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Thinking Ecologically: Towards Day 4 (Thurs, 1/29/15)

Anne Dalke's picture

I. coursekeeping

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* reporting in on Monday night's exploration of the physical/historical dimensions of our campuses--

We had two geological--really, architectural--reflections, which traced change over time:
Aquamarine, looking into what that fortress of a dorm is built of:
noticing the tiny grains of mica that make
the Wissahickon schist of Denbigh shimmer….the larger grains in the Baltimore gneiss of Merion…
the use of grey slate in Erdman…left with an impression of just how strong these buildings really are

Purple Finch observed that Bryn Mawr's older buildings (the dorms, Thomas, etc) are all centered around the top of a hill …
all of the newer buildings (Erdman, Haffner), are made out of neither Schist nor Gneiss…the addition to Haffner has grey bricks…

We had five reflections on the trees, many of which similarly evoked a sense of time passing:
Persistence, in
Morris Woods: It became clear that I was standing on the past, on history.

asomeshwar, same site, similar reflection: It was odd to think about everything
around the trees growing and moving and dying, and the trees remaining still.

Marian, following the Bryn Mawr Tree Tour, had the same idea:
I realized how powerful, strong, and resilient trees like these are…
we'll be nothing but a very brief, insignificant (though painful) shadow of a memory to them.

Marian also wondered how may native trees had to be cut down and moved to make way for these trees….

Caleb, in the Ryan Pinetum, had a similar question: Isn't that what this land has been made into—transplants, people and things from elsewhere?

Ariel, @ the duckpond, mused about "how I experience nature when I’m by myself. I often feel very lonely, even insignificant, which is a humbling experience….
Marian’s post…said that 'thinking about this reminded me how truly small I am, and how truly small humans are'…
being in nature forces us to reflect on natural cycles, such as …our own cycle from cradle to grave."

Celeste, back in Morris Woods with some friends, was also drawn to death: “the subtlety of the Quaker gravestones in the woods creates
a sort of balance between humanity and nature.” I maintained this subtlety, or as much as I could hope too. My friends did as well…

while tajiboye, in the labyrinth, was confused at how one could even begin to relax and meditate in such a space.…
I just felt stressed and eventually gave up trying.

but perhaps the most? ecological? thought (@ least in Timothy Morton's terms) was Abby's;
was intrigued by the hydrology of the campus: ‘naturally’ flowing or pooling water is simply not a designed part of this campus….
I kept thinking about where our runoff goes….And it takes sediment and other things….Imagine where that salt will go when the snow melts.
People like to call Bryn Mawr a bubble, but …we are not an isolated system.

Talking about the Bryn Mawr bubble, IOW, is NOT "thinking ecologically"!

II. Let's do some more of that now, w/ a focus on our own particular co-constructed space here.
When we ran out of time on Tuesday, we were trying to imagine/say how we wanted to be, here w/ one another, ecologically.
I had already given you 3 rules of engagement:
1) don’t raise your hand to speak
2) don’t address me only; speak with your classmates
3) post on Serendip twice each weekend

[N.B.: Teresa has taken advantage of this space to put up other related thoughts, a poem, a study,
whenever she comes across something relevant; I've been doing that, too, and invite you to do this also:
use this space as a way to expand the shared space we have for talking.
Sometimes what you post will be picked up, sometimes not,
but it still becomes part of the archive of conversation…]

My 3 rules of engagement are all attempts, in SueEllen Campbell’s words,
to decenter me as the authority and center of value, to make the classroom
a distributed system, with many centers of value, many voices.
This principle has many pedagogical implications; it is a challenge to business as usual.
For ex, while Amalia and Ariel were talking,  Amalia asked me if she could go to the bathroom.
In a distributed eco-system, that question would better have been addressed not to me,
as grader or evaluator, but to Ariel,  because she was the one who was left without a talking partner,
and so removed from the "web." Amalia's responsibility @ that time was to Ariel.

Rosa had a number of other suggestions along the lines of more student-led learning:
that each of you, or small groups of you, design each class;
that we meet outside, @ different sites;
that we go on field trips you select.

Sara Gladwin, whose post on “divergent thinking” I asked you to read today,
suggested that it's not “ecologically literate” to teach and condition children
to filter out divergent thinking; that we should teach them instead
to pay attention to their surroundings, to look out the window--
not to let the environment fade into the background,
while they focus on the task @ hand.

That actually is NOT the way I’ve designed the class; 
it was certainly not the way I ran it on Tuesday.
As you saw-and-heard, I scripted what we did very carefully.
Where we ended up (and we haven’t ended up yet) wasn’t determinate,
but the steps were laid out quite deliberatively:
1) break into small groups
2) discuss an assigned reading
3) speak about it in the voice of the author
4) discuss it from your own p.o.v.
5) work w/ your partner on designing some rules for classroom engagement.

We didn’t finish that exercise, and I want us to return to it now.
I challenged some of the language we were using @ the end of Tuesday’s class,
as not being ecological: Marian’s “ownership,” Ariel’s “authority.”
I'd like us to find language that is less individualized and proprietary,
more ecological and mesh-like. Teresa's "collaborative platform" and
Caleb's "conversation" come closer, though they aren't exactly eco-words.

Let's brainstorm some eco-values you picked up from the reading so far-->
mesh, connection, relationship, non-hierarchical, radical;
turbulence, contentiousness, anger, anxiety?
Pick 1 or 2 of these, then write down 3 rules of engagement you’d like us to use here,
that you think might help us enact those values.


III. so now I want you to build on these experiences....
Wil Franklin (erstwhile biology lab instructor @ BMC, who designed the
"where am I happiest?" exercise you did last weekend),
wrote a poem defining "Scapes":
"Not a fiddle-head, but a support that lifts the blossom skyward
and anchors too, giving the pollinator a chance to behold.
Here too, this Island lifts me above the pounding surf
Not a community, but a landscape supporting my chance to be held."

By midnight tomorrow, Fri, Jan. 30, I want you to select your "scape"--a site on campus that "supports your chance to be held," and that you will want to re-visit, once/week, throughout the semester. This could be a walk--(tajiboye could go back to the labyrinth, and walk it every Friday afternoon!). It could be a sit; it could be some variation of the two. Give yourself 1/2 an hour there, and then put up your third "outside" posting, locating your "scape" in relationship to the larger campus (or, following Abby's model, the world!). Make this a regular posting, and tag it "site sit." Following the instructions @ How to Add an Image, post a visualization of the BMC/HC campus  (a map, a photograph, a sketch? of what era?), then explain the relation of that image to your "scape": What are you are choosing to foreground, and why? (What are you likely to be attending to?) What becomes background in this visualization? (What are you likely not to see?) Where are the boundaries of your "scape"? What is terra incognita here? (These instructions on the syllabus and on today's talking notes.)

Then by midnight on Mon, Feb. 2, I'd like to see a proposal for your first "web-event." These are four 5-pp papers, due once/month throughout the semester, posted like your weekend paragraphs, with an awareness that the audience is not just me, not even just your classmates, but the world: how will you draw people in. In preparation for writing this one, I want you to review what we’ve read and discussed during these first two weeks of class; make some notes about what has surprised you, and/ or made you feel “lost.”  In Greenblatt's terms, what might comprise an accurate "exhibit" of your first two weeks’ experience in this course? What "wonder and resonance," in his words, have you traced, what "land and language of desire"--in SueEllen Campbell's terms--or might you want to explore further? What other emotions and thoughts have arisen?

I will meet with each of you individually next week to discuss this (write down your appointment, please). Drawing on these experiences, by the following Monday (due date: midnight on Mon, Feb. 9), I'll ask you to put together 1250 words mapping out the shape you think your ecological-and-political education might/could/should take—in this course and/or beyond. In other words, propose a curriculum for yourself (and us). I want you to start your essay with the metaphor best describes this, and an image that figures it (following Maniates, who used white water rafting to describe the sort of curriculum needed for Environmental Studies, and Morton, who had a very different metaphor; he wrote that "the ecological thought" is a "virus that infects all other areas of thinking."

Next week we'll move into the second section of the course, from our "local" explorations to "The World Beyond Ourselves".

Francisco Calvo Garzón. "The Quest for Cognition in Plant Neurobiology." Plant Signaling & Behavior 2, 4 (July/August 2007): 208-211.
And view the images from Imagining Deep Time (National Academy of Sciences, Washington D.C., August 2014-Janaury 2015),
as well as Rachel Sussman's photographs of The Oldest Living Things in the World (University of Chicago, 2014).
(I've also put up a link to the essay that Sara Gladwin developed out of the post you read for today--
just to give you a sense of how a posting might "grow" into something larger...)

IV. Turning (too belatedly) to Timothy Morton's "Introduction" to The Ecological Thought.
Take some time to look through this text; we’re going to do a read-around,
to pull out and highlight what seems most significant to each of us in it.
Find a single sentence that has some energy for you and underline it.
Then circle a phrase (in the sentence or elsewhere), then  box a word (ditto).

Read in sequence, with pauses: what are we highlighting? What shall we return to on Tuesday?

Anne's Reading Notes from Morton:
"the ecological thought" is a "virus that infects all other areas of thinking
(Yet viruses, and virulence, are shunned in environmental ideology.)"

"Thinking itself is an ecological event."

"Human beings are each others' environment."

"The ecological thought must interrogate both the attitude of science, its detached authoritarian coldness;
and the nihilistic, baselessly anthropocentric arguments in the humanties."

everything is interconnected. This is the ecological thought (1).

Darwin trusted the idea of evolutionary impermanence (2).

"Nature" fails to serve ecology well...its "unnatural qualities...hierarchy, authority,
harmony, purity, neutrality, and mystery...a reified thing in the distance (3).

Ecology is profoundly about coexistence....Human beings are each others' environment (4).

We've gotten it wrong so far....Nature was an ideal image.. a special kind of private property (5).

The ecological a practice and a process of becoming fully aware of how human beings are connected with other beings (7).

Being a person means never being sure that you're one....treat many more beings
as people while deconstructing our ideas about what counts as people (8).

Wilderness areas are the unconscious of modern society, places we can go to keep our dreams undisturbed...
You could see turbines as environmental art...embodying the aesthetics of the sublime (9).

Art can help us...challenge our sense of what is real and what is unreal...At what point do we stop,
if at all, drawing the line between environment and non-environment? (10).

Romantic "Nature" is an artificial construct... Art is ecological insofar as it is made from materials....
Ecology permeats all forms (11).

The ecological thought must interrogate both the attitude of science, its detached authoritarian coldness;
and the nihilistic, baselessly anthropocentric arguments in the humanities (11). voices to what is unspeakable elsewhere...(12).

science is about being able to admit that you're wrong...A questioning attitude needs to become habitual (13).

Terms such as a local, the organic, and the particular... risk being caught in the langauge of smallness and restriction...
seeing the Earth from space is the beginning of ecological thinking...Seeing yourself from another point of view is the beginning of ethics and politics...
the more we know, the less certain and the more ambiguous things become (14).

The ecological thought imagines interconnectedness...the mesh...vast, perhaps immeasurably so...
Nothing exists all by itself, and so nothing is fully "itself." The ecological thought imagines a
multitutde of entangled strange strangers...displacement and disorientation...
a radical openness to everything...therefore full of shadows and twilights (15).

the ecological thought has a high tolerance for negativity....the form of noir film (16)

...only to discover that she or he is implicated in...the shadowy world of irony and difference....
irony insists that there are other points of view that we must acknowledge (17).

life manifests profound elements of sheer display...Camouflage, deception and pure appearance are
the stock in trade of life forms...the ecological thought is intrinsically queer....easy to latch onto from anywhere (18).

the ecological thought must transcend the language of apocalypse...much more pleasurable, far more sociable,
and ever so much more reasonable than we can minus Nature, plus consciousness (19)

Later in the book:
"Fixation on place impedes a truly ecological view" (26).

"...we want ecology to be about location, location, location. In particular, location must be local:
it must feel like home; we must recognize it and think it in terms of the here and now, not the there and then" (27).

"Perhaps the ecological thought is picaresque—wandering from place to place, open to random encounters" (48).

"Ecological collectivity decisively can’t be rooted in 'place'....'my place in the sun' marks the beginning of all usurpation.
'Place' contains too much “at-homeness,” too much finality, for the ecological thought.Localism, nationalism, and immersion
in the ideological bath of the lifeworld, won’t cut it anymore…We need collectivity, not community….it must be a collectivity
of weakness, vulnerability, and incompletion" (127).

Stephen Greenblatt's "Resonance and Wonder", David Gessner's "Sick of Nature" and two postings by students in this course the last time 'round...