Into the Wild: Contemporary Representations of Wilderness
“The wilderness needs your whole attention,” wrote Laura Ingalls Wilder about human perils in 19th-century American prairielands: “Sadness is as dangerous as panthers and bears.” Since her lifetime, and however ironically, the perils of wilderness are no less complicated and various—physically, emotionally, spiritually, technologically, politically. 1n 1992, for example, within a few months of proudly walking solo into the Alaskan wilderness, Christopher McCandless died from a natural poison that he himself tragically harvested and ingested. In 2012, Sherry Turkle in Alone Together cast a skeptical eye on fervent techies who romanticize the Web’s “wilderness” as purely creative “otherness as thick as a jungle”--thus blinding themselves to possible dehumanizing consequences of inhabiting uncritically that landscape.
Then until now, creative writers as diverse as Jon Krakauer (Into the Wild), Cheryl Strayed (Wild), Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men) and Andy Weir (The Martian) have weighed in variously on this wilderness critique, just as Sean Penn, Jean-Marc Vallée, Ethan and Joel Coen, and Ridley Scott have employed a variety of digital innovations to adapt those wilderness print narratives from print to screen, quite literally amplifying wilderness themes while diversifying audience receptivity.
The contemporary print representation and film adaptation of wilderness forms the focus of this course. Course texts will draw from a variety of literary genres and may include some of the following print and/or film adaptations: The Homesman, Away from Her, In the Bedroom, We Need to Talk about Kevin, The Social Network, Tracks, Up in the Air, Smoke Signals.
Requirements include: enthusiasm for the seminar topic; sometimes leading and always actively participating in class discussions of the print and film texts; a short annotated proposal and bibliography on your term-end research project; a class presentation of your research ideas; and the project itself, a 12- 15 pp. scholarly research essay due at the seminar’s conclusion.
The course is intended for participants in a variety of disciplines spanning English graduate program’s literature/language/culture/theory/creative writing tracks.