Professor: Kevin Maier
Institution: University of Alaska Southeast
Course Number: 423
University of Alaska Southeast
While the study of literature in relation to environment has always been integral to literary criticism, only since the 1990s has it assumed the proportions of a movement. There are now professional organizations, academic journals, and, ultimately, classes like this one dedicated to careful study of this relationship. According to most scholars of the field, it is a commitment to an environmental praxis that marks this recent movement in literary studies as different from what preceded it. Aside from a general desire to attend to the cultural origins and responses to environmental problems, however, the professionalization under the general rubric of ecocriticsim has yet to arrive at consensus definitions or central critical paradigms. “Right now,” the prominent ecocritic Lawrence Buell recently observed, “environmental criticism is in the tense but enviable position of being a wide-open movement still sorting out its premises and its powers.” This course will provide an opportunity to participate in this sorting out. To attempt to answer the question of what, exactly, “ecocriticsm” is, we will work through the major premises and positions of the young field of study, while also attending to the power of these various positions. As the field has traditionally aligned itself with an environmentalist agenda, we will want to attend to both the explanatory power of these positions as well as the political efficacy of each approach.
This is a seminar, so students bear considerable responsibility for what happens in class. Class sessions will feature a mixture of student presentations and free-flowing discussion. Our discussions will begin by assuring we have a basic understanding of the argument of each text before moving on to considerations of the larger questions at issue for environmental thinking and literary study. Although some understanding of literary theory will be helpful, it won’t be necessary. Likewise, many of our readings will assume a working knowledge of primary texts from the environmental literary canon, but having read widely in this canon will not be imperative. What will be necessary, however, is a willingness to approach the course readings with an open mind, a willingness to grapple with complex ideas from a wide range of disciplines (ecology,biology, philosophy, critical theory, history, etc.), and, most importantly, a willingness to come to class prepared to ask questions, make assertions, and to listen to our peers’ ideas.
David Abram. The Spell of the Sensuous.
Lawrence Buell. The Environmental Imagination.
Lawrence Buell. The Future of Environmental Criticism.
Terry Eagleton. Literary Theory: An Introduction.
Greg Garrard. Ecocriticism.
Dana Phillips. The Truth of Ecology.
For every section meeting, you will prepare one interpretative question and then attempt to answer this question. Your question should demonstrate that you have read thoughtfully and thoroughly; it should also spark discussion about the significance of the course texts. To earn full credit, these assignments must be posted to the course blog by 4:00 pm on Wednesday. While the blog should provide an opportunity for dialogue (and you are encouraged to respond to posts by your peers), you should also try to develop and answer your own questions about the texts.
During the course of the semester, you will be responsible for producing two reports. The goal of these reports is to provide background information to the class to enrich our readings of the assigned texts. You will select an article, book, poem, or film relevant to the day’s reading or theme—the course readings will provide plenty of references to background materials, but you can also consult me in advance to select appropriate texts. While you are welcome to take this report in any direction you find interesting, at the minimum you need to carefully summarize the argument or main idea of your text and you need to offer a reaction or interpretation.
Each report has two components:
a 3-4 page paper on your topic, due on the day of your presentation.
a 10-15 minute presentation of your work, ending with a couple of questions about the course themes or texts that emerged from your research to spark class discussion.
This 12-16 page paper will be on a topic of your choice. Though the final version is due during finals week, there will be several checkpoints to insure that you get going early in the term. I will not provide a list of “paper topics,” but I encourage you to consult with me about the direction of your paper.
(All written work for this course should be typed, double-spaced, and printed in a normal 12-point font (e.g. Times) with one-inch margins on all sides).
Twenty-Minute Writes 20%
Reports 30% (15% each)
Seminar Paper 40%
Late work: 3% points off for each calendar day late for all assignments save for the final paper, which must be submitted on the day requested.
Attendance: You may miss two class sessions without penalty. You will lose 10% points (from your final grade) for the third absence. If you miss four or more class sessions (excused or unexcused) you will earn an “F” for the course. Miss no class sessions and your final grade will be bumped up 3 points.
Incompletes: The grade of “Incomplete” can be given only in unusual circumstances where a student has successfully completed the majority of the course with a grade of “C” or higher but has been unable to complete the final requirements of the course due to unavoidable extenuating circumstances.
Academic Dishonesty: Plagiarism is a serious academic offense that can result in disciplinary measures taken by the Committee for Student Disciplinary Action. All work submitted in this course must be your own and must be written exclusively for this course. The use of sources (ideas, quotations, paraphrases) must be properly documented following MLA style guidelines. Please see me if you have any questions about the use of sources.
Access: If you have a documented disability for which you require academic or programmatic accommodations, please contact the Disability Support Services Office as soon as possible.
Jan 16. Introductions
Jan 23. Entering an Ongoing Conversation: Literary Theory. (read Eagleton Literary Theory, skipping chapter 5 “Psychoanalysis” and the “Afterword”)
Jan 30. The Professional Move: Early Ecocriticism and the Institutionalization of the Field. (read Love “Revaluing Nature” ; read at least four position papers from 1994 Western Literature Association Conference’s roundtable discussion on “Defining Ecocritical Theory and Practice” at: [come to class with two-sentence summaries of the four short papers you read]; Gerrard chapter 1-2; Buell’s Environmental Imagination, pp. 1-22; Glotfelty and Fromm introduction to The Ecocriticism Reader [handout])
Feb 6. The Pastoral Origins of Ecocriticism: The Country and the City meet the Machine in the Garden. (read Marx selections from The Machine in the Garden [course website]; Williams selections from The Country and the City [course website]; Buell’s Environmental Imagination chapter 1; Gerrard chapter 3).
Feb 13. The Trouble with Wilderness
(read Gerrad chapter 4; Cronon “The Trouble with Wilderness” available online at: ; Waller “Getting Back to the Right Nature”; Plumwood “Wilderness Skepticism and Wilderness Dualism”; Bloom selections fromMountain Gloom, Mountain Glory; Hitt “Toward an Ecological Sublime” [all readings save for Cronon available on the course website]).
Feb 20. Environmental Apocalypse: Race, Class, Environmental Justice, and the Ecological Jeremiad (read Buell Environmental Imagination chapter 9; Buell “Toxic Discourse” from Writing for an Endangered World [course website]; Gerrard chapter 5; Bennett “From Wide Open Spaces to Metropolitan Places” [course website]; Principles of Environmental Justice )
Feb 27. Gender and Environment: On Ecofeminism (read Warren selections from Ecofeminist Philosophy; Sandilands selections from The Good Natured Feminist; Westling “Pastoral Ambivalence in Emerson and Thoreau”; Kolodny “Unearthing Herstory”; Merchant selections TBA; and Plumwood selections TBA[all readings this week available on course website])
March 5. Toward a Sense of Place? Indigenous Perspectives, Phenomenology, and the Flesh of the World (read Abram selections TBA; Gerrard chapter 6).
March 12. Representing the Environment: Ecocriticism and Theory(read Buell Environmental Imagination chapter 3; Phillips preface, chapter 1, and chapter 4).
March 19. Ecology and Evolution: The Role of Science (Glen Love “Science, Anti-Science, and Ecocriticism”; Levin “Between Science and Anti-Science”; Clarke “Science, Theory, and Systems”; selections TBA from Latour [all available on course website]; Phillips chapters 2 and 3)
April 2. The Question of the Animal: From Nature Fakers to Animal Rights to Post-Humanism (read Gerrard chapter 7; selected letters from the Nature Fakers debate; selections TBA from Singer, Wolfe, Hearne, and Derrida [all available on course website].
April 9. Where to now? The Future of Ecocriticism (read Buell The Future). Précis of seminar paper due.
April 16. NO CLASS SESSION. Annotated bibliography due in my office by 6:00pm.
April 18-19. Course outing. 10-minute presentation of your seminar paper.
April 23. Seminar paper workshop. Bring two copies of complete draft of your seminar paper.
Seminar paper due in my office or mailbox by 5:00pm Wednesday April 30.