Eng 236, Winter 2008

Theories of Literature and the Environment

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: 4.9 of 5 (♣♣♣♣♣ Excellent; ♣♣♣♣ Very Good; ♣♣♣ Good; ♣♣ Fair; ♣ Poor)

♣♣♣♣♣ I definitely like the chronological presentation of the readings, but would have liked framing questions and something like Kerridge at the beginning. Maybe response papers and 1 presentation instead of the 2 presentations.

♣♣♣♣♣ Ken is an engaging, brilliant, and approachable instructor. Although both the class and environmental criticism are in their infancy, I appreciated the degree to which the class both provided a comprehensive overview of a disciplinary approach and that approach’s openness to innovate.

♣♣♣♣♣ This was an excellent, informative and very challenging course. The reading material was very thorough and conversation was quite interesting.

♣♣♣♣♣ This was a really wonderful course and an excellent survey of the literature that bears on environmentalism. I wish there had been more primary text material in the last few weeks, and I think the class would benefit from other theoretical/philosophical works recently published. Overall, a great experience!

♣♣♣♣♣ Almost no critical comments at all! Ken is a brilliant teacher with a wonderfully associative mind. I would have liked to focus more on primary texts, and also more on recent eco-crit. and theory. Given the time constraints of the quarter system, tough, we did about all we could. One final thing: could we have set time limits for presentations? Some of them – my own included – ran a little long.

♣♣♣♣♣ Ken is always great at explicating complex material. I think the course could be improved with a more focused set of readings per class meeting as it felt like we couldn’t cover all the material as thoroughly as I might have liked. Some larger theoretical framing for course readings might also be helpful in making the readings feel more cohesive/connected/in dialogue with each other.

♣♣♣♣♣ The course was extremely well-prepared – a very comprehensive range of readings, of course, and discussions were guided with intelligence and very good rapport. I take the teaching as a model for my own, and appreciate very much the hard work Ken invested in the course. Ken has great mastery of the field and is terrific to work with.

♣♣♣♣♣ Ken provided us with such an extensive, comprehensive reader (which seemed intimidating at first) – but this course covered so much ground that I feel I really learned a lot about a field (or fields) of thought. Ken is an engaged, thought-provoking and sympathetic teacher, and goes far beyond all expectations in terms of his knowledge about the subject matter and attention to us as students. This course was one of the best I’ve taken at UCSB!

♣♣♣♣♣ Professor Hiltner provided a valuable and stimulating environment (!) for discussing the texts. I enjoyed hearing other students’ perspectives on the course material but would have liked to hear more of his views, especially on earlier texts, which tended to have student presenters, and framing questions before each seminar would be most helpful.

♣♣♣♣♣ Professor Hiltner is a wonderfully approachable and helpful teacher. Amazingly/shockingly so! The course provided lots of great material on the history of “environmental criticism” as well as cool original source material, especially from the Greek/Roman period. The Greek/Roman literature was my favorite material! I wished the class had more “form” imposed on it using a more forceful or didactic or historical explanation/lecture component, bit that is probably just me. I definitely liked the chronological approach however! But perhaps more explication of texts or thematic grouping might be useful too.

♣♣♣♣ I thought this course was great! My only suggestions would be a bit more in-class structure and possibly more discussion. I think with the amount of presentations, we sometimes just plowed through a lot of material and didn’t get to discuss much beyond some surface questions as an entire group. I really did like doing presentations because it allowed an individual to focus deeply on an issue they were particularly interested in. I value Ken’s knowledge and would perhaps liked a bit more lecturing, etc. for framing the work we looked at.