Eng 197, Fall 2009

Theories of Literature and the Environment

Note: This is an honors undergraduate version of the graduate seminar Eng 236.

In response to the UC budget crisis, in 2009 the English department decided to introduce an experimental course that was both a senior seminar and graduate seminar.  My Theories of Literature and the Environment, simultaneously taught in Fall 2009 as both a graduate and senior seminar, was one of the first experiments. Sensing that the format was not being well received, in the middle of the term I asked my students to informally evaluate, using a modified version of the department’s standard evaluation form, our new senior/graduate seminar format. Before passing out the forms, I explained the rationale for such courses, noting that the hope was that such courses would benefit both undergrads (by giving them more senior seminar options, for example) and grads (by ensuring that certain grad seminars are not undersubscribed, and hence in danger of being cancelled). Nonetheless, the results were sobering, as our grad students in particular seemed generally unhappy with the format, noting that the objectives of graduate seminars are very different from undergraduate classes and that the undergraduate presence in the classroom considerably undermined serious graduate scholarship.  Based in part on my experience, the UCSB English Department decided to largely abandon the senior/graduate seminar format after 2009.

Environmental criticism, also known as ecocriticism and “green” criticism (especially in the UK), is a rapidly emerging field of literary study that will be crucially important in upcoming decades, especially as our present environmental crisis unfortunately worsens. In the first half of this course we will explore how the relationship between human beings and the environment has been imagined in the West, especially as it appears in the works of Heraclitus, Anaximander, Thales, Plato, Aristotle, Lucretius, Epictetus, Aurelius, Augustine, Aquinas, Montaigne, Hobbes, Descartes, Locke, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Kant, Mill, Hegel, Marx, Darwin, James, Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Arendt, Levinas, Foucault, Patocka, Derrida, and Agamben. Withal, we will be considering how these attitudes toward the environment influenced writers such as Theocritus, Virgil, Shakespeare, Milton, Thomson, Wordsworth, Thoreau, and so forth. The second half of the course will consider works from modern ecocritics (beginning in the 1960s and ’70s with Lynn White Jr., Leo Marx, Carolyn Merchant, Keith Thomas, and Raymond Williams, and ending with the ongoing explosion of interest in the field in the 21st century) with an eye to directly applying this theory to the reading of texts.

“Please rate the overall quality of the instructor’s teaching”

Average rating: 4.5 of 5 (♣♣♣♣♣ Excellent; ♣♣♣♣ Very Good; ♣♣♣ Good; ♣♣ Fair; ♣ Poor)

♣♣♣♣♣ Professor Hiltner clearly knew the course material inside and out. The class was always able to direct their attention to him with ease because of his vast knowledge on the subject matter. Some of the readings were difficult to get through, however, class discussion was always flowing and coherent, so that misinterpretations from the readings were solved.

♣♣♣♣♣ I really enjoyed this class and the format of our lectures. I feel lucky to have had this opportunity to have taken a hybrid class with grad students and Professor Hiltner. I think that we should keep this class for future students. I also like how each of us had to do a presentation – it kept the class interesting with all the different media and discussion.

♣♣♣♣♣ I loved this class. Professor Hiltner is by far one of my favorite professors in the department both for his teaching style and his excellent selection of material from a broad variety of sources. I wish I could take more classes with Ken before I graduate!

♣♣♣♣♣ Great class that needs to be taught!

♣♣♣♣♣ This course needs to be taught every year!!! It is very valuable!!!

♣♣♣♣ I liked most of the readings. I enjoyed Pollan’s piece especially and would have liked to have seen more works like his. I enjoyed all of the discussion and appreciated Ken’s insight and encouragement.

♣♣♣♣ I have learned a lot from the graduate students in this class and I think Professor Hiltner is an encouraging and thoughtful professor.

♣♣♣ As much as I love this class, I do feel that the grad/undergrad format has been detrimental to my participation as I am often intimidated by the more educated grad students. At the same time, discussion in this course is far better than most other English undergrad courses for the same reason.