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Class Outline

Below are notes related to class discussion. You might find this useful to consult, particularly  when working on your writing projects, your journal, your blog. These aren’t notes that will be on a test, in one sense; but in another sense, all the writing you do in this course is the test, and that writing should be informed by the ideas we explore in class. Think of the class (and, I hope, the lively discussion) in line with the frequent visits Thoreau made into town–including lecturing about what he was doing at Walden. Should you be absent from a class, a good starting point would be to check here (as well as the assignment page), then follow up with me if you have any questions.

Part 1: Sounding Walden

First Class. What’s the nature of nature writing? Introduction to thinking about the environment as readers and writers, exploring critical perspectives that relate the environmental and the imaginative.

  1. Influence of Thoreau: reading/writing the environment deliberately
    1. use of journal, blog, writing intensive projects.
    2. readings of writers who look at different places and topics–but all interested in ‘the book of nature’
  2. Blending/blurring of poetry and science (Thoreau: two views of the same) or culture and nature; English and Environmental (what happens when you juxtapose one with the other: eco-criticism or environmental humanities or literary ecology. What does an ecological reading of literature look for? What does a poetic/literary reading of ecology emphasize or do differently?
  3. Survey of class:
    1. Environmental texts: what makes them so? List out some other cultural experiences we might contrast with nature
    2. Environmental experiences: what makes it so? (does it have to involve trees?)


Art of Seeing Things/Solving for Pattern

  1. Questions regarding syllabus: browse resources
    1. use of Journal: prep for discussion, then weekly blog, then projects: initial reading, closer reading, further reading.
  2. Solving for Pattern
    1. What’s the difference between Problem and Pattern from Berry’s perspective? Do you have an example from your own that would support or elaborate or counter his view?
    2. keys to Berry’s perspective: three keywords for me--irony; pattern, analogy. [is there a relation? is solving/looking for pattern necessarily a matter of irony?]
    3. examples to support or counter Berry’s perspective.
    4. Connections to Horton and Snyder? 


  • Introduction: Buell, Environmental Criticism
    1. Blog preview: structure not unlike philosophy/rhetoric/poetics–but here emphasizing moving in toward closer, deliberate reading, then moving out to potential larger implications, contexts, projects.
      1. Using Buell reading as model: Group discuss/with notebooks (to report back)
        1. Initial Reading: What do you hear? What are some keywords and ideas overall that we should have in mind–what is “environmental criticism”? what are some of its key issues and problems?
        2. Closer Reading. What do you notice and observe? Identify 1 or 2 key passages that the group can help us better grasp one of the issues or problems, a particular complication or characteristic that Buell gives some time to.
        3. Further Reading. What questions does this reading leave you with? What can you imagine doing with some of this critical perspective? (in this course, beyond this course).
    2. Buell discussion.
    3. Berry and Buell: organic reading. Re-phrase some of Berry’s principles in rhetorical terms. How can we apply Berry’s ideas as literary critics and readers of texts?



Walden: “Economy” initial reading

  1. Initial Reading: Come to terms, make note of some keywords, what the argument seems to be, what we are entering into, what this “project” is, how this writer works, what he is interested in. Perhaps an initial quotation that represents or summarizes the argument or project.
    1. Some context.
    2. One complication and characteristic (and thus clue): Thoreau’s interest in language and its complexities, in poetics. OED as resource. New for slow reading as well as close reading.
  2. Closer Reading: Quote a passage and begin some closer reading and re-reading of what you take to be a pertinent or significant passage–or at least, one you can grasp.
    1. p. 10: reading of another’s experience. What are the implications here? What does this set up for this project?
  3. Further Reading: Additional questions, problems, places we want to counter, resist, as well as connect to matters beyond this book.


Walden: Economy (part 2) and Where I Lived

  1. Reading Group Discussion:
    1. reader’s response:
      1. something you are grasping thus far (could extend back to last week’s readings)–your sense of Thoreau’s “project” or agenda in the book–its purpose.
      2. something you want us to spend more time with: question, idea, concept, particular passage in Walden–a problem you need to address.
  2. Thoreau’s project:
    1. overall/initial senses of his agenda–what’s the experiment about?
      1. one argument: Stanley Cavell, Thoreau’s project is philosophical–where every word means something–an effort to get us to think about every word, to read carefully.
      2. another project: self-culture (19th c Transcendentalist version of simple living, asceticism)
      3. political project: moves in July 4–coincidence? a slave narrative of sorts.
      4. artistic project–the book itself is the experiment: revised over 7 years.
    2. close/deliberate readings so far–that give a sense of the project and how he writes.
      1. the opening lines.
      2. why the title “economy”? Why the focus on “students” and college? Is this environmental?
      3. other passages?


Walden: deliberate reading [Reading through Visitors]

  1. Initial Reading: Journal and chapter review–Deliberate Reading
    1. Assign chapter. Solid Sentence: What’s the project/argument that emerges in that chapter? Review your notes and the text to put some keywords into your sentence.
    2. Read through another’s eyes: Engage each other’s sentence, offer some additional or alternative perspective. Yes, but. Revise the sentence–and identify a passage from the chapter that you would point us to for grasping the chapter.
  2. Close reading: Share sentences and key passages.
    1. Note how chapters are crafted: leads in to focus on Reading; note how reading leads to Sounds–but also sense of movement that is connected but contradictory, contrapuntal.
    2. The train in Sounds: machine in the garden. Close reading. Pastoralism {Machine in the Garden argument}. Making sense of the contradictions: Complex pastoral (Leo Marx)
    3. Solitude: read the opening–notice the aesthetics (one sense): the way the writing sympathizes with nature.
      1. 92: atmosphere sustaining me: a vision of sustainable living? and if so, notice the complications (perhaps)–a vision of sympathy with nature, but also doubleness (94).
  3. Preview first Writing Project: read this text (about deliberate reading) with this in mind–look for places you might want to burrow into, show complexity, as well as try to simplify (clarify, convey) what’s significant.
    1. What does reading deliberately mean for Thoreau? How should we do that?


Walden: The Ponds through Higher Laws

  1. Higher Laws–wildness/ethics–if this is a vision for how to live, is it sustainable (and what is the vision)?
    1. Groups: Discuss and deliberate for 10 minutes. Report back to the class some insights for what his vision of Higher Laws is (or a specific part of it that you all grasped best)–and whether you think we can live that way.
    2. Class discussion.
  2. Documentary.


Walden: The Pond in Winter

  1. Highlights from chapters–share something you could do a deliberate reading of–a passage to develop/dig into.
    1. first writing project.
  2. Metonymy  [one way to think about a close/deliberate reading]
    1. Metonymy: some notes
    2. examples from Walden
    3. another name for this (coming up in Spring): epitome. A related concept: analogy.


Walden: “Spring”

  1. Deliberate reading: thawing sand, pages 204- 207. Could write a book about these 3 pages. My hypothesis–the whole of Thoreau’s project/argument/experiment is somehow contained in these pages, an ‘epitome’ of the book. Help me make that case: pick out a line that seems to have larger significance, ‘deeper references.’ Start to dig in the dirt.
    1. On board: survey various lines–read aloud.
    2. What are some of the deeper references? what’s beneath the surface here?
    3. Questions/comments: from the literary perspective? from the environmental perspective?
  2. Some keys I see:
    1. hybrid product: sense of analogy, relation between nature and human, sand and brains/bowels [205]
    2. prototype/epitome: transcends and translates (206): extends to language as well as the earth and the body. Mixing of transcendental (spiritual) and material (body).
      1. there is nothing inorganic
      2. sounds like Burroughs and Berry
    3. Thus; So our human life…
      1. the thesis of the book (and its most basic observation): a kind of mixing of metaphorical and metonymic: Walden was dead and is alive again [209]


Walden: “Conclusion”

  1. Reading society (groups of 3): Question to take up and report back to class. [10 minutes]

    1. Based on the conclusion of the book, does Thoreau succeed or fail in his experiment? How do we know?
      1. point to some thoughts that clarify this for you–perhaps for both success and failure, if necessary.
  2. Discussion: success or failure? Where/how does Thoreau leave things?
    1. consider journal (pg. 371): sand foliage combined with extravagant. What are the implications of “extravagant expressions”?
    2. questions/ideas to take with us into deliberate reading project? into rest of course (thoreau’s neighbors)?


Project 1 Workshop: Critical Connections: Buell

  1. Initial Reading/Buell: 7 projects.
    1. Journal: Take one of the projects and begin to apply to ideas you have in mind for the Writing Project. What insight might this provide? What problems/questions does this context point to, or possibly what answers/solutions does it provide? [Writing Process: beginning with a deductive approach]
      1. Context/Problem/Response [use Purdy as example]
  2. Closer Reading: Buell–“Refraction”
    1. Journal: Practice a closer reading of a relevant passage–approaching the text as a refraction of the environment, dynamic relation between word-world and real-world.
      1. Guideline: move from [1]Summary/Paraphrase of Context; [2]Quotation of key lines/words; [3]Interpretation–extend/refract through the lens of your argument.
  3. Further Reading: Grizzly Man. A refraction?


Project 1 Workshop: Simplifying and Complicating the Argument

  1. Peer Groups: Compose/Revise the Abstract of your argument: Context/Problem/Response
    1. focus the problem: who/what are you arguing with? who cares? so what?
      1. write out the opposite of your argument–or one of its primary counter-positions or contradictions. Imagine/imitate a voice that disagrees. What do they say?
  2. Begin to apply that counterposition, alternative reading, to a paragraph where you do close reading. Groups–help the writer extend and rethink the interpretation: What else? 

Project 1 Workshop: Final Revision and Editing

  1. Peer Groups: Follow-up discussion from Canvas. Elaborate on your response to 4 Questions. Writers: provide updated abstract.
  2. Introduction/Conclusion: the keywords of your argument + narrative. Why should we care?
  3. Editing language: VocabGrabber and Writer’s Diet.


Part 2: Thoreau’s Neighbors

Emerson, Cooper, Whitman

  1. Initial Reading: Journal: [1]identify an element of one of these author’s environmental “vision” that echoes in some way with Thoreau. What’s the echo. [2]Identify a vision that seems new or different, that might be said to complicate or counteract Thoreau.
  2. Closer Reading: Transcendentalism/Emerson
    1. Romantic vision of Nature: Emerson’s vision of correspondence (discussed by Buell). Re-read chapter 1 of Nature: circle keywords.
  3. Further Reading: Have you experience a sublime moment in nature? Does it support Emerson’s vision of “kinship” or “occult relation”?


Muir: recall Buell’s conclusion, Thoreau leads to Muir (hybrid of aesthetic/Romantic and scientific/ecological). Identify/reflect on a line or image that speaks to this.

Field Experience: Encountering, nodding to trees on campus. Discussion with Carl Gallegos.



  • Due: American Earth: Aldo Leopoldblog
  • Consider:
  1. Do we read Leopold as ecologist (scientist) or poet (writer/artist)? Split up class into English vs Environmental studies
    1. What would ecologists emphasize in his writing–which passages mark his ecological thinking, seem familiar? Help others read them.
    2. What would literary critics/poets/artists emphasize in this same writing–which passages mark his poetic thinking, seem more familiar? Why–help us see that.

Ecology and aesthetics–Leopold’s linking of land/conservation ethics to aesthetics.

  1. Does this make sense?
    1. Is there an environmental place that you love or find beautiful? What does that mean?
    2. Must ecology be beautiful to be appreciated? (Chris Jordan as example of that argument?)


Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek: chapters 1, 2

  1. Initial Reading: Dillard’s Vision
    1. Identify/annotate a sentence (or two) that indicates the author’s vision: what Dillard is interested in, possibly an aspect of her style. Then in your own sentence, begin to articulate what you think Dillard’s project is.
    2. Any connections to what we have read/seen thus far?
  2. Closer Reading: Dillard’s Argument
      1. Given/Problem/Response. What is Dillard’s problem/response?
        1. focus: p. 9. Note the connections to Thoreau and “mystery.” What other versions of problem/response do we hear?
        2. Thus far what evidence does she provide for her argument? How does she offer development, complexity, coherence (rhetorical terms from our rubric)?
  3. Further Reading:
    1. Think about what ‘extravagance’ means for her (another Thoreau echo). Questions.
    2. Further reading begins on Wednesday. As we explore, think about films/documentaries/other texts you have read that we might put into conversation with Dillard and her project. Collect journals.

Pilgrim, 3-4

  1. Closer Reading: Focus on Dillard’s style. How would you characterize her writing and style?
    1. Verbs: 22, 25
    2. rhetorical figures: metaphor, ekphrasis, enargia: 41-42.
      1. What role do these rhetorical/poetic elements of writing play in her environmental vision?
  2. Further Readings.


Pilgrim: chapters 5-8. Extravagant Reading

Initial Reading [10 minutes]: Follow Dillard on one of her “microscopic forays”/explorations of the created world. Pick a passage (1 or more pages in one chapter from 5-8) and follow her lead: read closely, obsessively, extravagantly. What’s there? What does this help us see/understand? What’s the argument this supports and why? [paragraph response in you journal]

A structure for your extravagant reading:

  1. Set-up: provide brief context, paraphrase, an illustration of what’s going on here.
  2. Close-up: select a key line or two for quotation–borrowing language that you can go on to discuss further.
  3. Follow-up: expand and extend your reading by elaborating how you interpret the significance of what she is saying, seeing, not saying, not seeing. Be appropriately extravagant: speculate, read into the passage.

Closer Reading: 

Step 1: Pitch your extravagant reading to a peer. Get feedback from them that helps you go even further with your reading, or requires you to alter, adapt, evolve your reading.

Step 2: Larger class discussion. What’s going on here?  Whatever the argument within the chapter or passage, does it cohere (connect to other chapters/passages) and develop? Or is it random or incoherent, a wild tangent?



Buell, chapter 3: Place, Space, Non-Place

1] Critical Connections/Patterns: keywords and concepts from Buell

Applications back to Thoreau, Emerson others.

Connections forward to Dillard




Pilgrim: chapters 9-11

Focus: fecundity. What’s the vision? Where does this take us in the book overall (a turn)?

Dillard’s dynamic (fractal?) argument: lots of questions, advancing but also returning to previous–does she provide a response/resolution/answer by the end? Questions such as:

Are a million million infants more real than barnacles? What if God has same disregard for humans that we have for barnacles? What’s it all about? Are we dealing in life or in death?

1]Initial Reading groups: scientist and poet (named at end of chapter). In pairs or threes. Work on developing a reading of both the scientific and the poetic/humanistic vision of the chapter–evidence she explores from both perspectives. Identify elements of each–and passages that demonstrate. [10 minutes]

2]Closer Reading/Class discussion: list out elements of the science and the rhetoric/poetics. If this is one of the more rhetorical/argumentative chapters of the book–what’s the argument and are you persuaded?

Further Reading: How to read the parable at the end?



Pilgrim: finish book

Conclusions: where does Dillard leave us–what’s her vision in the end? To use her question: “What’s it [this book, her project, her argument] all about?”

1]Initial Reading: Stalk (reread and take notes) a passage that you now would forward as a key to the project. What do we see and learn from the passage? Consider “two views” of the passage–science and poetry. Put keywords/ideas/phrases on board.

Then identify one other passage on the board that relates to yours.

2]Closer reading: Dillard presents various categories of vision. Which do these key passages fit into–and why?

Spiritual, Scientific (ecology, evolution, physics, etc.), Philosophical/Ethical, Poetic

Do these different visions come together or disperse?

3]Further Reading: who would you put into conversation with Dillard–and why? What do we begin to see and hear from that comparison?


Further readings: James, Purpura.

Initial: identify one idea/image/sentence passage from either writer that you would bring into discussion of Dillard’s vision. Why?

Closer: Journal writing. Stalk some ideas or approaches to a possible project inspired by James or Purpura.

Further Reading: Presentations. Film: what’s a film we could bring into conversation with Dillard’s project? Revisit Tree of Life.


Project 2 introduced: Two Views of Same/Ecology and Rhetoric [readings: Momaday and Williams]

Initial: Particle/Wave/Field–strategy for composting ideas.

1]Particle: Identify a “particle” from Momaday or Williams or James or Purpura that interests you/might study further in Project 2. Describe.

2]Wave: put that particle into dynamic relation with something in Dillard. What happens? What else do you see: counter-perspectives, contradictions?

3]Field: what’s a possible argument emerging? What might your project be about? this is where we begin to identify controversy/problem that becomes the core of the argument.

Project 2: Abstract [readings: Las Vegas, Cracker Childhood]

Initial: one more wave: put your Dillard ideas into relation with either Melloy or Ray. What happens?

Workshop: Stalking the argument/developing the abstract



2nd Project: Workshop

Workshop focus

  1. Revision strategy: counterargument to strengthen/complicate/clarify your argument. Think of Dillard’s “devil’s advocate”.
    1. explore a possible counter to one part of your argument (a key place in your body, perhaps toward the conclusion). How might you argue it differently, using another passage from Dillard? or using another author? [rhetorical strategy: we want our argument to be dynamic, to move]
  2. Specificity–for revision and editing
    1. of concepts–to get  a better handle on what you are seeing and saying: remember Keywords: pattern, fecundity.
      1. new keyword: ekphrasis. Also a reminder to be specific and vivid in your description–just as Dillard is.
    2. Verbs and Nouns. Experiment with Writer’s Diet tool. Also Wordnik.


Part 3: Contemporary Ecocriticism

Ecology of Magic

  1. Initial Reading (thinking toward a final project)
    1. a first-person experience with “wild ethics” or “the malleable texture of perception” inspired by Abram or Singer on animal ethics and/or a critical study of any elements of perception and ethics you might want to explore. Where might you go? What questions do these readings raise?
    2. Further Reading.
  2. Closer Reading Abram: his argument about a ‘more-than-human’ world
    1. what’s the basic argument and ethical philosophy?
    2. where do you find it compelling?
    3. where do you wonder about it?
    4. links to other writers. 
    5. where would/could you go with this for a final project?


    1. Warm-up (groups): Getting a grasp of Berry’s philosophy, rhetoric, poetics: how he essays the farm, his agrarian vision.
      1. Believe Berry, what’s the belief and why? where are you compelled?
      2. Doubt Berry: what’s the criticism of his vision and why? where are you unconvinced
    2. Conversation: what’s Berry’s philosophy? what’s his argument/rhetoric? what do we see of his poetics?
      1. compelling aspects of his vision.
      2. aspects we are critical/skeptical of
      3. how does he move us from our assumptions toward his position?
    3. Key ideas
      1. Berry’s notion of the middle ground (in Preserving) of nature and culture–a key to his rhetorical strategy: who lives in this middle ground? we do–thus the essay moves us from extremes toward this middle, or reveals us to be there already.
      2. Idea of needing to unsimplify/complicate: back to Solving for Pattern, irony.
      3. His focus on love: what are the implications? How is love “organic” or ecological for Berry? Is “love” too simplistic or too unscientific?
        1. Do you have a place that you love in the way that Berry talks about this?


Silko, Ceremony


1]Ceremony: Initial Views

  1. Ceremony: initial reading; 
    1. Journal: reread opening “poems” and 1st two paragraphs.
      1. What questions do you have–mark at least 1 or 2
      2. What are we as readers given or presented with? What do you expect from this story? What is being introduced?
    2. Partner: share questions and initial expectations. 
    3. List: questions and reactions. 
  2. Apply Buell’s 4 characteristics: one way to perceive/understand what we might need to read differently–the ‘presence’ of the environment and a shift in perspective to nonhuman interest and environment, to an imagination (traditional home of novel) that is environmental. Where do we see elements of these characteristics?
    1. passage examples: 31-33, Tayo with Ku’oosh (the fragile world).
      1. a keyword to track: tangled/entangled
    2. Other places to apply Buell’s perspective on environmental criticism

2]Ceremony: Closer and Further Views

  1. Questions and follow-up: further questions you have; another passage that reads more ‘green’ or environmental than typical novels.
  2. Class reading (discussion as ceremeony?): page 86-88–As we read, consider:
    1. Another Spring passage (think Thoreau, Dillard; Abram with his spider–others?)
    2. Buell’s characteristics–examples of the four: presence, more than human, accountability, process.
    3. world made of stories: the lesson (the logic?)–that ‘story’ in Silko’s world is inherently ecological or environmental, organic. Why? And that, therefore, ecology/environment is ritual, ceremonial?
    4. What would this mean, say, for the Chesapeake: this vision of ecological storytelling?

3]Ceremony: to p. 150

Initial reading: Questions. 

Closer Reading: focus 122-128

a)What’s the vision, philosophy? If this is basis for an environmental ethics or politics, what is it?  

b)Have we seen this before? Related to others we have encountered?


4]Ceremony: Concluding Views


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