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Towards Day 24 (T, 12/1): "Our Vegetable Love"

Anne Dalke's picture

Virushi selected the classroom as location for Anne's section
(and will post; Selena & Sydney still owe posts reporting
on their selections); Weilla
will select Thursday's class site

I. coursekeeping
* invitations to submit proposal to Re: Humanities Conference!

* reminder re: re-scheduled round of final writing conferences (only Selena this week...)
passing around reminder; also on-line @ usual page, "Anne's Writing Conferences"

Week A
Thurs, Dec 4

10:15 Selena

Week B
Wed, Dec 10

9:14 Rose
9:45 Emily
10:15 Sydney
10:45 Allie
Thurs, Dec. 11
10:45 Hadiyyah
Fri, Dec. 12
10:15 Virushi
3:00 Marjorie
4:00 Nayanthi

Week C
Tues, Dec. 16
10:15 Rina
Wed, Dec. 17
9:45 Weilla
10:45 Grace

* in Thursday's class, we'll 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).

* by Sunday @ 5,
your last paper is due: drawing on our recent readings (Van Jones, Friere, Bowers, LeGuin, Latour...)
to reflect on what constitutes "ecological intelligence" (or: what intelligences do we need to think ecologically?)

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

* also! you should be working hard now on your 10-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."
You will "track what you did" in your portfolio; 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 shared.

II. for today: Ursula LeGuin's short story, "Vaster than Empires, and More Slow"
LeGuin 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?
(remember the tree pamphlet...and our walks in Morris woods...?)

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....

Do you see this as a story about our deepest fears...of the wilderness?
What is the source of fear in this story?
Why are we/might we be afraid, alone in the woods?

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"?]