In this course we will investigate the complex struggles over the environment in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries through the worlds of the literary texts and films that have tried to take their readers beneath the seas, over the ice sheets, across deserts, through cities, islands and continents and beyond into space. We will take a specifically literary approach to environmental questions, by examining the increasingly varied modes of writing through which struggles the sea, ice, and fresh water are imagined, interpreted, and contested. How did environmental crisis become a way in which to understand our relationship to the contemporary world, and to imagine our pasts and futures? What narrative strategies do literary (and other) writers use to orient us towards conflicts over the meanings and uses of water, or of sharks and their oceans? Is water, as a basic requirement of human life, imagined in ways that are truly universal, or do water imaginations change across human societies, past and present?
Reading and viewing an international selection of literature and film, we will begin by reconstructing some of the turbulent pathways of water in thought over time, looking at how water has come to be seen as a resource, and how the sea has been imagined as a place both deeply marginal to humanity (a place of pirates and other dangers) as well as crucial to the secrets of human life?s origins and meanings. We will move to water as a site of experience, imagination and conflict in the present, engaging the sorrowful seas of environmentalist documentary film, as well as the fictions that convey deeply uneven and contaminated fresh water supplies. Finally, we will look at how writers offer different imaginative possibilities for water's futures, from writers' efforts to push beyond the boundaries of known and experienced worlds in surfing literature, to films about ice at a time of climate change.