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September 21, 2010


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Dr. Laura L. Runge
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LIT 6394: Literature of Place: Florida


Class 6: Land and Exploration


GUEST LECTURER: Robert Brinkmann,
Professor of Geography, USF
"Florida's Ecosystems"

Reading Assignment:

    Selections from Priceless Florida - beginning through part one (in course docs)
    Buell, Future of Environmental Criticism entire work
    Selections from Wild Heart. Opening through p. 68 (essays by Cerulean, Smith, White, Haskins, R. Ripple, Carr, Stap, Burt, J. Ripple)
    Post #5

Class Objectives:

    Dr. Brinkmann's lecture
    Discuss Florida ecosystems through scientific reference and nature writing
    Critical analysis of Environmental Criticism -- Buell


Notes and Discussion Questions:

Our main event this week will be the lecture and discussion with Dr. Robert Brinkmann, Professor of Geography at USF. As with our first lecture, Dr. Brinkmann will present and discuss between 60 and 90 minutes. In between his lecture and the discussion, I will ask you to reflect for about five minutes and write the following things:
  • Write down one thing that surprised you or caused you to wonder.
  • Write down one thing that you don't believe or that challenges what you thought you knew and requires more information.
  • Write down a question inspired by what you learned or a direction that it leads you to think about.

    I will be recording this event for future use.


    Readings:

    Our main focus this week will be a discussion of place through ecology and environmental criticism. It is extremely important for you to complete the readings for this week because we will continue to build on these in future classes. We have several priorities:
    1) familiarity with the general terms and facts of Florida's ecosystems
    2) critical analysis of the history and practice of ecocriticism or environmental criticism
    3) beginning to analyze nature writing on Florida's wilderness

    ******************************

    Buell, The Future of Environmental Criticism: Environmental Crisis and Literary Imagination

    This work offers us a useful sketch of the history of ecocriticism (which he prefers to call environmental criticism, with caveats), and the ways in which we can use these concepts and practices to make deeper connections between literature and place. This is an extremely important tool for us in this class.

    As you read through the book, mark places where the author raises points of contention about the practice of environmental criticism (EC). It is important for you to understand what motivations lie behind specific practices, such as the differences between first wave and second wave EC. How does EC differ from, say, New Historicism?

    Buell writes of his own changes in attitude regarding EC: "Now it seems to me more productive to think inclusively of environmentality as a property of any text -- to maintain that all human artefacts bear such traces, and at several stages: 'in the composition, the embodiment, and the reception' (Buell 1995, 708 vs. Buell 2001: 2-3)"(25). What are the benefits of seeing literature this way?

    In chapter two, Buell spends considerable time working around the tendency to think EC is about realistic portrayal of nature. I think our class will benefit greatly in considering this section of the chapter carefully. (30 -44). The question involves ethics (such as, it is better to represent nature more faithfully?) and possibility (is it possible to represent nature faithfully?) He concludes that even realistic texts are "refractions" of the world (33). How do you understand this debate?

    His main point seems to be "all that might be said about nature writing -- or any other genre -- vis-a-vis realism scarcely exhausts what deserves to be said about texts as environmental representations" (44). As you consider the literature we read for class, attend to the styles of writing, to the uses of perspective, figurative language, tone, imagery and other important techniques. It is extremely important to grapple with the ways of representing in EC when so much is at stake in asserting similitude or likeness.

    Consider Buell's point that a text is "environmentally embedded at every stage from its germination to its reception" and this is encoded and expressed in different ways. Consider, for example, your reaction to Marti's poetry as written in the Catskills about Cuba and warmly received in Tampa.

    He offers three other models for interpreting nature writing or environmental literature: rhetoric, performance, and world-making. Evaluate these stances and consider them as tools for analyzing the literature we will be reading. For example, he discusses the role of embedded humans or their groundedness in place in treating environmental drama. Reconsider environmentality in any one scene from Anna in the Tropics.

    Chapter 3: Space, Place and Imagination from Local to Global -- this is the most relevant and important chapter for us in the book. Try to break it down so that you understand it well.

    He outlines three directions that concepts of place point to in EC: 1) environmental materiality; 2) social perception or construction; and 3) individual affect or bond (63).

    Although place-attachment in EC has much support, Buell outlines some intractable problems that we need to weigh:

      Conceptual ambiguity -- need to avoid "sentimental environmental determinism" (66); must attend to the reciprocity of nature and culture; and see wilderness as something inhabited and manipulated by human and nonhumans species over time and prehistory (66-7).

      "Nested quality of place -- the disparate modes of attachment that the term implies" (67); i.e. bad attachments (exclusionary, sedentariness, maladaptive, xenophobic tendencies); a fear of the wanderer or a privileging of stasis -- is this really better?; a failure to recognize the non-places as having value (71).

    In the section on Place Attachment as Phenomenology vs. Sociology, Buell outlines a five dimensional phenomenology of subjective place-attachment (723):
      Space orientation: 1) concentric circles fanning out from home base
      2) Archipelago of connected places
      3) imagining places
      Temporal orientation: 1) accrued platial experiences of lifetime
      2) places change in time -- knowing the history of a place

    How might this outline be useful in understanding the literature we are reading? Can you apply it to the fiction or poetry we have read? Do some ideas work better than others?

    He also suggests that concepts of place in EC attend to "Border and Scale: From Local Culture to Global Imagination" (76). In this last section of the fourth chapter, he reviews three successful strategies in using placeness in EC: 1) reimagination of local places; 2) reconception of place as bioregional (as opposed to national or provincial) and 3) experiments in imagining planetary belonging" (76-7).

    He asserts that the new EC and Environmental writings "is also always in some sense a post-nationalist persuasion" (81). How does the literature of Florida fit into this picture? (Does it remind anyone of the Caribbean literature he cites?)

    His discussion of bioregionalism is especially relevant for this class. What are the limitations of the concept "bioregionalism"? How might it be useful?

    He cites Gary Snyder as successfully employing bioregionalism "to provoke within and against ingrained grid-think keener attention to how interaction with topography, climate, nonhuman life directs not only how people ought to live but also the way they do live without realizing it" (84). Consider how the topography of our area -- Tampa Bay -- informs how we live on a daily basis.

    The ethic of bioregionalism tends to be a call for sustainability, but even this has problems according to Buell. What are the limitations of concepts of sustainability? Is there any ethical foundation left for sustainability?

    To be continued...


    Discussion of writings from Wild Heart of Florida

    Compare and contrast the representation of nature in the writings in Priceless Florida and Wild Heart of Florida. What do they have in common? How do they differ in terms of representation?

    Consider some of the concerns around the limited focus of referentiality in ecocritical treatments of literature mentioned in chapter 1 of Buell. How would you describe the stylistic worlds represented in the Wild Heart essays? Choose two different examples to demonstrate a range of approaches to representing the environment.

    In the preface, Debbie Drake makes the claim that "the destruction of wild lands impacts humans as well. Our quality of life diminishes as natural areas are replaced with subdivisions and commercial sites" (x). Evaluate this claim as a basis for the ethical motivations of the text.

    What role do artists and writers play in the environmental movement?

    Consider Susan Cerulean's comments on the importance of "restorying" Florida for the human inhabitants. Why is this important for the care of the environment? How might this contribute to a sense of "home"?

    Evaluate the selected writings as examples of this "restorying"? What do they teach you?

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