Impossible Objects: Literature, Creative Writing, and Environmental Humanities

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Winter 2018
Credits per quarter
Variable Credit Options Available

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Taught by

fiction, nonfiction, and contemporary literature

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. 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.

This offering will prepare you for careers and advanced study in: aesthetics, environmental studies, literature and writing.

Online learning:
  • No Required Online Learning - No access to web tools required. Any web tools provided are optional.

Scheduled for: Day

Located in: Olympia

Final schedule and room assignment:

2017-11-06This program now accepts students of all class levels (Freshmen-Seniors).