Criticism and the Arts: Ecological Criticism

English 208S

“The extraordinary change that has taken place in the climate of London during the last ten years is entirely due to a particular school of Art. […] For what is Nature? […] She is our creation. It is in our brain that she quickens to life. Things are because we see them, and what we see, and how we see it, depends on the Arts that have influenced us.”

--Oscar Wilde

This is a course in the critical practice of literary theory in relation to the arts—literature, but also the visual and performing arts—that occasion and challenge it. Exemplars will be drawn from the Anglo-European, Trans-oceanic, and North American multicultural oeuvres, both contemporary and established. The ultimate concern is to develop each student's own critical writing, drawing upon brilliant precedents, responding creatively to the literature and arts at hand, and crafting a personal voice.

Our approach to criticism, theory, and methodology will be “Eco Criticism.” An ecologically minded form of literary criticism dating back to the 1970’s, Eco Criticism is of increasing prominence and urgency in today’s scholarly milieu. It asks us to consider questions about the relationship between what we read and our effect on the environment, shifting the emphasis from what art and literature mean to what they do—how they reproduce and transform science and perception, how they create new ways of life, how they constitute the values and desires that guide our behaviors on an ecological scale, and how, ultimately, they impact global ecosystems.

Readings may include selections from poets such as John Keats, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickenson, Edgar Allen Poe, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Robinson Jeffers, Muriel Rukeyser, Jean Toomer, Leslie Marmon Silko, Juliana Spahr, Mary Oliver, and Don McKay; fiction writers such as Emily Brontë, Charles Dickens, H.P. Lovecraft, Octavia Butler, Ursula K. Le Guin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Margaret Atwood, N.K. Jemisin, Nnedi Okorafor, Indra Sinha, Jeff VanderMeer, Richard Powers, and Ana Castillo; prose by writers such as T.R. Malthus, Charles Darwin, Jakob von Uexküll, John Muir, Frederick Law Olmsted, Robert Smithson, Rachel Carson, Edward O. Wilson, Joni Adamson, Rob Nixon, Kyle Powys Whyte, and Stephanie LeMenager; and relevant literary criticism. Visual media TBD.


Weekly Blog Posts: Reactions to reading, mini-essays, links or pictures with commentary, etc.

Two Critical Papers: (5-7pp.) Two short critical papers focusing on one or more assigned texts.

Final Paper: (9-12 pp.) A long paper will be due on the day of our final.

Grades:  Participation 10%; Blog 25%; Each Critical Paper 20%; Final Paper 25%

Poster for Criticism & the Arts: Ecological Criticism