The World in Which We Occur: John Dewey, Pragmatist Ecology, and American Ecological Writing in the Twentieth Century / Edition 2

Hardcover (Print)
Buy New
Buy New from
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $14.33
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 64%)
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (8) from $14.33   
  • New (4) from $32.79   
  • Used (4) from $0.00   


American philosopher John Dewey considered all human endeavors to be one with the natural world. In his writings, particularly Art as Experience (1934), Dewey insists on the primacy of the environment in aesthetic experience. Dewey’s conception of environment includes both the natural and the man-made. The World in Which We Occur highlights this notion in order to define “pragmatist ecology,” a practice rooted in the interface of the cultural and the natural. Neil Browne finds this to be a significant feature of some of the most important ecological writing of the last century.
To fully understand human involvement in the natural world, Browne argues that disciplinary boundaries must be opened, with profound implications for the practice of democracy. The degradation of the physical environment and democratic decay, for Browne, are rooted in the same problem: our persistent belief that humans are somehow separate from their physical environment.
Browne probes the work of a number of major American writers through the lens of Dewey’s philosophy. Among other texts examined are John Muir’s My First Summer in the Sierra (1911); Sea of Cortez (1941) by John Steinbeck and Edward Ricketts; Rachel Carson’s three books about the sea, Under the Sea-Wind (1941), The Sea Around Us (1951), and The Edge of the Sea (1955); John Haines’s The Stars, the Snow, the Fire (1989); Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams (1986); and Terry Tempest Williams’s Refuge (1991). Together, these texts—with their combinations of scientific observation and personal meditation—challenge the dichotomies that we have become accustomed and affirm the principles of a pragmatist ecology, one in which ecological and democratic
values go hand in hand.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Browne (Oregon State Univ., Cascades) looks at Dewey's pragmatic ecology and applies it to frequently overlooked texts by major American environmental authors: John Muir's My First Summer in the Sierra (1911), John Steinbeck and Edward Ricketts's Sea of Cortez (1941), Rachel Carson's littoral texts (from Under the Sea Wind, 1941, through The Edge of the Sea, 1955), John Haines's The Stars, the Snow, the Fire (1989), Barry Lopez's Arctic Dreams (CH, May'86), and Terry Tempest Williams's Refuge (1991). Browne pursues the argument—articulated by Hugh McDonald in John Dewey and Environmental Philosophy (CH, Jul'04, 41-6458)—that Dewey's pragmatism is concomitant with his naturalism and democratic ideal, that Dewey is a monist and sees all experience as continuous and nonhierarchical. For example, Browne successfully illustrates Lopez's 'green' perspective in which human and nonhuman life are inextricably dependent, one of Lawrence Buell's requirements for a text to be 'environmental' (per his canonical The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture, CH, Sep'95, 33-0121). This crisp study, Browne's first book, derives from an article he contributed to Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment: ISLE (summer 2004), 'Activating the 'Art of Knowing': John Dewey, Pragmatist Ecology, and Environmental Writing.' Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty."

“Neil Browne has produced an illuminating study of John Dewey’s philosophy that provides the first sophisticated theoretical grounding for the field of ecocriticism. . . . A particular strength is its emphasis upon aspects of Dewey’s work that anticipate intellectual developments at the end of the 20th century. These include Dewey’s philosophical embrace of Darwinian thought and evolutionary biology; his rejection of the dualisms of mind and body, nature and culture, human and non-human that have dominated Western philosophy; and Dewey’s insistence upon the contingency and situatedness of human knowledge of the dynamic natural world.”
—Louise Westling, author of The Green Breast of the New World: Landscape, Gender, and American Fiction

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780817315818
  • Publisher: University of Alabama Press
  • Publication date: 10/7/2007
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Neil W. Browne is Assistant Professor of English at Oregon State University Cascades, where he teaches American literature and culture.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

The World in Which We Occur

John Dewey, Pragmatist Ecology, and American Ecological Writing in the Twentieth Century

The University of Alabama Press

Copyright © 2007 The University of Alabama Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8173-1581-8

Chapter One

An Arc of Discovery John Muir's My First Summer in the Sierra

If the earth opens and swallows me up, this need not prove that my trust in it was misplaced. What better place for my trust could there be? -Stanley Cavell

Those who like Muir, Emerson, and Thoreau, saw in nature a link with divinity, were not mistaken. All mythology and religion in one way or another acknowledges that primary relation, the very foundation of religious instinct. With continual alteration and settlement of the land, that connection, lacking an adequate cultural mediation, becomes more difficult to discover and maintain, but to the alert and sensitive spirit the secret of things remains intact. -John Haines

After a long walk from Indiana to Cedar Key on the Gulf Coast of Florida, after a months-long recovery from malaria, and after a sea voyage to Cuba, then on to New York, then back aboard ship to Panama and San Francisco, John Muir wandered into the great Central Valley ofCalifornia in 1868 and tended sheep for a time at Twenty Hill Hollow. He left Twenty Hill Hollow in the spring, and in the summer of 1869 the thirty-one-year-old Muir, a shepherd named Billy, a Chinese and a Native American helper, and Carlo the St. Bernard helped drive Patrick Delaney's flock of more than two thousand sheep to high pasture in the Sierra Nevada. This was Muir's first summer among the peaks of California, and more than forty years later, in 1911, My First Summer in the Sierra appeared, drawn from journals and notebooks and written when Muir was seventy-three. The journal-like entries are temporally structured by date and run from 3 June to 22 September 1869-the same year, incidentally, that Ernst Haeckel, a biologist at Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany, coined the term ökologie, or ecology. The book is dedicated to the Sierra Club of California.

My First Summer in the Sierra narrates the story of Muir's initial awakening to the power of the particular landscape that inspired the best of his writing and in which he spent some of the most meaningful moments of his life. William and Maymie Kimes insist that "this book, published near the apex of his career, reaps the competence of age while capturing the essence of youth, and becomes, we believe, his finest book" (85). Michael Cohen observes that the structure of My First Summer makes it possible that "The young narrator could travel his own innocent and sometimes heedless ways, while the older and wiser man constructed the bleak social context of the young man's travels.... The result is a carefully orchestrated structure which shows young Muir torn between his desire to wander free in the wilderness until he found a home and the necessities that required him to earn his bread and to encounter other men" (351). One of the central texts in the American nature writing tradition, First Summer has often been read as testimony to Muir's sudden conversion to nature seer during his first experience in the High Sierra-one could say the book has become eco-mythic.

However, the text raises some interesting questions. To complicate the above assessments, the original journals of the trip are lost, and First Summer seems to have been taken mostly from three extant handwritten notebooks dated 1887 that are either a revised, reworked, or totally rewritten version of the summer of 1869 (see Holmes 253-59). In his biography of Muir, Steven Holmes has convincingly shown-by looking closely at the years leading up to Muir's arrival in California and underneath First Summer to the 1887 notebooks and to the journals surrounding that mythic year Muir first walked into the Sierra-that Muir's ecological vision of the world was developed over his lifetime, was not an epiphany. It was the same kind of process that Dewey describes in Art as Experience:

The act of expression that constitutes a work of art is a construction in time, not an instantaneous emission. And this statement signifies a great deal more than that it takes time for the painter to transfer his imaginative conception to canvass and for the sculptor to complete his chipping of marble. It means that the expression of the self in and through a medium, constituting the work of art, is itself a prolonged interaction of something issuing from the self with objective conditions, a process in which both of them acquire a form and order they did not at first possess. (70-71, Dewey's emphasis)

The work of art as it becomes public is the culmination of a process-an "interaction." Interaction, of course, requires more than one participant, and Dewey designates that other participant as "objective conditions," which we can take to be both the cultural and physical environments. It is crucial to point out here that Dewey, with his choice of the term "objective," does not mean a static world absolutely independent of the self. The act of expression engages the world, contributes to ongoing experience. Referring to William James's notion of a "double-barreled word" (James, Essays 10), a word possessed of complex shades of meaning, Dewey insists that "'Experience' denotes the planted field, the sowed seeds, the reaped harvests, the changes of night and day, spring and autumn, wet and dry, heat and cold, that are observed, feared, longed for; it also denotes the one who plants and reaps, who works and rejoices, hopes, fears, plans, invokes magic or chemistry to aid him, who is downcast or triumphant. It is 'double-barrelled' in that it recognizes in its primary integrity no division between act and material, subject and object, but contains them both in an unanalyzed totality" (EN 18). The human and nonhuman, the cultural (magic, chemistry) and natural (changes of night and day), are interrelated; dualities dissolve, and Dewey emphasizes their dissolution by choosing examples from science, nature, and agriculture. Rejoicing in the harvest cannot happen without the change of seasons. Within experience, there is fluidity between subject and object. For Dewey, the split between subject and object, rooted in the distinction between human beings and the rest of nature, and insisted upon by Western culture since the time of the Greeks, is philosophical shorthand accepted as received truth that has remained unquestioned for far too long. Most of his work calls this duality into question. Both sides of the traditional split are part of the same process, existing in a complex web of relations. There is, of course, a sense of otherness. Dewey does not posit an identity between subject and object; however, he insists that in experience the self and the other influence one another to the extent that it makes little sense to think about them outside the context of experience. Through the work of art, which is itself a culmination of the artist's historical interaction with the physical and cultural worlds, change happens to both world and self. Art in this way engages ethics and politics. This is how Muir came to be changed by the Sierra, and it is safe to say that he hoped readers' perceptions of the physical world would come to be changed through experiencing his art. There are no epiphanies in this context.

About Muir's creative process, Holmes makes clear that we have no way of knowing for certain whether the 1887 notebooks are a faithful recording of the 1869 journals, though through comparison with the extant journals he makes a convincing argument that the notebooks had already been revised with an eye toward publication. This destabilizes the text to a large degree, and what we have is most likely a reliable record of facts, places, and landscapes, but with the older Muir's fully evolved ecological outlook attached to that experience (Holmes 259). We also need to keep in mind that at the time of its publication, Muir was at the height of his fight to preserve Hetch Hetchy Valley from being dammed, and it is not beyond question that the rhetoric of First Summer is intended to have a political effect on a public he wished to draw to his side of the fight. Daniel Philippon has investigated the discursive frames that environmental writers employ rhetorically to help create social change on behalf of the environment. For Muir, the overarching metaphor is nature as a park, and his strategy is to draw people into the Yosemite in order to convince them to love and defend it. Clearly, this is happening in First Summer. Muir uses the metaphor of the first visit along with that of a spiritual awakening to arouse political action.

Hetch Hetchy Valley is a neighboring valley to the Yosemite, and, ac cording to Muir, was nearly as marvelous. Hetch Hetchy was not included within Yosemite National Park when the latter was created in 1890, largely through the lobbying of Muir and Robert Underwood Johnson, although Hetch Hetchy was a designated wilderness preserve. As early as 1882 the valley had been eyed as a site for a possible dam to provide hydroelectric power and drinking water for San Francisco. San Francisco had once before applied for permission to turn the valley into a reservoir and was denied. However, in 1906 San Francisco suffered a great earthquake and fire, and public opinion on the matter shifted. The application was granted in 1908, and Johnson and Muir led a national campaign to save Hetch Hetchy Valley. The issues raised in that debate remain part of our current political climate, and as Roderick Nash writes in Wilderness and the American Mind: "for the first time in the American experience the competing claims of wilderness and civilization to a specific area received a thorough hearing before a national audience" (162). Muir lost his fight, and in 1913 President Woodrow Wilson signed Hetch Hetchy over to the city of San Francisco (it remains submerged to this day). Muir died a year later. So First Summer is clearly more than a text about nature; through art, Muir engages democratic politics. Advocacy and art are linked in their urge to change the people's perception of the physical environment and their role in it.

We clearly have an experience that is mediated to a great extent, not only through the published text but also through journals, notebooks, and politics, all participating in both physical and cultural environments. Cohen thinks that at this late point in his life, Muir had resigned himself to the incompatibility of wilderness and civilization, but with First Summer's focus on interrelationship and process, it seems to me that Muir may well have hoped that the textualization of his early experience would initiate political and ecological awareness of how the physical world and human culture function together. For twenty-first-century readers, Muir's perception of interrelatedness and its communication are certainly far more important than his paeans to wild nature (Cohen 358).

This is not to deny the power of that first summer, but Holmes rightly insists we acknowledge that Muir underwent a long development before he came to his most profound insights, and such acknowledgment recognizes Muir as an even more powerful cultural figure because beneath the myth of ecological prophet, useful as that myth may at times be, is the story of a real person attaining over time an extraordinary awareness of the world around him. "My sense is that Muir did not suddenly find a new home in Yosemite," writes Holmes, "but rather made one there over the course of years" (200-201, Holmes's emphasis). It is more difficult, surely, to learn from an epiphany than it is to learn from another's life experience; in other words, First Summer should be read not as a call to run off to the woods or mountains and expect to be reborn in a New Age way, but as a highly mediated text that contains Muir's attempt to represent a way of perceiving the world that had taken him a lifetime to accomplish. In other words, change happens in the course of experience. This is not to deny that, as Philippon comments, "Whether it happened over the course of a summer or over the course of several years, the spiritual change that took place in Muir remains significant" (128). Muir's way of perceiving the world led to a heightening of his ecological consciousness, which in turn contributed to his advocacy.

Holmes, of course, in order to get at the facts of Muir's biography and arrive at the historical Muir, was compelled to set aside much of Muir's rhapsodic bearing and ecological insight in First Summer. I suggest that First Summer in its finished form can provide a kind of guide as to how we might make a new home of the places in which we already are by replacing the categories Holmes brackets out in his attempt to re-create Muir's early life, and in so doing come to understand modes of perception discovered in Muir and the other writers in this study as possible strategies for ways we can live "along with" one another and the physical world. Ecological writing may help perform the cultural mediation Haines finds lacking in this chapter's second epigraph. All of this will take long effort, which is, of course, one of Holmes's most valuable insights.

Certainly, Muir worked within both a social discourse and a literary tradition, and in what follows I try to see his relation to cultural figures and conventions less as an anxiety of influence and more as an ecology of influence. Muir writes in his journal that "no amount of word making will ever make a single soul to know these mountains" (Wolfe, Journals 95), and if he believed his own words, he went on to make a lot of them in spite of himself. Words that encourage human beings to perceive the natural world as an active participant in texts and in experience could have a profound effect on the structures within which we currently live. Special attention to the interconnections among living and nonliving things can recuperate a sense of responsibility to the world and its inhabitants. I will pay heed to Muir's habit of close attention to natural detail and to his representation of physical processes in his attempt to make others know the Sierra. But the vitality of Muir's work is not contained by the mountain range. In his work, Muir represents the entire human and nonhuman world as part of a community of beings lodged in a physical world just outside, or on the fringe, of human focus and expression. It is often at these fringes or edges-these ecotones-that the perception of relations occurs. Also, Muir often hovers between Romantic and Victorian ways of perceiving the natural world, but like his predecessor Thoreau, Muir ultimately takes up a counterposition that insists upon an ecological understanding of experience in which the world and human beings participate. In other words, Muir helps move his readers into a more modern understanding of the world as process. Because of his status as a transitional figure beginning in the nineteenth century and ending on the brink of modernism, and because of his opening nationwide public discussion and advocacy of the environment, Muir provides a baseline for the rest of the study.

As a seminal presence in the formation of the preservation movement in the United States, and as a founder of the Sierra Club, Muir remains a powerful voice in the environmental movement. This is partly because he was in a position to dissent significantly from the dominant conservation ethic of his time and ours, voiced most influentially by Gifford Pinchot as "the development and use of the earth and all its resources for the enduring good of men" (qtd. in Worster 266). Pinchot and Muir institute the split between conservationists and preservationists that still exists in the United States. Inverting the sense of Pinchot's comment in the text of First Summer, Muir writes: "The basin of this famous Yosemite stream is extremely rocky,-seems fairly to be paved with domes like a street with big cobblestones. I wonder if I shall ever be able to explore it. It draws me so strongly, I would make any sacrifice to read its lessons. I thank God for this glimpse of it. The charms of these mountains are beyond all common reason, unexplainable and mysterious as life itself" (258-59). Here, metaphor seems to displace the real nature of Yosemite, figuring it as a street, a man-made object. However, a street is also a thing along which human beings move toward a destination, and because Yosemite Valley is clearly the path along which Muir found his life's calling, the metaphor seems on one level apt. The natural world does not mirror Muir's mind back to itself in a high Romantic way, and Muir shifts his focus toward the meaning content of the landscape itself. Contra Pinchot, Muir sees meaning lodged in the landscape, not only in its relation to his own discourse, although that relation is also centrally important. The art of knowing depends upon the emergence of meaning from the interrelationship of environment and creative intelligence.


Excerpted from The World in Which We Occur by NEIL W. BROWNE Copyright © 2007 by The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations     ix
List of Abbreviations for Works of John Dewey     xi
Acknowledgments     xiii
Introduction: John Dewey and Pragmatist Ecology     1
An Arc of Discovery: John Muir's My First Summer in the Sierra     21
"The Form of the New": Pragmatist Ecology and Sea of Cortez     50
Rachel Carson's Marginal World: Pragmatist Ecology, Aesthetics, and Ethics     78
"The Coldest Scholar on Earth": Silence and Work in John Haines's The Stars, the Snow, the Fire     111
Northern Imagination: Wonder, Politics, and Pragmatist Ecology in Barry Lopez's Arctic Dreams     143
Conclusion: (Eco)logic in the Utah Landscape     169
Notes     187
Works Cited     205
Index     219
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)