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Towards Day 11 (T, 10/6): Straying?

Anne Dalke's picture

Both classes will meet with Jody in Taylor G

** keywords on board and moving chairs for carousel

I. 11:25- 11:40: coursekeeping

* for Thursday class, finish Wild (Parts Four, Five & Six, pp. 177-312)

* have you RSVP'd for Cheryl Strayed's Emily Balch talk,
Thursday night @ 7:30 in McPherson Auditorium, Goodhart Hall
(followed by a dessert reception in Thomas Great Hall)? we expect you to!

II. 11:40-12:20:  get organized for a carousel

drawing on your initial reactions to Strayed's memoir:

can we link it to what we did last week with "Ravens @ Play" and "White Savior Industrial Complex"?

Rose, Cooke and Van Dooren: “Was the best gift we could offer actually a restraint —
that we would withhold ourselves, our food, our play? What we might become in the contact zone
was thus constrained and our becoming moved toward withdrawal...”

Cole: "having a big emotional experience  .... does not always allow Kristof to think constellationally…"

To your posts?


I approached this book with doubt and hesitation. The general plot was nothing new: the main character goes on some sort of ridiculous and dangerous journey of self-discovery to overcome grief and they live happily ever after. …However, I did appreciate Strayed's thoughtful intermissions of flashbacks, and the way she organized her writing to give the readers a more complex and layered perspective of the main character. I also love her descriptive writing of the natural surroundings; I find myself nostalgic for the beauty of nature as I read this book. Additionally, I empathize with her fears on the trail, and the vulnerablities of hiking among predatory animals and poisonous plants and all kinds of dangers.



When I began reading “Wild,” I found myself extremely critical. I was shocked by Strayed’s reasoning for hiking the PCT and treating family and friends in the detached and sometimes disrespectful ways that she did. As I continued reading I began appreciating the frequent flashbacks which allowed her past to unfold in a methodical yet unpredictable fashion. The pain and confusion Stayed experiences became an almost tangible thing in my heart. …Overall, the first three parts of this novel have been painful to read, but too riveting to give up on.



It’s interesting how Strayed employs the use of the word ‘wild’ for this ‘trail’, as the essence of a wilderness is lost in the establishment of a trail. While the term ‘wild’ is defined as “uncontrolled or unrestrained; not domesticated or cultivated”, a trail is “a beaten path through rough country such as a forest”, which takes away from the disorderliness of the wild.



[The author] showed her ambition and I am respect for her persistence and braveness. I understand why she did those things. I think she was just extremely stressful and needed a manner to release. Walking is a manner that makes people calm down and think.



I don't feel like Cheryl is a sympathetic character at all. I think that her perspective comes from one of privilege: a straight, white female who can afford to leave everything behind and hike through her thoughts.  While I understand the need to escape from reality every once in a while, I felt as though she was writing this memoir to show off how brave she was and how adventurous she could be. … The entire first half was just a chronicle of her escaping her problems while complaining about them at the same time.



When I began reading Wild, I was quick to judge Strayed. Having recently experienced the passing of my grandfather after a long period hospitals and uncertainty…, I could somewhat connect with Strayed. I could understand why she felt the way she did, but I also felt it somewhat irresponsible and reckless that she reacted to her problems the way she did and could  not understand how she could actually do those things. However, as I continued reading I became invested in her story, her struggles. I understood and admired her strength to continue trying to change her life, even though she did not really know how to.

And to some other commentary on Wild?
“The last thing we need is a bunch of ill-prepared people who aren’t thinking clearly and who are trying to find themselves.”

“How much the actual physical wilderness is integral to this tale of suffering and redemption is questionable. Strayed seems most ecstatic when arriving at a post office to recover boxes of supplies and cash she mailed in advance, snacking on Snapple and chips, enjoying dinner with her fellow hikers at a restaurant off the trail, and having sex on a beach with a man she meets in Oregon.”

Robert Lugg's essay, "Reading Cheryl Strayed's Wild: Towards a 'Basic' Environmentalism":
Wild is "bourgeois travel pornography," the Eat Pray Love of the PCT; and/or
Wild is situated in the nature writing canon as a working class, feminist, post-structural re-visioning of wilderness spaces…   Strayed uses a standard comedic move to perfection: that of moving from outside to insider, a journey that mixes pathos and slapstick humor in a way that resembles the work of fellow orphan and tramp Charlie Chaplin. She begins the book by portraying herself as a bumbling, but endearing fool, before gradually assimilating into the PCT hiking community and becoming an insider herself, earning the nickname ‘The Queen of the PCT’…    Thus Strayed forms a community with her readers rather than alienating them, which then… allows her… to deliver a more radical message about gender roles, about class roles, and about nature writing: that non-experts, that women, that folks from working class backgrounds, belong in the wilderness-stuff that academics have been talking about for a while now, but have not always successfully communicated to as large an audience as Strayed has.

Sarah J. Ray's book, "The Ecological Other: Environmental Exclusion in American Culture” talks about how the seemingly progressive politics of wilderness preservation and the repressive policies of national purity were part of the same impulse (those who founded the wilderness movement were also strident about racial purity); how the "wilderness plot" (going out into the wilderness to prove/purify yourself) was part of that; how all of this circles around keeping certain bodies out--raced, classed, immigrant and disabled. How might Wild fit into these ways of thinking?

III. 12:20-12:45:  your last act before break/by 5 p.m. Fri: post your sixth
3-pp. web-event, analyzing Wild through the lens of a keyword

breaking into small groups, to generate a paper topic out of the keywords we asked you to select-and-research for class today (or new ones that emerged from our carousel?)
focus on working closely with the text, quoting from it, analyzing it...