World Literature and the Environment

Professor: Heather Sullivan
Institution: Trinity University
Course Number: Comparative Literature 2301

Spring 2010                            Prof. Heather Sullivan, NH 275, X7535
TR 9:55-11:10                    [email protected]
In NH 232

Office Hours: MWF 10:30-11:20, T 9:30-10:20; WR 2:30-3:20, and by appointment

TEXTS to purchase (listed in sequence of class readings)

1.      Greg Garrard. Ecocriticism. New York: Routledge, 2005.

2.      Adelbert Stifter. Brigitta. Trans. Mondial, 2005.

3.      Bessie Head. When Rain Clouds Gather. Oxford: Heinemann, 1995.

4.      Yasmina Khadra. Morituri. Trans. David Herman. New Milford, CT: The Toby Press, 2003.

5.      Latife Tekin. Berji Kristin: Tales from the Garbage Hills. Trans. Ruth Christie and Saliha Paker. London: Marion Boyars, 2004.

6.      Luis Sepúlveda. The Old Man Who Read Love Stories. Trans. Peter Bush. San Diego: Harcourt, 1993.

7.      Vandana Shiva. Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2000.

8.      Patricia Grace. Potiki. Honolulu: The U of Hawaii P, 1995.


Additional materials: available on-line or on reserve in the library:

  1. Wordsworth’s pastoral poem, “Michael” (on-line)
  2. Dana Phillips’s essay from The Ecocriticism Reader: (on reserve)
  3. Michael Bennett’s chapter on ecocriticism and the urban (on reserve)
  4. Lawrence Buell’s chapter on “toxic discourse” (on reserve)
  5. Essay on Environmental Justice (on reserve)
  6. Poem on Colonization (on-line)
  7. Rob Nixon essay on Postcolonialism and Ecocriticism (on reserve)



CMLT 2301: World Literature and the Environment is a partner course with BIOL 2305, “The Science of Novel Environments,” with the expectation that students take the two courses together. Both courses share an international perspective looking at global ecology and the inevitable exchanges (cultural and physical or ecological) across borders. These two courses are part of Trinity University’s new initiative to unite science studies with the humanities and the social sciences in order to offer students integrated views of the disciplines as well as perspectives on science across the curriculum. With the literary approach of ecocriticism as our guide for the literary texts, the partnering of the courses will thus provide both cultural and scientific perspectives on related questions regarding the physical environment and human beings.

Additionally, CMLT 2301 counts towards the common curriculum requirement in literature, the interdisciplinary minors in Comparative Literature and Environmental Studies, and the major in International Studies with an International Environmental Studies concentration. It is also a “Green Leaf” course for ESAC, “Environment/Sustainability Across the Curriculum.”

The literature class, CMLT 2301, has three sections, each with two main literary texts: 1) the Pastoral, 2) Urban /Toxic, and 3) Globalization and Indigenous Lands. Selections from Greg Garrard’sEcocriticism guide us through the field in terms of these key concepts. Each section is dedicated to a specific question with relevance for global ecology and international perspectives on nature.

The first section on the pastoral raises the problem of defining nature; all too often, nature is seen as either a site of harmony and balance or else as a place of resources to be conquered and used to our advantage. Our readings demonstrate the fallacy of both assumptions: in light of Garrard’s critique of the pastoral, we read Adelbert Stifter’s pastoral vision in Brigitta, and then contrast it to Bessie Head’s postcolonial reworking of the pastoral in Botswana.

The second section, the urban as built environment and the toxic, seeks to redefine and relocate nature to include the cities, garbage dumps, and human constructions. We examine here how urban locations and nature are intertwined rather than separate, isolated places. Michael Bennett’s essay on urban ecocriticism guides us through our two literary texts: Yasmina Khadra’s Algerian detective novel portraying Algiers as a decayed urban landscape led by corrupt oil profiteers; and Letife Tekin’s “Tales from the Garbage Hills,” in which impoverished Turkish families scrape out a living and residences in the toxic wasteland of garbage just outside a city (Istanbul). We also explore Dana Phillips’s examination of nature as constructed in his essay, “Is Nature Necessary?” and Lawrence Buell’s chapter on “toxic discourse.”

The third section on globalization and indigenous lands explores environmental justice in terms of the relationship between power and land. We address how colonization often associates peoples with “nature” in order to justify conquering them, taking their land, and “developing” it for economic profit; our texts are written by the “colonized.” Our texts include Vandana Shiva’s scathing analysis of global food practices in Stolen Harvest, Luis Sepúlveda’s novel The Old Man Who Read Love Stories as an exploration of indigenous peoples’ encounters with hunters and developers in the Ecuadorian jungle; and the New Zealand author Patricia Grace’s novel, Potiki, which describes the Maori’s battle to maintain their traditional lands, fishing, and farming in the face of developers eager for beach-front property. Guiding us in this section are Garrard and Rob Nixon on postcolonial ecocriticism, as well as questions of the environmental justice movement.

In addressing these ecocritical issues, we study literature from around the world in terms of local and regional issues, but also with an eye towards a more global perspective. To read works only from one region, one language tradition, or even one culture is to create artificial boundaries that do not hold when thinking culturally and environmentally.



Participation and active discussion are a major part of the course work: students should have read and prepared/analyzed the reading material before each class (participation/class contributions are 20% of the grade). Any more than two unexcused absences will therefore reduce the final grade. There is also one group presentation in the form of a debate. For each debate there shall be two groups of two students each who meet with the instructor in advance to discuss their topics and prepare the debate strategy. Each two-person group shall present one side of the debate relating to the text at hand and then open the discussion to the class with prepared questions. The research (critical sources) and primary text must be cited in the debate.

Written course work includes six short textual analyses (approximately one page each); three essays (4-6 pages each). The three essays require reference to (and citations of) a minimum ofTHREE critical, non-course sources to help guide your analysis (additional sources beyond three are encouraged, and course texts may be used for these). The papers MUST cite the literary texts discussed and the critical sources. Additionally, each student prepares an annotated bibliography as research for the group presentation. This bibliography should be done by each individual student and must have a minimum of FIVE critical, non-course sources (use of more than the required five is encouraged, and course texts may be used for these). The annotated bibliography should provide a short summary of the main ideas from each source, and it MUST cite the source briefly to demonstrate that the author does, indeed, say what you claim. These are due at the beginning of the presentation.

As per Trinity’s Honor Code, all written work should be pledged. The Honor Council states: “All students are covered by a policy that prohibits dishonesty in academic work. Under the Honor Code, a faculty member will (or a student may) report an alleged violation to the Academic Honor Council. It is the task of the Council to investigate, adjudicate, and assign a punishment within certain guidelines if a violation has been verified. Students who are under the Honor Code are required to pledge all written work that is submitted for a grade:  “On my honor, I have neither given nor received any unauthorized assistance on this work” and their signature.  The pledge may be abbreviated “pledged” with a signature.” 



6 Short Textual Analyses (~1 page each):      15%

3 Essays (4-6 pages each):                              45%

Group Presentation/Debate:                            10%

Annotated Bibliography:                                10%

Class participation/contributions:                    20%



CMLT 2301: Spring 2010 Reading Schedule

Introduction and Part I: Pastoral

Week 1: Introduction: Garrard on Ecocriticism

Week 2: Pastoral: Wordsworth and Stifter, Short Textual Analysis #1

Week 3: Head, Short Textual Analysis #2

Week 4: Head; FIRST ESSAY


Part II: The Urban (the built environment) and the Toxic

Week 5: Bennett on ecocriticism and the urban, Khadra

Week 6: Khadra; Buell: “Toxic Discourse,” Short Textual Analysis #3

Week 7: Phillips on artificial nature, Tekin, Short Textual Analysis #4

Week 8: Tekin

Week 9: Essay on Environmental Justice; SECOND ESSAY


Part III: Globalization and Indigenous Lands

Week 10:  Poem on Colonization, Nixon essay, Sepulveda

Week 11: Sepulveda, Short Textual Analysis #5

Week 12: Shiva

Week 13: Grace, Short Textual Analysis #6

Week 14:  Grace


During finals: THIRD ESSAY DUE as final project