English 149 - Spring, 2017

Topics in Literature


Class Information

Instructor: Lewandowski, Angela
CRN: 91268
Time: MWF 11:00-11:50
Location: 80 SS/Hum.


    In an age of radioactive decay, pesticides, endocrine disruptors, and pollution from fossil fuel extraction and consumption, feminist critics have led the turn to a critical discourse of the toxic body. This “toxic discourse,” as critics have termed it, has been central to environmental justice (EJ). EJ confronts the unequal distribution of risk in impoverished communities, communities of color, and communities of women and/or queer people. While critiquing the power structures that administer and perpetuate cycles of contamination, toxic discourse also decenters ecocriticism’s traditional emphasis on preservationism. Moreover, it insists on a capacious sense of material relationality, corporeality, and agency.

    In this course, we will read widely into literatures of the toxic body. We will read fiction, nonfiction, and poetry and also view some artworks and films. We will consider our literary texts from the perspectives of women’s and gender studies, environmental history, critical race studies, and queer theory. To begin, we will read selections from Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which led to the banning of DDT and launched the modern environmental movement. Then we will consider accounts of toxicity both global and local—women’s written, oral, and performance testimonies in the aftermath of Bhopal; Indigenous Peoples’ writing and activism in response to settler acts of environmental violence, from uranium mining to DAPL; multilingual, multimedia, multi-genre feminist accounts of living on, breathing, and drinking contaminated land, air, and water; and research and findings of artist-activists and community organizers in Northern California. We will ask: how have experiences of toxification shaped the ecological consciousness of gendered, classed, and raced groups? From a cosmopolitical perspective, how might we incorporate knowledges made available through Indigenous and nonwestern accounts of environmental contamination in order to challenge Western-centric discourses of toxicity? Foregrounding EJ work by women, queer people, and people of color, we will work to theorize toxic bodies in ways that avoid essentializing women’s and other marginalized groups’ experiences of environmental contamination, while at the same time acknowledging how patriarchal structures have long subjected these groups to greater amounts of hazard.

    Over the course of the term, students will draft and revise two essays, in addition to participating in in-class, informal writing exercises. Below is a tentative list of course texts. This list is subject to change. In addition to these texts, we will read short stories, poems, and essays by Leslie Marmon Silko, Gloria Anzaldúa, Audre Lorde, Winona LaDuke, Sherwin Bitsui, CA Conrad, Claudia Rankine, Brenda Cárdenas, Jennifer Scappettone, and Petra Kuppers.


    Attendance and Participation
    In-class Writing Exercises and Homework
    Close-Reading Essay
    Argumentative Research Essay


    Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
    My Year of Meats, Ruth Ozeki
    Solar Storms, Linda Hogan
    WHEREAS, Layli Long Soldier
    Under the Feet of Jesus, Helena Maria Viramontes