Impossible Objects: Literature, Creative Writing & Environmental Humanities
Winter 2018 quarter
This program in literature, creative writing, philosophy, and environmental humanities explores the moral function of the ‘impossible object’ in several works of literature and art.
What do I mean by impossible object? To take a literary example, in the case of Kafka’s novel The Trial , the story is organized around the fact that the protagonist, K., is arrested for a crime but never told what the crime is. The crime itself could be an example of an ‘impossible object’ (construing ‘objects’ broadly). Here there is an effect (the arrest) without a discernible cause. Impossible objects exist where cause and effect would seem to have parted ways.
As part of our investigation of environmental problems, another question the program asks is, what might artists do with, or have to say about, evidence? Since toxic substances can sometimes be imperceptible (such as greenhouse gasses, neurotoxins in pesticides, or carcinogens in everyday products) how do artists concerned to communicate about ecological harms make them apprehensible?
This program is inquiry-driven and text-focused. We will practice creative and critical writing, discussion, and thinking about complex works of literature, philosophy, and art. Students will leave understanding how to recognize a range of literary forms and artistic techniques including parable, allegory, prefiguration, parody, elision, and ruse. The program will provide the opportunity to earn four credits each in literature, philosophy, environmental humanities, and short story workshop. Students will improve their reading comprehension and their analytical and creative writing abilities. They will become better versed in contemporary issues at the intersections of ethics, aesthetics, and ecology from environmental-humanist perspectives.
Readings are likely to include excerpts from TJ Demos’s Decolonizing Nature, Rob Nixon’s Slow Violence, Lorraine Daston’s Objectivity, Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects, Allison Cobb’s Plastic: An Autobiography, by Édouard Glissant’s Poetics of Relation, Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable and Renee Gladman’s The Activist, among others.
Fields of Studyaesthetics environmental studies literature writing
aesthetics, environmental studies, literature and writing.
Location and Schedule