Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Comparative Literature (Interdepartmental Program)

Document Type



The tensions between city and country, the artificial and the natural, the real and the fake are at the heart of attempts to render nature in writing. In many such texts, nature—especially wilderness—is the realm of the real, authentic, and pure, while the city is the realm of the artificial and corrupt. This placement of value in nature, members of the critical theory camp tend to counter, is misguided. Any effort to render nature in text is by its “nature” artificial—far more about human values embedded in language itself than about some extra-textual world. With an approach derived from theorists and critics as diverse in approach as Robert Pogue Harrison, Gilles Deleuze, Hans Jonas and R.G. Collingwood, my study rejects both monisms—of both matter and text—in favor of retaining the two fields as separate, but so entangled in each other that any claim to “purity” is illusory, futile. My study begins in Arcadia with an examination of the pastoral impulse through a close reading of Garcilaso de la Vega’s Égloga Tercera, which concerns the entwinement of Nature with Art. It then moves through considerations of several sites of interaction between language and environment: the mountain as terrain of the wild sublime; the river as site of wild nature harnessed to the use of humanity; the animal as agent of natural law; and the city as the source of longing for the pastoral locus amoenus. The texts range from the Ikhwan al-Safa’s Case of the Animals Versus Man to Petrarch’s account of his ascent of Mt. Ventoux, from Thoreau’s journey on the Concord and Merrimack rivers to Krakauer’s account of Chris McCandless’s ill-fated foray into the wilderness of Alaska. As my discussion suggests, Nature and Art, world and language, are all impure. Every encounter with the world implies language; every encounter with language limns a world.



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Committee Chair

Stone, Gregory B.