Topics and Questions

Writing Projects Update: Most of you are struggling. Many of you are stuck. These difficulties are expected.

There are ways to begin moving through the challenges you are facing. First and foremost be clear that this course requires thinking and writing. And that is exactly what you are being asked to do.

Below you will find 1) a reminder about the area of inquiry in which all of your projects are developing: the search for wildness. While we spent most of the first weeks of the class exploring this term and concept, it is important that you have wrestled with this concept and come to terms with the presence of this search in our lives. I also include below 2) a framework for moving from a topic to a question. As you continue your process of seeking information you will be refining your area of interest. Remember that your area of interest is precisely that: what you are interested in. Without a genuine interest and motivation you are going to have a very, very difficult time with the work you are doing in this class.

Searching for Wildness: The search is to demystify the world as it is.

Enacting a deliberate and sustained effort to understand the changing flow of phenomena both within our selves and in the world around us.

The acceptance of the place where we are: what we know, and what we can know, is never certain and always provisional, no matter how persuaded we and others might be by common understanding of certain phenomena.

This course web site has numerous explanations of wildness and resources for you to consult. Here is another, from a now familiar writer, Gary Snyder, from the “Preface” to his collection of poems No Nature:

No Nature. Human societies each 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 singular 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 fluid, open, and conditional. (v)

We have also talked about E.O. Wilson’s concept of “biophilia” and here are two provocative comments from his most recent book, The Meaning of Human Existence (2014):

“We are self-made, independent, alone, fragile, a biological species adapted to live in a biological world” (26)

We exist as a result of millions of years of biological evolution: “For the real human story, history must comprise both the biological and the cultural” (28).

We have also talked about, with the help of others, the intellectual history of oppositions between nature and culture, nature and nurture, primitive and civilized, raw and cooked, and so on. You can continue thinking about wildness as well. Please, take advantage of the resources I have compiled for you on the course web site. You may also want to become familiar with the recent writing by professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Marc Bekoff, on “rewilding.” His application of a practice in wildlife conservation to human life is potentially very useful for some of your projects. Need to talk? Set up an appointment with me.

  1. Moving From a Topic to a Question

In class we will use the first two steps in an Argument Template (adapted from Booth, Columb, and Williams, The Craft of Research). Name your topic and then see if you can articulate the question you are hoping to answer.

Topic: I am seeking to understand/investigate/learn more about _____

I am seeking to understand/investigate/learn more about human intuition (or direct or unmediated experience/consciousness of the world) and its relationship to belief

Question: I want to understand

I want to find out why people continue to believe in creation stories to explain the origin of and their place in the world

Below are two examples of projects that are on the move. In each of these cases the project is explicitly aligned with the larger questions about wildness and has moved from a general area of interest to a more specific question the student has defined and is trying to answer.

Area of Interest: “Industrial Tourism”

from Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire (1968), Chapter 5: “Polemic: Industrial Tourism and the National Park”:

“Industrial tourism is a threat to the national parks. But the chief victims of the system are the motorized tourists. They are being robbed and robbing themselves. So long as they are unwilling to crawl out of their cars they will not discover the treasures of the national parks and will never escape the stress and turmoil of the urban-suburban complexes which they had hoped, presumably, to leave behind for a while.”

“Take off your shoes for a while, unzip your fly, piss hearty, dig your toes in the hot sand, feel that raw and rugged earth, split a couple of big toenails, draw blood!  Why not?  Jesus Christ… roll that window down!  You can’t see the desert if you can’t smell it….  Turn that motor off.  Get out of that piece of iron and stretch your varicose veins, take off your brassiere and get some hot sun on your old wrinkled dugs!”

“Why is the Park Service generally so anxious to accommodate…the indolent millions born on wheels and suckled on gasoline, who expect and demand paved highways to lead them in comfort, ease and safety into every nook and corner of the national parks?”

Topic: I am seeking to understand/investigate/learn more about what Edward Abbey calls “Industrial Tourism”

Question: I want to find out how tourism has diminished the deeper (and more transformative?) experience offered by places we designate as wild areas or wilderness

Sources: Books: Daniel C. Knudsen, Landscape, Tourism and Meaning; Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind; Essay: Walker Percy, “The Loss of Creature”

Area of Interest: Loss of Wildness

Topic: I am seeking to understand/investigate/learn more about the problem of losing wildness in our lives

Question: I want to find out why young people appear to be unaware of the consequences of losing touch with themselves and the world around them

Sources: Books: Jack Turner, The Abstract Wild; John Krakauer, Into the Wild (Christopher McCandless); Film: Werner Herzog, Grizzly Man (Timothy Treadwell); Poem/Performance: Buddy Wakefield, “My Town”; Article: Standardized Testing; Report: Study of media use by 8-18 year old children in US.

Thank you bringing all of your materials to our next class. Our writing workshop will be dedicated to moving you toward other resources and information that will be useful for you.