Dr. Laura L. Runge
LIT 6394: Literature of Place: Florida
"William Bartram Beset by Crocodiles or Alligators" from Campbell McGrath's Florida Poems (36-42)
'Ecocriticism and the Long Eighteenth Century' by Christopher Hitt College Literature 31.3 Summer 2004: 123-47 (course docs)
Student-led discussion on Bartram (Jessica Cook)
Student-led discussion on McGrath's poem (Kevin Jordan)
Discuss historical ideas about ecocriticism and Enlightenment attitudes to Nature
Notes and Discussion Questions:This important work was first published in 1791, though it reflects travels that Bartram embarked upon in the years 1772-1777. For those who require a refresher in history, this period (of writing and publishing) is marked by major revolutionary wars that affect the sovereignty of Florida.
The sections that most concern us will be in part two, as the author travels to various trading posts in the Florida wilderness in search of plants and animals. Bartram is a naturalist and an artist, and his language is marked by rhetorics of both empiricism and the aesthetic. The contradictions and overlap of these rhetorics create a unique representation of the environment. The text interests us not only for its historical representation of the flora, fauna, topography and human inhabitants of eighteenth-century Florida, but also because the text has had continued influence on the ways that writers envision Florida. The brief editorial note to the Cosimo Classics edition, presumably by the well-known early 20th century poet/scholar Mark Van Doren, indicates that Bartram's text was a formative influence on Romantic era poets, such as Coleridge and Wordsworth. For today, I've also asked you to read a contemporary poet's writing on Bartram and Florida: Campbell McGrath's tribute / adaptation of Bartram's own writing in "William Bartram Beset by Crocodiles or Alligators."
I believe that Bartram's text offers us an opportunity to identify some of the formative tensions in representing the land and people of Florida -- much of which has been altered beyond repair. (This is more true of the native Indian people than of anything else in the book.)
As you read, mark the tensions in the rhetorics of naturalism (the empirical impulse to quantify, label and break down into constituent parts) and aesthetics (most prominently the picturesque and the sublime, but also appearances of the gothic).
Note any passages that raise questions for you or seem particularly worthy of further consideration.
Also consider the tensions between the ostensible goals of furthering trade (commerce, development of the land and communities in Florida, a promotional rhetoric) and the awe and respect for the natural world born of his Quaker appreciation for God's creation.
As we will do with all the major works for the remainder of the semester, please chart this travel on a map and visualize where and how Bartram covers the landscape of Florida. Where is he going? Compare this with the land covered in The Yearling. This will be aided, in part, by the map(s) he drew and included in the Travels.
William Bartram is almost as equally esteemed as a scientist as an artist, and his naturalist drawings and watercolors are astounding. You can view some here, and I will try to photocopy some others to put in our course docs.
Campbell McGrath identifies one of the prominent tensions in Bartram's work in the opening line of his poem: "How shall I Express myself so as to convey an Adequate Idea of it to the Reader, and yet avoid raising Suspicions of my Veracity" (36). What methods does Bartram use to work this balance? How might the illustrations play into this?
Examine any picture for its scientific information and again for this artistic merit. What observations can you make?
Similarly, choose a significant passage of description in Bartram's text and analyze it for its scientific information and again for its aesthetic value. What observations can you make?
Notice the representation of Florida nature -- what time of year is he traveling? How is the climate? How is the weather? What surprises you or makes you wonder about this representation of Florida?
I recommend using the glossary of terms that I have uploaded to course docs to help navigate your way through some of the Latin terms and names for various species. It will help ground your experience of what he is describing and you will realize that you are reading about the flora and fauna all around you.
Bartram's use of perspective and point of view in this text require some consideration. How does he represent the subjectivity of others -- people, places, animals, in the text? What effect does this have?
What doesn't Bartram describe that you might expect?
In preparation for our field trip, pay particular attention to the description of the Alachua Savanna in part II chapter VI. what is unique about this landscape? Compare the textual description with the illustrations (2) in course docs. Using both terms of empiricism and art, evaluate Bartram's contributions in representing what is now known as Payne's Prairie.
Because Kevin will be leading a discussion on this poem, I won't add much, but I want to alert you to the fact that much of the text of this poem can be found in some version in the first trip up the St. John's river, roughly part II chaps IV-V. Consider the texts that McGrath alters and why? What effect does this have?
Generally speaking, I am very interested in what McGrath's choices in writing this poem mean to contemporary readers. As an eighteenth-century specialist, I am pleased with McGrath's tribute / adaptation, but I wonder how it strikes others. Bartram is celebrated by many Florida enthusiasts. What makes his work appealing and or relevant?
Christopher Hitt, "Ecocriticism and the Long Eighteenth Century"
This essay helps to connect our discussion of ecocriticism with this early text, and it provides an historical account of attitudes toward nature that is worthwhile considering. Hitt's main contribution is the idea that eighteenth-century representations of nature are ambivalent; Enlightenment thinkers saw themselves as both masters of and mastered by the non-human world. This is an ambivalence and a complexity, he claims, that we find in representations of nature in our own culture as well.
In what ways might Bartram be both master of and mastered by the non-human world? Is there evidence of this in his text?
In what sense do we find representations of nature today marked by similar ambivalences or complexities?
Hitt also cautions us against valorizing the referential in representations of nature. What argument does he make and how might that complement the later Buell (the 2004 text that we have read)?
Hitt asks an interesting question of ecocritical readings: is referential representation more ethical than symbolic? Explore with respect to Bartram's multifaceted text.
Finally he argues that eighteenth-century literature performs a dialectic between empiricism and the sublime. What are the characteristics of this dialectic? What are the implications? And do you see evidence of this in Bartram? Is this dialectic sufficient to account for the texture of Bartram's representations of nature?
Meet at USF in front of the library by 7:30 AM.