English 553B (002): Studies in Literary Theory (An Introduction to Ecocriticism)

Instructor: Vin Nardizzi
Section: 002

Term: 1
Meets: Wed 12:00-2:00pm

In this seminar we shall survey six key theoretical movements in the method of (literary) criticism known as “ecocriticism.” These include nature writing, social ecology, deep ecology, ecofeminism, animal studies, and queer ecology. In exploring these movements, which sometimes overlap and sometimes prove mutually exclusive, we shall chart a critical genealogy of ecocriticism. Our guiding questions will be: whence did ecocriticism come? Who were its earliest practitioners, and what legacies did they bequeath to its practice? Who are its most salient present-day thinkers, and what challenges and revisions have they brought to bear on it? And what are its future prospects? This final question may well be the most imperative, as the humanities—and especially literary scholars—are called upon ever more frequently to explicate their contribution to a world whose hallmarks are economic sustainability, impact quotients, and climate change. Since ecocriticism imagines itself as a constitutively cross-disciplinary method, can it help make the study of literature “relevant” again to the university and beyond? In our final weeks, we’ll investigate the forms that such relevance could take (activism, creative projects, pedagogy, and public intellectualism all come to mind), as well as the material gains, losses, and (missed) opportunities pegged to such endeavours.

No previous study in ecocriticism is necessary for this course. We’ll begin by thumbing through the essays gathered in Michael P. Branch’s ISLE Reader, Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm’s Ecocriticism Reader, and Laurence Coupe’s Green Studies Reader, all of which provide solid backgrounds in ecocriticism. We’ll then discuss excerpts from more recent and broadly revisionary ecocritical texts by Giorgio Agamben, Jonathan Bate, Jane Bennett, Lawrence Buell, Jacques Derrida, Simon Estok, Luc Ferry, Greg Garrard, Donna Haraway, Bruno Latour, Glen A. Love, Timothy Morton, Sharon O’Dair, Dana Phillips, Catriona Sandilands, Michel Serres, Peter Singer, Raymond Williams, Cary Wolfe, Patricia Yaeger, and Zlavoj Zizek, among others. In our final weeks we will look through recent issues of Profession (MLA’s annual publication on the state of the profession) and ISLE (the journal of The Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment) for pertinent articles and debates about the purchase that ecocriticism has in the academy.

To complete this course students will be expected to submit one scholarly book review (of a title not included on our syllabus), one sample syllabus tailored to their field of study, and one medium-length essay.

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