Earthworks: Literature and Environment

Professor: Kate Rigby
Institution: Monash University, Australia
Course Number: CLS2820/3820

S-1 2009, Clayton on-campus
Coordinator Assoc. Prof. Kate Rigby

Synopsis: This unit will introduce students to the new field of ecologically oriented literary and cultural studies, or ‘ecocriticism’. It will critically examine various cultural constructions of ‘nature’ and ‘the body’ in a range of texts exemplifying different discourses of nature (e.g. mythological, philosophical, scientific) and literary genres (e.g. drama, narrative, poetry). In addition, consideration will be given to the emergence of a number of distinct approaches within ecocritical studies, such as critical ecofeminism, biosemiotics, ecophenomenology, ecopsychology and environmental justice.

Among the texts to be studied are Francis Bacon’s utopian narrative, The New Atlantis, Colin Thiele’s children’s story, Storm Boy, Frank Wedekind’s play Spring Awakening, Margaret Atwood’s novel Oryx and Crake, and a selection of poetry. The format for classes will be a weekly two-hour seminar throughout first semester.

Objectives: Students who successfully complete this unit will have:
1.     Developed an understanding of some of the implications of ecological thinking with regard to literary and cultural studies.

3.    Enhanced their ability to recognise and discuss critically the cultural assumptions about ‘nature’ and ‘the body’ informing a variety of significant (religious, philosophical and creative) texts from a range of geographical and historical contexts.

4.    Familiarised themselves with a number of distinct approaches within ecocritical literary and cultural studies and learnt to apply at least one of these.

5.     Become more aware of the implications of their own assumptions regarding nature and the body for their self-understanding, relations with others and mode of being in the world.

6.    Continued the development of their skills in the areas of research, textual analysis and interpretation, and communication, both oral and written. Specifically, they should have:
– demonstrated their understanding of ecocritical argumentation in presenting a review of a major article, both orally in class, and in writing;
– demonstrated their ability to apply ecocritical perspectives to the analysis and interpretation of one or more texts in the form of a logically ordered written argument.

Third year students will in addition be expected to have:
6.    Demonstrated their understanding of the implications of ecocriticism for the metholodology and underlying theoretical premises of literary and cultural studies.

Assoc. Prof. Kate Rigby (
11_W706, ph. 99052246
Office hours: Wed. 2-3.00 and Thurs. 2-3.00

One class test (two hours) in Week 6                                                 20%
One class paper of c. 900 words @ 10% (oral) + 20% (written)         30%
One essay or piece of creative writing of c. 2,225 words (due 8/6)    50%

Reading List

Recommended general introductions to the field:
Jonathan Bate, The Song of the Earth, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 2000.
Lawrence Buell, The Future of Environmental Criticism, Oxford: Blackwell, 2005.
Greg Garrard, Ecocriticism, London: Routledge, 2004.

Set texts (recommended for purchase):
Frank Wedekind, Spring Awakening, trans. Edward Bond, London: Methuen, 1980.
Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake, London: Virago, 2004.

In addition, a number of shorter literary and critical or theoretical texts, as listed below for each week, is available for downloading from the on-line Reading List for this unit at the Library ( Please ensure that you either have hardcopies of each week’s set texts (preferably printed 2-sided!) or a laptop with internet connection with you in class in order to facilitate your participation in class discussions. Ideally, you should have also read all of the set texts, but if you are running short of time, please at least read the primary text(s) (which are always listed first). Texts listed under further reading are for the benefit of those who wish to explore that week’s topic more deeply e.g. for their essay or creative writing.


Week 1: Introduction

Set texts:
Ursula K. Heise, “The Hichhiker’s Guide to Ecocriticism,” PMLA 121.2 (March 2006), 503-516.

Lawrence Buell, “The World, the Text and the Ecocritic” in The Future of Environmental Criticism: Environmental Crisis and Literary Imagination, London: Blackwell, 2005, 29-61.

Questions for discussion:
1.    What do you understand by the terms ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ and how are they interrelated?
2.    What is involved in studying ‘literature’ and ‘environment’?
3.    What is involved in taking this unit of study?!

Further reading:
Kate Rigby, “Ecocriticism,” in Julian Wolfreys (ed.), Introducing Criticism at the Twenty-First Century, Edinburgh: Edinburgh.

Libby Robin.  “The Eco-humanities as literature: a new genre?” Australian Literary Studies 23.3 (April 2008).

Week 2: Religious narratives

Set texts:
Genesis 1 and 2, The Holy Bible, NRSV

Lynn White Jr., “The Historical Roots of our Ecologic Crisis” in C. Glotfelty and H. Fromm, The Ecocriticism Reader. Landmarks in Literary Ecology, Athens, Georgia: Georgia UP, 2006.

Questions for discussion:
1.    What is the role of creation stories in human culture?
2.    How do the two different accounts of creation in Gen. 1 and 2 construe the relationship between God, humans and the rest of creation?
3.    How do these narratives compare with other creation stories that you might know?

Class paper:
4.    How does Lynn White account for the impact of Genesis 1 in shaping Western views of ‘nature’ (and how might this text be interpreted otherwise)?

Further reading:
Norman C. Habel and Shirley Wurst (eds), The earth story in genesis,  Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000.

Roger S. Gottlieb (ed), The Sacred Earth, London: Routledge, 1996

Week 3: Philosophical narratives

Set texts:
Plato, “The simile of the cave” from The Republic, London: Penguin, 1987, 316-21.

Val Plumwood, “Plato and the Philosophy of Death” in Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, London: Routledge, 1993.

Questions for discussion:
1.    How do our underlying assumptions about knowledge (epistemology) and the nature of existence (ontology) shape our attitudes and actions towards ‘nature’?
2.    How does Plato construe the pursuit of knowledge in the simile of the cave, and what attitude to the physical world, including human bodily being, might that imply?

Class paper:
3.    In what sense is Plato’s a “philosophy of death” in Plumwood’s analysis (and how might it be interpreted otherwise)?

Further reading:
Gabriela Roxana Carone, ‘Plato and the Environment’ in Environmental Ethics (1998), 20(3): 115-133.

Week 4: Scientific narratives

Set texts:
Francis Bacon, “The New Atlantis” in Selected Philosophical Works, ed. Rose-Mary Sargent, Indianapolis: Hackett, 1999.

Carolyn Merchant, “The Death of Nature” in earthcare. Women and the environment, London: Routledge, 1995.

Questions for discussion:
1.    What relationships among humans and between humans and the physical world, including human bodiliness, does Bacon construe as ideal in his utopian narrative?
2.    How does this compare with more recent utopian or dystopian projections of the future with which you might be familiar?
3.    To what extent has Bacon’s utopia been realised (and with what effect)?

Class paper:
4.    In what sense did the scientific revolution effect ‘the death of nature’ in Merchant’s analysis (and how might science be conducted differently)?

Further reading:
Freya Mathews, “Atomism and its ideological implications” in The Ecological Self, London: Routledge, 1991.

Linda Williams, “Reflections on Modernity, Monkeys and Men,” in PAN, no. 5 (2008).

Week 5: Pastoral poetics

Set texts:
Charles Harpur, “A Midsummer Noon in an Australian Forest” in John Barnes and Brian McFarlane (eds), Cross-country: a book of Australian verse, Richmond: Heineman, 1988.

Judith Wright, “Dust” in Collected Poems, Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1994.

Les Murray, “The Fishermen at South Head” in New Selected Poems, Sydney: Duffy and Snellgrove, 1998.

Greg Garrard, “Pastoral” in Ecocriticism, New York: Routledge, 2004.

Questions for discussion:
1.    What do you associate with the urban/rural, town/country, city/bush divide?
2.    How do each of these poems represent settler Australian relationships with the land/sea?
3.    Where would you situate each on Terry Gifford’s scale of pastoral/anti-pastoral/post-pastoral poetics (explanatory sheet to be handed out in class)?

Class paper:
4.    What is the pastoral, in Garrard’s analysis, and why is it problematic in his view (and what value might it nonetheless still hold, in yours)?

Further reading:
Terry Gifford, Pastoral, London: Routledge, 1999.

Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America, New York: Oxford UP, 1964

Raymond Williams, The Country and the City, New York: Oxford UP, 1973.

Week 6: Class test
This will take the form of two short essays written under exam conditions chosen from a choice of topics relating to the texts discussed in weeks two to five.

Week 7: Nature Writing

Set texts:
Henry David Thoreau, “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For,” in Walden; and, Resistance to civil government, ed. William Rossi, New York: Norton, 1992.

Mark Cladis, “Stone-Throwers with Excellent Aim: Waking up to an Environmental Democratic Vision,” in Religion and Literature 40.1 (Spring 2008).

Questions for discussion:
1.    What role does place play in human relationships with the non-human world?
2.    How does Thoreau explain his decision to create a dwelling place for himself at Walden Pond and how does he describe his chosen place?
3.    To what extent does this entail entering into a different mode of relationship with the non-human world from that which he attributes to the mainstream society of his day?

Class paper:
4.    What value does Cladis attribute to ‘nature writing’ (and to what extent do you think his comments on more recent writers in this genre are also applicable to Thoreau?)

Further reading:
Lawrence Buell, The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture, Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1991.

Scott Slovic, Seeking Awareness in American Nature Writing, Salt Lake City: U of Utah P, 1992.

Week 8: Bio- and Ecosemiotics

Set texts:
Colin Thiele, “Storm Boy” in The Rim of the Morning, Rigby, 1966.

Kull Kalevi, “Semiotic ecology: different natures in the semiosphere,”Sign Systems Studies 26 (1998) 344-371.

Questions for discussion:
1.    How did ‘nature’ figure in the literature/film/TV that you experienced as a child? How important is children’s literature in shaping attitudes towards the more-than-human world?
2.    To what extent does this narrative advance an environmental ethic?
3.    To what extent are animals and the environment shown to be involved in communication in this text?

Class paper:
4.    What is involved in the study of ‘biosemiotics’ and ‘ecosemiotics’, as Kull presents them?

Further reading:
Wendy Wheeler, The Whole Creature: Complexity, biosemiotics and the evolution of culture, London: Lawrence & Wishart, 2006.

Jesper Hoffmeyer, Biosemiotics. An Investigation into the Signs of Life and the Life of Signs, Scranton: Scranton University Press.

Week 9: Phenomenology

Set texts:
Philippe Jaccottet, “Threshold” in Landscape with Absent Figures, Birmingham: Delos, 1997.

Kevin Hart, “Summer” in Young Rain, Artamon: Giramondo, 2008.

Gernot Böhme, “Atmosphere as the Fundamental Concept of a New Aesthetics,” Thesis Eleven (36) (1993), pp. 113-26.

Questions for discussion:
1.    How can the physical environment affect your mood or ‘disposition’?
2.    What might this suggest about the relationship between ‘mind’ and ‘body’?
3.    What kind of ‘atmosphere’ is conveyed by these texts, and how is this accomplished through the language used?

Class paper:
4.    How does Böhme account for the phenomenon of ‘atmosphere’ and what importance does he attribute to the ‘new aesthetics’ of atmosphere (and do you agree with his assertion that the written text can produce the same atmosphere as that which it describes)?

Further Reading:
Kate Rigby, “Tuning in to Spirit of Place.” In Changing Places: Re-imagining Australia, ed. John Cameron, Double Bay: Longueville Books, 2003, 107-115.

——, “Earth, World, Text: On the (Im)possibility of Ecopoiesis,” New Literary History, 35.3 (Summer 2004), pp. 427-42.

Leonard Skigaj, Sustainable Poetry. Four American Ecopoets. Lexington: U of Kentucky P, 1999.

Week 10: Ecopsychology

Set texts:
Frank Wedekind, Spring Awakening, trans. Edward Bond, London: Methuen, 1980.

Paul Shepherd, “Nature and Madness” in Theodore Roszak, Mary Gomes, and Allen Kanner (eds), Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind, Sierra Club Books.

Further Reading
Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind

Questions for discussion:
1.    How is a sense of space/place/atmosphere created in drama and theatre in general and in this play in particular?
2.    To what extent are the psychological and interpersonal conflicts that beset these fictitious characters connected with their relationship to their own bodiliness and the environment?

Class paper:
3.    What connections does Shepherd draw between psychological and environmental ills (and do you find his argument persuasive)?

Week 11: Environmental Justice

Set texts:
Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake, London: Virago, 2004.]

T. V. Reed, “Toward an Environmental Justice Ecocriticism,” in J. Adamson, M. M. Evans and R. Stein, The Environmental Justice Reader, Tucson: Arizona UP, 2002.

Further reading:
The Environmental Justice Reader

Questions for discussion:
1.    How is the relationship between human social relations and the treatment of the environment configured in other science fiction texts with which you are familiar?
2.    What connections between social injustice (especially classism, racism, sexism) and environmental destruction are evident in the fictitious world of Oryx and Crake?
3.    How effective is this dystopian vision as a critique of current tendencies?

Class paper:
4.    How does Reed define ‘environmental justice ecocriticism’ (and what advantages does this have in relation to other ecocritical approaches)?

Week 12: Posthumanism

Set texts:
Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake (continued)

Louise Westling, “Literature, the Environment, and the Question of the Posthuman” in C. Gersdorf and S. Mayer (eds), Nature in Literary and Cultural Studies: Transatlantic Conversations on Ecocriticism, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006.

Further reading:
Greg Garrard, Ecocriticism, ch. 7,

George Slusser, “The Frankenstein Barrier,” in G. Slusser and T. Shippey (eds), Fiction 2000: Cyberpunk and the Future of Narrative, Athens: U of Georgia P, 1992.

Questions for discussion:
1.    What attitudes towards humanity, ‘nature’ and human bodiliness inspire Crake’s posthuman project?
2.    In view of the ending of the novel, do you think that posthumanism is endorsed or challenged in this text?

Class paper:
3.    What differences does Westling discern in various current versions of posthumanism (and which do you think is most congenial to an environmental ethic?)

Further reading:

Noel Gough, “Playing with Wor(l)ds”: Science Fiction as Environmental Literature,” in P. Murphy (ed.), The Literature of Nature: An International Sourcebook, Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1998.

Sylvia Mayer, “Literary Studies, ecofeminism and environmentalist knowledge production in the humanities,” in Catrin Gersdorf and Sylvia Mayer (eds), Nature in Literary and Cultural Studies. Transatlantic Conversations on Ecocriticism, Amsterdam: Rodopi 2006, .111-28.

Week 13: Review

Extended Bibliography:
Abram, David (1996) The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-than-Human World, New York: Pantheon

Armbruster, Karla and Wallace, Kathleen (2001) Beyond Nature Writing: Expanding the Boundaries of Ecocriticism, Charlottesville: UP of Virginia

Branch, Michael P. and Slovic, Scott ( 2003), The ISLE Reader: Ecocriticism, 1993-2003, Athens, GE: U of Georgia Press

* Elder, John (1985), Imagining the Earth: Poetry and the Vision of Nature, Urbana: Uni. of Illinois Press

Gaard, Greta and Murphy, Patrick (1998), Ecofeminist Literary Criticism. Theory, Interpretation, Pedagogy, Urbana/Chicago: Univ. of Illinois Press

Glacken, Clarence J. (1967), Traces on the Rhodian Shore: Nature and Culture in Western Thought from Ancient Times to the End of the Eighteenth Century, Berkeley: University of California Press

Glotfelty, Cheryl and Fromm, Harold, The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology, Athens, GA: Georgia UP, 1996.

* Harrison, Robert Pogue (1992), Forests: The Shadow of Civilization, Chicago: Uni. of Chicago Press

Jagtenberg, Tom and McKie, David (1997), Eco-Impacts and the Greening of Postmodernity. New Maps for Communication Studies, Cultural Studies, and Sociology, London: Sage

Kerridge, R. and N. Sammells, Writing the Environment: Ecocriticism and Literature, London: Zed Books, 1998.

* Kolodny, Annette (1975), The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters, Chapel Hill: Uni. of   North Carolina Press

* Meeker, Joseph W. (1972), The Comedy of Survival: Studies in Literary Ecology, New York: Scribner’s

Morton, Timothy (2007), Ecology without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics, Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP.

Murphy, Patrick (1995), Literature, Nature, Other: Ecofeminist Critiques, Albany: SUNY Press

Oelschlaeger, Max (1991), The Idea of Wilderness: From Prehistory to the Age of Ecology, New Haven: Yale UP

Rigby, Kate (2004), Topographies of the Sacred: The Poetics of Place in European Romanticism, Charlottesville: UP of Virginia

Schama, Simon (1995), Landscape and Memory, New York: Knopf

Short, John R. (1991), Imagined Country: Society, Culture and Environment, London/New York: Routledge

Soule, Michael E. and Lease, G. (eds) (1995), Reinventing Nature? Responses to Postmodern Deconstruction, Washington D.C.: Island Press.

* Snyder, Gary (1990), The Practice of the Wild, San Fransisco: North Point Press

Westling, Louise (1996) The Green Breast of the New World: Landscape, Gender and American Fiction. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.

* See brief descriptions of these books in Glotfelty and Fromm’s list of recommended reading (1996: 393-7).

Websites: https://www.asle.org