English 250 02: Representing non-human life

Instructor: Joanna Picciotto

We will explore techniques developed by poets, theologians, and scientists to represent other life forms. Areas of focus include encounters with new-world flora and fauna, the invention of the microscope and the discovery of the cell, and contemporary debates over plant reproduction and the possibility of extra-terrestrial life. Alongside questions related to medium and genre, we’ll consider when the representation of other creatures becomes representation in a nearly political sense, casting the animal as a voiceless subject on whose behalf, and in whose place, the author speaks. We’ll also track how new approaches to the physical investigation of animals and plants affected their traditional status as natural symbols (of various vices and virtues, for example). Finally, we’ll consider the special challenges and opportunities posed by creatures that continued to elude empirical study, such as angels. The semester will be book-ended by late medieval and eighteenth-century readings, but we’ll spend most of our time in the seventeenth century. Auditors welcome. For course credit, you can write several short pieces or one long one.