The Department of English presents:
The Faculty Research Colloquium
by Lowell Duckert
This presentation confronts one of the gravest environmental issues today, mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia and Appalachia, on unlikely ground: sixteenth- and seventeenth-century notions of the “prospect.” Derived from the Latin prospectare and prospicere, the “prospect” was more than a mining term; it could denote that which faces forward in time and space, the relative senses of such, or a view itself. But “prospect” could also describe an action – to face forward, to situate, and the anticipated results of such. I will focus on one earthy text in particular, John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667/74), not just to show how mining has devastating ecological consequences (it does), but also, and more importantly, to argue that mining is an ecotheoretical means of conceptualizing different “prospect[s] wide / And various” (5.88-9), a way of wondering about better futures on and with the Earth/earth. Earth faces the human in prospective directions; the look downward is simultaneously a look forward in time. Borrowing a phrase from Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari who believe mines are non-teleological “lines of flight” that transport bodies across “smooth spaces” of becoming, I believe that mines of flight have the ability to create nature-culture assemblages of desire in addition to socio-economic squalor, environmental sickness, and geological ruin. Coalfield sociologist Rebecca R. Scott has recently examined the (illogical) “logic of extraction” that perpetuates the environmental injustices of MTR. My hope is that the early modern “prospect” alters contemporary debates that harmfully divide humans from the landscape and pit economic interests against environmental ones—offering us, instead, prospective futures in which the lives of both humans and nonhumans are mutually enriched.
September 25, 2013
2:30 p.m., 130 Colson Hall