Crossing Over: An Explication of Amy Clampitt’s “Discovery” (1993)

Essay completed 11 September 2017

The 1993 poem “Discovery” portrays the prioritization of fantasy over reality that arises when a society separates itself from nature. The speaker dramatizes this divide with the concrete image of humans encountering manatees swimming “upriver to Blue Spring,” a location cast as a neutral territory between the fakeness of the  “cozy mythologies” humans invent and the authenticity nature offers. “No imagining these sirenians dangerously singing,” the speaker remarks, considering the difference between manatees and their fantastical counterparts, “…so much for the Little Mermaid.” Continue reading “Crossing Over: An Explication of Amy Clampitt’s “Discovery” (1993)”

Mirror Tests: Anthropocentrism and Cross-Species Understanding in The Lives of Animals

Essay completed 3 March 2017

J.M. Coetzee’s work The Lives of Animals calls language into question by framing a discussion of animal rights through fictional academic lectures, conversations, and debates. In her response to the work, Majorie Garber argues the narrative destabilizes the reader’s ability to choose which authoritative voice to trust through its metafictive structure and ultimate establishing of “partitions of knowledge” between disciplines (73). I concur with Garber and wonder whether Coetzee’s intention for The Lives of Animals is to ask “What is the value of literature?” more than “What is the value of the animal?” (84). Throughout the fictional debates, Coetzee asks us to question what kinds of language can be trusted as an accurate way to represent the essence of animal experience. What kind of language, then, brings us to the best model of understanding the relationship between the human and nonhuman?   Continue reading “Mirror Tests: Anthropocentrism and Cross-Species Understanding in The Lives of Animals”

Existential Action: Criticisms and Hypothetical Responses

Essay completed 7 December 2016

In his 1946 essay “Existentialism is humanism,” Sartre defends existentialism against several recurring criticisms. The most superficial criticism of existentialism asserts that existentialists dwell too much on human degradation while denying the seriousness of human achievement. In essence, this criticism asks why existentialism focuses so much on negative aspects of life, when there is so much to celebrate. Another common criticism Sartre identifies is the charge that existentialism fosters nihilism because it denies objective morality, condemning people to live without meaning. The underlying assumption of this criticism is that a life is only worth living if there is objective morality. Another criticism is that existentialism encourages quietism and discourages solidarity in the face of life’s meaninglessness. These charges assert overall that if objective solutions can never be found in existentialism, “we should have to consider action in this world as quite impossible” (Marino 341-342). Continue reading “Existential Action: Criticisms and Hypothetical Responses”

What is to be Done: Responses to Determinism in Notes from Underground

Essay completed 12 October 2016

In Notes from Underground, Fyodor Dostoevsky is responding to the idea of rational egoism with the character of the Underground Man. The Underground Man is unable to justify his motivations for acting in light of the principle of rational egoism, which holds that the motivations of all human behavior can be traced back to self-interest. The utopian intellectuals to whom Dostoevsky is responding in the novel believe that eventually humanity can eliminate all crime from society. Under rational egoism, human transgression does not come from evil or sinfulness because all actions can be traced back to social pressures or injustices. There is no reason to punish or take revenge, as people are not responsible for their actions. This idea consumes the Underground Man leading him to agonize over the proper response to a life bound by determinism. Continue reading “What is to be Done: Responses to Determinism in Notes from Underground”