Cold Pastoral: Literature, Nature, and the Anthropocene
68 Jay Street, #308
Brooklyn, NY 11201
What do ideas of nature have to tell us about literature and how it works? Through the medium of the pastoral—variously defined as a genre, a set of rhetorical moves, or an uneasy collection of tropes—writers have evoked, described, and accounted for nature and humanity’s place within it. From visions of Arcadia to Paradise to the Golden Age, the pastoral theme has always been intertwined with a series of philosophical, aesthetic, and historical claims—about freedom, deprivation, labor, technology, human primacy, and notions of the good. What use is literature as a means of envisioning, describing, delimiting, and relating to nature? And how, as occupants of the Anthropocene—an era of the world in which human activity is a determinative force across ecologies and time—are we to read and use the pastoral today?
By considering a range of texts—from Hesiod’s Works and Days to the “cold pastoral” of Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” by way of selections of Virgil, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Sidney, Spenser, and Milton—this class will examine the pastoral mode and how it has been used. What does a theory of the pastoral entail? How do pastoral theories or practices intersect with accounts of aesthetic value, ethical value, or the value of the non-human? Is pastoralism necessarily an idealization of nature; or can it communicate something darker—intimations of human frailty, vanity, and finititude? Students will also read these texts for their formulations of politics, gender, sexuality, empire, and race and, under this rubric, consider various counter- or anti- pastoral responses by, among others, Vievee Francis, Joyelle McSweeney, and Annie Seaton. Critical supplements are likely to include Paul Alpers, William Empson, Donna Haraway, Frank Kermode, Karl Marx, Friedrich Schiller, Raymond Williams, and Spinoza, among others.
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30
July 11 — August 01, 2019