2017-2018 Academic Year
ENGL 410W: Topics in Early Modern English non-dramatic Literature.
Instructor: Dr. Tiffany Werth
This course holds two interrelated aims: first, to consider how seemingly recent concerns about environmental sustainability and resilience within ecological thought may have roots reaching back to the world of Renaissance literature; and second, to ask how we as located moderns living on the west coast engage with premodern thought. How might our assumptions about early modern attitudes toward animals, birds, vegetation, and the physical landscape inflect our own perception of the natural world? The course takes its structure from the pervasive scala naturae (scale of nature), what modern critics have taken to calling the Great Chain of Being, which was imagined to stretch from heaven to earth, linking God, angels, humans, worms, and stone. We will consider theories of ontology—such as what makes a being, is matter stable or metamorphic, how is change determined, and what determines humans’ relationship to their environs? As we do so, we will bear in mind environmental humanist Ursula Heise’s call for an “eco-cosmopolitanism,” that imagines the global, as time as well as geography, through a local and present frame. In our reading, we will explore some of the seminal texts of Renaissance literature—including Thomas More’s utopian experiment, Spenser’s hybrid land of the Faerie Queene, the lyric vegetal ruminations of Marvell, Montaigne’s near heretical musings on creaturely life, and Milton’s attempt to justify the ways of God to men—alongside contemporary philosophies such as vitalism, new materialism, and ecocriticism.
ENGL 510: Eco-critical Approaches to Early Literature: Beowulf.
Instructor: Dr. Mo Pareles
In the face of ecological crisis, new forms of criticism have arisen to rebuke and remedy unsustainable dualisms between (on the one hand) nature, the inanimate, animals, bodies, objects of study, and the feminine, and (on the other) humans, culture, mind, creativity, analysis, and the masculine. In various ways, ecocriticism and its related methodologies—animal studies, speculative realism, and science studies—have challenged some of the most cherished protocols of Western knowledge production. Because these structures of knowledge are so entangled with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European thought, they have been particularly inadequate to the interpretation of earlier texts, or those produced far from colonial centers of knowledge production. Such literature, then, provides particularly rich opportunities for ecocritical analysis.
This course takes the Old English poem Beowulf, which has been a proving ground for so many theoretical regressions and renewals, as a case study for ecocritical and animal studies approaches to premodern literature. Inhuman forces (gold, seas, monsters, and many more) pervade this cryptic Old English tale of a warrior king, and the manuscript itself– a thousand-year-old book that has been mistreated and badly burned, with ragged edges and missing pages—exerts its own curious pull on the critical imagination. What happens when we decenter the human characters and allow these powers full access to our attention? In addition to discussing some of the current debates within medieval (especially early medieval) studies on ecocriticism and animal studies, we will also investigate how periodization and the legacies of colonialism and nationalism have informed previous readings of Beowulf, and discuss what categories and concepts we might use going forward. We will read Thomas Meyer’s experimental translation, with its rich poetics of place, and take advantage of our own location in place and time to engage particularly with contemporary Canadian and indigenous ecocritics such as Peter Cole, Nicole Shukin, Pauline Wakeham, and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson.
ENGL 553: Anthropocene: Nomenclatures, Histories, Criticism.
Instructor: Dr. Vin Nardizzi
We live in an epoch that scientists have named the Anthropocene. But what, exactly, is that? This seems a question with an easy, if devastating, answer: the era of “man-made” (and irreversible) geologic change. In an effort to elaborate the complexities embedded in this answer, this seminar will introduce students to the multidisciplinary literatures that have recently and increasingly constellated around this designation. We shall examine scientific accounts that aim to establish (and ratify) the origin of the Anthropocene and to predict its global effects on climate and sea levels. We shall also read scholarship that critiques the underlying assumptions about the Anthropocene. We shall explore alternate nomenclatures for it (Anthrobscene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene) as well as the different narratives that these designations condense. And, finally, we shall take a semester-long view of the forms and formats that criticism has taken in response to the Anthropocene to measure, insofar as we can, whether this epoch is also changing the way scholars are conducting and communicating research.