Thursday, May 8, 2008


I just wanted to say thanks for an amazing class. This has been one of the most insightful and useful classes that I've taken at Cornell during my three years here thus far. I feel like the things I've learned in this class will always stay with me and be in the back of (or forefront) of my mind as i continue to take more classes and learn new things. I can now say, that from reading Cronon, to watching Bambi, to writing my paper about a Japanese film, my views of nature are now different from what they were at the outset of the semester. Upon taking the final exam and spilling out my thoughts, it wrapped up the semester very nicely as I connected all of the major themes in the class on paper. Up until the very last word in the exam , I was still thinking, challenging myself to make connections, and learning. I know that the ideas, the concepts, the thoughts I've conjured up as a result of this class have influenced how I perceive "nature", and will continue to push me to keep thinking about nature and culture. I feel that this class has been worth every minute I spent in lecture, doing readings, and writing essays because the knowledge that I've taken from it is priceless. Thank you for helping me, teaching me, and challenging me to make these connections.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Nazism and Nature: Architecture of Doom

In his article "Nativism and Nature: Rethinking Biological Invasion," Jonah Peretti discussed the Nazi's desire to "purify nation and nature, by eliminating people and biota that were supposedly not native" (118) in an effort to beautify the nation. Because Hitler et. al. believed that the Germans embodied pure beauty, they wanted to purify their state by getting rid of everything. According to John Haldane, "the human experience plays a constitutive role in environmental aesthetics" (Admiring the High Mountains 105). Therefore, the Germans were trying to make their state more aesthetically pleasing by removing non-native species and races. As Michael Pollan would say, the Germans were simply cultivating their garden with an anthropocentric eye, to make it the way they wanted it to be. He would argue that by pulling weeds (or in this case eradicating the non-native species in Germany), the gardener may be able to improve his land. However I would doubt that many people would argue that the Nazis were improving their land. Thus, it seems that whether or not gardening, weeding, and cultivating land is improving nature must be subjective and therefore may be good or bad depending on your point of view. This makes Pollan's garden ethic slightly more complicated.

An interesting documentary, Architecture of Doom, shows that the Germans viewed the Jews as insects or invasive species that needed to be eradicated. In a Washington Post review of the documentary, Benjamin Forgey describes the scene that motivated my interest in the movie: "In this so-called euthanasia program, means were perfected for the ultimate Nazi task, the cleansing of the race via the eradication of the Jews. Perhaps the most horrific juxtaposition in a film replete with them is that of an official 1937 film extolling the killing of pests with a new insecticide, Zyklon B, with the notorious antisemitic pseudo-documentary "The Eternal Jew," made in the Warsaw ghetto in 1940. Zyklon B was the gas settled upon for the concentration camp chambers." This documentary explores the Nazi psyche by comparing the Jewish population to a population of invasive insects. This relates directly to Peretti's questioning of whether native species are in fact more desirable than invaders.

Walden Forever Wild and Dadaism

While studying, I was thinking about the whole Walden Forever Wild thing, and I did a quick Google search that came up with an article in the NY Times about the movement and its intentions for Walden Pond, about how they want to turn it into a "shrine" to Thoreau and Emerson ( link here . To accomplish this, they want to lower public access to the site, banning people from swimming in the area, etc. Obviously, from the state of things today (ie. bioengineering and stuff like that to better accommodate huge foot traffic) they didn't succeed, but it got me thinking about some other things.

I couldn't help but be reminded of a controversy that came up a couple of years ago about a man who defaced Marcel Duchamp's famous Fountain sculpture ( link here ). For those that don't know about the sculpture or its history, Marcel Duchamp was a major figure in the Dada movement. Dadaism was basically a nihilist approach to art. Artists like Duchamp saw a ridiculousness in the whole artifice and culture and construction of the art world and art history, so they created works of art like giant urinals as sort of a tongue-in-cheek protest to this. But, today, the Fountain and other works have become part of the canon, which is completely ironic and antithetical to their intended purpose. The man who defaced it understood this; that's why he defaced it. But the art establishment obviously thought otherwise.

Walden Forever Wild reminded me of this whole incident. Isn't it sort of ironic that a group of people wanted to turn Walden Pond into a shrine to Thoreau, to sort of canonize the Pond? Isn't it sort of antithetical to Thoreau's entire goal at Walden Pond, to experiment in simple living? If people want to follow or emulate Thoreau's ascetic ethic, they shouldn't go to Walden, which is a tourist destination now. Unsettled places are a shrine to Thoreau. Walks in the woods are a shrine to Thoreau. Walden Pond is not a shrine to Thoreau, and to try to turn it into one completely misses the point, especially considering the fact that Walden Pond has already been transformed by the millions of visitors it's seen already. Rather, I like what's been done with the Pond today, a sort of Olmstedian gardening of the place, acknowledging that people will be coming through but taking measures to lessen that impact while employing methods that nature itself uses.

Monday, May 5, 2008

What happens in the UK if you don't mow your lawn

Apparently some people are more sensitive to keeping up with lawn uniformity than others. It's interesting that it happened in the UK, where supposedly mowing and keeping a lawn that flows into your neighbors doesn't happen. I guess two story high brambles that can be seen from space make an exception.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Finding Nemo

My roommates were watching "Finding Nemo" tonight and I overheard a really funny quote that relates to the last couple weeks of class. Nemo's school teacher, the ray, is trying to help settle a dispute between Nemo and his father. He swims over to them and says:

"Excuse me, is there anything I can do? I am a scientist, sir. Is there any problem?"

That made me laugh and I thought about our discussion of how science is often seen as objective and as the realm of the 'experts.' A nice, subtle joke on the part of the screenwriters, and if you haven't seen the movie I recommend it!