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Literary Representations of Nature and Society

ENGL 475.960
instructor(s):

In order to construct successful environmental policies, understanding our culture’s attitudes about the natural world is as important as mastering basic science. In fact it is fair to say that environmental policy is formed at the intersection of culture and science. This course will use literary works as windows into the way western culture has viewed nature and its relation to society. We will analyze a wide variety of texts, from ancient to modern, and although we will follow a kind of chronological order, we will not be tracing a cultural evolution in understanding the environment. Instead we will uncover ideas about the natural world that are at once diverse, contradictory and persistent. Throughout the western tradition while some works make claims for mankind’s mastery of nature, for rights of dominion and rational control, others paint a far less sanguine picture. Naturally, central to our study will be stories of creation and paradise, ideal visions viewed from the perspective of loss. However, not every author sees this loss in the same light. Finally, we will conclude the course by briefly examining two non-western texts, Native American and ancient Chinese, to provide additional perspective on our own cultural assumptions.