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Notes Towards Day 24 (Tues, Dec. 4) : The Lives of Animals

Anne Dalke's picture

Red Peter

weather prediction: 59 degrees,  7 mph wind,  10% chance of precipitation, mostly cloudy
Maddie is situating us on "Carpenter Beach"
everyone has had a turn @ this...what shall we do about the remaining 3 days?
are folks happy to gather back in the classroom for the remaining 3 classes? do you want to go somewhere new? return to another site?

I. coursekeeping
* any comments/reports on the "environmental art action" held on campus last Friday?

* any more questions about final requirements/obligations/portfolio/"teach-in"? (reminder that all of you haven't posted about your class selection sit--that's still due...)

* Carmen Papalia's blind field shuttle will be held here tomorrow, Wed, 1-2:30; also @ HC @ 4:15 (sign up on-line)

* By 5 p.m. tomorrow, each of you should post on Serendip your reflections on the recent discussions we've had/readings we've done (I expect that the discussion we're about to have on The Lives of Animals will produce some commentary...). You can do this as "stand-alone" or in response to others, but each of you should post--this will be the last of these on-line comments you're required to do. (Some of you should do it tonight, to kick off the conversation....)

* come on Thursday ready to tell me what groups you've chosen for the teach-in,
(so I can tell you how much time each of you will have to perform....)

* On Thursday, we will continue discussing Coetzee's book,
by focusing on the four "Reflections" which follow the stories.

* On Friday, your revised final paper should go up on Serendip
(if I'm not meeting w/ you this week,I'll send you my suggestions tonight)

* On Sunday, your final 'site sit' is due....

lots of "finality" here!

II. pair up w/ your writing partner, to help her figure out
1) what her main point is (this is still an academic paper
--your cumulative one!--w/ an argument,
not a personal story of "what I learned....")
2) who her audience is--who needs to hear this?
3) how she can best engage them

III. last Thursday,
we didn't finish talking about Ecology without Nature--
(which I learned from your papers that some of you really DID NOT LIKE!)
when we ran out of time, we were still wrestling w/ Morton's argument
that our idealistic "ideas of nature" are actually holding
us back from meaningful engagements w/ nature,

that our "aesthetic" of nature writing--
"localist poetics and retroactive fantasies of place"--
has become an "anesthetic" that is preventing us from
registering "the feeling of being surrounded otherness,
something that is not the self,"

that the "nature" of thinking is "dissolving whatever has taken form."
Morton compared his work to "queer theory," and to "deconstruction"--
queering, deconstructing, unsettling what it is we think we know
about "nature," "ecology," and "the environment."

What sense can we make of this? How might it be useful to us?
(Try to "believe" it for a few moments...?)

IV. Today we turn to a very different text, genre-wise:
not prophetic--telling us what we need to do--but
refracted: a fictional account of a prophet that
explores the complexities of taking a stand.

Morton's essay was "top-down"; he opens it by saying,
"Nobody likes it when you mention ... the environment. You risk sounding boring or judgmental or bring it into the stops being the environment. It stops being That Thing Over There that surrounds and sustains us. When you think about where you waste goes, your world starts to shrink. This is the basic message of criticism that speaks up for environmental justice, and it is the basic message of this book.

The editor/introducer of Coetzee's text is Amy Gutmann, the
political theorist who is now president of UPenn. She explains
that when Coetzee was invited to give the Tanner lectures @ Princeton, he
substituted a fictional form for the philosophical essay that was expected;
the norm, in other words, was something like Morton's Ecology without Nature,
or Leopold's "The Land Ethic."

At the center of Coetzee's fiction (as you know) he places a novelist,
Elizabeth Costello, who demands a radical change in the treatment of
animals: our radical sympathy for their "sensation of being." Along the way,
she makes a profound claim for fiction: it serves an ethical purpose,
in extending our sympathies, opening our hearts, in showing us
that "there are no bounds to the sympathetic imagination."

This echoes something Aldo Leopold said: that we can be ethical
only in relation to something we see, feel, understand, love or have faith in; also
that the "mechanism of operation" of such ethics is "social approbation"....

But to get into the novel, let's start not w/ Leopold,
or with Morton, but w/ how it affected you:

write out on a sheet of paper a quotation that (for
whatever reason) you found striking. Choose a passage
that you think merits further discussion.

Put these in the center of the circle. Pick up
one, and (in silence) comment on the quotation.
Return it to the pile, and pick up another. You can
write a comment on the quote you selected (after
someone else has), or write a second time in
response to what someone else has said....

Now: retrieve your quote. Read the commentary....
What do you think? Any new angles of vision...?
What do we see/are we highlighting/do we want to discuss?

V. Moving up a level of abstraction, to "form"
* why does Coetzee use the genre he uses?
* what does a fiction accomplish that a polemical text does not?
* what is the function of the "frame tale" (the son's perspective?)
* what effect does the story have on you?
* what is the relation between the "philosophers" and the "poets" sections?
* what are the bounds of the imagination in this text?
* what is the function of the reflective responses?

"... my subject steers clear of the right. As a child ... he has seen enough of the Afrikaner right, enough of its rant, to last him a lifetime...he has perhaps seen more of cruelty and violence than should have been allowed to a child. So as a student he moves on the fringes of the left without being part of the left. Sympathetic to the human concerns of the left, he is alienated, when the crunch comes, by its language – by all political language, in fact..." [from Coetzee, Doubling the Point]

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