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Assessing Where We Are/Going: Towards Day 15 (Tues, 3/17/15)

Anne Dalke's picture

  [almost warm enough to meet outside?!?]

I. welcome back!

eco-experiences over break?

Midnight on Sun, Apr. 12: deadline to apply for a Green Grant, supporting
research, internships or field experience in environmental studies, up to $4500.

II. My eco-experiences included reading your web events;
my responses are on-line; each one begins by gesturing to your first project, 
linking/comparing it to your second--looking for change, development, improvement;
each one ends by recommending that you read another web-event,
by one of your classmates, and inviting you to comment on what it helped you see;
am happy, as always, to talk these through w/ you...

III. Our mid-semester evaluations were very positive
(can they be trusted?!?)
you had different reactions to the readings--
some of you liked the longer material, some the shorter;
Teresa requested different media--more images, photography?
There were complaints about the posting deadlines,
along w/ acknowledgements that they are worth doing--
so I think those things stay the same; I wasn't hearing
suggestions for change, except promises to yourselves
to do a better job of this (!).
There were also several shout-outs about the site sits,
so we'll stick with those; you are welcome to shift location @ this point, and
settle into another site for the 7 weeks remaining in the semester.

I also sensed a general eagerness to keep pushing the boundaries
of what you might do with your papers, esp. re: what you might do together;
that's an ecological innovation I think we might explore.
So I've pulled out that thread; let's read it aloud, and talk--

Marian: when I saw Abby's awesome experiment of a "paper," it made me realize I'm struggling with truly embracing and enacting ecological practices in this academic classroom setting. I would love somehow to have an opportunity to flip the typical structure of an academic course or an academic paper on its head. I'm looking for ian opportunity TO take it too far or jumble it up too much, for a moment to REALLY attempt to be ecological in this class.

Maddie: I thought math was the best thing ever and it taught me critical thinking skills and problem solving skills, but what I am realizing is that YOU CAN DO THAT IN ANY TOPIC!!! and I have been surprised by how much thinking I have done in this class thus far! My favorite thing about this class (academically) is how open the papers are; my classmates have really helped challenge me to challenge my own thinking and think about the ideas they have.  

Celeste: taking this class has really taught me something about the importance of the class structure and community; conversation is carried out in a way that leaves space for evolving ideas and interpretations.

Amala: I've learned that by saying 'something wrong,' you can only learn more about the subject in debate. I enjoy being able to listen to how other people have interpreted the same readings. Similar to Marian, I've struggled with being able to recognize how far too far is: the vagueness of paper style and topic choice is liberating, but also confusing, because I never know exactly how much to push the boundaries.

Tosin: I really like the discussion aspect of the class and how everyone is involved and how everyone's participation is encouraged. I thought I would fear not saying the right answer, but I don't. Like Celeste described, I have been able to learn alot about how class structure and the community created within it can affect the learning experience. I really like the pace of class and how there's not a single wasted moment. There's always something happening. 

Abby: This class has introduced me to a lot of new concepts and ideas. I've really enjoyed the freedom that those ideas and this class brings. I do particularly like the online forum. It's a space to think through ideas, a space for us to utilize when we're just pondering these ideas on our own.  I really want to try and interact with my classmates more, especially online, instead of just putting an opinion out there and glancing at other people's. I think that I am also feeling a few of the anxieties that Marian mentioned. by way of not really knowing when taking a risk to do something unconventional will be productive or not. It might be easier to try a group project/posting/web event, because sometimes it's easier to take that leap when you're taking it with someone else. It might be neat (and more ecological) to open it up and really try to create something that engages with the ideas we're talking about with someone else. It gets a bit lonely sorting through the wide buffet of all these ideas on your own.

Caleb: This class has opened up for explorations and movement in ways that classroom settings often shut out. I appreciate this dynamic and more fluid way of interacting with the ideas we encounter. Exploring questions without determined answers—very relevant in an ecologically-concerned course—is an undervalued mode of thinking creatively and critically.
As it warms up, I'd love to try getting out of what feels like a neat-and-tidy classroom space. Site sits are fantastic ways of reflecting individually, but it's more seldom that we come together to observe and think about the world in a collective space. The world is not neat, sterile, unchanging, nor tidy—maybe our class-spaces should reflect this? As others said, I do like the wide range of possibility in our web-events, though I often find myself stuck in a funky limbo between conventional academic paper mode and some stab at something unconventional. I think it's largely up to me to venture into new terrain. I need to trust physicalized experiences and metaphors (personal or imagined) to illustrate points better and spin stories/make art/create something informed by theoretical explorations.

Teresa: Ecological Imagination is way less objective than my other classes, I’ve learned a lot about myself. Readings, postings, our all have allowed me to challenge my thinking and helped me open up to new ideas. Everything is mentally and physically stimulating. I don’t know how I feel about my papers. It was nice to be reminded of what it was like to write a subjective one.

Ariel, Joni, Liz, Nkechi, Rosa?

So--bottom lines? Meeting outside if possible--
and working together to help one another towards
more truly "ecological," boundary-pushing projects?

Current assignments:
Mon, Apr. 6, your third web-event is due:
1250 words exploring ecological grammar and genre
(perhaps this will include an experiment in re-writing
an earlier text of your own in a more ecological form?)
Tues-Thurs, Apr. 28-30: Final Teach-In
Sat, May 9 for seniors; Fri, May 17 all others: fourth web event and portfolio due

IV. Now entering the third section of the course:
Section 1: relation of identity to perception of the environment: all perspectives
raced/classed/gendered (this will be the topic all day tomorrow, during our
Community Day of Learning: Race and Ethnicity at Bryn Mawr and Beyond)

Section 2 complicated these categories, by showing us
how entangled identity is with the environment:
we are not separable, but porous, "becoming with" other creatures,
becoming ourselves-and-becoming other in relationship with other species.

In Section 3, we’re going to focus on different ways
of representing this entangled world:
this is the most language-based section of the course,
most exciting (for me), most demanding/difficult (for you?);
the double claim here will be that
 "the time is past due for a redefinition of what is significant on earth," AND that this
"revaluation of nature will be accompanied by a major reordering of the literary genres"--
AND of the sort of grammar--what sentence structures--
best represent ecological thinking.

We're going to start with words.
Let's loop back to the poem we looked @ together
on day 1 of class, Audre Lorde's Outside:

In the center of a harsh and spectrumed city
all things natural are strange.
I grew up in a genuine confusion
between grass and weeds and flowers
and what coloured meant....

Given our readings and discussions of the past six weeks,
let's re-visit/re-think "all things natural are strange."
Write for 5 minutes:

Define "strange."
Do so using some other paired keywords:
"natural"/ "unnatural"
"environmental"/ "not environmental" 
"organism"/ "environment"
"being home" /not being @ home

Etymology frm the OED:
< Latin extrāneus external, foreign
< extra: outside, without

But in the ecological thought there is no outside!

Definitions: Of persons, language, customs, etc.: Of or belonging to another country; foreign, alien. Of a country or other geographical feature: Situated outside one's own land.
Belonging to some other place or neighbourhood; unknown to the particular locality specified or implied. Of a place or locality: Other than one's own.
Belonging to others; not of one's own kin or family.
Added or introduced from outside, not belonging to the place or person where it is found, adventitious, external.
Alien, far removed; diverse, different.
Unknown, unfamiliar; not known, met with, or experienced before.
Of a kind that is unfamiliar or rare; unusual, uncommon, exceptional, singular, out of the way.
Unfamiliar, abnormal, or exceptional to a degree that excites wonder or astonishment; difficult to take in or account for; queer, surprising, unaccountable.
Surprising. Wondrous.
Particle Physics: Epithet of those sub-atomic particles with lifetimes much longer than was expected from their being produced by the strong interaction.
Unfriendly; having the feelings alienated.
Distant or cold in demeanour; reserved; not affable, familiar, or encouraging; uncomplying, unwilling to accede to a request or desire.
Sparing of (one's favour).

Cf. “The Essence of a Bryn Mawr Woman” English House Gazette, January 7, 2011:
Bryn Mawr students describe themselves as hardworking,  smart — and a little strange.
67 percent described themselves as eccentric; 41 percent picked “strange” at a telling attribute.
“To an outsider [we’re] weird.”

Cf. "natural”: French naturel constitution, complexion of the body (late 14th cent.), temperament, humour, inherent property (early 16th cent.), original inhabitant of a country (late 16th cent.), normal state, absence of affectation (mid 16th cent. in phrase au naturel in sense ‘in accordance with real things’), classical Latin (or post-classical Latin) nātūrālis, nātūrāle.

For our next class, read Raymond Williams' short essay on Key Words/Key Concepts.
By midnight tomorrow, pick 3 keywords that interest you/that might be helpful to us here--
any of the above, or any that grabbed you from our readings, or you might go back and
see what keywords you were using in your last webpaper. The possibilities are endless:
"place," "housekeeping," "economics," "deep ecology,"
"ecosystem," "ecocentric," "egocentric," "biocentric," "anthropocentric,"
"speciesism,"  "growthism," "interrelationship," "interaction," "interdependence," "diversity,"
"adaptation," "sustainable," "green," ""garden," "ruderal," "succession," "resilience," "permaculture"....

Go to @ least three dictionaries, including the OED, to uncover a historical range of definitions,
meanings, histories, etymologies, and future use values for these words. The point here,
as Williams will explain to you, is that the "variations and confusion of meanings are not just
faults in a system, or errors of feedack, or deficiencies of education. They are...historical and
contemporary substance...they have often, as variations, to be insisted upon, because they
embody different experiences and readings of experiences."

Share the history of your 3 keywords on-line, in a webby-post, comparing as
you do with what @ least one of your classmates has discovered, and being
sure to list the three dictionaries you consulted. Williams, again:
"This is not a neutral review of meanings. It is an exploration of the vocabulary
of a crucial area of social and cultural discussion....not a tradition to be learned,
nor a consensus to be accepted, nor a set of meanings which has a natural authroity;
but as a shaping and reshaping of a find our own ways in,
as we go on making our own history..."

V. I want to model this process by looping back to view some visuals you've seen before.
Elizabeth Callaway's ppt, A Space for Justice, asks us to think differently about time:
eco-time, enviro-time,  apocalyptic time, messianic time, banal time.
Two years ago, I attended my first ASLE conference--
for the “Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment.”

I, my colleague Jody Cohen and two BMC students, 
presented a very cool panel about the classroom as an eco-system:
complex, networked, unpredictable, porous…
We were also blown away by all that we learned from the other sessions.
One that particularly captured my attention used these power point slides.
A graduate student @ UCSanta Barbara, Elizabeth Callaway,
opened with a passage from a keynote speaker @ the conference,
Rob Nixon, who wrote, “Climate change and a host of other
slowly unfolding environmental catastrophes present
formidable representational obstacles that can
hinder our efforts to mobilize and act decisively.”
How to “keep pace intellectually,” another scholar asked, with an event
whose scale, complexity and incalculability” resists representation?
How to represent the unrepresentable?

Noting that the language around climate change
is the language of the apocalypse—of the end of time--
Elizabeth asked what other, less paralyzing means
of representation might be available to us—and she
took as her case study the widely known “hockey stick graphs”:

these are representations of the annual mean temperatures
in the Northern Hemisphere over the past 1000 years;
they show a pattern that was relatively flat to 1900
(forming the ice hockey stick’s “shaft”),
followed by a sharp increase (corresponding to the "blade”).

Elizabeth pointed out that, because this graph uses chronological time as the x-axis,
what is terrifying about it is what it projects into the future.

When we look @ it (esp. when the sharp uptick in temp is red-highlighted, as it often is),
we see two arguments being made, both with the present as the “hinge”:
one is about sudden increase in temperature,
and the other is about its naturalization: it’s unmediated, unstoppable;
we can only imagine its going forward—and continuing to go up.

But we could read this graph differently (as Elizabeth did):
she pointed out that the range of uncertainty in the graph is literally a gray area,
and that if you let your eye be drawn to the greatest shape,
it actually looks like trees reflected in a lake:

 A Space for Justice (slide 13)

The figures on this graph were generated from data taken from tree and ice cores;
Elizabeth said, quite poetically, that it was both “made of trees and looks like trees.”

She used that different reading to suggest that we might think about the time
of climate change differently, not as apocalyptic (= the end time), but as “messianic.”
“Messianic time” is not the end time; it’s oriented toward the time between --
between the announcement of the end, and the end that hasn’t arrived.
It doesn’t assume a messiah; it’s an abstraction of the messianic principle,
which looks at the impulse behind it, the disjuncture between past and future,
the moment of the present that is unhinged from both past and future--
and so (and this is the keynote/the kicker)
challenges us to an ethical relation to both;
it “leaves space open for justice to enter.”

This disjuncture (Elizabeth said) is not neutral but ethical:
it offers the possibility of “an ethical relationship to time,”
because it invites us to intervene in it,
to change the relation between past and future.
(Derrida says that there is always a lag between thought and articulation,
that we never coincide with our own thoughts—
we are always already in messianic time.)

Due to climate inertia, we are into climate warming for 1000s of years:
the future is already with us. This graph “tightens the relation of past to future”:
it is so tied to the future that, in a material way, “we are already living it.”

A Space for Justice (cf. slides 12 and 13)

But if we pause here, on the edge of the graph (or in the gray spaces already on it),
we can be in the present, where we might act, to change the next graph,
of the time it will take to equilibrate in response to changed atmospheric conditions.

Messianic time is contracted: it’s the moment of
“palpable potentiality for something to happen”
that is missing both from apocalyptic and banal time,
and it can help us think about how to capture the time scale of different processes.

I share this to open up the possibility of alternate interpretations (of images, and of words...)