Week 3-14/20 Readings

Darier – Discourses of the Environment – Nature Writing as Self-Technology; Sylvia Bowerbank

The main idea of this writing is how people change themselves through the, “…greening of oneself…” and how these changes affect our society (Macy, 1991). Bowerbank writes about how popular “nature writing” has become in North America over the past three decades. This nature writing acts as a form of meditation for participants and allows the writer to reflect. More and more people are writing about their experiences in nature and how it is shaping them. The encounters are becoming more and more documented. These personal changes are described in the quote, “…the subject undertaking self-transformation in the name of nature is the same self-improving…” (Chaloupka and Cawley, 1993). Bowerbank then discusses the ideas of if this change promotes positive change for our environment. 

Moving forward, Bowerbank tells the story of Thomashow. This man was pro-environment, however, after a vacation on an island in Maine, he threw two bags of diapers into the ocean because he had no other way to dispose of them on the island. He then regretted the decision and has tried to better himself. He confessed this action in hopes of self-reformation and continues to try and inspire others to do better.

Bowerbank then talks about all the effects of the increase in personal writing about nature. To me, she describes this “nature writing” as a form of meditation/therapy for the writer, allowing them to reflect on themselves and attend to their flaws. This self reflection drives more people to care for the environment and its protection.

The next topic is the idea of a “nature retreat”. This is the act of leaving society for  a period of time to get some fresh air. People find themselves retreating to the isolation of nature to reset. I personally do this; it really helps me prioritize and think. It reminds me of the story, My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, where a young man leaves New York City for the country and lives off the land in a tree for about a year. The main character, Sam, desired to leave the busy city and the tiny apartment packed with his various siblings and parents. He was too closed in. He retreated and reset. Funnily enough, he was a great nature writer as well, drawing his observations, collecting recipes, and journaling his daily events. The book is actually written in the style of a nature journal. I encourage you to read the book to see how it ends. 

Bowerbank also talks about different authors idea’s of the dangers of becoming too immersed in nature. If this happens, and the subject loses sight of modernity, they can not contribute to the protection of nature and are lost in a different age. They are ignorant of the legitimate and pressing problems for nature posed by modernization. By this, I mean, people become lost in nature and lose sight of expansion. Cities are getting larger and reservations are getting smaller. The last administration was the first to decrease the size of a National Monument (Bears Ears). Modernization, or the expansion of humanity, poses threats to these lands. The more people that become “Sam”, then the less there are to oppose the expansion of humans into the raw natural world.

For a further look into nature journaling please watch the following:

Work Cited:

Sylvia Bowerbank. “Nature Writing as Self-Technology.” Darier, E. (1999). Discourses of the environment. Oxford: B. Blackwell.

Thomas Leffel: Hello, I am a junior in Natural Resource Conservation and I plan on going into the Army when I graduate. I am from the Eastern Shore of Virginia (near Virginia Beach, but very rural) and found my love of the outdoors growing up there. My hobbies include: surfing, kayaking, fishing, rappelling, backpacking, working out, and other outdoor activities. I plan on teaching myself how to sail this summer. My favorite thing about Tech is the 3.2 for 32 and tailgating at Center Street before football games.

Luke — “A Harsh and Hostile Land: Edward Abbey’s Politics and the Great American Desert”

Edward Abbey was a fierce environmentalist who has led many to join various environmental causes and groups in the United States. While some see him as an environmental anarchist, others see him as a pioneer of eco-activism. In chapter 8 of Anthropocene Alerts, Luke looks at Abbey’s views and how they have changed Americans’ subjectivity and pursuit of political change. 

Luke compared Abbey with Henri Lefebvre, a French philosopher. In doing this, Luke is able to compare the two’s perspectives of spatality. They both “recognize that spatiality should not be left to be discovered, preserved, or safeguarded as if it could be seen as a preexistent externality always unknown or untrammeled apart from human action.” Spatiality has many meanings, which Abbey uses to his advantage when he examines how spatial constructs modernize the American Southwest. It must be recovered in order to focus on the environment and get away from the technological simulation of the future that urbanism and planning falls under. 

In his writings, Abbey contrasts the disastrous urban advancements with the rural wilderness of the desert. However, his works focus more on exploration of the desert than encouragement to live primitively. He aims to confront the desert. Lefebvre writes about how cities initiate “strong normative agendas through everyday spatial codes”. Urban planners and officials design cities to support actions that they direct as meeting standards and ethics of their choosing.  Abbey warns of this destructive urban revolution and how it is necessary to prevent it from expanding to the American Southwest. 

Abbey’s anarchist nature has energized many to partake in small actions, such as monkeywrenching, that cause other, more significant reactions from authorities of various levels. His followers were at one point known as “eco-terrorists” due to their destruction. Parks now develop training programs for its rangers to learn about riot control and terrorist strikes in addition to their traditional roles. Some attribute the increase in preparation for a diverse range of events to what Abbey “caused”, while others staunchly defend him. However, one cannot argue against the fact that there has been no one since Abbey who has been quite so passionately about the American West.

Luke does not argue against the ability of novels to have political influence; however, he does mention that Abbey is not that different from countless anti-industrial critics that were around before him. Writing is a technology that Abbey uses to recount his experiences with the environment, but not necessarily for the reason of inspiring followers. One of the most fascinating aspects of the chapter is that Abbey states that desert southwesterners and techno-industrial culture are what is wrong with America. He views nature as the only bright spot in an otherwise negative, corrupted system. But without regulation, can nature be preserved and therefore appreciated as he so wants it to be?

The additions of Ann Ronald’s analysis of Edward Abbey provide an captivating look at Abbey and his ability to write of the desert and urbanization in such polarizing, conflicting ways, with the beauty of nature coming out on top. She writes about how Abbey creates a world meant to expose conflicting values but seems to miss that he writes less of an affectionate letter to the desert and more of a veiled attack towards tragic wrongdoings in other places that are ravaging the Southwest and the rest of the world. He has issues with urbanity, but not necessarily the urban. Building spaces that become “tourist traps” take away from the beauty and unconformity of nature. So many people flock to see the Grand Canyon that it impacts the environment in many ways, including waste and air pollution. However, people who simply enjoy nature and want to experience the desert all share a common goal and lack of desire to impact nature.

Luke also describes Abbey’s personal views on his own works. Though categorized by librarians as “nature works,” Abbey argued that they are more about his own personal history than the environment. Rather than a “naturalist,” he considered himself to be a displaced wanderer and anarchist. Abbey did not set out to be a nature writer, but rather a fiction writer or novelist. Luke concludes by saying that “Those first affected by Abbey, but then driven further out into nature to become today’s “nature writers,” still attempt to fill his shoes as authors. Unfortunately, they are all too often “the naturalists” that Abbey was not, and they never rise to the level of astute political observation that he could not avoid.” No one yet has been able to write about America’s deserts as passionately as Abbey. He negatively appraises the modern industrial society and the Southwest, but argues them in a more artful way. The chapter finishes with Luke stating that Abbey was ultimately protesting how America’s spatiality turned into unsatisfactory economic and political order that requires “monkeywrenching” to allow it to be more unrestrained and open for “those who endure its corruptions.”

Luke, Timothy. “A Harsh and Hostile Land: Edward Abbey’s Politics and the Great

American Desert” Anthropocene Alerts: Critical Theory of the Contemporary as Ecocritique, Candor, NY, Telos Press Publishing, 2019, pp. 159-183.

Trish Grace – I am a sophomore double majoring in Geography and Smart and Sustainable Cities with a minor in Environmental Policy and Planning. After graduation, I hope to join the Peace Corps for a few years before becoming an urban planner with a focus in sustainability and the environment.

Death – Posthumanism; Stephen Hobden

Most of us grow up being told humans as a species are special. Whether it’s our parents, teachers, television, or movies, all these sources of information contain a linked message: humanity is “above” nature. Even those with good intentions, such as Francis Ford Coppola during the making of Apocalypse Now, can allow these anthropocentric ideas to slip in. It is frequently reiterated throughout the movie that humanity is no different from animals, but in the final scene, a certain major character is repeatedly compared to an animal because the Vietnam War has caused them to lose their mind. The lack of rationality is equated with “nature.” But, one may question, is this anthropocentrism really a bad thing? At least in regards to the development of environmentalities, this is an unequivocal yes. The centralization of human interest above those of “nature” fundamentally ignores the fact that humans are a part of nature, and thus, the environmentalities that are generated are insufficient, whether it be governments who have non-human interests at heart or not. The government’s strategies for managing the environment must take into account the complex web of interactions between humans and non-humans, rather than elevating human systems. It is only in this way that both humans & non-humans can thrive.

So, how can we remove the shackles of anthropocentrism? According to Stephen Hobden, it is through posthumanism. Now, this conception of posthumanism is not what we might think of when we first hear the term. In common parlance, it usually refers to technology “improving” humanity, whether it be AI or cybernetics. However, these are more trans-humanist approaches, and the posthumanist approach Hobden discusses is that of removing the accepted separation between human systems and nature.

This new understanding comes from complexity theory, which is rooted in trying to develop an understanding of non-linear systems within the world. It is in some ways closely related to chaos theory.

A classic example of chaos theory is the double pendulum, showing how minute differences in initial conditions lead to vast differences in outcome. Complexity theory looks at these relationships out in the world.

Complexity theory looks at relationships that cannot be reduced down to a single interaction between properties. Just because two things interact a certain way does not mean that altering one of them will change the interaction in a predictable way. Furthermore, complex systems often contain feedback loops. Whereas most systems we think of contain negative feedback loops to reach an equilibrium, Hobden explains how the environment and its interrelated systems often contain positive feedback loops, meaning a change one way will then exacerbate that change into the future (i.e. runaway climate change). Humanity, which is commonly thought to be distinct from these systems because of our “special nature.” But, in fact, human life is filled with these complex systems, and that has only been intensified by modernity, which has caused technological innovations to become essential to human life. Even under the belief that humans are superior and rational, these technologies mean that human systems are no longer inherently rational nor linear. However, Hobden asserts there is more to these systems than just being “complex.” They evolve, and are thus adaptive. Systems influence each other, and thus, it creates an environment of systems that all reflect back on each other as they change.

Hobden discusses 3 critical thinkers within this complex systems theory. Edgar Morin asserts that our political decision-making is rooted in the simplifications of these complex systems, which is unable to account for the uncertainty they generate, and coping strategies, rather than controlling strategies, would lead to more effective governance. Giorgio Agamben expands upon this by discussing the systems’ connections to anthropocentrism with the “anthropological machine.” This machine is the establishment of the human/non-human binary by governments, and in doing so, necessarily excludes non-humans. Donna Haraway discusses clearly how “humanity” is constructed to suit society’s needs, and thus, the idea of a separation between “non-human” and “human” is facile at best.

The purpose of the posthuman approach is to reiterate how non-human systems are naturally embedded in human systems. It thereby lessens the perceived “greatness” of humanity. This understanding is not an attempt to show the futility of human endeavors, but instead is an attempt to elucidate a new principle of precaution to approach human systems. To explore the environment, we have to consider the interrelations between human systems, non-human systems, and systems between them, to develop an environment of systems. “[providing] a framework for re-considering the human position within non-human nature.” (Hobden, 182). The “environment” (i.e. non-human systems) are influenced by, and influence humanity collectively, and thus, humanity is not separate from non-humans, but is instead an integral element of their existence, just as they are in ours.

“Ultimately, it is impossible to study events in isolation as everything is in some way interconnected.” (Hobden, 179).

Works Cited:

Hobden, Stephn. “Posthumanism.” Critical Environmental Politics. Edited by Carl Death. New York: Routledge Press, 2013.

Mitchell Davenport – I am a sophomore with a double major in Philosophy, Politics, & Economics (PPE), and Political Science, with a minor in Urban Affairs & Planning. My plan after graduation is to go to law school although I’m not sure which field of law I would like to pursue. My eventual goal is to help develop sustainable cities and environmentally-focused urbanization throughout the world.