Earth Fictions

Discipline: Comparative Literature
Instructor: Morris
Credits: 3
Day: A
Start: 1540
End: 1655
Field Work: Day 1 | Japan Download Syllabus

How have humans understood the earth and their relation to it? Writers for centuries have explored directly or indirectly our encounter with the environment. Before the environment (a recently invented concept) there was nature. But what exactly is nature? Different times and cultures have answered (or dramatized) this question very differently. For Descartes, nature meant the external world: humankind through the new discipline of science could seek to become its ‘masters and possessors.’ For Thoreau, nature meant an original condition of wildness, still accessible amid the encroachments of civilization, offering renewal and almost religious illumination. We will examine how writers across times and cultures describe the earth and human relations to it. These accounts are fictions in the sense of being personal, cultural, and often figurative constructions: they may include but also reach beyond purely factual or scientific accounts. (Eminent conservation biologists Paul and Anne Ehrlich, for example, configure the earth as an organism in need of healing.) The reading will range from ancient Greek creation myths to contemporary Native American writing. We will explore famous works of English and American literature Beowulf and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for example asking questions that focus on their relation to environmental themes. Other writers include Emerson, Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, Gary Snyder, Annie Dillard, and Martin Heidegger (specifically his short essay ” Building Dwelling Thinking” The aim is to develop knowledge, perspective, and procedures that help us understand contemporary environmental approaches, from deep ecology and the Gaia hypothesis to ecofeminism, animal rights, green politics, and the radical activism of Greenpeace co-founder Paul Watson.

Field Work

Country: Japan
Day: 1

Sankei-en (Sankei Garden), in Yokahoma, is a traditional Japanese-style garden.  Designed and built by Tomitaro Hara (1868–1939) and opened in 1906, it is not simply a garden but an ensemble landscape populated with historically significant structures bought by Hara from locations all over the country, including Tokyo and Kyoto.  Ten of these buildings have been designated as “Important Cultural Properties”.  Although badly damaged during World War II, the garden was donated in 1953 to the City of Yokohama and restored to its pre-war condition.  It offers an unparalleled opportunity to experience not only the interior spaces of traditional Japanese architecture but also the exterior spaces where building and dwelling assume their significance in relation to the natural world. Sankei-en is vast--175 thousand square meters--and features ponds, streams and undulating paths designed by Hara himself.  There are also many historic buildings, such as Tōmyō-ji former three-story pagoda, which was originally constructed in Kyoto in 1457.  Work on the garden started in 1902 and ended in 1908, two years after it was opened to the public, and became a meeting place for Meiji period artists. The garden is especially popular for its cherry blossoms, ume blossoms, and the changing leaves in autumn.  Our excursion will include a guide to illuminate details of historical, architectural, and environmental significance. Academic Objectives:

Our academic objective—based on the educational trio of related and at times compatible options, “knowledge-skill-experience”—is to share our mutual experience of Sankei Garden with specific reference to three components: Japanese attitudes toward nature, the significance of landscape, the relations between buildings and nature, and the interrelations between the human, spiritual, and natural realms.  Then, melding first-hand knowledge with ad-hoc research, you will submit either a detailed journal or a five-page paper focused on your own encounter with Sankei-en.