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Notes Towards Day 11 (Tues, Oct. 9) : "Vegetable Love"

Anne Dalke's picture

MichaelF77, "Vaster than Empires, and More Slow"

I. coursekeeping

* weather prediction:  55 degrees, 10 mph winds, 40 % chance of rain

* Zoe's hoping to take us to the fountain in the cloisters (don't forget to write about this...), so bring something to sit on/wear/cover yourself, if need be
(always: come ready to make yourself comfortable, not to rely on others to do so...)

* still missing phone #s for alex, mbackus

* naming "test,"
to conclude: wanhong, SaraL

* for our trip to Harriton House on Thursday
--?? will walk/run there ??
Sarah and I will be in the English House parking lot (?)
w/ our cars, planning to leave @ 11:15 and 11:20 (?)
I told Bruce we would arrive @ 11:30, and need to leave @ 12:45.

Directions: leaving the campus center, turn left to go west (and downhill) one block on New Gulph Road. At the traffic light, turn right onto Roberts Road. At the next intersection, take the left fork onto Harriton Road. The entrance to the Harriton Park is immediately on your left. 

--in preparation
, please spend some time exploring Harriton House: Past, Present, and Future....
(familiarize yourself w/ the history of the site, so the director, Bruce Gill, doesn't have to dwell on that), and come w/ several questions for him (you let me down w/ Alison Bechdel--don't do it again!)

--also read Michael Pollan's "Weeds are Us," and Richard White's
"Are You an Environmentalist or Do You Work for a Living?"
--these essays invite you to re-orient your relation to nature around work,
rather than "pleasure" or "leisure" or "escape" from the stresses of your work life...
and I this will serve as a good introduction to a field trip to a farm

By this Friday @ 5 (this is a change: NOT SUNDAY!), please post another description of your
on-campus site; what do you notice now, in the context of what you learned at Harriton House?


And/but by 5 p.m. Sun (Oct. 21, when you return) your sixth writing assignment is due: take some time to review all your postings and papers, reflecting on what's working and what needs working on, both for you as an individual learner and for the class as a learning community. How are you using the class? How do you see others using it, individually and as a group? How is this course functioning "ecologically," how might it be more "ecological" in structure and action? Are there additional ways you can imagine y/our using the class, to expand our understanding? E-mail these reflections, as usual, in the form of a 3-pp. assignment to Anne; then write a 1-paragraph summary,  capturing the key points of your assessment that you'd like us to discuss together as a group, and post that on-line. Read all those assessments before coming to class on Tuesady, Oct. 23...

...when we will discuss our trip to Harriton, and our mid-semester assessments. Then Maria Luisa Crawford will lead us in a campus-wide exploration of the geological structures that undergird our current linguistic and cultural explorations. There are two readings required for that class: a couple of poems about "thinking geologically/metaphorically," and several essays by Thomas Berry about "The Dream of the Earth," and "The American College in the Ecological Age."

Also, ALWAYS/EVERY FALL ESem'ers get confused about the conference schedule the week after fall break. IT IS ON-LINE and easily verifiable from the course home page. I will see all Monday afternoon folks that week on Oct. 22 (this is a change--sorry to keep switching, but it turns out this time is problematic for me, and this time I have a dept'l obligation I can't get out of....); then Shengjia on Wed, Barbara and Alex on Thursday; the rest of you not til the week after....

II. This Sunday, I asked you to describe the genre of your nature writing when you posted it (but most of you didn't--forgot? or couldn't figure out how to do this?):

In “Unnatural writing”, Gary Snyder suggests that the art of the wild includes the kinds of writing that “step outside the human”. So in this week’s post, I tried to observe nature around Rhoads' longue and imagine how a tree would feel and think about it. The position and characteristic of each point of view play a significant role in shaping its perception of the world.

Barbara: I tried to make the language playful. The language mode almost reflected the uncontrollable chaos that I experienced.

I enjoyed trying a more comedic approach to nature because us as humans always seem so uncomfortable when we go outside our comfort zone and cannot get comfortable. So I thought I would play on that uncomfotableness and make it humerous since we all experience it.

Shengjia: observation of the grass on the platform in front of Carpenter Library written in scientific-narrative and sarcasm.

SaraL: I chose to write this post in verse because I thought it would capture the "wildness" of my train-of-thought writing most accurately.

get wet, all wet...
Cahier: where we collide...
CMJ: walking around octagon...
this wasn't so bad...
Rochelle: attending to my environment (and myself)...
mbackus: Babuskas, scarves, and the Moon Bench...
disorganized thoughts, feelings...

III. I also asked you to send your 3-pp. analysis of genre-revising to your writing partner:
pair up now to tell your partner what you saw her accomplishing in this experiment.

What did we learn from that exercise (first reviewing your writing, then re-writing it, then having it read back to you)? How much did changing the form change the content/your claims? How much did you resist this process?

IV. I asked you to read 3 pieces by Ursula LeGuin-->
the short story, "Vaster than Empires, and More Slow," and two essays,
"Science Fiction and the Future," and  "The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction"

LeGuin invites us to imagine a world in which plant life is @ the
center-->she actually invites us to re-imagine our relation w/ plants.
Let's (re)start this conversation not w/ her imaginings, but w/ our experience.
How would you describe your relation to plants? What has been your experience?
(Write about this for 5 minutes....)

What do you know of plant life? How does it affect your own?
How central have plants been to the stories you have been posting on Thursday evenings?

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.

...but this relationship...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....

Do you see this as 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?

--Barry Commoner's four informal rules of ecology:
* Everything is connected to everything else.

* Everything must go somewhere.
* Nature knows best.
* There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Let's look again @ genre (continuing our discussion from Monday about literary "kinds," &
Meeker's argument that comedy would best serve env'l activism...
Who among you reads science fiction? Why?
Why does LeGuin say we should?
What does the genre of science fiction accomplish?
What might it contribute to environmental thinking?

"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 exclused. 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. "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"?]