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Towards Day 6 (Mon, Sept. 25): Seeking a Green Grammar/Getting "the poetry of the trees"?

Anne Dalke's picture

I. coursekeeping
*weather prediction for noon: 64 degrees, clear,
0% chance of precipitation, 5 mph winds...

* naming, redux

* froggies315 query re: on what difference being outside makes/might/should make?

Having class outside is not working for me.  At first, I was excited to have class outside.  I love being outside!
I’m realizing now that I should not mix school and outside.  Even though we’re physically outside of the classroom, the standards for our performance in discussions haven’t changed.  I spent a lot of time on Wednesday in class wondering what the blue jay was squawking about, and what the red tailed hawk was hunting for, and why it got so quiet in the last 15 minutes of class.  There were times when I had to look at my hands to keep them from picking at the grass and building log cabins with the twigs on the ground.  All the while, I felt guilty for not paying attention the way I am supposed in class.  If we’re expecting the same kind of attention to discussion as we do in other classes, then I think we should move inside.  If we’re expecting something different from discussion in this class, then I think we need to go over the rules.

I’ve noticed [for example] that some people in class are scared of daddy long is stupid for us to ignore the fact that we’re afraid when we are afraid.  How will we ever work though our fears if we don’t acknowledge them?  I’ve never been in a class at college where I’ve seen people jump with fear.  Why are ignoring this?

I recognize that until now, I have not wanted to admit how distracting having class outdoors is for me. I think I’ve romanticized an outside class experience....I really wanted to use this course as an opportunity to explore a classroom with no walls....However, I think I underestimated my own struggle with being outside, which is pretty distracting, especially someone with quite a few learning differences that the outdoors places me a quite a disadvantage. I think my need to break down the walls of the classroom really go back to a recognition that the rules of a traditional classroom obscure different kinds of learners, voices, cultures and experiences....I would definately be interesting in discussing the daddy long legs further in class, especially because I am one of those terrified students you are talking about.

srucara: on the lessons and teachings of the natural world ("the swifts don’t avoid their journey because of the peregrine falcons that prey on them....")

(take turns recording/practicing a different sort of attentiveness...?)

* also need to talk about the "rules" for your Thursday evening postings
all 3 sara(s), graham, ekthorp, krysg, mturer, Nan-- might still/next time "type in your own topic"

some concrete bits I noticed, wish to "re-levant/re-levate":

there was some angst (from mturer) about disrupting the environment by observing it: "I am overwhelmed. I am so overwhelmed that I have walked into a spider web. I can’t imagine being the spider and having something on this scale completely destroy my home just by aimlessly wandering into it. I am an intruder. I have now made this space a human space."

there were some questions (from hira) about how best to do this recording: "There was so much going on at once, and I can't sit down and name it sequentially, or in a linear way...I can't relate what I did in a specific order, because so many different things were going on at once..."

there was some concern (from sara) about the "rules" here:  "I have this overwhelming feeling I only mentioned the trees out of guilt. After all, this is an ecological imaginings class. I have a sense that I have 'accidently' observed the wrong thing"

what are the rules?!? how "best" to do this?
we had some prose, some poetry, some rheomodic experiments...
also a a watercolor, a photograph, a recording of a crow, a 360 video, a French nursery rhyme...
two videos made by others--one a Joni Mitchell song,
the other a production of "music from nature" by Bert's Bees--

Let me share some of Joan Maloff's advice, from "Teaching the Trees":
1. Get up, go out ("shake off the forces that would keep you safe in the company of others")
2. Love nature ("love the wild things and feel that they are loving back"--biophilia)
3. Sit down, write words ("know when to sit down at your desk, and when to get up from it")
4. Find your own fresh voice ('writing evolves")
5. Read a lot, but don't read everything ("the words of others are like feathers--w/ the right number of them you can soar...but w/ an excess it is difficult to get off the ground")
6. Tell a story and put yourself in it ("be a person telling it")
7. Don't fear the science (wonderful stories--symbiosis of wasp and virus--told too dryly)
8. Be humbled by complexity ("be the voice that tells us what we don't know")
9. Try to save the world ("nature writing is more than an excuse to spend the time pleasantly....
trying to save some of this beautiful, complex, joyful place is the most important work there is...")

This is very different advice than Bohm's and Goatley's advising us against human-centricity; it suggests organizing your stories around your own experience, placing yourself there, attending to your own voice.
There are many experiments possible over the next few months--try a range of them!

* for Wednesday, I'd like you to read a few more essays filled w/ writing-and-reading advice:
first, two short pieces Gary Snyder published in 1995:  "Unnatural Writing" and "Language Goes Two Ways";
and then a longer 1986 piece by Paula Gunn Allen that describes "Three Approaches to Interpreting a Keres Indian Tale"--this one is a little heavy-handed/stuck in '80s feminism you won't like (pretty essentializing...);
but let that go, and focus on the tale itself, and her tribal-feminist re-reading of it (skim the rest)...

as always, I'll ask you to reflect on this advice in terms of your own writing (please bring w/ you--
on your computer--what you wrote last Thursday night: your account of your first "site sit"; we're going to do some re-writing to make it more "wild," like Snyder; using "open-field" perception, like Allen)

* so, to get us in the revising mode...
what did we learn from our Sunday night re-levations of our earlier visualizations....?
most of you went back to your own photos, and re-read them through your classmates' words: nice!

group of you meditated on the adequacy of words-as-representation:
we often forget that words ...can have broad definitions...there are many options in interpreting how the terms are used...tailoring these words to our chosen visualizations demonstrates both how easy and  how difficult doing so can be. 

I do not think that we have the language to describe everything all at once. My lens, camera or otherwise, is simply not wide enough.

I struggle with the concept of words as ... accurate representations of our world. I believe words are essentially symbols with a greater purpose of transforming, transferring, or transmuting information and energy.

another cluster focused on questions of anthropocentricty:
now seeing--but resisting--invisible walls/structures in her image;
acknowleding anthropocentricity of the college's design

standing by her choice of an anthropocentric image!

went way too anthropocentric and adaptation-centric

first picture w/ a wider, more anthropocentric view, in cf. w/ second,
more like a small animal's view (re: close up, foreground, background...)

what would this look like to a non-human? a bird?
replaced anthromorphic with "“interactive, “resilient" “community”

ekthorp's pangea:
changing "community" by reshaping/"adapting" the "building centric" campus to be more "city-like"; "seeing" ("beholding in imagination"); "know->play->pattern"...

II. on Wednesday, we discussed Bohm's proposal writing in a more flowing "rheomode";
you had some further conversation on-line about that:
froggies315: Our inability to explain things the way they actually are is not a deficit.  This is what makes our representations precious.... It’s grossly offensive and amusingly pitiful that he thinks the rheomode offers a complete/accurate way to represent the world.

eetong: I basically took the Bohm as a case study for the act of incorporating new ways of speaking, not as a guide for how to change my own practices.

sara.gladwin: Part of his argument is that our language distances us; it assumes that each subject, action and object in a sentence is a separate entity....How can we speak in a way that also acknowledges how people are interconnected and reflects a more community-based outlook than an individual one? ...I think it would be interesting to explore whether or not speech could ever accurately reflect the relationship between individual desires and a community.

hira: Amos Tutuola is a Nigerian author...attempting, very portray the many different things that are going on simultaneously. His sentences and language acknowledge, like Bohm does, that life is not linear...

III. for today, we continue this conversation with help from
Andrew Goatly's “Green Grammar and Grammatical Metaphor,"
Mary Schleppegrell's reply, “What Makes a Grammar Green?”
and Goatly's response to her

I asked you come to class having written down what makes sense to you from this exchange:
something "added to you" by reading it (as well, of course, w/ whatever questions may have arisen
for you in the reading!)
initial reactions? (tell one another...?)

IV. my reading notes
Goatly's proposal for an "ecological critical discourse":

agrees w/ Bohm that ordinary language is inadequate to represent
the world of modern scientific theory and ecology; but also thinks that
more adequate grammar can be developed (which Bohm failed to do...):
nominalization and metaphor can be used to emphasize the primacy
of process and to downplay anthropocentrism

cf. congruent= literal w/ metaphoric = equating unlike things:
a discrepany/incongruence/incompatible tension
metaphors make new meanings possible, expand the range of meanings by flouting conventions

congruent structure uses agent as subject, process as verb, and affected as object:
cause and effect are separable; one permanent entity affects another one =
incompatible w/ current scientific theory

the congruent/ metaphoric distinction is arbitrary:
it depends on conventional classification that selects some
similarities as valuable, ignores others (so what is "literal" is an illusion)
speech is seen as closer to reality, metaphor as more "abstracted"

Newton focused on the laws of motion
= experiences of the infant body
language reinforces this sense of an external force acting on an object to set it in motion

Later scientific theory challenges 3 dimensions of the Newtonian world view:
* nature is passive and controllable (there's spontaneous change)

* basic building blocks of nature are permanent rigid bodies extended in space
(particles are events and processes)

* man is outside nature he describes/acts on (the living observer is part of the system).

Primary emphasis is on undivided wholeness, not separation
increasing focus on evolutionary biology, open systems, increase in order, complexity
(vs. entropy of closed systems)
Gaia theory
sees world as large self-regulating organism, defying 2nd law of thermodynamics
("Mining the earth for minerals is as sensible as eating your liver for nutrients")

false division into agent-> affected, false unidirectionality of cause-> effect:
location is affected; process and things are not separate categories
Looking for environmentally friendly alternatives to goal-directed grammar:
conflate medium w/ process: "it's winging" instead of "birds are flying in the sky";
state a process w/out a participant: "there's been a death" instead of "someone died";
use plural subjects, reciprocal verbs: "Anne and Krygs collided"
promote location to subject: "the bed was crawling with ants..."
ergative forms (medium does the process, provides own energy;
human as instigator, not agent): "the rice cooked," "the meat went on boiling"

nominalization recodes processes as nouns, suggests their permanence-->
or might they be seen to represent self-generated processes?
"water condenses" -> "condensation occurs" (medium absorbed in process)
seeking an image of the world in which processes prodominate and human actors disappear

Conclusion: congruence represents a Newtonian, anthropocentric, infantile ideology
grammar more consonant w/ ecological ontology can be constructed
2 possible directions for critical language awareness:
name actors responsible for environmental degradation
more radically, target anthropocentrism, focus on interrelated process
(overcome the "thingification" of the world)
deconstruct things into processes, transitive effective clauses into reciprocal actions

Schleppegrell: purpose of a green grammar is to represent
real relationships in the world, in order to change patterns
a truly green grammar reveals real forces, institutions that result in env'l destruction
nominalization diffuses responsibility, suppresses social agency, obscures those relationships

Goatly: nominalization can obscure agency of non-specific human actors,
carry inference of general, not specific institutional/corporate destruction
but no grammer can represent the real relationships in the world,
all are models for what's "out there," mediations
Newtonian model is flawed, outmoded, reactionary
@ least nominalization is ambiguous!
(does it turn processes into things, or does it indicate the processual nature of all things?)
cf. Blackfoot = post-relativity models of the physical universe

V. today's writing exercise is a repeat of last Wednesday's:
this time, instead of re-writing your Thoreauvian walk (or Bohm's prose) in "rheomode,"
trying introducing "nominalization" into Goatley's text--what happens?
then try to get rid of the anthropocentrism....
to focus on interrelated processes and reciprocal actions

what have we learned?!

(and shall we try another collectively-written poem....?)