I am beginning my environmental literature/ethics/politics course by having my students read a chapter of Nadia Tazi’s Keywords: Nature, a book that juxtaposes ideas of nature from a number of different world cultures. Leo Marx wrote “The Idea of Nature in America,” the chapter I’ve asked them to read. This chapter is a nearly flawless example of an essay in the history of ideas, as one would expect from Leo Marx. However, it is also the case that the chapter is not so much about nature in American culture, as it is about Nature in Anglo-American culture. I don’t see this as a weakness: the specificity of the subculture is part of what makes the essay so strong.
Nonetheless, it is no longer sufficient (especially when teaching in Manhattan) to assume that American culture as a whole is coterminous with Anglo-American culture. I assume that it is more accurate to talk about American cultures of nature. So, I am asking my students to compare Marx’s account of American nature with their own history with nature in America. If anyone is curious to see what they said, you can check out their posts at the end of this week on our class blog: perfectstorms.wordpress.com.