ENGL428Y - Seminar in Language and Literature; Another Green World: Nature and Early English Language

What does it mean to speak for nature? One of the central tenets of contemporary environmental criticism is “thou shalt not anthropomorphize.” To give a human voice to nature is, according to such critics, to reduce the nonhuman world to a mere reflection of our own desires and needs. And yet early English authors loved to speak in Nature’s voice, to pronounce on the human world from a space outside of it. Why? In order to answer this question, we will read some important early literature that imagines “another green world” (including works by Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Montaigne) alongside modern theorists of literary ecology and the human-nature divide (including Latour, Daston, Serres, 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 categories of “nature” and the “natural” operate at any given historical moment. In continually asking “who gets to speak for nature?”, the course seeks to take the pulse of contemporary debates about nature (in literary criticism, in science and medicine, in the mainstream press) in order to identify those social questions to which “nature” is a plausible answer.