Sustaining Ontological Ground: An Exploration of Human Consciousness and the American Literary Landscape

Dr. Jana Rivers-Norton
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The American writer John Steinbeck emphasized the concept of interdependence which emerged from his philosophical and epistemological approach to understanding the human condition by coming to know the physical environments in which we dwell. Steinbeck's "ecological perspective," which was initially shaped by the doctrine of William Emerson Ritter and the concept of "super-organism" (Astro, 1995, p. xi), later became, in collaboration with the marine biologist Edward Ricketts, a "non-teleological" way of thinking that embraced a "quality of acceptance for life as it is" (Shillinglaw, 2003, p.1). According to Steinbeck it was a manner of thinking that enabled the "mind [to go outward and touch] in all directions" (Steinbeck, 1995, p. 109).

This paper explores the interface between literary creativity in American letters and the power of the physical landscape to shape human consciousness and identity in relation to the natural realm. Accordingly, the literary movements of Transcendentalism, Realism and Modernism will be examined to ascertain how specific writers such as Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Muir, Mary Hunter Austin, Willa Cather, Witter Byner, John Steinbeck, Robinson Jeffers, Annie Dillard and others crafted the intricate characteristics and rhythms of place to create a sustainable ontological ground upon which a sense of authorial self and community thrived.

Keywords: Sense of Self, Ecological Consciousness, Human Identity, Literary Reflection and Revelation, Sustaining Ontological Ground
Stream: Cultural Sustainability
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: Sustaining Ontological Ground

Dr. Jana Rivers-Norton

Assistant Professor, College of Letters and Sciences, National University

Dr. Rivers Norton is co-author of several cross-cultural language arts readers including A Teacher's Source Book on Genocide, Natasha Goes to the Brush Dance,
and Brave from Thunders. In 2004 she received a Story Fund grant from the California Council for the Humanities to produce a chapbook and DVD chronicling the life stories of 8 California Native women. The project was titled Told from the Heart: Stories of California's Native Women. She has served as Book Discussion Scholar for the Sacramento Public Library, One Book Sacramento program that featured the writings of organic farmer David Mas Masumoto and is currently editing a collection of essays on California Native American life and culture.

Ref: S06P0372