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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.