Honors Seminar in Literature and the Environment

Professor: Stacey Balkan
Institution: Florida Atlantic University
Course Number: ENG4932.001: Honors Seminar

Honors Seminar in Literature and the Environment

Course Description:
Artists have long provided a means through which to experience the affective substrate of modernity—an era made possible by our disastrous reliance on fossil fuels, along with other finite resources like groundwater. While some provide catharsis, others issue a prescient warning: consider the villain in Mad Max: Fury Road siphoning water from the local aquifer.

If we are to engage substantively and sufficiently with the climate crisis, it may be in the realm of imagination where we ought to begin. But we must also recognize that this is a crisis a few millennia in the making—traceable more likely to Genesis than to James Watt. While critics across the Humanities and Social Sciences are increasingly using the term “Anthropocene” (or “age of man”) to refer to a period of development popularly dated to the industrial revolution in England, this is demonstrably false. The material bases of economic development—agricultural and industrial enclosures, and the consequent displacement of local communities—were established well before the modern factory, or the 1773 Enclosure Acts that were its precondition. In fact, such phenomena find poetic expression in the Georgic and pastoral traditions dating to Hesiod and beyond. Meanwhile, the philosophical and political bases of the age emerge in such works as René Descartes’s 1641 Meditations on First Philosophy or John Locke’s 1689 Second Treatise on Government—themselves the legacy of such ancient conceptions of mastery as we will encounter in Genesis.

In this course, we will begin by asking a series of questions that might lead us toward a more robust understanding of the so-called Anthropocene. We will likewise employ the tools of literary and cultural criticism as we explore artistic expressions that span the ancient, pastoral, Romantic, and postcolonial periods.

Full Syllabus: ASLE_Syllabi_HonLitEnvBalkan