are part of being eco-literate/
that might be most helpful in conveying environmental ideas (remembering here
aphorisnt's enthusiasm about Wall*E, "the sugary sweet trash compacting robot
who got the world interested in ecology  for at least a few months")

Who among you reads science fiction? Why?  Why not?
What does the genre of science fiction accomplish?
(Turn to a partner and figure this out together...)

LeGuin on "Science Fiction and the Future"
our talk about 'going forward into the future' is a metaphor...
based on our macho fear of ever being inactive, receptive, open, quiet, still...
The future is not mere space...a place we are going to get to...
there is no way we can get there. The future is the part of the spacetime
continuum from which...we are excluded. We can't even see it...
what we do see is the stuff inside our heads...when science fiction
is really doing its job that's exactly what it's dealing with...

I personally prefer to stand still...and look @ what is...

Cf. her essay on "The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction"
the principal food of the species was vegetable...
I now propose the bottle as its older sense of container....
A holder. A recipient....the tool that brings energy home....
The story that hid my humanity from me...The killer story....
we'd better start telling another one...the life story...fundamentally unheroic...
a sack, a bag...its purpose is neither resolution  nor stasis but continuing process....
If one avoids the linear, progressive, Time's (killing) arrow mode of the Techo-Heroic,
and redefines technology and science as primarily cultural carrier pleasant side effect
is that science fiction can be seen as...a realistic genre...It is a strange realism, but it is
a strange reality....a way of describing what is in fact going on...this unending story....
In it, there is time

Cf. also her "Bryn Mawr Commencement Address" (on the father/mother/"native" tongues)

Cf. too the conventional generic distinctions:

  • lyric/drama/epic (narrative)

  • poem/play/story/essay (fictional/non-fictional prose)

  • romance/comedy/tragedy/satire (irony)

  • romance/realism/naturalism

What contribution might each of these make to "thinking/writing ecologically"?
What's the role of fiction in the environmental movement?

Cf. also Andrew Marvell, "To His Coy Mistress"
(metaphysical/pastoral/carpe diem poem, c. 1650s)

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love's day;
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood;
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

        But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv'd virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

        Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am'rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp'd power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

[How does LeGuin's understanding of time differ from Marvel's?
Which is more "ecological"?]

V. Coursekeeping
for class on Wednesday:
read Paula Gunn Allen's essay,
Kochinnenako in Academe: Three Approaches to Interpreting a Keres Indian Tale.
It's another narrative--along with three interpretations.
We'll use it to
  go on talking about what fictional texts can do/
how they might contribute to eco-literacy...