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Re-thinking Genre: Towards Day 18 (Thurs, 3/26/15)

Anne Dalke's picture

Ariel is situating us in the "normal" classroom

I. coursekeeping

* Amala's report on Tuesday's class in the basement: a dinner party aesthetic
(more conversational, louder--and more often interrupted by non-class members;
raising question of how "open" a classroom might/should/could be
(related to Rosa's queries about what being distracted feels like;
Sophia's question, "don't you have a classroom?" my answer:
"we're trying out alternative spaces....")

Over the weekend, you should post about your site sit--and aim,
this time, for a different kind of writing: wild? poetic? open or unified-field?

By Monday @ midnight you should also post a proposal towards
your next web event (which is due Monday a week, Apr. 6):
a topic, and/or more importantly a mode--
something done collectively that stretches your boundaries of
what constitutes a class paper, that makes the conventional mode
more 'ecological,' more 'green.' Be willing to challenge the genre:
the shape and structure of what you think a paper "should" be.
(Abby did this most clearly last month; look @ her example; today's
topic is also about genre-shifting.)

* Caleb selects class site for next Tuesday,
when we read
Andrew Goatly's essay on “Green Grammar,
Mary Schleppegrell's response, “What Makes a Grammar Green?”
and Goatly's reply to her. This is tough going.
Do NOT get hung up in the multiple small details
(such as transitive vs. ergative case).
I am not asking for a posting before hand, but please read for

main ideas (and gather answers to some of these questions!)
1) what was the Newtonian world view?
2) how does contemporary physics describe the nature of the world differently?
3) what (does Goatly think) is the relationship between that world and our grammar?
4) what sort of grammar (does he think) would be more consonant w/ ecological ontology?
5) what (does he argue) is the difference between "congruent" grammar and metaphor?
6) what role do metaphor and "nominalization" play in his argument?
7) what possible directions does Goatly suggest for "critical language awareness"?

* 360 announcement: check out Arts of Resistance!

* also! anyone interested in going to ASLE with me in June (23-27?)
six-person panel, "Excavation and Encounter: Pedagogies from Below":
We offer glimpses into and out of experiences, in the classroom and the field,
in which diverse identities are excavated in encountering environmental
fear and love, despair and activism. Drawing on the unpredictability
of the unconscious and the interconnected roots of the ecological,
we ask how different dimensions of human identity engender and
impact our capacity to act in the biosocial world; simultaneously,
we look at how these spaces shape and re-shape our identities
and actions, individually and collectively.

II. On Tuesday,
we compared Snyder's "wild language"
with Allen's "unified field perception";
we did a good job of tracking down Snyder's argument;
we spent much less time with Allen, but did identify her key ideas;
she celebrates texts that lack a p.o.v., that have no heroes, no villains,
no minor characters, no chorus, no "setting", nothing foregrounded...

I ended class by asking if these values are
reconcilable w/ Snyder's "wildness."
He actually starts his first essay by
dissing older forms of "nature writing" for being "harmonious,"
and he catalogues the properties of "depth ecology" (=psychology?):
"insatiable, irrational, moldy, cruel, parasitic,
nocturnal, anerobic, cannibalistic, microscopic, digestive, fermentative;
the decay side: blood, polution, putrefaction,
shame, grief, embarrassment, fear...";
in the second essay, he evokes the
"savage, howling" "Tawny Grammar" of Thoreau.

How does all that jive (or not) with Allen's description of the
* tribal habit of mind toward equilibrium of all factors, and the
* even distribution of value among all elements in a field?
Fundamentally different values/representations of the ecological?

Joni posted after class about the "literary violence" of Snyder
appropriating native elements, like Coyote,
which are not part of his own heritage/tradition....
How "ecological" are such claims of ownership?

III. Today we move up yet another level of abstraction
to think about the forms of narrative
with help from Joseph Meeker's 1972 essay, "The Comic Mode"
and Steve Mentz's 2011 piece on Shakespeare's eco-genres.

You can easily see the 40-year gap in the way "ecology" is discussed,
from Meeker's celebration of comedy, as re-establishing equilibrium and stability,
with a "durable balance," and "harmonious relationships among all constituent species,"
to Mentz's description of "the new ecology," which recognizes that
natural systems are never stable (no equilibirum or homeostasis).

But Meeker and Mentz share the presumptions that
* "familiar narrative habits contain stumbling blocks for environmental thinking," that
* "literary representations are useful because not real", and
* if we are aware of their artificiality, we can change the shape of the stories we tell,
* which can help us to change our behavior (=save ourselves/the planet?).

Meeker says that both tragedy and comedy are
strategies for the resolution of conflicts:
the first focuses on human transcendence (suffering, greatness),
the second on human absurdity ("muddling through"); he thinks that the
second, with its emphasis on humility and endurance, is more ecological.

Mentz argues that "the key task of ecocritism"
is critiquing the myths of the natural world--
those of Genesis, the New World, the American farmer,
which portray that world as external and static,
a site of purity and alterity. He showcases Shakespeare's
"proto-ecological values: interdependence, unanticipated
consequences, and the limits of human ambition," and
analyzes the "opposed fantasies" of As You Like It and King Lear, &
calls for supplanting "pastoral vision" with a wider range of stories.
Mentz focuses on the "mutability" of Shakespeare's genres--
histories, comedies, tragedies, romances/tragicomedies--
and how he accomodates both tragic agony and comic resilience.
He ends by cf'ing Latour's "comic optimism" with Morton's "tragic clarity."

IV. The big question here is what difference genre--
or thinking generically--might make,
when we are thinking, reading, writing ecologically.
We're going to work this question today,
not by analyzing Shakespeare's plays
(so not our shared texts)
but rather first outselves, then
the texts we all are creating as-we-go.

There are conventional European generic divisions:
lyric/drama/epic (narrative)-->  speaking for oneself, as another, about another
poem/play/story/essay (fictional/non-fictional prose)
romance/realism/naturalism (environmental determinism)
romance/comedy/tragedy/satire (irony)
("comedy is tragedy plus time"!)

What other literary genres do you know about??

But (short keyword exercise!) "genre" is from "gens,"
meaning "kind" (same root as "gender"), and there
are multiple genres (and Mentz says, all malleable, combinable);
you don't have to be "pure" in doing this exercise.

V. Let's start by naming what genre each of us occupies:
what kind are you? Name a single category you occupy.
(for ex, from my fac'y seminar on "critical making":
"cool is the gesture of ambivalent, recusant oppositionality.
The coolest ideology is 'destructive creativity,' like hacking).

Go 'round again, this time naming
our favored cultural "genres"/kinds.

From these two exercises:
how large is the range of categories have we laid out?
Want to add any that you know that we don't occupy?

Now! to today's central question!
which genres/"literary kinds" seem helpful

to use, as we think/act/ write about the future of the environment,
and ourselves in it?  What kinds of stories seem more helpful,
in getting ourselves and others to live reflectively, act differently?
How to incentivize? Using what sort of language?
What sorts of stories move you most?

Those of doom and gloom?
Those of joyful harmony?
Those of edgy un-ease?

VI. Let's start with the genres we've been writing in,
and seeing one another using.
In groups of three: review the site sits posted last weekend.

What genres are they? What are their defining characteristics?
What forms do you follow? How do they think/think with/think
against other forms? What pastoral, romantic, satiric, comedic, tragic
elements does this writing have? In what ways is it
individualized, imitative, collaborative, creative?

Identify the genres you see us using
(are they all different?
can you name a collective or primary one?) What alternative
genre might be fun/useful/essential for us to try out?
Try collectively re-writing one posting in that new genre.

The material we're working with:
Tosin, "The Flowers!":
This was the first time visiting my site in while (about a month with spring break, visiting someone elses, looking up the history instead). 

The sun was shining and the wind seemed to be in a better mood than usual. It felt wispier compared to the harshness I felt during the week earlier. The sun gave the campus a really nice shadow and, for the first time, I  was able to notice the pond behind Rhoads. It looked like one of those lakes at a camp, but without a blob. I think the college should remove the geese , make the lake deeper, place a blob in the lake. College already feels like a camp, the blob would be a great addition.

After looking at the lake for some time, I turned around only to notice FLOWERS!! (Liz pointed out earlier in a comment that the yellow tape around the labyrinth was there to protect the flower seeds they planted. It worked!) Upon seeing them, I was overcome with a sense of excitement and relief. The grass in the labyrinth  isn't quite green yet. It still looks dead and dry. In some parts of the labyrinth, the mulch in the path was bleeding on to the grass borders, contributing to the overall dead look. But the flowers are still there, just softly peeking through the grass. They look so ready to fully sprout and take over and spread joy. I'm not even a big fan of flowers.
Ariel, "Summer Imaginings":
Today is the day of the March Equinox. The sun is shining directly on the equator, perfectly splitting night and day into equal lengths. Standing by the duck pond, under this thick March snowfall, it seemed that the night and day were blurred together, rejecting their stark divide. I’m not going to waste time complaining about the snow--as my friend at the Dining Center said, “why stress about things out of our control? You can’t stop the snow”. Instead I want to share with you a word I was reflecting on by the four stepping stones: imagination.

Imagination, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is defined as “the power or capacity to form internal images or ideas of objects and situations not actually present to the senses, including remembered objects and situations, and those constructed by mentally combining or projecting images of previously experienced qualities, objects, and situations.”

How incredible is it that we can project, experience, and embody senses that transcend reality? How incredible is it that I can close my eyes by the snowy duck pond and envision the warmth of summer sand between my toes? This class is called “Ecological Imaginings” right? Why write just about how we are perceiving the reality of a place? I could write about the color of the snow, the absence of chirping birds welcoming spring, or even slow transformation my pale hands underwent to become (a slightly alarming) blue at my Site Sit. But my mind was caught up in the promise of summer’s warm embrace. I can’t wait for the ocean spray to kiss my knees, or the stickiness of s’mores around a campfire.

This equinox is a turning point. I’m happy to wait for summer in my imaginations.
Joni, "spring": The last time I sat on the bench under the tree was before break. Then, the snow was melting and I could smell dirt and fresh and maybe spring. Today, on the first day of spring, it snowed again. I should have planned my week better; I should have made time on a warmer day. This afternoon when I walked to the hill, I had to move snow off the bench before I sat. The snow came down steadily, and I didn't hear or see the birds I usually do. Everything is quieter in the snow. I couldn't help but think about how excited I am for warm weather to come and stay. I noticed crocuses blooming the week, and almost all of the pre-break snow had melted away. I'm excited for an outdoors that invites me in instead of one that feels unwelcoming and uncomfortable.
Amala, "Juliet and Juliet, Part II":
I decided I wasn't going to change my site because unlike a lot of the other sites, I found I tended to not have extra visitors. 

When I went today, I had to be a little careful because there was no way of telling where the stairs where and I didn't want to slip. Once I got to my site, I was happier than I had ever been there. I had been having an incredibly good day and even though the snow was shocking, I loved it. The temperature wasn't too cold and the snow was falling so softly and I was just happy. I spent more time there than I had originally meant to because I got a little lost in observing my surroundings and everything that was happening both inside and outside my head. 

I think I found that that my mood when I go to my site sit plays a huge role in how a view my surroundings that day. Usually when I'm there, I'm in stress mode so the surroundings seem peaceful but not happy. This time was the first time I was running on pure adrenaline and happiness so everything seemed beautiful and happy and filled with joy.
"New Site and Some Surprises":
For the rest of the semester, I’ve decided to change up my site sit. Recently I wandered through the Sunken Garden on a walk around campus, and I think that is where I’d like to return to for a little while.  I visited it today in the snow, excited for the peace and to experience the dampening of sound that makes the world serene and quiet as white flakes float towards the earth. Instead, I was greeted with the noise of Haffner construction. It wasn’t exactly was I was expecting, but I found that after a while, I didn’t mind it that much. It was loud and unpredictable, but it was part of that place at that moment in time, and a reminder that the places we live and work and wander through on campus did not simply spring from the ground one day fully formed. Sometimes you have to do construction and sometimes that’s noisy and messy.

As much as I could accept auditory mess though, I spent my time under the trellis, because I did not want to disturb the pristine snow in the sunken section. (It's funny how snow can make you feel like an intruder in a place you know well; I'm far more hesitant to step on freshly fallen snow, while I'll go stomping across grass, a living organism, without a second thought.) Overhead, the vines climbing the trellis were fiercely twisted together—braided, looped, entangled. It made me think of the interconnectivity we discuss so often in class. I’ll also be curious to see if the intertwining nature is still apparent come warmer weather and green foliage, for today the thick vines were bare and naked. They still didn’t stop the snow from filtering through to the patio beneath though.

I’m also interested in doing a little more research on this spot, as a plaque indicated that the garden was a class gift, so perhaps that will be my goal before I return next week.
Caleb, "undetermined":
An unfinished, untitled poem-thing in verse form, attempting to explore some feelings/observations having coming back from the Sonoran Desert. Mostly some gestures towards changes I'm noticing in my perceptions of "the natural world" and my site during this snowy spring afternoon. I've included an image from my site sit below as well.
I arrive
by walking.

sometimes I think back to a neat idea—
“Nature can be dangerous”
—but ideas are lifeless without stories.

it’s one thing to think about danger and apocalypse
and another to flee towards shelter
or at least the eye of the storm.

those of us with roofs and dry clothes
and something salty to eat
can spend our time musing about amorality.

meanwhile my footsteps fall to the white blanket
back where cold is a cause for “EXERCISED CAUTION
or at least that’s what the data say.

meanwhile my footsteps fall to the scorched ground
back where the cause of death is usually “UNDETERMINED
or at least that’s what the data say.

in the northeast
leaves shiver on broken branches
while their neighbors glow a dark and sickly green.

in the southwest
people bake in sandy washes
while their neighbors grow a dark and sickly green.

spring snow doesn’t look the same
not when skeletons lie side by side
next to such vivid color.

sopping wet or bone dry
the cold and heat and cholla spines still lodged in my skin tell me:
“nature” kills and those behind the curtain go free.
Marian, "Same Site, Now With Company":
I went back to my site this evening around sunset, but this time I was not alone - I decided to have my partner come with me to do my site sit and explore the Batten jungle. It was different having someone else there with me, because I've always done my site sits alone. But it was amazing how just having a different set of eyes, she was able to point out things that I've never even noticed or look at the same things I've seen in a different light. She pointed out the color of the bark on the fallen down tree (I have a picture here) - deep red and orange, looking like rich earth or fire. At one point she stopped me and had me come back to look at my footprint in the snow - my footprint had revealed some small budding crocuses, the first signs of spring. I had stepped on them and not even glanced down or back to see them. We explored down the creek in the opposite direction of my exploration last time, and as we looked across the creek at the tall jumble of trees, she said that to her it looked like a haunted forest, but beautiful in a way, despite all the dead, jumbled branches. I had never looked at it that way before, but now I felt like I was looking at it through a whole new set of eyes. I really enjoyed having someone else there with me. I think sometimes going to my site sit I come back really confused about what to write, because I didn't have any magical breakthroughs and I didn't really learn anything new about myself, and I often seemed to notice the same things. It took having another person there to make me really see parts of the Batten jungle that I'd never seen before, even if they were as small as crocuses in my footprints.

Another thing I found today, which I don't know how I didn't find this before (but again having another person there opened my eyes to new things), was a tree branch swing. It was hanging there in the midst of a jumble of branches, and when I tried to sit on it it was actually able to hold all of my weight. I looked up and tried to find where the branch ends were coming from - which was the start and which was the end, and what else it was connected to, but it was impossible. The branches were so intertwined and interconnected that I could learn nothing about where the branches came from, only that they were part of an interconnected system that was strong enough to hold me. I'll also include pictures of the branch swing and jumble of branches at one of the ends of the swing.

Overall, it was nice to be back at my site, since it felt like so long ago that I was last there, and it was especially good to be there with someone else who provided fresh views and was able to expand my knowledge of and appreciation for the site.
Teresa, "English and German?": The mud from the soft ground added character to my green Nike running shoes as I walked towards a yellow note hanging from a tree branch with my name written on it. I decided to interact with my site differently today by standing under the branches. I excitingly opened the plastic ziplock bag and took out the note. The note read:

"As I walk in the labyrinth - circling, doubling back, looking at where I once was and where I am now, retracing steps and memory, feeling like the raw winter chill seep through my coat gently, like so many cold hands on my skin - I'm reminded of a poem by Ramer Maira Rilke, enclosed here."

The poems left for me were:

Wachsenden Ringen von Rainer Maria Rilke

Ich lebe mein Leben in wachsenden Ringen,
die sich über die Dinge ziehn.
Ich werde den letzten vielleicht nicht vollbringen,
aber versuchen will ich ihn. 

Ich kreise um Gott, um den uralten Turm,
und ich kreise jahrtausendelang;
und ich weiß noch nicht: bin ich ein Falke, ein Sturm
oder ein großer Gesang.

Widening Circles by Rainer Maria Rilke

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I've been circling for thousands of years
and I still don't know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?

 Time passed by slowly as I continued to stand in my spot. I could see the sun rising high as the sky turned from blue to blinding blue. My feet sinked into the mud as my body weighed me down. It was a warm and sunny afternoon.  I read the poem and quickly made sense of how the labyrinth can remind one of widening circles. The poem reminded me of what I posted in the beginning about labyrinths. I talked about how spirituality and its relation to labyrinths. Spirituality takes us out of the present and brings us into an introspective state of identity where we explore the path behind us, how far we have gone, and where it might lead. Some may think that their lives are like labyrinths while others think that their lives are like mazes. Both have twists and turns, however, a labyrinth only has one path. This path is very symbolic in that it guides us to the next path we might take in the maze or it can lead us backwards. Perhaps all these twists and turns are just widening circles after all.

I am also still questioning why the person left the poem for me in two different languanges, one in English and one in German (I think). Maybe s/he identifies as both? Interesting...

 … Celeste, Liz, Marian, Nkechi, Rosa?

VII. Return to the large group to discuss:
(Mentz:) "Global warming is essentially a literary problem...
the current crisis requires narratives of ecological rupture."

"A shared narrative may instigate action; we need to supplement the
pastoral with a wider range of stories, new choices of generic forms."

(Meeker:) "The proud visions affirmed by literary tragedy have...led to ecological catastrophe."
"Humility...,the essential message of comedy, is necessary for the survival of our species...."

Cf. these several narratives:
"The environment is intelligible and harmonious." (pastoral?)
"Nature is inhospitable, hostile and indifferent." (tragedy?)
"Natural systems are not stable (there is no equilibrium or homeostasis):
"wherever we seek to find constancy we discover change." (comedy?)
Do we need a "tragic refusal of all sentimental fantasies about nature"?
A comic wit that plays with multiple possibilities? Or...?

Anne's Reading Notes

Konrad Lorenz, Forward:
The tragic view of life, embodied in the hero of the Greek tragedy, is based on the deep conviction that man has no part of nature, that he is not subject to natural law but, quite on the contrary, moral laws to which his behavior must unconditionally conform. The fundamental theme of all literary tragedy is given by the conflict between moral and natural laws. In the attempt to conform to nature, be it only in the forgiveable endeavor to survive, the tragic hero cannot avoid breaking moral laws and so incurring a guilt which...must be expiated....

The antithesis of man and nature as polar opposites not only leads to the unavoidable doom of the human hero, but also to that of nature. "The proud visions affirmed by literary tragedy have ... led to ecological catastrophe"'s spiritual elevation above his natural environment....also leads to the exclusive concentration of all his moral obligations of his fellow human beings; no moral or ethical limitations are imposed upon humanity in regard to the ruthless exploitation of all non-human nature...Dr. Meeker's central idea is that the comic mode of behavior is a genuine affirmation of instinctive patterns necessary for biological survival....Humility before the earth and its processes, the essential message of comedy, is necessary for the survival of our species....

Chapter One: An Introduction to Literary Ecology
the creation of literature...should be examined carefully and honestly to discover its influence upon human behavior and the natural enviornment ....Is it an activity which adapts us better to the world or one which estranges us from it?...does literature contribute more to our survival than it does to our extinction?....The origins of enviromental crisis lie deep in human cultural traditions....The cultural images describing what we might be have helped us to become what we are: however the human mind imagines the world, that is how the world tends to become...

The profound insight @ the heart of the science of ecology is that nature is indivisible....Comparative literture is to the humanities what ecology is to the natural sciences...unintelligible apart from its total context....The study of process and relationship is an interdiscipoinary technique common to ecology and comparative literature.... Literature, like science, has as often contributed to the destruction or degradation of biological environments...the studies which follow are an attempt to identify some adaptive ... postures in the literary traditions of human culture...which offer the prospect of a human future in closer agreement with the processes of nature...

Chapter Two: The Comic Mode....
Prerequisite to tragedy is the belief that the universe cares about the lives of human beings...the welfare of all creation somehow depends upon what humans do....More appropriate to our time are the relatively modest assumptions made by the comic spirit. Man is a part of nature and subject ot all natural limitations and flaws....All beliefs are provisional, subject to change...

Warfare is the basic metaphor of tragedy...comic stratgy, on the other hand, sees life as a game...comedy is the art of accomomodationa nd reconciliation...the lesson of comedy is humility and endurance..survival depends upon man's abiiltiy to change accept limitiations...


early modern narratives emphasize proto-ecological values like interdependence, unanticipated consequences, and the limits of human ambition; the Elizabethean World Picture is analogous to the Gaia hypothesis
Shakespearean self-consciousness about literary invention can help renovate narratives about human beings and the natural world: his plays model a mutable system for coming to terms w/ change and catastrophe; their dramatic structures can help shape future conversations about remediation and stability
key task of ecocriticism has been critiquing trad'l Western myths re: nature
dissatisfied with nature as external, static source of purity, alterity
"post-equilibrium shift" in the ecological sciences--> "the new ecology"
argues that natural systems are not stable (no equilibirum or homeostasis)
"Wherever we seek to find constancy we discover change"
can use change in narrative culture to respond to this image of disruption in nature
cf. opposed fantasies of nature in comic As You Like It and tragic King Lear:
each recognizes blindness of primary stance, and offers alternative in inventive next-generation figure
Bill McKibben argues that current crisis requires narratives of ecological rupture
("global warming is essentially a literary problem")
a shared narrative may instigate action; need to supplement the pastoral with a wider range of stories,
new choices of generic forms (Shakespeare's were classical models of comedy and tragedy;
he imitated and mixed multiple competing genres, recognizing that all narrative structures change
the abiding fantasy of comedy is reconciliation; cf. darker stories of tragedy
Shakespeare's ability to shift between tragic agony and comic resilience, distant from both,
can help re-frame familiar stories in an unfamiliar world: meta-narratives are practical but fungible tools
cf. green world of Arden w/ counter-image of storm scenes in King Lear,
which resist human attempts to construct survivable narratives: nature is inhospitable
Joseph Meeker proposed comedy as fundamental ecological genre; his "play ethic" not limited to
comedy, but exemplified in ecological exchange of Shakespeare's polygeneric drama:
continuum between intelligible, harmonious environment and indifferent, hostile one
cf. complimentary generic differences of Bruno Latour's Politics of Nature
and Timothy Morton's Ecology without Nature:
both skepticial re: progressive narratives re: "nature," but
Latour's comic wit, energy advocates radically pluralistic politics,
while tragic clarity of Morton puts aesthetics @ center of political eco-debates
Latour: ecological crises are "revolts of means": w/ every entity treated as an end,
the sphere of social debate radically expands all public institutions
cf. Morton's tragic refusal of sentimental fantasies of nature
literary representations useful because not real, and self-aware re: own artificiality
familiar narrative habits contain stumbling blocks for env'l thinking