Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Notes Towards Day 23 (Thurs, Nov. 29) : Ecology without Nature

Anne Dalke's picture

Ecology Cannot Be Without Nature

weather prediction:
37 degrees,  7 mph wind,  0% chance of precipitation, partly cloudy
Susan is situating us in Taylor E
Maddie will select next Tuesday's site

I. coursekeeping
* We have two weeks left,
after this one. I have a # of things to tell you--and then we
have a few decisions to make about how we will spend our remaining time together...

*Next week, our text is J.M. Coetzee [kuut-SEE ]'s philosophical novel, The Lives of Animals.
For Tuesday, please read the first 1/2 +/ fictional section: two stories called
"The Philosophers and the Animals" and "The Poets and the Animals." 

Come with some thoughts about form: why does Coetzee use the genre he uses? What does a fiction accomplish that a polemical text does not? What is the role of the "frame tale" (the son's perspective?) What   effect does the story have on you?

* For Thursday, we will finish the book by discussing the four "Reflections" which follow those stories.

* You each have one more writing conference w/ me
(Rochelle, Zoe, SarahC; Maddie, Hannah, Elizabeth, Minh--next week is your final conference).
Please come w/ any questions about completing your final work for the class. In particular,
please read over all your papers, and come having selected one you'd like to re-
write for your final portfolio: I want to review that process with you.

* I had asked you to look over the instructions for completing the final portfolio,
@ the top of the home page, and come today with your questions about how to do this.
There should be no surprises--I reviewed this our first day of classes--
but it will all mean "more"/be more real to you now! Questions?
(Would rather do this as a group than repeat the same info 14x....)

* The final week of classes, I have left us one unscheduled day.
How do you want to spend it?
Is there another text (or kind of text) you'd like to read together?
(Do you want to re-visit a text that we've already read? Read some new poetry? )
Do you want to take a collective ramble? (this is what the other class has chosen….)

* It also looks as though Carmen Papalia will be coming to campus next week,
and leading my other class on a blind field shuttle, Wed, 1-2:30. Let me know
if you'd like to join us....

II. Jennifer Price @ HC y'day, on "The Brave New World of Environmental Art Actions "--
with "public art actions" being made today, to be exhibited all over campus on Friday.
(I won't be here, so take pictures/make on-line reports!) Her talk was inspirational,
and empowering, and very much akin to our themes of
revising old stories into newer, more sustainable ones.

She described a movement, emerging out of a collection of independently appearing groups,
that is called variously Embodied Geography, Experimental Geography, Social Aesthetics,
Socially Engaged Art Practices--she herself prefers Public Art Actions (as neutral,
and accessible). What these projects have in common is that they are trying to
tell new kinds of social and environmental stories, by offering audiences the experience
connecting w/ nature, and each other,in more sustainable, equitable ways. Their work is
mostly experiential, rather than telling; it has a 'friendly' tone (rather than being
confrontational), is interdisciplinary, and accessible; highly theorized (but you
wouldn't know that), and also very applied. They want to make change happen,
by putting people in the places that matter.

The environment is both the topic and method for these groups:
1) they try to get their audience to see the environment in new ways,
to make connections (esp. in the city) visible, to redefine nature as the
"resources we inhabit" (rather than as a "counterpart to modern life/
where we live"): the stuff of our everyday lives, important to inhabit more sustainably.
(Somebody said: we don't really use/know the arboretum @ Haverford;
she said, do you know your dumpster? how much waste? where it goes?)

2) the environment is also method for a surprising # of these groups,
who use meanings associated w/ nature/the environment to upset those meanings;
they draw on strong cultural traditions about what "nature" means to create new stories
(this is linked to Timothy Morton's Ecology without Nature!)

Price's group, the L.A. Rangers, uses the well known/highly recognized character of the park ranger to create new stories about L.A. that people can experience; the ranger helps people feel comfortable in cool places; is knowledgeable, friendly (non-confrontational), and a guardian of America's great public spaces. So the L.A. Rangers lead people on the Malibu Public Beaches project, and on the L.A. River Ramble: making public spaces public by bringing the public there!

III. Your on-line conversation

Zoe: thrive vs. survive?
adding something meaningful
consuming "resources" for our basic needs...actually means that we are ethical to everything we know, because everything in this world is related to us in someway.
human beings consuming natural resources initially for our needs, in order to survive, have been transitioning to fulfil our wants, that is to thrive. In this way we are...disbalancing the natural world.

This concept of energy flow is actually quite shocking to me. Another living thing must die so that I can live.
Barbara: The basic role of money is currency, a mediator to facilitate exchanges…. .how deeply we are trapped in monetary value system…we run out of creativity to think of another way to measure value….how may we develop other currency in such tradeoffs/exchange….?
SarahC: Barbara's suggestion of examining whether "exchange" is ethical at all, is very relevant….A workable land ethic does not require that we deny our …own desires….We need to love and respect… our own place within the web of life…that self-respect goes hand in hand with respect for others…A sense of give and take…mindful of what we are using….

SaraL: a land ethic vs. an ethic of place (re: Seattle)

IV. Ecology without Nature

get up and find yourself a new (final) writing partner
with her, work your way through 1-2 paragraphs of Morton's essay,
looking for answers to these questions:

1. (paras 1-2): What is the "basic message" of env'l criticism?
What are "properly ecological forms" of art?
(cf. p. 2: what's a "proper" relationship with the earth?)

2. (pp. 4-5): What's wrong w/ understanding nature as a "surrounding medium,"
or "admiring it from afar"? (What's the relation between those 2 acts?)
What's wrong w/ "particularism"?
What is the "wider view" of env'l art and criticism that this book advocates?

3. (pp. 6-7): What "ideas of nature" hold us back from meaningful engagements w/ nature?
"What, in essence, is nature all about"?

4. (p. 10): What are ecology's "ideological determinants"?
What's wrong with nature writing as "a re-enchantment of the world"?
How does an "aesthetic" become an "anesthetic"?

5. (p. 11): What is the book's cri de guerre?
What role do localist poetics and retroactive fantasies of place play in our world view?

6.(pp. 12-13): What is a "truly theoretical" approach?
What is the "only ethical" option? What is "deconstruction"
(and how is it similar to queer theory?!) What role does
"nonidentity" play here?

7. (p. 14): What does it mean to say that something is "natural"? That it is "unnatural"?
[Jenny Price's report on the Lesbian Rangers' Reorientation Week, exploring life "in the bush"
using the meanings of nature to challenge the meanings of nature:
"what does it mean to be natural"?]

How do we (collectively) understand these claims?

"When I suggest that we drop the concept of nature, I am saying that we really drop it....
'Ecology without nature' is a relentless questioning of essence (p. 21).

"Environmental writing is a way of registering the feeling of being surrounded otherness,
something that is not the self....(p. 17)...what precisely is it if it is not "around" anything?...If,
at bottom, there is no problem...if...we coexist in an infinite web of mutual interdependence
where there is no boundary or center...? (p. 23)

'Ecology without nature' could mean 'ecology without a concept of the natural'....
Thinking, when it becomes ideological, tends to fixate on concepts rather than doing
what is 'natural' to thought, namely, dissolving whatever has taken form. Ecological thinking
that was not fixated, that did not stop at a particualr concretization of its object,
would thus be 'without nature' (24).

What does it mean to "really drop" the concept of nature?
What does "ecology without nature" mean?
What does it mean to be "without nature"?
What is "ecological thinking," in Morton's book?
What is the "environment" if it is not what "surrounds" us/is "around" us?