Spring 2012 Course at RISD
Instructor: Dr. Nicole Merola, Associate Professor, English
“In an age when the media venerate the spectacular, when public policy is shaped primarily around perceived immediate need [...] how can we convert into image and narrative the disasters that are slow moving and long in the making?”
—Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor
One of the key questions environmental humanities scholars consider is how written, visual, and material texts register, refract, and produce attitudes and anxieties about historical and contemporary environmental issues. In this course we will examine poetry, fiction, non-fiction, film, and visual and performance art that focuses on climate change. Scientific research on anthropogenic climate change points, despite claims to the contrary made by climate skeptics, to a real, material ecological crisis. Some empirical aspects of climate change are statistically quantifiable and relatively easy to present. Other aspects of climate change—the anxieties it provokes, for instance—may be much more difficult to represent. Thus, as literary critic Richard Kerridge argues, on top of the real, material ecological crisis of climate change we are also beset by “a cultural crisis, a crisis of representation.”
As Rob Nixon suggests in the above quotation from Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, the difficulty of representing large-scale and long-term environmental issues constitutes one of the primary challenges for poets, novelists, journalists, memoirists, photographers, filmmakers, and scientists concerned about climate change. A second and related challenge for these cultural workers is how to make their audiences care about the effects of climate change. This semester we will look at a range of climate change narratives, from those that foreground climate denialism to those that foreground climate activism. The questions we will consider will include the following:
- How does a particular text define climate change?
- What elements/effects of climate change are highlighted or avoided in a particular text?
- How does a particular text represent the anxieties, uncertainties, feelings, and material effects that accompany climate change?
- What rhetorical modes does a particular text employ in its presentation of climate change?
- What makes a climate change narrative successful?
- What narratives about climate change are enabled or foreclosed by different genres?
- What material effects might different climate change narratives produce?
- As artists and designers, what is your role in creating and disseminating climate change narratives?
- How might one use art and design to investigate and address the social, ecological, economic, and aesthetic issues that accompany climate change?
- What aesthetic, material, experiential, and narrative strategies might artists and designers use to move people to take action to mitigate the effects of climate change?