For most North Americans, “Nature” is a place. And a system, a dynamic of interlocking systems in a space. And a “trace”: we need a historical sense in order address what is “natural” to us. Nature is a grounding material reality and a field of questioning. It is what our senses register: a body of forms we invent; a program of metaphors and projections; and a process of making metaphors and futures. It is both an autobiographical condition [where we come from] and an “end” outside ourselves. Especially in American traditions, “nature” is a grounding-place and a promise: a frontier, a sublimation, a map, a battleground, a home, a resource, an Emerald Necklace, an Oversoul, and a back-yard. American literary texts often question the “nature” of nature: landscape is a defining element of the formation of American identities in several American traditions of verbal and visual arts.
In this intermediate subject, we consider verbal and visual texts in which the physical world is a participating element in our histories and social formations and even in our individual and social selves. We read “creation-myths” [from Hopi and Wampanoag and Hebrew traditions], works by 19th century Transcendentalist writers [R. W. Emerson, Walt Whitman, Henry Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, Frederick Douglass, Black Hawk], by writers of the early 20th century [Zora Neale Hurston, Sara Orne Jewett, Robert Frost, Robinson Jeffers, John Steinbeck] and of the later 20th century [Elizabeth Bishop, Lauren Savoy, Heid Erdrich, Gloria Anzaldúa, Sherman Alexie, Lucille Clifton, Louise Glück, Camille Dunghy]. We’ll consider several ideological patterns of an “American ecological” aesthetic, in cultural theory [F. J. Turner, Leo Marx, Laurence Buell, Annette Kolodny], in painting and photos [the Hudson River School, Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Eakins, Sally Mann]. We’ll wonder whether “Nature” is a Eurocentric or anthropocentric formulation, and what such a characterization might mean; and consider the continuities [and discontinuities] among “Nature poetry,” “ecopoetics,” and the texts of a “Ecological Justice” commitment… and we’ll question what “home” means in these contexts.