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"Our Vegetable Love": Notes Towards Day 24 (Tues. Nov. 29)

Anne Dalke's picture

Amanda's hosting us in Merion Common Room
on Thursday, Princess is taking us to the Library in the Enid Cook Center

I. Welcome back! eco-Thanksgiving stories...?

II. LOTSA coursekeeping
last round of writing conferences, this week and next
(Irene, Cathy, Francesca, Maia next week; most of you this week)
come w/ questions about portfolio, paper selected for revision,
any other end-of-semester questions/thoughts!

for Thursday's class, last assigned readings of the semester:
Naomi Klein, "What’s really at stake at the Paris climate conference now marches are banned," and
Bruno Latour, "Agency at the Time of the Anthropocene" (this is a demanding essay; please start on it tonight).

By 5 p.m. tomorrow,
your twelfth short posting--WHICH WILL NOT BE WEBBY!!!
-listing 3 main ideas that you see Latour offering, and one question his essay raises for you.

READING KINDLY: "Mullaney says one of the things disability studies has taught her is to 'read kindly....
to read with patience and without presumption. Disability studies challenges our assumptions about
space, ability, and language, and it asks us to imagine a different kind of world, one that’s suited
to all kinds of minds and bodies.'"

On Friday @ midnight, your almost-last paper is due. You have a choice: either
revise or expand on the comparative piece you wrote on sci-fi and graphic novels;
or draft a new paper analyzing one or more of our recent readings (Van Jones,
LeGuin, Latour, those essays about the microbiome and climate marches). For example,
you could use several of these texts to anchor an essay discussing the topics of
mental health or activism, which we discussed last week. The following week, you
will be asked to revise one paper for your final portfolio; it could be this one
you are writing now.

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 this Thursday with a title for your group (so J&I can start organizing
the presentations).

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

We'll spend both class sessions next week on these presentations; we are going to
meet together a third time, @ 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 8 for dessert and further
discussion about what we've been doing-and-learning together.

A lot! Take deep breaths! It will all happen! Questions?

III. Last week, we talked about what "mental health" looks like in our changing environment
This week "long short" story by
Ursula LeGuin's Vaster than Empires, and More Slow, poses a similar question!

But let's start with the two articles about porosity/
lack of boundaries between our bodies/the world:
"Stacy Alaimo: Porous Bodies and Trans-Corporeality" and
Jonathan Weineraug, "Human Cells Make Up Only Half Our Bodies"--
since they offer some good scientific framing for our discussion of LeGuin's story.

What is the argument of each essay? Turn to a neighbor and figure this out. Share.

microbial communities 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).

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....
She says that 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…

LeGuin also
imagines a world where boundaries aren't very strong,
by inviting 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 to your other neighbor, tell one another this; then share in large group....]
How are these stories like/different from the one LeGuin is telling?
What is the relationship between the plants and the scientific explorers?

What are 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/Talking Notes
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....

What might the genre of science fiction 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"?]