Picturing Nature


From the painting of prehistoric bestiaries on cave walls in Southern France to the creating of animated, pixilated fantasies of toxic forests by Japanese anime artists, environmental imagining and image-making are fundamental human capacities and activities. Representing nature is a world-making activity. What work does nature-making do at different historical moments? What historical forces precipitate changes in the way that nature and its boundaries with the “human” are imagined? How, for example, did 18th-century English ideas of the pastoral lead to an obsession with making flat, uniform lawns in mid-20th-century America? How was nature imagery used to fashion ideas of German and English nationhood and national character? We examine landscape aesthetics and forest mythology in Nazi Germany and the England of Robin Hood to offer insights into this question. We also investigate how images of the enemy as insect were used during World War II to mobilize campaigns of total “extermination,” and how ideas and images of nature lured into the Alaskan wilderness John Krakauer’s protagonist in Into the Wild.  We ask how images of the wild are produced, mediated, and circulated in the films of Hayao Miyazaki, Walt Disney, James Cameron, Youtube videos, and US Air Force animations. The course also explores nature-making as a world-making activity. How are images of the human body, as well as  the “nature outside” imagined, and with what consequences? How, for example, are images of the immune system changing, as ideas of park management and ecology permeate medical understandings of the microbial world as well as nature conservation policies? What is distinctive about the garden as a human invention? Meditations on gardens, forests, and farms—from the gardening of forests in Southeast Asia and Latin America to “gardens of the homeless” in New York City—form a path in this itinerary. What are the gardens of the future? And what forms of the wild do we wish to cultivate, create, or conserve?