Laughing and Learning Through David Quammen's Natural Acts

Date of Graduation

Spring 1998


Master of Arts in English



Committee Chair

Nancy Walker


Literary naturist David Quammen, whose esteem is now proliferating among readers, writers, and critics of his genre, wrote in the introduction to his 1985 collection, Natural Acts: A Sidelong View of Science and Nature, that his purpose in the essays was "divided about equally between edification and vaudeville." "My ambition," he disclosed additionally, "has been to offer some small moments of constructive disorientation in the way nature is seen and thought about." This study illustrates the formula by which Quammen succeeds in Natural Acts at, 1), repeatedly intriguing and amusing the reader and, 2), constructively disorienting, or subverting, the reader's assumed anthropocentric view of nature. The proposed formula comprises Quammen's three self-named elements: vaudeville, edification, and constructive disorientation. How and why do vaudeville (amusement for the reader) and edification (enlightenment for the reader) each resound so potently in these works? Constructive disorientation is Quammen's method for achieving both vaudeville and edification; driven by the force of constructive disorientation, his vaudeville and his edification repeatedly, or circularly, reinforce one another.

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


© Laura Lee Sapp