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Towards Day 24 (Tues, 12/2): "Our Vegetable Love"

Anne Dalke's picture

I. coursekeeping
* Maryam is re-directing us
to the lower level common room in Erdman
[where to on Thursday?]

* Welcome back!
any eco-stories from your Thanksgiving vacation?

* everyone aware of
the climate change conference happening now in Paris?
please add Naomi Klein's essay to your reading for Thursday:
What’s really at stake at the Paris climate conference now marches are banned, The Guardian (November 20, 2015)

* on Thursday, we'll also discuss Bruno Latour's Agency at the Time of the Anthropocene; in preparation...

* By 5 p.m. on Wed (tomorrow): twelfth short posting, giving 3 main ideas that you see Latour offering,
and one question his essay raised for you (this is a demanding essay; please start on it tonight).

* NOT ON FRIDAY, BUT by this Sunday @ 5, your last paper is due: drawing on our recent readings (Van Jones, Friere, Bowers, LeGuin, Latour, all those selections about the microbiome...) to reflect on what constitutes "ecological intelligence" (or: what intelligences do we need to think ecologically?). Bowers offered us a version which we took on/didn't buy completely last week. Your assignment for this week is to reconsider that concept; what does it mean/how should it be learned/taught? This might be a letter to Bowers, or a counter to him (what would you want your teachers to think/know?) This could be an expansion of Grace's posting, last weekend: "ecological intelligence takes account of relationships, contexts, as well as impacts of ideas and behaviors on other members in the cultural and natural systems" (Bowers, pg.45). I'd like to discuss if we as a class think that we use ecological intelligence in our discussion and in the way we read and analyze readings.

* in preparation for this paper, begin brainstorming what you might like to do, and especially who you might "think along with";
we'll spend some time in class on Thursday helping one another generate this work....

* also! you should be working hard now on your 6-week project presentations:
everybody needs to be prepared to present during next Tuesday's class, with 5-7
minutes describing what your pair learned in-and-about your "expanded contact zone."
Come to class on Thursday with a title for your group (so we can think about organizing
the presentations).

You will "track what you did" in your portfolio; but--
next week, your task is less to "report" than to teach the class:
think pedagogically about you might most effectively share what you've
learned (this could be in the form of a conversation, q&a, hand-out, power point....):
after each presentation, we'll take a few more minutes for reflecting on what you've taught.

We are planning to meet together with both sections @ 7 p.m. on Thursday,
Dec. 10 for dessert (since you have a holiday dinner that night in the dining halls);
this still good for everyone?

II. on Tuesday, we discussed Bowers' essay on "recovering ecological intelligence,"
and found it wanting (from an earlier generation? insistently local, historical,
no acknowledgment of the internet, focusing on "intergenerationally connected
relationships" which "are not framed in terms of fostering more 'individual self-direction,'
'indepndence,' and 'ongoing questioning and revising'" --WHAT?!?

we also didn't really look @ the
four other short selections:
Your Own Personal Ecosystem
The Human Microbiome project
“About the world within us,” The Philadelphia Inquirer
"Stacy Alaimo: Porous Bodies and Trans-Corporeality"

remember these....? go back there, as framing for our discussion of LeGuin's short story
yhamashima's posting,
re: "About the world within us"
"What's generally seen is that, during disease, the diversity, that rich ecosystem in the gut or on the skin, seems to crash. Just as with a reef or a rain forest, the richer the ecosystem the better.”
I think Japan is one of the most sanitary countries. We wash hands and gargle every time after coming back from outside. We keep on doing it since we were very little. We separate inside and outside completely, so we don’t step into houses with our shoes. Maybe we are not so strong against disease, but then is it better to let them in?
Japanese people focus on “preventing” illness. Is it not effevtive?

see also otter15: The comment that calamityschild made about being "one" with the world (since we have porous bodies) is particularly striking; I've never really considered that our porous bodies could make us inseperable from the world. It seems like a lot of Tuesday's conversations reflected on how humans are interconnected with the environment and world, but ... aren't there situations where we have to distance ourselves from the world in order to make things easier to think about?

III. good science setting for Ursula LeGuin's short story, "Vaster than Empires, and More Slow" --
which invites us to imagine a world in which plant life is @ the center-->
she actually invites us to re-imagine our relation w/ plants.
Let's (re)start this conversation not w/ her imaginings, but w/ our experience.

What do you know of plant life?
How does it affect your own?

How central have plants been to the stories we have been telling one another this semester?
[turn and tell one another this; then share in large group....]

As large group: what were our reactions to LeGuin's story?
How did those reactions arise from/relate to our own relationship to plants?

What is the source of fear in this story?
Why are we/might we be afraid, alone in the woods?

Anne's Reading Notes
two webpages, 1 newspaper article about the human microbiome:
microbial communities which inhabit major mucosal surfaces of the human body,
including nasal passages, oral cavities, skin, gastrointestinal tract, and urogenital tract;
the idea that friendly microscopic "bugs are us" plays against the traditional sense of self--
mind-centered, egotistical, and laden with notions of personal identity, separation
and integrity (spiritual and physical).

Levi R. Bryant’s blog posting about Stacy Alaimo’s writing about "Porous Bodies and Trans-Corporeality"
breaks down the whole notion that there is any separation between us and our world,
that we can ever be exiled--or quite @ home....

They say the human is inseparable from “the environment,”
that there is no “over here” that’s isolated from over there:
"all bodies are porous….permeable…more like sponges than marbles…
Even marbles are a sort of sponge…even atoms are mostly composed
of void or space…All entities are characterized by a porosity
that allows the outer world to flow through them…"
cities constitute the countryside (flows of energy, water, information)….
We are constituted by the world around us…“the environment is a world of fleshy beings”--
“with their own needs, claims…unpredictable and unwanted actions”:
“the ecological pertains to the most intimate recesses of my sponge-like being”:
Big Mac = cow flatulence/rising greenhouse gases/clearing of rain forests, shipping, preparation, waste…

In her Forward to "Vaster than Empires...," LeGuin said,

The relation of our species to plant life is one of total depen­dence and total exploitation—the relation of an infant to its mother. Without plants the earth would have remained bare rock and water; without plant respiration we'd suffocate promptly; without vegetable food (firsthand or, as in meat, secondhand) we starve. There is no other food.

...but this relationship...can be completely ignored by a modern city dweller whose actual experience of plants is limited to florists' daisies and supermarket beans. The igno­rance of the urban poor is blameless; the arrogant ignorance of the urban inex­cusable. There is no excuse for deforestation, for acid rain, or for the hunger of two-thirds of the children of the earth.

A very savvy genre, science fiction often acknowledges our plant-dependence—filling a room in the spaceship with hydro-panic tanks, or 'terraforming' the new planet so the colonists can raise grain—but with some notable fiction lacks much real inter­est in what's green. The absolute passivity of plants, along with their absolute resistance to being replaced by an industrial-age substitute (we can have iron horses, steel eagles, mechanical brains, but robot wheat? Plastic spinach? If you believe in that you must eat the little green hedge on your sushi plate) prob­ably makes them terminally uninteresting to the metal-minded and those to whom technology is not a way of living in the world, but a way of defeating it.

All the same, the story is...quite conven­tional science fiction...a story about boldly going where, etc. In it I was, in part, trying to talk about the obscure fear, called panic, which many of us feel when alone in wilderness. I have lost the trail on an Oregon mountain in logged-over second-growth forest, where my individual relation to the trees and undergrowth and soil and my relative position in their earth-and-ocean-wide realm, as an animal and as a human, were, you might say, brought home to me....

Let's look @ genre:
Who among you reads science fiction? Why? Why not?
What does the genre of science fiction accomplish?
What might it contribute to environmental thinking?

from LeGuin's essay, "Science Fiction and the Future":
our talk about 'going forward into the future' is a metaphor...
based on our macho fear of ever being inactive, receptive, open, quiet, still...
The future is not mere space...a place we are going to get to...
there is no way we can get there. The future is the part of the spacetime
continuum from which...we are excluded. We can't even see it...
what we do see is the stuff inside our heads...when science fiction
is really doing its job that's exactly what it's dealing with...
I personally prefer to stand still...and look @ what is...

Cf. another essay by her, "The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction":
the principal food of the species was vegetable...
I now propose the bottle as its older sense of container....
A holder. A recipient....the tool that brings energy home....
The story that hid my humanity from me...The killer story....
we'd better start telling another one...the life story...fundamentally unheroic...
a sack, a bag...its purpose is neither resolution nor stasis but continuing process....
If one avoids the linear, progressive, Time's (killing) arrow mode of the Techo-Heroic,
and redefines technology and science as primarily cultural carrier pleasant side effect
is that science fiction can be seen as...a realistic genre...It is a strange realism, but it is
a strange reality....a way of describing what is in fact going on...this unending story....
In it, there is time

Cf. also her "Bryn Mawr Commencement Address" (on the father/mother/"native" tongues)

Cf. too the conventional generic distinctions:

  • lyric/drama/epic (narrative)

  • poem/play/story/essay (fictional/non-fictional prose)

  • romance/comedy/tragedy/satire (irony)

  • romance/realism/naturalism

What contribution might each of these make to "thinking/writing ecologically"?
What's the role of fiction in the environmental movement?

Cf. also Andrew Marvell, "To His Coy Mistress"
(metaphysical/pastoral/carpe diem poem, c. 1650s):
Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love's day;
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood;
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

        But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv'd virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

        Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am'rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp'd power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

[How does LeGuin's understanding of time differ from Marvel's?
Which is more "ecological"?]