Towards Day 10 (Mon, Oct. 8): "Earth...is the primary college"

Anne Dalke's picture






"Blood Vessels in the Earth"= Satellite Image of Yukon Delta in Alaska, via Srucara

I. coursekeeping

* weather prediction: 52 degrees, 4 mph wind, 10 % chance of precipation, partly cloudy

* ekthorp declares far ahead of time that we are meeting outside (and will write about this, please?)

* Monday after break, froggies315 will choose....


* confirming remaining writing conferences

* Nan and mturer complete the naming "test"

*planning for Wednesday's jaunt:
can we leave from the English House parking lot (in Nan's and Anne's cars @ 1, w/ froggies315 acting as sweeper @ 1:10? I told Bruce we would be there by 1:15, and need to leave @ 2:30)

* Directions: leaving the campus center, turn left to go west (and downhill) one block on New Gulph Road. At the traffic light, turn right onto Roberts Road. At the next intersection, take the left fork onto Harriton Road. The entrance to the Harriton Park is immediately on your left. 

* in preparation, please spend some time on the Harriton House website (familiarize yourself w/ the history of the site, so the director, Bruce Gill, doesn't have to dwell on that), and come w/ several questions for Bruce. I would be very unhappy if I'm the only one asking questions (as per my gravestone...:)

Read also Michael Pollan, "Weeds are Us," The New York Times Magazine, and
Richard White, "Are You an Environmentalist or Do You Work for a Living?"
--these are essays that invite you to re-orient your relation to nature around work,
rather than "pleasure" or "leisure" or "escape" from the stresses of your work life...
and I think will serve as a good introduction to a field trip to a working farm/tourist site

since I won't have a chance to "coursekeep" on Wednesday, a few heads up:
* your usual posting about your "site sit" is due on Thursday
; I'll be interested/watching
to hear/see if the visit to Harriton opens your eyes/mind to new dimensions of your site...

* nothing else is due before break, but by 5 p.m. on Sun, Oct. 21 (the date of our return),
I would like you to post a mid-semester course evaluation (instructions for this are
on the course website and in today's notes):
* take some time to review all your postings/papers, reflecting on what's working and what needs working on, both for you as an individual learner and for the class as a learning community.
* How are you using the class? How do you see others using it, individually and as a group?
* How is this course functioning "ecologically," how might it be more "ecological" in structure and action?
* Are there additional ways you can imagine y/our using the class, to expand our understanding?
Post a paragraph or two of these reflections on-line for us to discuss together.


When we meet again as a class, on Mon, Oct. 22,
we'll talk about the trip to Harriton, discuss these mid-semester assessments, and also
the first two chapters of
Rachel Carson's classic 1962 expose, Silent Spring
(I also put up a link to a review of a new biography of Carson). Think about
what she says--and/but also about the genre/ the writing style she uses to say it.
Do you find it compelling? Do you feel stirred--to action--by it?

With Carson, we will leave this first section of the course focused on "ecolinguistics,"
to begin a new section on "ecofeminism," an explicit counter to the fact that
"most studies of the American response to nature have focused on the problematic,
ambivalent experiences of men" ... and an exploration of possible parallels between the
oppression of women and the abuse of the natural world (Nan's urging us to
watch Half the Sky is not unrelated!)

II. this weekend, I asked you to identify the "genre" in which you were writing,
and to play w/ an alternative. This seemed mostly confusing....

rachel's SCI-FI TELLING
Stepping onto the alien terrain, my eyes taking it all in for the first time, I was greeted by life not so dissimilar from what I was accustomed to seeing. Here could be found the passing of seasons; displayed in the air, on the branches of trees (or what I would call trees, for they were similar in size and shape to what I am accustomed to). The cacophony of sentient sounds assaults my ears as I glance left and right in my own desperate attempts to find the words, the names for what I am surrounded by, trapped by…

graham: Looking back at my first web paper, the account of my Thoreauvian walk around Bryn Mawr, I wrote the piece in a pastoral form…as a non-fictional, 1st person account of specifically what I saw and what I was thinking at the time of the walk….I could have easily changed the style so as to be not as dependent on reality as it had been….Science Fiction Re-Write: …B.M. 101’s surface was unexplored…it provided him a onetime chance to fully explore an alien world by himself, and experience the undisturbed environment, the sights, and the sounds all firsthand….having said world relayed to him through a second-hand analysis and exploration generated by a machine would have nullified the wonder and the anticipation he was supposed to feel. Steadying his nerves, the explorer set out across B.M. 101’s surface, fully intending to make the earning of his paycheck an adventure.

Smacholdt on Narrative Ecology??: The general idea behind narrative medicine is that you treat a person as a whole, and not just a cluster of symptoms. You allow people to contextualize their ailments in terms of the schema of their lives...could we take this sort of approach to the environment? I had the goal of rewriting [a very straight forward and scientific] post...in a more narrative way....I think I need to make it more inviting for the reader. Here is how I decided to rewrite it: The scientific name of the Great Blanket Flower... is Gaillardia aristata....named after M. Gaillard de Charentonneau, an 18th-century French magistrate who was a patron of botany. The flower’s common name refers to the patterned blankets made by native Americans....

hira's comment: I appreciate the idea of looking at the whole system rather than a part of the whole....the rewrite...gave a little background on the flower...placed it within a longer context.

hira: I think my "Thoreauvian walk" is still quite like a pastoral, but it does explore partially the idea of the hidden and the parts of the earth that are difficult to navigate. So maybe it's slightly Gary Snyder-esque?...So now to write it into a different genre...sort of leaning toward tragedy (from the trees' point of view?!)
"We were assembled as usual. It was boring...."

Srucara: Original Version: Nonfiction. Maybe I could find a deeper meaning in that. I wish I could but at the moment, it is difficult for me to be truly present because all I can feel is ...a headache....Tragedy Version: I could feel my life span shortening by a few decades....I finally regained emotional and mental wellbeing...

mturer: The genre of my Thoreauvian walk is not obvious....very pastoral...idealized fashion. However...I casually include some elements of the supernatural ...Because of this, I have chosen to rewrite my Thoreauvian walk as a fable or fairy tale: ...a young girl set out to explore a beautiful castle and its enchanted woods....a fairy, who humans sometimes called “Nature,” noticed that the girl was unfamiliar with the beauty of her enchanted woods...and guided her...

eetong:  I tried to enact “Wandering and Wondering" in my style of writing...I lost a directed commitment to one view over another. So now I’m struggling with deciding on the ‘genre’ ...I think it is more tragic...with the “we” positioned as a kind of hero, a portion of the “Created” that is actively working against “division.” If that is the case, where am I located? As this is a recording of my thought process, am I an objective observer or a member of the “we”? Should I be included? Should I commit myself to one direction? I’m having a hard time changing the genre, so I’m going to work with form and see where that takes me....I think the more creative the form, the more free I feel to place myself inside of it, more as a character than as myself. I can experiment with my own emotions – so I can question things in a different way and come to a new conclusion. As for genre… Help?

is "genre" too abstract to start w/? or even to use as a re-writing prompt? someone said it was a "relief" t read LeGuin's short story...could we read more fiction...? (that's a genre comment....)

III. we ended our discussion
of "Vaster than Empires..." last Wednesday w/ sara's flagging the final description of the empath as a "colonist"....more to say about this? empathy as colonization? inappropriately intrusive?

from Doris Sommer, Proceed with Caution, When Engaged by Minority Writing in the Americas:
* "our access is limited...but sentimental readers ... prefer the illusion of immediacy...."
* "So simple a lesson and so fundamental: it is to acknowledge modestly that difference exists...
this defends us from harboring any illusions of complete or stable knowledge"
* "Consciously working in a translated, borrowed langauge, those who testify...understand that none of these codes is sufficient"

* cf. the psychological surveys
that demonstrate that humans react very strongly to a crisis that is immediately present (like a fire) but react very weakly to a crisis that is not present (like the wildfires in the West) 

* cf. also all those articles
about the huge rate of species extinction that has occurred in our lifetime and will very probably continue to occur

* one way to think about genre is as a question about motivation/motivating action....

* what genres speak most compellingly to us?
what genre does Thomas Berry use in his 1988 book, The Dream of the Earth?

IV. Let's begin our discussion by writing back to him. Here is what he says:

The deepest crises…are those moments of change when the story becomes inadequate for meeting the survival demands of a present situation (xi)

…we have changed the very chemistry of the planet, we have altered the biosystems, we have changed the topography and even the geological structure …These events...require a new historical vision...to move beyond democracy to biocracy, to the particiaption of the larger life community in our human decision-making processes ….(xiii)

…the earth community is a wilderness community that will not be bargained with….We seldom enter … with true empathy (2-3).

The American college may be considered a continuation, at the human level, of the self-education processes of the earth itself….education which identifies with the emergent universe in its variety of manifestations…. earth…is the primary college….(89-90).

It is especially important…to recognize the unity of the total process…everything is intimately present to everything else in the universe. Nothing is completely itself without everything else (91).

The earth’s evolutionary process is planetary self-education. The planet out of its own spontaneities has…taught itself the arts of life…. (92).

The entire college project can be seen as that of enabling the student to understand the immense story of the universe and the role of the student in creating the next phrase of the story….The sublime mission of modern education is to reveal the true importance of the universe story for the total range of human and earthly affairs (98).

A set of core courses could be…the practical fulfillment of these suggestions:

A first course…would present the … formation of the galactic systems and the shaping of the elements…the formation of the earth…the emergence of life…the rise of consciousness… the student could feel a personal importance in the scheme of things…could begin to appreciate…our human responsibility for…the universe process (99).

A second course...could be…on the various phases of human cultural development….Students could see the continuity of their own personal development in the prior development of the universe, of the earth, and of all human history (101).

A third course might deal with the period of the great classical cultures….these traditions…still account for…the main principles of civilized order….are still the most formidable barriers to chaos that the human community possesses… (101-102).

A fourth course…is the study of the scientific-technological phase of human development… (103).

A fifth course could deal with the emerging ecological age, the age of the growing intercommunion among all the living and nonliving systems of the…universe entire….reestablishing the human within its natural context…dealing with the integral functioning of the biosphere (104).

A sixth course could be a course on the origin and identification of values…which we will find…in the self-emerge….self-governing processes of the universe…: differentiation...subjectivity…communion (105).

How does Barry’s prescribed program resemble/diverge from the one you are now pursuing?

What would be your response, if the bi-co trustees announced that our entire program of study would henceforth be “grounded in the dynamics of the earth as a self-emerging, self-sustaining, self-educating, self-governing, self-healing, and self-fulfilling community of all the living and nonliving beings of the planet” (Barry, 107)? Would you protest (on what grounds)? Stay begrudgingly? Enthusiastically sign on?

It’s all a question of story. We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story. We are inbetween stories (123).

There is a need for a program to aid the young to identify themselves in the comprehensive dimensions of space and time ….all our human affairs…have their meaning precisely insofar as they enhance this emerging world of subjective intercommunion …the basic mood of the future might well be one of confidence in continuing revelation (136-137).

…spontaneity is the guiding force of the universe….What primordial source could…imagine such a fantastic world as that in which we live…. (196-197).

the creative process…is guided by …some transrational process…the inner shaping tendencies that we carry within us, often in revelatory dream experience (201). [cf. srucara's post about Jill Bolte Taylor]

…the primary norm of reality and of value is the universe community itself (202).

We are closing down the major life systems of the planet …. If there were a parliament of creatures, its first decision might well be to vote the humans out of the community, too deadly a presence to tolerate any further. We are the affliction..the violation….constantly we assert the value of the human over the …natural world (206, 209-210).

…the supreme need of our times is…a sensitivity that…comprehends the larger patterns of nature, its severe demands…and is willing to see the human diminish so that other lifeforms might flourish (212).

Ecology can rightly be considered the supreme subversive science…threatening all those cultural commitments that have brought about the present devastation (212).

In relation to the earth, we have been autistic for centuries. Only now have we begun to listen…. (215).

V.  Or consider an alternative education, via the arts....



Brueghel's 1558 painting, "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus"

and with W.H. Auden's commentary/poem,
Musee des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Brueghel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Is this an ecological poem?
Is the tragedy that nature (human and animal) did not notice Icarus's fall,
or that we, in Western Civilization, think that nature should have?"

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