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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: philosophy, rhetoric, poetics. Map out using this structure for both texts (split up class)
  2. Burroughs: some notes from his Art of Seeing:

    1. What’s the philosophy–what do we notice about how those ideas are presented, organized, and the language he uses?
    2. love; fine print; initiated
  3. 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 Burroughs: Berry also thinking about an Art of Seeing things differently?


  • 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. 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. Notice/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. Wonder/Imagine: Questions this leaves you with? What can you imagine doing with some of this critical perspective? (how might you apply this to an SCE)
    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. Journal (morning wake-up): Go back to a passage in the last few chapters that you think is significant (or at the very least, interesting) in the book/project overall. Read it deliberately (as Thoreau expects us to read): make note of some significance, what does it say, how does it work, why important? Help us understand why it is in need of closer reading. Get some help from a peer: contradiction/counter-diction. What do they see differently? Are there any links with their passage?
    1. survey of passages.
    2. focus on some close reading. First writing project–giving attention to Thoreau the writer (and his emphasis on deliberate reading). What do we see: what’s the argument or ‘project’ about as we get into chapters 2 and 3?
  2. Close reading example:
    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.



Walden: Bean Field 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.


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)?


Critical Connections: Buell

  • Due: Buell, “Thoreau and the Natural Environment” (p. 527 in Norton) + chapter 2 in Future of Environmental Criticism
  • Consider: Buell’s idea of Thoreau’s “ecocentric revision” and his various projects;  compost ideas for your first writing project, how this could apply to the passage you will read deliberately
  1. Buell’s argument
    1. a particular point that we will continue to explore: the combination of environmentalism and aesthetics that we find in both {a larger implication for reading both}
  2. Writing Project: ways to focus and develop your argument, your project–deliberate reading means that you don’t summarize text, but shape it towards an argument. A heuristic: particle-wave-field
    1. particle: think about defining the kind of passage–the environmental project: link to one of Buell’s. [do close reading, look at and look up the language]
    2. the wave: begin to think about the passage more dynamically–what happens as ideas/language from this passage show up elsewhere in Thoreau. Can also think about how definitions of a keyword move, change, contradict.
    3. the field: think about implications for your conclusion–what might this deliberate reading of one or two places in Walden mean when standing back, or looking out and ahead to larger contexts, to environmental thought today, or at least beyond Thoreau? Why might this matter?



Project 1: Revision/Editing workshops

  1. Check for understanding:
    1. Abstract of your project: 2 sentence description of your argument–written at top of draft.
    2. On scrap paper
      1. check for understanding–the project (building on blogs) is main way–where I don’t expect comprehensive comprehension.But–for continued thinking (thoreau’s neighborhood) based on where you are now: 1]something you grasp, can take with you about thoreau and environmental writing (concept, idea, issue); 2]something you don’t grasp, will need more discussion as we keep going.
  2. Deliberate editing exercise: Thesis (argument) up front, some answer (with keywords) to the question–why is this passage significant?
    1. look for specific, keywords (perhaps look for them later in the essay): identify/circle
      1. Does the writer’s thesis match their abstract?
    2. How to improve the thesis: set up some sort of complication–basically every academic argument/thesis says: some/many view topic x this way; I think things are more complicated than that.
      1. consider using a Buell quotation to set up the complication you are interested in.
      2. or, use Thoreau to highlight complication: we associate Thoreau with X, but in this passage, he emphasizes Y. What do I make of that?
      3. Thread elements/keywords of that thesis into the close reading/body paragraphs.


Part 2: Thoreau’s Neighbors

Emerson, Cooper, Whitman

  1. Notebook: identify an element of one of these author’s “vision” of nature/the environment that echoes in some way with Thoreau. What’s the echo. Identify a vision that seems new or different.
  2. Transcendentalism/Emerson
    1. Romantic vision of Nature: Emerson’s vision of correspondence (discussed by Buell)
      1. traditional views of Nature (capital N): others–Wordsworth? pastoralism, landscape aesthetics (Cole, Durand); metaphor
      2. but also for Emerson (particularly in other writings): nature as not just metaphor, but metonymy of mind [more ecological view] that seems closer to HDT. Re-read passage for this.
      3. Note scholarship of Rochelle Johnson, Passions for Nature.
        1. how does Susan Cooper contrast?


Muir and Whitman

Muir and Whitman: 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: journal writing. Have you had encounters with the “sublime” in nature? Experiment with Emerson/Whitman/Muir’s vision–can we have ‘kindred’ relations in nature, even here?



  • 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. Journal writing [5 mintues]: catching our breath/catching up with Dillard
    1. What has caught your eye so far in reading this writer, observing Dillard’s environmental vision? Reflect back on something you have noticed about how she thinks, writes, sees.
    2. Catch your breath: anything here that sounds/looks like something else we have been reading or discussing
  2. Describing Dillard so far
    1. selections from journal: begin with initial readers
    2. note the focus on vision/seeing (so ‘vision’ as both subject and object)–focus for second project
      1. both about what she sees (her environmental interests) and how (her writing style).
      2. note: Warner/Beacham prizes
    3. something that catches my eyes: extravagance (also exuberance)–the word and the idea
      1. extravagant gesture: part of her vision of nature; part of her style.


Pilgrim: chapters 5-8

  • Consider:  focus on self-consciousness, intricacy
  1. Focal Point: Dilalrd’s style: the vision of the writer–as demonstrated/represented/performed in the writing. How does she work? Pursue some deliberate readings of passages.

    1. metaphor/simile: analogy/comparison/substitution–focusing on resemblance, but also usually through difference (and not connected directly through context [which is metonymy].
      1. Find an example of a metaphor: share. How do they work? Why have them?
      2. 41: the starling flock.
      3. think about this as an element of nature writing (for your final project perhaps–if you were to do an essay that reads like one of Dillard’s chapter). Does this get in the way? [some ecocritics say yes]
    2. present tense: time as continuous loop (77)–an idea performed in the looping (loopiness?) of her writing.
      1. 80: loop back to earlier view of seeing and ‘fleeing;’ [p. 54]; scales over eyes
        1. dynamic loop between self-consciousness and unself-consciousness (like photographic still vs. body as camera)
        2. focus toward moving images: notice the various movie metaphors
      2. 94: camera is always moving
        1. then turns away (surfaces) to focus on soil.
        2. The writing takes us on the loop


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)?

1]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/rhetorical vision of the chapter. Identify elements of each–and passages that demonstrate. [15 minutes]

2]Class discussion: list out elements of the science and the rhetoric/poetics.

questions. How to read the parable at the end?



Pilgrim: finish book

  • Consider:
  • Conclusions: where does she leave us–what’s the vision in the end?
    1. How might you compare/contrast her vision with another–what insights does that offer? Share a passage/idea from the other writer you are using in the project.
      1. survey of other/related visions:
    2. Some further views on Dillard’s vision
      1. the ‘ethical‘ vision of the ‘picture’ at end of fecundity–how would you characterize it?
      2. the scientific vision of ‘indeterminacy’ from “Stalking”: cannot study nature per se
      3. the spiritualvision we get in chapters 12, 13: eg, 224–rapt and enwrapped
        1. have we seen this before? should the spiritual be part of an environmental vision? is that too human-centered?
        2. a key image conflating ethical, scientific, and spiritual: beetle flicked over on its feet (179)





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. Warm-up–Journal (thinking toward a final project)
    1. a first-person experience with “wild ethics” or “the malleable texture of perception” inspired by Abram and/or a critical study of any elements of perception and the ‘ecology of magic’ you might want to explore.
  2. 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. How do his wild ethics compare to Nixon’s concerns with environmental justice?
    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?


The Ethics of What We Eat

It’s argument. Given/Problem/Response

Key problem: public ignorance, secrecy.

Key response: need public discussion, noticing, understanding

Is ignorance an issue in your experience with food? Is it an issue on campus? How should we respond–what insights do we get from the book thus far?



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