ENGL718B - Seminar in Medieval Literature: Imagining Nature in Early English Culture

This course attends to what Michel Serres has termed the ‘polytemporality’ of nature, how different conceptions of nature and the natural inhere in any cultural moment. In exploring the pre-history of the modern environmental movement, the course will examine the various (often conflicting) attitudes towards nature espoused in medieval and early modern England. We will read some important early literature that imagines “another green world” (including Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowls, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Shakespeare’s As You Like It, and Bacon’s The New Atlantis) alongside modern theorists of literary ecology and the human-nature divide (including Latour, Haraway, Daston, and Derrida). One of the primary goals of the course is to explore what Donna Haraway calls “the leaky distinction[s]” made between the human and the animal; we will also examine how the category of “nature” and the “natural” operated then as opposed to now. Throughout the course, we will take the pulse of contemporary debates about nature (in literary criticism, in science and medicine, in the mainstream press) in order to identify what social questions the category of nature is used to answer.