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April 15, 2004

Battling my prejudices

A phone call came in a couple months ago from a student at the University of Arizona. She was working on a study of attitudes about diversity among respected environmental editors, and asked if I knew any. We chatted on the phone for some time. A few days later a gift arrived: Cross-Pollinations: The Marriage of Science and Poetry by Gary Paul Nabhan, which she'd sent as a thank-you gesture.

Nabhan is a wonderful writer - one of my main role models - and a hell of a nice guy to boot: he spent about three hours chatting with me in 1995 about ironwoods. His writing in Cross-Pollinations is lyrical and highly personal, and has insinuated itself into my daily thoughts snce I read it. He hits a few of my hot-button issues, notably the artificial and unproductive firewall between science and the arts, and I was surprised by how quickly the book finished itself in my hands.

The book was, in part, a project of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment. I keep running across examples of wonderful work done under the auspices of the ASLE, and each time I do I think about joining, and I visit the website, and then I remember that the ASLE is a predominantly academic organization, and I lose interest.

Some of it is my lifelong allergy to academe, which is at least partly sour grapes: I left college early (well, I started early, at age 14, and left two years later); an attempt to re-enroll in my early twenties was thwarted by family crises. By the time I had spare cash enough to consider college yet again, I had found that I learned far more quickly outside the classroom than in. I spend a fair amount of my professional life helping people with degrees unlearn everything they were taught. Still, the lack of a degree occasionally rankles. I have at home a fancy certificate awarded me in first grade for perfect attendance, which I keep meaning to put in a degree frame to hang on my office wall.

And some of it is the ASLE's affiliation wth the Modern Language Association, which bears roughly the same relationship to writing that the National Cattlemen's Beef Association does to calves. I saw the best writers of my generation destroyed by MLAness, semioticizing didactical naked, dragging themselves through symposia at dawn looking for an affective fallacy. None for me, thanks.

But then how do you say no to a get-together along the lines of "Summer Symposium to Examine Nature and Culture in the Northern Forest"? How do you reject an organization that brings together academics, journos, and activists? Perhaps the ASLE is worth a closer look.

Posted by Chris Clarke at April 15, 2004 04:25 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.faultline.org/cgi-bin/mt-tb.cgi/147

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Comments

About that wall between art and science...

I've always thought that engineering is the marriage between art and science. Sadly, most of today's engineers are technologists, and don't see the need for art. Sad, really.

Posted by: Robert at April 16, 2004 04:21 AM
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I laughed out loud at your description of MLA: how true, how true! (This coming from a woman who will be going to the MLA conference this year in a desperate attempt to get a job...)

I know the fellow who's organizing ASLE's Northern Forest symposium. (He has, in fact, roped me into presenting a paper, against my better judgment...) He's a rock-climbing academic, so there's hope for academia after all.

Posted by: Lorianne at April 22, 2004 04:10 PM
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Have you checked out any of the discussion lists referenced on their website?
I can see how you'd be drawn to an organization like that. It's stated mission is wonderful.

Posted by: Lisa Thompson at May 6, 2004 07:11 AM
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