The environment is what we call the parts of the world that are beyond us, that are more-than human. And yet, the tools we have to think about the environment are themselves deeply human: our curiosity, memory, imagination, care, and critique. This course explores texts that wrestle with this paradox. What do human practices of knowing tell us about animals, objects, and landscapes that exceed our ability to know them fully? Can reading and writing improve our relationship with ecosystems that we can’t know, but nevertheless need to live? This course will be rooted in the social and environmental history of Americas, and will pay particular attention Black, Indigenous, and diasporic texts. In addition, students will have the chance to think and write about the environments they come from and/or care about.
This survey of major texts and movements of literary theory is organized by the history of critical attention to the negative, the pessimistic, and the absent. We’ll track how (and ask why) theorists seeking to address elemental questions about forms of knowledge and power often root their inquiries in what those forms fail to describe, or in what those forms obtain in contradistinction to. By focusing on theories of negativity (or how the negative animates broader critical debates), we are not isolating a separate theoretical tradition, but rather are using an essential aspect of all theoretical inquiry and practice to organize our survey. Course reading will include Marx, Adorno, Ahmed, Berlant, Butler, Chen, Derrida, Fanon, Federici, Halberstam, Hartman, Lowe, Mbembe, Moten, Said, Spillers, Spivak, and Wilderson.