Author Archives: admin

Research: Places to Go

Literature Reviews – Getting Started

“Literature review,” “research installment,” “works cited,” “bibliography”—these terms all name a common element in what we call research which is, in every case, collaboration. The common concept of research as an organized social activity is what you need to understand. The conventions and differences will vary in various academic disciplines as well as in research communities beyond educational institutions

Looking for resources to identify and search for peer-reviewed articles? Use the Guide Searching for Peer Reviewed Articles (and what is peer-review?) 

Peer-review refers to a specific publishing process where an article is reviewed prior to publication by scholars who study in the same field as the author(s) of the article.  These scholars judge how valuable the research is to the field (is it saying anything new? controversial? substantiating findings of previous research?) as well as the quality and validity of the research process used (are the methods appropriate or valid?).  They decide if the article should be published in the journal or not.  The peer-review process is often “blind” – meaning the reviewers do not know who the author(s) of the article are at the time of the review.  This is an effort to prevent reviewers from favoring individuals they may know or being biased against the research.  However, the peer-review process is only one way to judge the quality of information.  The validity of the peer-review process itself is debated by scholars across most all fields of study.

You can access these Guides and others from the “Databases & Guides” tab on the Mason Library’s website OR from the Portal for Research & Writing               

Peer-to-peer Research & Writing Help

 Drop-in at the Library’s Research & Writing Help Desk (1st floor Mason Library):

  • Sunday 4:00 – 9:00 pm
  • Monday – Wednesday 10:00 – 9:00pm 
  • Thursday 10:00 – 4:00pm

Or at the Center for Writing (81 Blake Street)

  • Sunday 6 pm – 9 pm
  • Monday 10 am – 9 pm
  • Tuesday 10 am – 9 pm
  • Wednesday 10 am -5 pm & 7 – 9 pm
  • Thursday 10 am – 5 pm
  • Friday 10 am – 1 pm

Or make an appointment!

Poking and Prying with a Purpose

Sample Entries on the Annotated Bibliography

Halpern, John A. 2004. “Hallucinogens and dissociative agents naturally growing in the United States.” Pharmacology & therapeutics 102 (2): 131–38. Web.

The author, an assistant professor of Psychiatry at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, describes a series of Hallucinogens and dissociative agents found in plants and fungi—whether native or cultivated in gardens. The purpose of the article is to provide readers with a general overview of the geographical range, drug content, preparation, intoxication, and the special health risks associated with some of these plants. Although there is some discussion of the use of mescaline-containing cacti, psilocybin/psilocin-containing mushrooms, and the Amanita muscaria and Amanita pantherina mushrooms that contain muscimol and ibotenic acid, there is not enough information on what I am hoping to find: the religious use of these plants by indigenous peoples. The article includes a very useful bibliography, however, with three books on the subject I am researching.

Richet, Paul. A Natural History of Time. Trans. John Venerella. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2007. Print.

This book by the geophysicist Paul Richet was originally published as L’âge du monde: À la découverte de l’immensité de temps in 1999. Richet traces how the study of nature has shaped human perceptions of time and durations of time—from the cyclical mythological traditions through the linear history in Judaism to the dramatic changes in the eighteenth century ushered in my revolutions in the natural and physical sciences. The final three chapters will be useful for me as I plan to recount the story of how physics (in particular, the study of the cathode rays and X-rays, and later radiometric dating) impacted the history of how the scale of time expanded in such a way that even science had trouble defining.

Writing the narrative that describes how the sources you are reading have confirmed or challenged your thinking.

Each of the two written research installments has two parts: 1) a narrative summary of what you have read and how that reading has furthered your thinking and writing and 2) an annotated works cited page (in a sentence or two, summarize the argument or purpose of each piece of writing) with at least five entries organized by author’s last name, just as you would a bibliography or works cited page.

Be specific about what you have learned and consider how what you have learned is expanding (or changing) what you set out to understand. Remember that what you are learning is most likely moving you from a more simple to a more complex understanding of your subject. Include a general idea of where you think you’re headed. Has your project expanded? Are you narrowing your focus? Is your research changing where you thought you might be going in your investigation?

If you are doing sufficient research, the second installment will demonstrate substantial progress—both in your ability to talk about your writing project and in the relevance and quality of your sources.

No Nature

“Human societies have their own nutty fads, mass delusions, and enabling mythologies. Daily life still gets done. Wild nature is probably equally goofy, with a stunning variety of creatures somehow getting by in all these landscapes. Nature also means the physical universe, including the urban, industrial, and toxic. But we do not easily know nature, or even know ourselves. Whatever it actually is, it will not fulfill our conceptions or assumptions. It will dodge our expectations and theoretical models. There is no single or set “nature” either as “the natural world” or “the nature of things.” The greatest respect we can pay to nature is not to trap it, but to acknowledge that it eludes us and that our own nature is also fluid, open, and conditional…

An open space to move in, with the whole body, the whole mind. My gesture has been with language.” 

–Gary Snyder, from the “Preface,” No Nature: New and Selected Poems (1992)

*

“Science and some sorts of mysticism rightly propose that everything is natural. By these lights there is nothing unnatural about New York City, or toxic wastes, or atomic energy. . . . “

“So we can say that New York City and Tokyo are ‘natural’ but not ‘wild.’ They do not deviate from the laws of nature, but they are habitat so exclusive in the matter of who and what they give shelter to, and so intolerant of other creatures, as to be truly odd. Wilderness is a place where the wild potential is fully expressed, a diversity of living and nonliving beings flourishing according to their own sorts of order.”

–Gary Snyder, from “The Etiquette of Freedom,” The Practice of the Wild (1990) 

Wild and Precious

“Books are to be call’d for, and supplied, on the assumption that the process of reading is not a half-sleep, but, in highest sense, an exercise, a gymnast’s struggle; that the reader is to do something for himself, must be on the alert, must himself or herself construct indeed the poem, argument, history, metaphysical essay—the text furnishing the hints, the clue, the start or framework. Not the book needs so much to be the complete thing, but the reader of the book does.

—Walt Whitman, “Democratic Vistas”

This morning I am thinking about the conversation we had on Tuesday. I am thinking about reading and what we make with the words of others.

The passages that you chose from the readings—Henry David Thoreau, Walking  (1862), Gary Snyder’s “The Etiquette of Freedom” (1990), and William Cronon The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature (1995)—offered a path through rough conceptual terrain. Your selection of of sentences, from one of the chosen texts that I had asked you to share before we talked, in particular, and our in-class work from those passages to make meaning, uplifted me in the best way possible: I learned from your selections to make connections across the three essays, and to find meaning in those connections.

What did I learn? Well, it started when Jonathan was explaining why he chose the opening anecdote in “The Etiquette of Freedom.” In class, I expressed my gratitude for Jonathan’s attention to the first section of the essay “The Compact.” Here are the two sentences Jonathan picked out:

That took my breath away. Here was a man who would not let the mere threat of cultural extinction stand in the way of his (and her) values

Coyote and Ground Squirrel do not break the compact they have with each other that are must play predator and the other play game (4)

Louie, the old Nisenan man who Snyder and his friend had come to visit, takes Snyder’s breath away because of his dignity, pride, and values. After the first sentence, and the paragraph that follows, there is a section break. The next sentence follows. One thing leads to another.

But what was that thing? And what does it lead to? The compact elaborated in the paragraph that begins with the second sentence above—the compact between coyote and Ground Squirrel, the baby Black-tailed Hare and the predator with wings and talons—is set alongside the opening story of the Nisenan man. This is precisely where Cloe’s choice of language (from the same paragraph) offers a path between the first sentence and the second sentence:

We can appreciate the elegance of the forces that shape life and the world, that have shaped every line of our bodies—teeth and nails, nipples and eyebrows. We also see that we must try to live without causing un-necessary harm, not just to fellow humans but to all beings. We must try not to be stingy, or to exploit others. There will be enough pain in the world as it is. (4)

Let’s isolate in this passage, first, appreciation. Specifically, let’s notice that the appreciation is for “the elegance of the forces that shape life and the world, that have shaped every line of our bodies.” The elegant forces that shape life and world, yes, but also in the act of appreciation seeing that the principles of  the agreement (the compact) include an attempt to live without causing unnecessary harm, to not be stingy, or to exploit the gift of life.

Cloe includes the following sentence, too, that makes possible another connection as we keep thinking and making:

To be truly free one must take on the basic conditions as they are—painful, impermanent, open, imperfect—and then be grateful for impermanence and the freedom it grants us…

This was the rich and dense sentence that we paused to consider in class. It is a sentence that, when we notice it, both guides us into the essay and prepares us for the sentences that will follow, such as the example from near its conclusion. “The lessons we learn from the wild become the etiquette of freedom” (25). We talked in class about the distinction between what we understand to be freedom and “true freedom. We acknowledged that the language above reminds us that what we call freedom is an illusion unless we “take on” the “basic conditions” of life: “painful, impermanent, open, imperfect.” Let us not deceive ourselves with what we assume to be freedom, Snyder implies here. Gratitude for the fact of impermanence is perhaps most succinctly put by another poet, Mary Oliver, who asks at the end of her poem “A Summer Day, “Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? / Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”

What I learned from the passages chosen by Jonathan and Cloe, then, was a deeper appreciation for the values that might lead to what is unfortunately a less-then-common way of thinking and being in the world:

With that freedom we improve the campsite, teach children, oust tyrants. The world is nature, and in the long run inevitably wild, because the wild, as the process and essence of nature, is also an ordering of impermanence” (5).

Here freedom becomes a practice that finds its form in a life of improving the place where when comes to rest, of sharing and passing along the collective understanding of wisdom of the world, and of countering the tyrants that fetter the mind and who seek to shape lives and the world in their image. In this passage, too, Snyder defines wild—“the process and essence of nature,” also defined as “an ordering of impermanence.” In the final passage Cloe takes from the essay the point is made again, that wildness. . .is the world” (6).

With a working definition of wildness we come more prepared to take up what we are calling “searching for wildness.” One way of saying it is that the search is to find answers to the questions we are asking about ourselves and the world. The practice of wildness is seeking awareness–of the essence and the process of the world—that is, that elusive essence (who am I?) and the processes of which we are a part (where am I? What is going on?)

Now back to the essay. Having worked from particulars, made connections, and used those connections to make meaning, we can think with Snyder about what it means to recognize our bodies (“our bodies are wild”), to occupy our minds (“language is wild”), and to resolve to be whole. That is, by reading Jonathan and Cloe’s selections we think these thoughts, making meaning and sharing what we discover. Too, we can glimpse Thoreau’s singular insights in the 1860s about our condition (his speaking “for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil”), and we can appreciate more deeply the paragraphs that Peyton brings to our attention that conclude William Cronon’s essay:

Thus it is that wilderness serves as the unexamined foundation on which so many of the quasi-religious values of modern environmentalism rest. The critique of modernity that is one of environmentalism’s most important contributions to the moral and political discourse of our time more often than not appeals, explicitly or implicitly, to wilderness as the standard against which to measure the failings of our human world. Wilderness is the natural, unfallen antithesis of an unnatural civilization that has lost its soul. It is a place of freedom in which we can recover the true selves we have lost to the corrupting influences of our artificial lives. Most of all, it is the ultimate landscape of authenticity. Combining the sacred grandeur of the sublime with the primitive simplicity of the frontier, it is the place where we can see the world as it really is, and so know ourselves as we really are—or ought to be. (Paragraph 27)

The task of making a home in nature is what Wendell Berry has called “the forever unfinished lifework of our species.” “The only thing we have to preserve nature with” he writes, “is culture; the only thing we have to preserve wildness with is domesticity.” Calling a place home inevitably means that we will use the nature we find in it, for there can be no escape from manipulating and working and even killing some parts of nature to make our home. But if we acknowledge the autonomy and otherness of the things and creatures around us—an autonomy our culture has taught us to label with the word “wild”—then we will at least think carefully about the uses to which we put them, and even ask if we should use them at all. just so can we still join Thoreau in declaring that “in Wildness is the preservation of the World,” for wildness (as opposed to wilderness) can be found anywhere: in the seemingly tame fields and woodlots of Massachusetts, in the cracks of a Manhattan sidewalk, even in the cells of our own bodies. As Gary Snyder has wisely said, “A person with a clear heart and open mind can experience the wilderness anywhere on earth. It is a quality of one’s own consciousness. The planet is a wild place and always will be.” To think ourselves capable of causing “the end of nature” is an act of great hubris, for it means forgetting the wildness that dwells everywhere within and around us. (Paragraph 53)

Henry David Thoreau, Gary Snyder, William Cronon–each in his own way exploring ideas and inviting us to think with them about values that arise when we begin finding out where we actually are in this world. Here is another offering from Snyder, in the 1960s,  the poem “For the Children”:

The rising hills, the slopes,
of statistics
lie before us,
the steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
go down.

In the next century
or the one beyond that,
they say,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.

To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

stay together
learn the flowers
go light

Those last three lines bring us full circle to the values we first encountered at the opening of the essay.

Reading for Wildness

Henry David Thoreau, Walking (1862)

Kasey

“I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks—who had a genius, so to speak, for SAUNTERING, which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte Terre,” to the Holy Land, till the children
exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander” (1). Kasey

“We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return– prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms” (1). Kasey

“He is sort of fourth estate, outside of church and state and people” (1) Joanna

“No wealth can buy the requisite leisure, freedom, and independence which are the capital in this profession” (2) Jolie

“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least–and it is commonly more than that–sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements” (2). Jolie

 “Living much out of doors, in the sun and wind, will no doubt produce a certain roughness of character–will cause a thicker cuticle to grow over some of the finer qualities of our nature,
as on the face and hands, or as severe manual labor robs the hands of some of their delicacy of touch. So staying in the house, on the other hand, may produce a softness and smoothness, not to say thinness of skin, accompanied by an increased sensibility to certain impressions” (3) Kasey

“How womankind, who are confined to the house still more than men, stand it I do not know”(3) Joanna

“Perhaps we should be more susceptible to some influences important to our intellectual and moral growth, if the sun had shone and the wind blown on us a little less; and no doubt it is a nice matter to proportion rightly the thick and thin skin. But methinks that is a scurf that will fall off fast enough — that the natural remedy is to be found in the proportion which the night bears to day, the winter to summer, thought to experience. There will be so much the more air and sunshine in our thoughts” (4). Pheobe

“I walk out into a nature such as the old prophets and poets, Menu,Moses, Homer, Chaucer, walked in. You may name it America, but it is not America; neither Americus Vespueius, nor Columbus, nor the rest were the discoverers of it.”(5-6) Joanna

“I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright” (7) Jolie

“For I believe that climate does thus react on man–as there is something in the mountain air that feeds the spirit and inspires” (11). Jolie

“The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild; and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the World. Every tree sends its fibers forth in search of the Wild. The cities import it at any price. Men plow and sail for it. From the forest and wilderness come the tonics and barks which brace mankind” (12). Pheobe

Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild (1990), focused on the first chapter, “The Etiquette of Freedom.”

“That took my breath away. Here was a man who would not let the mere threat of cultural extinction stand in the way of his (and her) values” (4) Jonathan

Coyote and ground squirrel do not break the compact they have with each other that are must play predator and the other play game (4) Jonathan

“We can appreciate the elegance of the forces that shape life and the world, that have shaped every line of our bodies—teeth and nails, nipples and eyebrows. We also see that we must try to live without causing un- necessary harm, not just to fellow humans but to all beings. We must try not to be stingy, or to exploit others. There will be enough pain in the world as it is (4). Cloe

“Wild and free/’ An American dream-phrase loosing images: a long- maned stallion racing across the grasslands, a V of Canada Geese high and honking, a squirrel chattering and leaping limb to limb overhead in an oak. It also sounds like an ad for a Harley-Davidson. Both words, profoundly political and sensitive as they are, have be- come consumer baubles…

To be truly free one must take on the basic conditions as they are—painful, impermanent, open, imperfect—and then be grateful for impermanence and the freedom it grants us…

With that freedom we improve the campsite, teach children, oust tyrants. The world is nature, and in the long run inevitably wild, because the wild, as the process and essence of nature, is also an ordering of impermanence” (5). Cloe

“Wildness is not just the “preservation of the world,” it is the world.” (6). Cloe

William Cronon The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature. From Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, New York: Norton (1995)

“The more one knows of its peculiar history, the more one realizes that wilderness is not quite what it seems.” (Paragraph 2 1st sentence) Lindsey

“If one saw the wild lands of the frontier as freer, truer, and more natural than other, more modern places, then one was also inclined to see the cities and factories of urban-industrial civilization as confining, false, and artificial.” (Paragraph 24 2nd sentence) Lindsey

“This was no casual stroll in the mountains, no simple sojourn in the gentle lap of nonhuman nature. What Wordsworth described was nothing less than a religious experience, akin to that of the Old Testament prophets as they conversed with their wrathful God. The symbols he detected in this wilderness landscape were more supernatural than natural, and they inspired more awe and dismay than joy or pleasure. No mere mortal was meant to linger long in such a place, so it was with considerable relief that Wordsworth and his companion made their way back down from the peaks to the sheltering valleys. Lest you suspect that this view of the sublime was limited to timid Europeans who lacked the American know-how for feeling at home in the wilderness, remember Henry David Thoreau’s 1846 climb of Mount Katahdin, in Maine. Although Thoreau is regarded by many today as one of the great American celebrators of wilderness, his emotions about Katahdin were no less ambivalent than Wordsworth’s about the Alps.” (Paragraph 12) Peyton

The removal of Indians to create an “uninhabited wilderness”—uninhabited as never before in the human history of the place—reminds us just how invented, just how constructed, the American wilderness really is. To return to my opening argument: there is nothing natural about the concept of wilderness. It is entirely a creation of the culture that holds it dear, a product of the very history it seeks to deny. Indeed, one of the most striking proofs of the cultural invention of wilderness is its thoroughgoing erasure of the history from which it sprang. In virtually all of its manifestations, wilderness represents a flight from history. Seen as the original garden, it is a place outside of time, from which human beings had to be ejected before the fallen world of history could properly begin. Seen as the frontier, it is a savage world at the dawn of civilization, whose transformation represents the very beginning of the national historical epic. Seen as the bold landscape of frontier heroism, it is the place of youth and childhood, into which men escape by abandoning their pasts and entering a world of freedom where the constraints of civilization fade into memory. Seen as the sacred sublime, it is the home of a God who transcends history by standing as the One who remains untouched and unchanged by time’s arrow. No matter what the angle from which we regard it, wilderness offers us the illusion that we can escape the cares and troubles of the world in which our past has ensnared us. (Paragraph 25) Peyton

“As Turner described the process, easterners and European immigrants, in moving to the wild unsettled lands of the frontier, shed the trappings of civilization, rediscovered their primitive racial energies, reinvented direct democratic institutions, and by reinfused themselves with a vigor, an independence, and a creativity that the source of American democracy and national character” Raymond

“Thus, in the myth of the vanishing frontier lay the seeds of wilderness preservation in the United States, for if wild land had been so crucial in the making of the nation, then surely one must save its last remnants as monuments to the American past—and as an insurance policy to protect its future.” Raymond

“If the frontier was passing, then men who had the means to do so should preserve for themselves some remnant of its wild landscape so that they might enjoy the regeneration and renewal that came from sleeping under the stars, participating in blood sports, and living off the land” Raymond

Thus it is that wilderness serves as the unexamined foundation on which so many of the quasi-religious values of modern environmentalism rest. The critique of modernity that is one of environmentalism’s most important contributions to the moral and political discourse of our time more often than not appeals, explicitly or implicitly, to wilderness as the standard against which to measure the failings of our human world. Wilderness is the natural, unfallen antithesis of an unnatural civilization that has lost its soul. It is a place of freedom in which we can recover the true selves we have lost to the corrupting influences of our artificial lives. Most of all, it is the ultimate landscape of authenticity. Combining the sacred grandeur of the sublime with the primitive simplicity of the frontier, it is the place where we can see the world as it really is, and so know ourselves as we really are—or ought to be. (Paragraph 27) Peyton

The task of making a home in nature is what Wendell Berry has called “the forever unfinished lifework of our species.” “The only thing we have to preserve nature with” he writes, “is culture; the only thing we have to preserve wildness with is domesticity.” Calling a place home inevitably means that we will use the nature we find in it, for there can be no escape from manipulating and working and even killing some parts of nature to make our home. But if we acknowledge the autonomy and otherness of the things and creatures around us—an autonomy our culture has taught us to label with the word “wild”—then we will at least think carefully about the uses to which we put them, and even ask if we should use them at all. just so can we still join Thoreau in declaring that “in Wildness is the preservation of the World,” for wildness (as opposed to wilderness) can be found anywhere: in the seemingly tame fields and woodlots of Massachusetts, in the cracks of a Manhattan sidewalk, even in the cells of our own bodies. As Gary Snyder has wisely said, “A person with a clear heart and open mind can experience the wilderness anywhere on earth. It is a quality of one’s own consciousness. The planet is a wild place and always will be.” To think ourselves capable of causing “the end of nature” is an act of great hubris, for it means forgetting the wildness that dwells everywhere within and around us. (Paragraph 53) Peyton

Reading as a Writer

The activity of reading is a complex process involving the formation of and testing of inferences about the internal relations of the work and about the external relations between the work and the world. Much of the activity of reading remains tacit; that is, we do it for the most part without being conscious of what we are doing.

marginalia
Marginal notes and annotation on section XLVII of Ezra Pound’s Cantos

Summary: the reader formulates a brief restatement that omits concrete details, in the case of a narrative, in order to isolate the significant actions and formal divisions in the work. We summarize a text so that we have a sufficient understanding of the character(s) and action(s) of the work.

Marginalia: the reader is focused on her response to the work—what springs to mind and into body in the course of your reading. Its purpose is to register your feelings and thoughts as you read to examine, deepen and perhaps change them. We respond to texts in the mode of marginalia when we draw on our own emotions, life experience and intellectual competencies

isaac_newton-marginalia
Isaac Newton’s marginal notations

Annotation: the reader brings to the work factual information from an external source. Its purpose is to clarify apparent ambiguities, obscurities and references. We annotate—or at least we should—when a term or reference in the text slows us down, confuses us or presents an interpretive problem

1880_marginalia2
marginal notes and annotation

Explication: the reader proceeds word-by-word, phrase-by-phrase, line-by-line, with the intent of describing the work’s formal features—the lexical, grammatical, syntactic and sequential choices of an author. Its purpose is to generate awareness of the formal features of a work so as to be more accountable to how the work is put together. We explicate to make explicit the immediate indices of our attention—the lexical, grammatical, syntactic choices of an author; we analyze, relying on all the previous modes—marginalia, annotation and explication—to communicate to your reader something interesting and significant about the passage(s) under discussion

Analysis: the reader isolates one or more elements of the work for closer attention. We use analysis to separate the work into parts, or into cause and effect relations, in order to probe different relations, to generate questions, and more fully understand the whole.

Interpretation: the reader sets forth one or more meanings of a work according to a programmatic set of assumptions or ideological beliefs. We interpret in order to make a persuasive case for a meaning of the work.

Thinking about Wildness

One can begin to think about wildness with the words of Gary Snyder from The Practice of the Wild:

The word wild is like a gray fox trotting off through the forest, ducking behind bushes, going in and out of sight. Up close, first glance, it is “wild”-then farther into the woods next glance it’s “wyld” and it recedes via Old Norse villr and Old Teutonic wilthijaz into a faint pre-Teutonic ghweltijos which means, still, wild and maybe wooded (wald) and lurks back there with possible connections to will, to Latin silva (forest, sauvage), and to the Indo-European root ghwer, base of Latin ferus )feral, fierce), which swings us around to Thoreau’s “awful ferity” shared by virtuous people and lovers. The Oxford English Dictionary has it this way:

Of animals-not tame, undomesticated, unruly.
Of plants-not cultivated.
Of land-uninhabited, uncultivated.
Of foodcrops-produced or yielded without cultivation.
Of societies-uncivilized, rude, resisting constituted government.
Of individuals-unrestrained, insubordinate, licentious, dissolute, loose. “Wild and wanton widowes”-1614.
Of behavior-violent, destructive, cruel, unruly.
Of behavior-artless, free, spontaneous. “Warble his native wood-notes wild”-John Milton.

Wild is largely defined in our dictionaries by what-from a human standpoint-it is not. It cannot be seen by this approach for what it is. Turn it the other way:

Of animals-free agents, each with its own endowments, living within natural systems.
Of plants-self-propagating, self-maintaining, flourishing in accord with innate qualities.
Of land-a place where the original and potential vegetation and fauna are intact and in full interaction and the landforms are entirely the result of nonhuman forces. Pristine.
Of Food crops-food supplies made available and sustainable by the natural excess and exuberance of wild plants in their growth and in the production of qualities of fruit or seeds.
Of societies-societies whose order has grown from within and is maintained by the force of consensus and custom rather than explicit legislation. Primary cultures, which consider themselves the original and eternal inhabitants of their territory. Societies which resist economic and political domination by civilization. Societies whose economic system is in a close and sustainable relation to the local ecosystem.
Of Individuals-following local custom, style, and etiquette without concern for the standards of the metropolis or nearest trading post. Unintimidated, self-reliant, independent. “Proud and free.”
Of behavior-fiercely resisting any oppression, confinement, or exploration. Far-out, outrageous, “bad,” admirable.
Of behavior-artless, free, spontaneous, unconditioned. expressive, physical, openly sexual, ecstatic.

 

Language is wild

The conventional way to think about language is cultural. However, the commonplace distinction between the cultural and the biological may be less helpful in understanding how language works. Here is a question and a response about the proposition that language is wild from an interview with Gary Snyder published in the Paris Review:

INTERVIEWER: You’ve written that language is wild, and it’s interesting that, in your essays and in some of the poems, you track down words as though you’re hunting or gathering. But do you believe that language is more a part of nature than a part of culture?

SNYDER: Well, to put it quite simply, I think language is, to a great extent, biological. And this is not a radical point of view. In fact, it is in many ways an angle of thought that has come back into serious consideration in the world of scientific linguistics right now. So, if it’s biological, if it’s part of our biological nature to be able to learn language, to master complex syntax effortlessly by the age of four, then it’s part of nature, just as our digestion is part of nature, our limbs are part of nature. So, yes, in that sense it is. Now, of course, language takes an enormous amount of cultural shaping, too, at some point. But the structures of it have the quality of wild systems. Wild systems are highly complex, cannot be intellectually mastered—that is to say they’re too complex to master simply in intellectual or mathematical terms—and they are self-managing and self-organizing. Language is a self-organizing phenomenon. Descriptive linguistics come after the fact, an effort to describe what has already happened. So if you define the wild as self-managing, self-organizing, and self-propagating, all natural human languages are wild systems. The imagination, we can say, for similar reasons, is wild. But I would also make the argument that there is a prelinguistic level of thought. Not always, but a lot of the time. And for some people more than other people. I think there are people who think more linguistically, and some who think more visually, or perhaps kinesthetically, in some cases.

 You can read the whole interview at the Paris Review.

 

Welcome

Thinking and Writing is an introduction to college-level reading, thinking, and writing. As a student in this course you can expect to spend a good deal of your semester wrestling with the thoughts and words of others, building your own point of view, and learning to make use of feedback to improve your writing.

india.pune.mar.08 079

“Every tree sends its fibers forth in search of the Wild,” Henry David Thoreau (Pune, India, March 2008)

This Thinking and Writing course is organized around the concept of wildness. The term wildness encompasses most everything in the physical universe—from the teeming microorganisms in our bodies to the unfolding realm of the cosmos. It is the real world, the world to which we belong. The phrase “search for wildness” describes the act of seeking awareness of this world–of seeking an understanding of the expression of the wild in nature and in culture.

IMG_0064

Community space and garden, Brooklyn, New York, summer 2012

The search for wildness takes many forms: it takes shape in individual questions about the meaning and purpose of human life; it gives rise to collective stories, myths, and purpose; it is organized in the cultural activities of natural history, spirituality, science and mathematics; it is pursued through historical and comparative studies of nature and/or culture; and it generates utopian and post-apocalyptic fictions about the ways human technologies are transforming the world.

The poet Gary Snyder defines the search for wildness as a practice: a deliberate sustained and conscious effort to become more aware of yourself and the world. Who am I? What am I doing here? What is going on?

Photo Mark C. Long, near Juneau, Alaska, Summer 2006

Above Juneau, Alaska, summer 2006

From the pursuit of a more “authentic” life by Chris McCandless to scientists building our understanding of the human biome, the search for wildness is the conversation of our time.

Fireweed and glacier melt, near Haines, Alaska, summer 2006, photo Mark C. Long

Fireweed and glacier melt, near Haines, Alaska, summer 2006

I am confident that this course will challenge you in new ways. My work will be supporting you as you meet these challenges. I am looking forward to working with you.