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Towards Day 19 (Tues, 11/10): Collapsing Civilization

Anne Dalke's picture

Creighton setting the scene in Erdman Commons;
Khadijah on for Thursday

I. 11:25-11:40  coursekeeping

* for Thursday:
finish The Collapse of Civilization, 53-89:
"Lexicon of Archaic Terms" and "Interview with the Authors."
Also, do some research and bring to class a news article
about (any) governmental intervention in response to
climate change
.  Come to class prepared to give us the
lede (= main idea) in no more than three sentences.

* anybody go to hear Camille Dungy
speak, last Thursday night,
"On writing questions when we are looking for answers"?

* 4:30 Thursday in Thomas 110:
Public Talk by David J. Vázquez, University of Oregon:
Fueling the Agribusiness Engine: Helena María Viramontes’s Under
the Feet of Jesus and the Cross-Currents of U.S. Environmentalism”

Strongly encourage you to go (haven’t met him; guest of Jen Vargas,
who works in/on Latina culture; will highlight another intersection of
identity and environment intersection, that of Latino farmworkers;
congruent with issues raised in All Over Creation)

[unnaturally grown with insecticides - miticides - herbicides - fungicides]

lecture examines how the work of Chicana novelist Helena María Viramontes questions stylized pastoral visions of agriculture and speaks powerfully to environmental justice frameworks. For the Mexican American farm laborers in her novel Under the Feet of Jesus , agribusiness is both the source of their disempowerment and the location of community identity and culture. Thus, the environmentalist conviction that industrial agriculture and the common good (or commons) are utterly at odds comes under scrutiny in the novel. The lecture unpacks under theorized notions of center/periphery, agricultural work and landscape, and the borderlands in environmental discourse. Where conservationists and environmental justice scholars advocate redress through state-sanctioned mechanisms, Viramontes’s novel redefines justice, resistance, and reform in ways that pressure the boundaries of the state.

David J. Vázquez is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Oregon and the author of Triangulations: Narrative Strategies for Navigating Latino Identity (University of Minnesota Press, 2011) as well as the co-editor of Latina/o Environmentalisms: Literary Histories and Critical Theories (under review) . This lecture is part of David J. Vázquez's new book project, Latina/o Literature and the Cross-Currents of U.S. Environmentalism, which examines Latina/o literature's sustained engagements with the entwined issues of social justice, human rights, migrant labor, ecological contamination, housing justice, and environmental racism. Environmental studies has historically explored relationships between culture and the environment to create an earth-centered scholarly vision. However, the U.S. environmental movement has often put ideologies of American exceptionalism to work fo r the movement’s political goals of wilderness conservation, species protection, and land restoration. Moreover, some strains of environmental thought emphasize privileged perspectives over those of people of color, the poor, and the formerly colonized. By contrast, Latina/o Literature and the Cross-Currents of U.S. Environmentalism identifies a parallel and countervailing tradition of environment al thought in the work of Latina/o authors such as Luís Alberto Urrea, Gloria Anzaldúa, Ernesto Quiñonez, Junot Díaz, and Salvador Plascencia . The book' s analysis of the Latina/o environmental imaginary explores the complex meanings of ecology, environmentalism, place, and agriculture in Latina/o literature. This is the first scholarly book to engage environmental representations in Latina/o literature, revealing that environmental justice is a central concern for Latina/o laborers, artists, and thinkers .

turning to your web events:

* reactions to the experience of having two weeks to write your papers?

* I'm
no longer doing line edits—
you know that your writing is talky,
you need to start fixing it yourselves!—but am still expecting
correct citation form, attention to structure, transition, etc.
in these web events (we can discuss some of this in conferences;
not of much interest to your web audience!)

* reminder that you are writing for the world:

-- this week paddington chose to make her post private, because
"I don’t want people who appreciate this exhibition to be mad to me"
-- Abby's essay on Wild got a comment that "this is an intelligent, sensitive review”! 
--the artist who was here last  week to consult with our 360 also commented on several postings:
Aayzah's proposal to write about betrayal got the question,
"If a person has to lie about what she does, is that person taking responsiblity for what she does?"
Marina's proposal garnered, "Does everyone experience their own lives as being 'the other'? and
Trafalmadorian a similar, "How would a society in which no one is 'the other' be structured?"

* really happy with this set of papers: getting more complex, questioning...

* will repeat this process this week and next:
this Friday, your tenth 3-pp. web-event is due,
gathering material to compare Kolbert and Oreskes/Conway,
either in terms of their key ideas, their impact, and/or
the different ways they tell their stories.  This is in preparation
for developing the claim that you’ll articulate next week
(when you might focus on only one text, or use one as
a foil for the other, or draw on a third);
but for now, focus on developing a comparison/contrast.

II. beginning this process with your postings: your reactions to Kolbert's history,
Orestes/Conway's cli-fi tale, and/or the connections between them

We're going to work on these in the form of a silent discussion -- get up, comment on any/all:

otter15: I personally found Kolbert's writing much more personal and emotional than Zreskes and Conway's in their sci-fi tale. Kolbert focuses more on the human relationship with the environment, wheras the latter authors focus more on economics and policies and dryer things like that. Kolbert's writing made me feel hopeful; while I was saddened by the sorry state of the world's current exintinction rates, Kolbert still instilled hop inside me from all the hard-working activists/scientists trying to save the animals. The sci-fi tale maddened me, on the other hand, because of the sheer stupidity of humans and the lack of action taken to stop the degradation of our planet. 

Both of these readings made me reflect on how little our nations have done for our environment. Yes, we've had laws passed, industries regulated, envrionmental activists spreading awareness, but still little has been done to actually change the downward direction of our planet. Like Osrekes and Conway say, "Knowledge [does] not translate into power" (2).

Though I have only read the first couple of chapters, the novel "The Collapse of Western Civilization" by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway has been successful at leaving me unnerved. The book talks about the destruction of the Earth but what seems to be the most daunting factor is the pure ignorance society possesses in this science fiction novel. The authors unfold the storyline of small groups of people, corporations, who oppose any means of environmental protection. Yet these small businesses become masses of people, the government even, fighting against beneficial actions and efforts to save the planet. And for what? Wealth and ease. It is truly discomforting to read about those who risk the lives of human beings and animals for their own comfort. Whether the early events that lead up to the collapse are exaggerated or not, society should be made aware of the effects we have on our planet.  

"But before the movement to change could really take hold, there was backlash. Critics claimed that the scientific uncertainties were too great to justify the expense and inconvenience of eliminating greenhouse gas emissions, and that any attempt to solve the problem would cost more than it was worth.”

Nothing is worth more than saving lives; saving our Earth.

bothsidesnow: When I read this book's front inside flap, I saw this story described as "science-based fiction" I thought that it could contain more elements of fiction that I am used to. Instead, this short piece (novella maybe?) read more like an article in a science or news magazine. The fiction aspects were the years in the future, until 2393 with only a slightly altered 20th and early 21st century. I thought that like All Over Creation, there would be distinct characters who would narrate the changes that occur to the world as we know it. I did notice that there was a slight narration by the authors and in that, there were some opinion shown, such as when describing that the American conservatives and GOP members who would not listen to the pleas made by the scientists. Reading this, it seemed the authors leaned more toward the liberal and/or Democratic side of the argument but also spoke critically of the scientists who did not go far enough to convince the general public because they feared that they wouldn't be understood. I also found this difficult to read because a lot of imaginary organizations and facts and events were presented along with those that already exist, so while I was trying to learn about what is real, I was also trying to keep up with the fictional parts. Also it was a bit disturbing/weird to hear descriptions of the recent past (late 1990s, 2000s, early 2010s) be described in a kind of distant manner. I noticed the narrator used "our" at one point but at others it seemed that they were know-it-alls and possibly superior to ue (current humans in 2015).

My initial reaction when starting The Collape of Western Civilization, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, was of confusion. Without reading the description I had no idea what the book was presuming to explain. Of course, the objective of the authors to alert readers to the serious state of crisis the Earth is currently undergoing became clear as I read on. I find this book's message alarming, however I cannot say I particularly enjoy reading it. The first page of every chapter displays a map and reminds me of a history textbook... Many of the scientific explanations are difficult for me to process without expending excessive amounts of time rereading them... Overall, the book is interesting in concept, and the scientific aspects give it a greater sense of reality, so I think that although it is not suited to my personal tastes, The Collapse of Western Civilization is extremely effective in terms of the authors' goal of raising public awareness of the environment.

III. end with gallery: take notes on questions, answers, ideas you can bring back to the group, things you'd like us to talk about more.

IV. Large group discussion:
What forms of writing will help us think/act in ways we need to order to make the necessary changes??
Eco-semiotics, eco-linguistics, cli-fi --> trying to move beyond a short-term, human-centric focus?
What sorts of stories can get us to think beyond our immediate needs and wants?
(Turn back to Abby's question about emotions as an impetus to change...and/yet as something,
per Teju Cole, that needs constant interrogation...?)