Global climate change has been described as the “end of nature.” What does that mean for art? For literature? What is “nature” anyway? This course will explore the implications for reading, enjoying and thinking about imaginative literature and art in the context of global environmental crisis. We will situate current writing about environmental issues within the much longer trajectory of the ecological imagination, reaching back to the Industrial Revolution in Britain and forward to our struggles to come to terms with oil spills, extinction, and anthropogenic climate change in the 21st century. We will read explicitly “environmental” nonfiction alongside “classic” works to think about how environmental concerns frame our reading of the past. We will also read recent imaginative literature that tackles environmental crisis directly, placing novels alongside films and photography in order to think about the various challenges of picturing ecological change, which is often slow and invisible as it is pervasive. In the process, we will think about how literature and art help us to think about humans, nature, and the environment in ways that may not be accessible via scientific, political, or even ethical debate.
Possible readings include: Mary Shelly, Frankenstein; Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness; Rachel Carson, Silent Spring; Bill McKibben, The End of Nature; Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake; Amitav Ghosh, The Hungry Tide, as well as films, photography and other media.
Assignments will include both critical essays and opportunities for students to engage in their own creative work if they choose.