Sunday, September 28, 2014

News Roundup

Ialenti's final article for the NPR 'cosmos and culture' series was published today.

Check it out: Embracing 'Deep Time' Thinking.

In the article, Ialenti graciously mentions and links our course --this will probably be the first and last time submitting your homework appears as national news!

Also, if you haven't already seen it, Jim Robbins has an article in the NYT Sunday Review, Building an Ark for the Anthropocene that might interest you. The trope of the Biblical "Flood" is something we will be discussing when we read Nathaniel Rich's Odds Against Tomorrow (2012), but in the meantime I suggest you look through Genesis Chapter's 6-10 (not only does God speak in meteorological terms, he's also into "purifying" violence).

You might remember from Kolbert's chapters in the The Sixth Extinction, Cuvier and other naturalist of the 19th century saw themselves as piecing together a history of cataclysmic events framed by the imaginary context of Judeo-Christian versions of the Flood.

As Cuvier wrote in 1821:
"Life on earth has often been troubled by terrible events. Human beings without number have fallen victim to these catastrophes. Some, living on dry land, have been swallowed up by floods. Others, living in the midst of the waters, have been stranded as the sea bed has risen to the surface". 
While subsequent geological discoveries forced most scholars to abandon the project of historicizing the Bible, in many ways the myth of the Flood has retained its potency as an organizing metaphor for thinking through climatic catastrophe --what's changed is the temporal direction of the mythical projection. In Lucian Boia's The Weather in the Imagination (2005), there's an excellent chapter that traces this turn, from Camille Flammarion's La Fin du monde (1894) and into the early science fiction of H.G. Wells and others. More recently, Darren Aronofsky's biblical epic Noah (2014) gives us an interesting twist: voiced-over scripture read by Russel Crowe set to satellite imagery of an Earth blanketed by hundreds of hurricanes, reminiscent of what we see today used to illustrate climate change scenarios by NOAA (pronounced "Noah"). As the director explained in a panel on the nexus between faith and environmentalism (available here), "Noah is saving the animals. It's not about saving babies." Of course, in a time when climate change is often read as a "sin against nature" is it really any surprise that efforts to save critical species into the "deep future" are so often imagined through the Biblical metonym of the Ark?

Titles and Citations

I. Naming

Don't forget to give your essay a memorable title! The easiest way to do this is to play around with some of the key words from your thesis or conclusion.

For example, 

Nature Work: The View from Cornell, with Nets

"We Rush Our Old Young": The Poetics of Violence in the age of Anthropocene 

II. Citations

Please follow the MLA guidelines

Monday, September 22, 2014

The long awe?

Your comments and our discussion in class provoked Vincent to link the "sublime" to the question of visualizing climate change, which is reflected in his most recent article published yesterday on NPR's website ['Pondering 'deep time' could inspire new ways to view climate change']. This should particularly pique the interest of those of you who are currently writing about the logic of the sublime in the Anthropocene (essay #2, option 1).

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Essay #2
Draft 1, Due: 9/25 (in class) 
Final, Due: 9/28 
Length: 6 pages

Choose one of the following:

I.  Compare and contrast the aesthetics of the sublime in the work of Humboldt, Sloterdijk, Siegel, and Ferguson.
  • Instructions: Begin by addressing concerns that the authors raise but do not discuss to your satisfaction; building on this critique, propose a new version of the sublime more in sync with the particular sense of awe arrived at through the encounter with anthropogenic climate change. What happens to the logic of the sublime and its familiar sensibility of wonderment --an encounter that since the early 18th century has occurred largely under the imaginary canopy of "Nature"-- once we enter the new time of the Anthropocene? Make sure to ground your argument in concrete examples and quotations from the texts.
    • Additional Materials: Vincent Crapanzano's Imaginative Horizons; key terms [infinite/finite, beauty, terror, self, deep time, space, ethics, sublime object, boundlessness, uncertainty, fullness, visible/invisible, understanding, excess, climate change, freedom/unfreedom, catastrophe]   

II.  Analyze the implicit theologies of Nature that underpin the meaning, significance, and experiential impact of the view from Cornell.

  • InstructionsIn the article 'Academic Work', James Siegel brings together a discussion of the symbolic and material boundaries of the view from Cornell, the spatial poetics of knowledge it structures, and the various ways that students and faculty members have learned to think about life, death, and the technologies of safety. Thirty-five years on, the view from Cornell remains open to new interpretations and understandings by its viewing subjects. In this essay, your task is to rethink James Siegel's article 'Academic Work' using course readings, data collected during in class field exercises, and any additional materials of your choosing. What happens when the “nature of youth suicide” and the “Nature” of the Romantic sublime become entangled? Carefully unpack the connection between the aesthetics of Nature and the formulation of suicide as a 'foreseeable' pathological condition at Cornell. How does Cornell’s “unique physical environment” circumscribe the horizon of potential security “fixes” imagined as being available to the university? When and how does climate and weather play into these discussions? 

III.  Agree or disagree: The Anthropocene designates a new form of collective self-murder.

  • InstructionsUse course readings, field exercises, and any other related materials to organize and shape a discussion around the question of whether or not the Anthropocene signals a new geological age in which 'voluntary death' becomes inscribed as a material strata. Develop a theory of what makes an act suicidal, or construct a critical typology of collective self-violence in order to situate the Anthropocene along a spectrum of murderous acts. You do NOT want to end up with a claim that says nothing more than "The Anthropocene is (or is not) a new form of suicide". Instead, your goal is to say something new and not obvious about what you have read.

Week 5. Belief and Denial [Hw]

Choose a scene from the film Disruption (2014) and answer the following two questions. 
  • What is the scene telling you to desire? 
  • How does it teach you to desire it? 

Keep your response brief (no more than 400 words). 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Colbert, Latour (sort of), and Frankenstein

Here's a trailer for the film Pandora's Promise, which offers us a good example of the new wave of reconciliatory discourse that seeks to "re-brand" nuclear energy as "climate friendly". 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Student Meetings

Please sign up for a time to meet with me in the comment section below.

NOTICE: I will not be holding regular office hours tomorrow.

Thursday 9/18
3:00 - 3:20
3:20 - 3:40
3:40 - 4:00
4:00 - 4:20
4:20 - 4:40
4:40 - 5:00
5:00 - 5:20
5:20 - 5:40
5:40 - 6:00

Friday 9/19
11:00 - 11:20
11:20 - 11:40
11:40 - 12:00
12:20 - 12:40
2:00 - 2:20
3:00 - 3:20
3:20 - 3:40
3:40 - 4:00
4:00 - 4:20

*If none of the remaining times fit your schedule please indicate what time you'd be available to meet on either Thursday or Friday.

Guest Speaker: Vinny Ialenti (9/18)

This Thursday the anthropologist Vincent Ialenti will be joining our class. Come in thinking shape: that means awake and with prepared questions and points of discussion. He is planning to give us a short presentation of his research on 'deep time' in Finland.

I have already assigned one of Ialient's short articles, but I also suggest that you read his most recent piece, published as part of NPR's Cosmos & Culture' series just this past weekend. In it he briefly addresses the question of the Anthropocene.

See: Envisioning Landscapes Of Our Very Distant Future

Monday, September 15, 2014

Kantian Sublime

At some point, twice-removed summaries and third-party recitations of "They say, I say," become too much; eventually one must seek out the text that they keep hearing about and read it for themselves. It is my strong recommendation that you begin to read systematically from the start of your undergraduate career. There is NO substitute for encountering a classic work of social thought on your own; when you read it yourself, you get to listen to it poorly in your own way, and thus, to hear something more.

So: here is the 'Analytic of the Sublime' by Kant.


Sloterdijk on Kant: 
Alexander von Humboldt had been given the missions of formulating the return from cosmic exteriority to the self-reflexive world of humans in exemplary fashion. A generation earlier, Immanuel Kant had characterized the human mind's capacity to return to itself from the enormous, the utmost and the most foreign as the sense of the sublime --what he considered sublime was the human consciousness of one's own dignity, resisting all temptations to abandon oneself in the overwhelming. By enacting the return from the terrible expanse of nature, the astral and oceanic dimensions, into the educated salons with edifying thoroughness, Humboldt's picture of the world offered his contemporaries a final initiation into the cosmologically sublime. A view of the world on the largest possible scale here became an emergency of aesthetic life. This meant the continuation of the vita contemplativa by bourgeois, and thus ultimately consumptive means. If humans wanted to be 'moved' and 'deeply feel the monstrous', they now had to seek their own interiors."  (p.24)
Ferguson on Kant: 
There was once a name for the experience of massive power held in abeyance: the sublime. Edmund Burke (and the early Immanuel Kant) provided a dogmatic anthropology of its workings, which Kant then reworked in the Third Critique. Where Burke talked, among other things, about the relationship between despotic power and fear ("dread majesty"), Kant spoke of a fear that was already overcome in the perception of the power itself. Dynamically apprehended, it was apprehended as always in a state of potentiality, something to be thought about. Mathematically apprehended, it was apprehended as a reconfiguration of ongoing enumeration into the notion of infinity, a movement of thought to be thought about.
Kant's aesthetic theory is often spoke of --as Kant spoke of it-- as providing a bridge between his account of understanding and his work on practical reason. But the example of climate change helps to bring its place into clearer focus. The theory of the sublime does not, as is frequently thought, intimate a kind of aesthetic appreciation that would be a substitute for action. Rather, it provided a model of what it's like to feel that the world is posing a problem to all of the usual ways we have of conceiving of our actions. (p.35) 
Siegel on the sublime: 
Indeed Cornell's plan seems to have been shaped by the thematics of the Romantic sublime, which practically guaranteed that a cultivated man in the presence of certain landscapes would find his thoughts drifting metonymically through a series of topics --solitude, ambition, melancholy, death, spirituality, 'classical inspiration' --which could lead, by an extension, to questions of culture and pedagogy. (p.69)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Week 4. Worlding the Anthropocene [Hw]

 Marina Zurkow, The Poster Children (2007)

This week your homework has two parts:

1. Select one quotation from each of the assigned readings and provide an explanation of why you think this quotation is important for understanding the reading. It's worth noting that the achievement of understanding is not necessarily the same as having a grasp of a text's central argument. There's more to the art of quoting than the obvious efficiency of reproducing another person's argument on the terrain of your paper. Instead, this week I want you to look for quotations that index some inner paradox or tension. Alternatively, you might choose quotations that speak to how the author uses imagery, texture and other sensory details to ground their position, or to generate a particular affect in the reader. As always, try to make the quotations bend back upon earlier readings and discussion.

2. Select at least one term and look it up. This should be done using the library portal system. In your homework post, write and report back to the class your new understanding of that term or concept. 

Week 4. Worlding the Anthropocene [Rd]


*from OED

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Pervert's Nature

Yes; though you may think me perverse, if it were proposed to me to dwell in the neighborhood of the most beautiful garden that ever human art contrived, or else of a dismal swamp, I should certainly decide for the swamp. How vain then have been all your labors, citizens, for me!

Henry David Thoreau, 1862, 'Walking'

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

9/9. Climate Determinism

Below you will find the collected responses from today's field exercise; three views from Cornell, three different representations of Nature, and as evidenced below, a good many more Natures. Please read them over carefully before our next class. 

Part I. 

Vincent J.F. Huang, Born in 1971; 
Polar Bear Hamburger, 2014

The polar bear in a cheeseburger symbolizes humanity’s complete control over NATURE in order to advance humanity’s selfish desires. The polar bear and its environment have been greatly affected by climate change, just like humans controlling cattle for hamburgers (selfish).  
Bear’s tongue: suffering or mocking? 
In essence we are slaughtering polar bears (like we slaughter cows to make hamburgers) by polluting the air such that greenhouse gases cause the temperature of the earth to rise and destroy polar bear habitats.  
This piece of work embodies the destruction of NATURE at the hands of humans. The burger, something we literally hold in our hands, has a polar bear. The bears position indicates how they are getting “eaten” up. However, the polar bear is representative of all NATURE because it has been the face of endangered species in recent years
This piece of art represents what, we, as humans are doing to other species around the world through climate change especially Polar Bears have done no wrong yet they are being punished and “eaten up” by our wrongdoings. 
What an interesting piece. Although not at first obvious. I think that it is related to NATURE, or rather illustrating NATURE, in the way of juxtaposing humanly creations with the very nonhuman polar bear. The polar bear lies at the substructure of polarburger as to represent the continuous obliviousness of man in face of all NATURE —an overwhelming sublimity. We never truly understand our overarching often indirect impact on the life of other nonhuman entities. 
Human society is killing NATURE. The burger represents us as humans industrializing the world and using up our NATURAL resources and the polar bear represents the wildlife of the Earth. The bear has no choice and is sandwiched by our need to industrialize and globalize. He is being weighed down by our poor choices. 
The polar bear as the patty of a burger symbolizes the death of the polar bear and the melting of the polar ice caps. The more we industrialize and pollute, the more the polar ice caps are melting, thereby killing the polar bears. The burger itself represents industry such as the fast food industry and its ‘expansion’ has negative effects on the environment, one represented by this piece of art is the melting of the polar ice caps. 
The artist is portraying how society is “squashing” the animals. We care more about our fast food (e.g. McDonalds and Burger King) than we do the endangered animals in the environment. Thus, animals such as the polar bear populations are being “flattened” out due to the increase in global warming and the “pressure’ we, as society, place on the environment. 
The first thing that jumps out is that nature is being represented in the literal sense by a polar bear while the hamburger represents consumerism. On a deeper level, nature is being represented as helpless in the face of industry and subject to us and how we treat it. To put a cow there would have similar effect but on a smaller scale. The polar bear immediately makes you think of the global impact because we associate it with global climate change.
The artwork represents how humans carelessly treat NATURE to their own advantage. The polar bear, symbolizing NATURE, is seen “sandwiched” in a hamburger —ready to be devoured by humans. In a way, the polar bear is being disrespected, which thus shows nature being disrespected. Humans believe they are superior towards nature, and feel it is fine to “eat” a polar bear hamburger

The artist is representing NATURE as something perishable and directly connected to our actions and decisions. The polar bear represents the detrimental effects global warming has on climate and therefore animal habitats. He draws connection between the meat we consume and the exacerbation of thus climate change. 
The sculpture articulates the unseen impact of consumption on the environment. Comfort and normalcy are interjected with the uncomfortable reality of the impact of our consumption habits have on NATURE.

The piece represents NATURE with its centerpiece, a polar bear which directly relates to NATURE and what surrounds the bear, various agricultural products which can occur in NATURE but are created with the help of man. This piece reflects how the polar bears are doing due to human causes. 
The art depicts polar bear in place of a burger patty. I believe this is a piece of art that depicts polar bears difficult situation resulting from climate change. Since humans slaughter animals to use them for food, this suggests that humans are also inadvertently slaughtering polar bears with the global warming we are mainly responsible for. Overall, the image also represents the different parts of NATURE humans use for their luxury and pleasure. It shows how homo sapiens have become one of the most dominant species in the world
The fact that it’s a bear, which represents NATURE is significant. The bear is dead, and all living things die (this is a representation of NATURE). Other condiments (i.e. ketchup, pickles, etc) also are representations of NATURE. 
This piece of art represents how humans are putting our own greedy needs and desires above the welfare of the environment. We’d rather get a fast food cheeseburger than care about or contemplate the long term condition of the world. The polar bear inside the burger portrays the harm our behavior does to animals and the rest of the environment.
Part II. 
Marc Keane, class of 79'; 
The Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Garden, 2011

This courtyard is an example of humans attempting to control nature —but green and plants and rocks isn’t what makes the wilderness “NATURE”. Real wilderness is obviously, wild. There is a raw, entropic feel to letting it all take its course. There is randomness that we find beauty in. Once we try to recreate that —or even alter it to be “more” beautiful as in the case of this courtyard, we take away the one defining characteristic that the wilderness has to offer.
No since it is manmade; the rocks were moved here by people, plants planted by people, the landscape determined by people.  
Although it is composed of organic things, the composition is not NATURAL because it was obviously erected by man. (Reminds me of the Grand Canyon with Colorado river flowing through )
This little courtyard is not the wilderness, but rather a grove that it is man-made, yet it is representative of it. It portrays the grandeur of the Ithaca gorges at a smaller level. It tries to make itself look larger than it actually is. Also, within the courtyard itself, there are no man-made objects, its just man arranged
This is not wilderness because of its man-made roots. I believe that the person who made this ‘courtyard’ was trying to represent ‘wilderness’ and Cornell by creating something that compare to a gorge, not in size, but in representation.
The setting of the courtyard confronts one with an overwhelming sense because I felt like the NATURA [qua] wilderness —that which has absolutely no interaction by man or not impacted at all by man —was forcefully compounded together on a dramatically small scale, ridiculing ourselves in misperceiving the NATURAL. 

NATURE is depicted in this garden as an isolated area where stillness occurs. Here, this piece of “artificial” nature is isolated and integrated in a different environment. This garden, although tries to be NATURAL, is artificial piece of artwork where it transforms the viewer’s perspective of their present environment.
The courtyard was definitely an UN-NATURAL thing -and kind of an eyesore because of it. The plants look different than what’s normally around the school, and the entire thing is laid out in a very deliberately, orderly, “UN-NATURALLY” way. 
This is not wilderness because of its man-made arrangement and foliage. While the parts of it represent NATURE such as the tree and the bushes, the physical set-up was not NATURAL since humans took elements of nature and arranged it on an alternative layout from its NATURAL state. 
This is not the same as wilderness since this was man-made. What already existed before humans tampered with it is considered NATURAL. NATURE is essentially the manifestation of the actions and existence of every other species in the world. Even though this relies on the “NATURAL” instincts of plants, the creation of this area is completely artificial.
This is not NATURAL because it was obviously man made. The rock formations and its placement right next to the museum is not that likely to occur in NATURE and especially the abrupt ending of the rocks in the river seems sketchy. 
The garden courtyard outside of the Johnson Museum is a refinement of forms, place, and elements of NATURE but this also disqualifies it. The garden is a controlling influence over NATURAL elements, but still a concept honed in artifice. This style of meditative garden provides an idealized view of NATURE as seen through our human perception. 
Part III. 
Pedestrian Suspension Bridge; 
Ithaca, NY 

The view from the bridge makes me feel restrained and insignificant to NATURE, in which the grand scenery and landscape concludes how vast NATURE is in comparison to humans. This net also guards us and breaks off our connection with NATURE in a way that affirms how disconnected we are with NATURE. 
NATURE is represented literally here. It is a landscape with a gorge, probably similar to the land Cornell was built on. Here NATURE is beautiful and “pure,” not affected by humans. This landscape is pleasing to look at. It does lead you to wonder, is this place no longer beautiful and NATURAL because of the university? What is the difference between beautiful Cornell and its beautiful location?
The nets definitely obstruct the view and the sublime. The truth is, if someone wanted to jump, they could find a way. The net is a mental safety blanket so that we think we don’t have a choice between life and death. 
The NATURAL beauty of the bridge in not in anyway affected by the nets on the bridge. You can easily see right through through them. The view itself is extraordinary with the rushing waters, soaring cliffs and beautiful vegetation. 
There is a lot of NATURAL beauty of the area and it is extremely important to protect this beauty, but I also think that the safety of the students is equally important. I think the net is a good compromise, it protects the students and doesn’t really disrupt the NATURAL beauty of the landscape.
NATURE is abundant from this view. The river has naturally carved out the steep rock face cliffs on the sides, while foliage still tries to grow from the cracks and crevices. The netting however does detract from the view and gives the bridge crossers a feeling of entrapment. Still if one is truly absorbed in the NATURE, the net can become irrelevant. 
The view from the bridge exudes sublime —looking out, you can see the full extent of the land, but looking down, you feel small. Something just screams danger within you, but also a captivation to the roar of the waterfalls, the history and magnificence. The barriers obstruct the view, but I feel they are a reality check, ensuring you don’t get too into it. 

The view from the bridge demonstrates how extensive NATURE is in our lives. It certainly depicts how small humans are in the world. The view extends past the entire gorge and to other NATURAL sights. The fencing and netting represent the separation between NATURE and human civilization. It does not ruin the view.
We are surrounded by two shells. The outer shell is NATURE; although there are traces of humans here, the view is no less beautiful and the place no less NATURAL. We enjoy looking at these steep drop offs and waterfall because they remind us of how large and old the Earth is. It’s like a panoramic view of time. 
NATURE in this situation is all around us. The gorges were carried out by a NATURAL process hundreds of thousands of years ago. The waterfall and cascading water add the sound of NATURE. Also the green from the trees add to the aesthetic value. Finally, the random pattern in which the water flows in those mini-rapids attest to NATURE. 
Standing on the bridge with the fence takes away from the beauty of the view. It makes me feel enclosed, almost like I shouldn’t be looking at it. Yet, it does provide a feeling of safety. For instance, I’m leaning on the railing and without the fence I would not feel secure enough to do that. 
I think that the view does provide an awareness of true wilderness, but not a real sensibility of it. There is no perception of true NATURE because of how man places himself in it. We trap ourselves in our recognizable reality of life for it is difficult to look past the barriers. Below is untouched by human hands, but above man is interfering with it. The nets did not affect this because they were added to the already humanly constructed bridge.
Encapsulated and separated, a thin wire net is a constant reminder of the treacherously sublime NATURE of this place. The water flowing endlessly down the falls; also surrounded, but instead of nets, by shear cliff gorges. The sublimity of this view, however, is reduced; its relationship to the classical interpretation of death in a state of overt presence as well as separation. 
View from suspension bridge: breath taking. I didn’t expect to be so high up. The net by no means destroys the view; once can still very much appreciate it. However, I do feel less “immersed” in the view/NATURE with the net, less “close” to NATURE. 
NATURE and wilderness exist in the water and actual gorge —and while the bridge and netting is safe, its the construction and human alterations that detract from seeing the beauty, not just figuratively, but literally —you can’t actually look at the NATURE on the bridge without physically having to look past netting. 

Part IV. 
Nature "is"...

  • Nature is the biological underpinning of cultural phenomena
  • Nature is the opposite of culture
  • Nature is not artificial or man-made
  • Nature is inhuman
  • Nature is the environment
  • Nature is truth
  • Nature is pictured and panoramic 
  • Nature is sublime; beyond calculation, awe-inspiring
  • Nature is the neutral backdrop and stage for human affairs
  • Nature is the physical reality that exists apart from us
  • Nature is an infinite frontier of everlasting abundance
  • Nature is sacred
  • Nature is beautiful; gorgeous, striking, enjoyable
  • Nature is mastered and disciplined
  • Nature is local and healthy
  • Nature is controlled and interfered with
  • Nature is cyclical; balanced, self-sustaining, self-regulating
  • Nature is non-circular; chaotic, irregular
  • Nature is desolate; an empty space that is indifferent to humans
  • Nature is wild
  • Nature is a constraint on human freedom; constitutive of limits and meaning
  • Nature is patterned and orderly
  • Nature is random
  • Nature is un-arranged 
  • Nature is a series of recurring zones of uniformity 
  • Nature is bushy foliage
  • Nature is sometimes not natural 
  • Nature is tranquil and quiet
  • Nature is something to be had, or taken advantage of
  • Nature is ruined 
  • Nature is on our side
  • Nature is innocent
  • Nature is impacted; polluted, lost, flattened 
  • Nature is obstructed; confined, destroyed, disturbed, damned
  • Nature is ever lasting; infinite and boundless
  • Nature is ephemeral; a non-repeating finitude 
  • Nature is instinctual 
  • Nature is rushing, roaring, green
  • Nature is threatened and entropic
  • Nature is observable and beyond comprehension
  • Nature is a state of being not gardened; raw and uncooked
  • Nature is changing; governed by timeless laws
  • Nature is unchanging; governed by timeless laws

Part V. 
Seasons through the Fences, 2005-2014





Monday, September 8, 2014

The View from Cornell

I. Recap 
Last Thursday I gave each of you an index card with a unique call number. At the time, I asked two things of you: i) to describe the view from the seventh floor and ii) to speculate on the function of the railing. 
Below, I have reproduced Siegel's original illustrations from the essay 'Academic Work: The View from Cornell' (1981) and images I captured up in the stacks after class ended. These images are framed alongside your responses. 
The view from the 7th floor is quite calming and simply a beautiful scenery. You can see from far distance, and in a way makes me feel insignificant. If I wanted a break from studying, I would just simply look outside and take a break.
The view from the top of Olin library looks over on the arts quad. I thought it was very interesting to see all of the people walking in different directions along the pathways between buildings. It reminded me of being in a skyscraper in New York City. I love seeing all of the people walking in different directions, wondering where they are going. 
View. --expansive, can see for miles as if you could see all  knowledge in the world.
As today is a clear, sunny day, the view from Olin's 7th floor is fantastic. To the south are many of Cornell's old and new buildings intermixed, with areas of dense green trees filling the spaces in between. Further out, the green blanket of tree-covered land rolls downward into one of the east-west valleys, and climbs again to where Ithaca College sits on the hilltop. I can also see, to the West, the well-developed valley that the City of Ithaca inhabits. The north view shows a picturesque panorama of the Arts Quad. There is the brilliant and rich green of the lawns and the loosely arranged trees. The Gothic style academic buildings that form the quad are distinctly characteristic of the quintessential liberal arts college. Students sit or lie on the grass to study or relax. This view gives me a sense of detachment from the rest of Cornell below and around me as I watch how the pedestrians interact, and how the environment sways in the wind and plays with the sunlight. I almost feel as if I were Humboldt or Sloterdijk, looking closely and introspectively down at Earth from a viewpoint that is still rather distant from the earth. Cornell is a living, breathing, dynamic body, and I observe it from a distance above. It actually makes me feel rather serene, and it clears my mind.
From the 7th floor you can basically se all the buildings and hills in the background. You can see a few people walking below. You get a sense of peacefulness beacuse everything is so small. 
The 7th floor view stretched out on one side across the Arts Quad, while on the other side it displays the area around campus. A lot of green trees mixed with architecturally beautiful buildings on campus. It makes me feel happy to have worked hard to be here.
In terms of the railing surrounding the ledge off the top floor of Olin, there are two different view points one can take to describe it's purpose. You can take a philosophical stand point and say that the railing represents the barrier between life and death or that it preserves the knowledge of the library. On the other side, one could simply point out that the railing's purpose is to protect people from falling off the edge. I prefer to think of it in the latter. That the railings main purpose is to protect the people of the library from falling off the edge. 
I initially thought the railing is there to protect people who walk along the pebbled ledge from falling over the ledge. However, it doesn't seem that one can normally go out there. So maybe, the railing is to provide a symbolic sort of protection, to let viewers feel they are safe, even though viewers like me are already behind a glass window? Or maybe the library used to allow people to actually walk along that pebbled ledge? From a more practical standpoint, the railing may be for protecting maintenance workers when they work on the roof of the library.
The railing is likely for the workers who clean windows and upkeep the "rock garden" on the ledge in order to provide security without obnoxiously ruining the view.
Sage chapel,
Old buildings, architecture.
On the right very rural, 
just trees, 
shows contrast between populated + 

Bed of rocks and pebbles. 
Low railing maybe 2-3 feet.
Wouldn’t prevent anyone from falling.
Looks rusty.

The railing is there as a blatant hazard to young children. The railing is nothing more than a horizontal white bar with sparse vertical white bars supporting it, and there is nothing but air within these "rectangles" formed by the vertical bars. When young children whose height is below the bar face this railing, they are essentially unprotected by the railing, and with one false move may fall of the edge. Since taller people are easily stopped when they collide with the horizontal bar of the railing, this railing is clearly inadequate and requires additional support. Given that the Olin Library has been around for over 5 decades, the fact that this railing is so insecure for small children clearly shows that the Cornell administration is dismissive towards children's safety. In effect, the existence of such a poorly designed railing is an insult and threat toward small children. To small children, each rectangle of the railing is a window of opportunity for sudden and cruel death, and this issue should in no way be taken lightly. #DownWithCornellSerious answer: Instinctively, I think it's just there as a reminder to people to be aware of their elevated position. Perhaps the simplistic design of the railing allows a better view of the area below.
I see beautiful rooftops just below my sightline, I see trees perking up in the forefront of rolling hills with Ithaca College plateaued upon them. Though right before me is an oddly placed railing. I think this exists as such as to elevate the grandeur of the library by expanding its scale. I believe this because the low railing diminishes the perception of human scale.
Railing. --to give perspective to the scale of the outside world. 
There are several possibilities for the purpose of the railing. The railing may have been implemented so that window-washers and construction workers were not at risk of falling over. It is also possible that the railings are there to alter people’s view. Possibly encouraging them to look upward and in the distance since the railing detracts from the lower view. It is also possible that the railing makes people feel mortal and less omnipotent since the railing makes them remember that they are just in a building and not truly up above with a heavenly view.
My guess as to the purpose of the railing is for safety -there might be an exit to the rocky balcony from one of the study rooms. 
A panoramic view of the eclectic but rich architecture of Cornell’s campus surrounding by a valley. Close proximity to river lane betrays the true height of our perspective. The atmosphere discretely overlayed upon the far of landscape. The product of knowledge on display for those occupying these catacombs of wisdom. 

Incitements to the Study of Nature

Here's the link to the digital version of Alexander von Humboldt's Cosmos (1849). This is the same edition as the physical copies we worked with last class in the Rare Book and Manuscript section of Olin Library.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Week 3. Whether Weather [Hw]

I. Assignment

This week your homework assignment is to find, explain, and connect four different quotations. These must be drawn from four different texts, one of which should not be an assigned reading. For this exercise, I ask that you choose a non-academic source for the fourth quotation and treat it as a historical artifact or clue about X. In this case, X will be an original argument about the relationship between the model of climatic causality à la Hippocrates or Montesquieu and current public discussion on the relationship between suicide, weather, nature and the sublime at Cornell.  

To be clear, the goal of this exercise is not to answer the question, 'Do climatic differences explain cultural differences?'. I'm not asking you to tell me if you agree or disagree that culture is best understood as an epiphenomenon of weather, or if you think variations in geography are the ultimate secret to understanding human depression. Instead, what I want you to do is to develop an original argument that ties together the historical formulation of a particular model of causality (in this case, we might agree to call it 'climate determinism') and more recent examples of public thinking on the topic. 

II. Rationale

Part of learning to become an effective academic writer is learning how to make non-obvious connections between different ideas and types of evidence. Behind the curtain of knowledge production, one discovers nothing more than the art of juxtaposing and interpreting connections with the aim of threading some larger point or analytical concept with the cloth of recorded evidence and one's own commentary and departure from the received wisdom on the subject or phenomenon in question. Therefore, in order to select quotations or determine what evidence is significant, you will have to have some inkling of why and to what end you shall be marshaling the quotation as evidence. In this way, finding the right quotation ends up being only half the job; the more important task remains of adequately unpacking and analyzing a quotation in a way that encourages your reader to agree with the non-obvious claim you have proposed.  

In college there is an additional burden of expectation: a thesis argument (and the chain of references through which it is quilted) must be at once concrete (quoted directly rather than paraphrased), original (or what amounts to surprising and amusing), and nuanced (attending to complexity and possible objections). In anthropology, this often takes the form of what is sometimes called 'contrarianism' --a strategy of argumentation that sounds a lot like, 'Everything you know about X is wrong'. 

Anthropological critique, however, should not be confused with naive skepticism, or more pejoratively, and in the context of climate discussions, with so-called "denialism". Thus, to be clear, in this course I will not be asking you to prove whether or not X exists. Our goal will be different, albeit no less ambitious: to deploy evidence in a way that raises questions and locates thought around points of paradox and ambiguity of X that are otherwise shielded from collective speculation. 

III. Additional Readings

To reiterate the instructions; you will need to use quotations from at least three assigned readings (and one from below or elsewhere) in order to assess how the act of suicide and more generally the riddle of student psychology is framed via an appeal to some causal relationship between climate and human culture. 

Some additional sources, among others not named, that you may draw upon include:

- Ginsburg v. City of Ithaca et al (Everyone should at least skim this!)

- Gannet's definition of Winter (blues)'Means Restriction Resources' (many interesting links here)

- Student blog entries or discussion board comments (for example, No Sunshine; 'A Few Thoughts on the recent Cornell Suicides')

- Radio shows on the theme (see, 'Cure Winter Blues with Light Therapy')