Panel 1: Ecohorror on and off the Screen



Panel 1: Ecohorror on and off the Screen

“H(it)ler came from the Swamp: Bayou ‘Hicks,’ Ecohorror, and the Rise of Fascism in America”

Sara Crosby (Associate Professor of English, The Ohio State University at Marion)

Raw (2016): Ecohorror and Appetite in the Anthropocene”

Kristen Angierski (Ph.D. candidate, Cornell University)

“A Monstrosity of Scales: The Shifting Spatiotemporalities and Anthropocentric Realities of Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island

Jeffrey Marchand (Ph.D. candidate in English, University of Texas at Arlington)

“Spiraling Inward and Outward: Junji Ito’s Uzumaki and the Scope of Ecohorror”

Christy Tidwell (Assistant Professor of English and Humanities, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology)

Q & A

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68 replies
  1. Kristen Angierski, Cornell University says:

    Hi everyone! I am looking forward to the conference (for generative discussion and feedback, definitely, but also for some environmental humanities community and camaraderie).

    My paper on Raw, excised from a dissertation chapter on Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, thinks about the politics of authorial intention, appetite and its loss, revulsion as an ecopolitics, and the ways in which ecohorror might intersect with food studies (and even vegan studies) to make a case for intersectional animal rights in the Anthropocene. Some questions to consider: Given that factory farms are an unmatched environmental disaster whence people would rather look away, how can ecohorror media incite a politics of “witnessing” and to what end? How might my rendering of “appetite” be problematic, given the serious social problem of hunger (though it should be said that more people could be fed via a plant-based agricultural system)? And is thinking of the Anthropocene as a gravely “eating disordered” time– a time in which animal consumption is a kind of self-destructive cannibalism– a dangerous formulation that echoes the deeply fatphobic, apocalyptic rhetoric of “the obesity crisis”? I also did not have the time/space to reckon with some of the specificities of characterization (Adrien, for example, is a gay man played by a Franco-Algerian actor) and the film’s potential anti-imperialist messaging (the film’s climax is Adrien’s murder and consumption) so questions on that front would be welcome too. Additionally, I want to think broadly about “appetitive ecohorror” (ecohorror that plays with appetite and its loss) and Anthropocene ethics. If seeing Raw won’t make anyone go vegan, what else might it do (besides infamously make people faint in theaters)? Must it “do” anything at all? And how should one interpret/understand ecomedia creators who vocally do not want their media to be “eco” at all, and say so, besides simply disagreeing with them as I do here? Finally, I am also happy to discuss the wild phrase “vegan cannibalism” and the potentialities (or horrors) of lab-grown meat. 🙂

    Thanks very much for any and all responses and questions. I am grateful for them.

    • Christy Tidwell, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology says:

      Thanks for this great presentation, Kristen! I watched the film yesterday in preparation for the conference and I loved it very much (although I didn’t think of ecohorror directly when I watched it so much as other specific films like Gingersnaps and Suspiria).

      I am – like you – baffled by the director’s insistence on rejecting animal rights or vegetarian interpretations of the film and find her reading of the scene in which Justine argues that animals can be raped to be quite odd. In fact, when I watched the film, I read that scene as indicating Justine’s difference, but since she is our protagonist, I saw it as a marker of her being special, not immature. Or as a marker of the others’ lack of empathy for animals.

      I’m interested in the ways our presentations intersect, even though our texts are quite different. I, too, am looking at the ways that ecohorror works with body horror (as well as cosmic horror). I frequently find that the two – body horror and ecohorror – are entangled and I think your way of thinking through disgust is a good explanation for why this is so often the case.

      • Kristen Angierski, Cornell University says:

        Thank you Christy! I am so glad you loved it and weren’t too grossed out. It is definitely in the tradition of Gingersnaps and other dark sisterhood films, though I hadn’t thought of that! I see many linkages between our talks, too, especially the centering of “indistinction.” While in my talk, I focus on the ways in which Raw makes human and non-human meat “indistinct,” blurring the human/non-human binary and asking hard questions about foodways, in yours, you think about Uzamaki’s spiraling across species lines– human becomes snail, for instance (but also, interestingly, then becomes food for people).

        I am glad you’re with me re: Justine as empath and not moral child. I do wonder if I should pay any attention at all to what Ducournau says, but I think it’s representative of a type of theorizing that confines animals to metaphors.

        I am persuaded by your understanding of ecohorror as an entangled form that spirals outward and inward– such a great image. I think in the age of big agribusiness– where animal bodies are daily ripped open and apart– body horror is always also ecohorror in that it inadvertently alludes to everyday bodily invasions with serious ecological consequences. (But admittedly, it takes a few cognitive jumps to get there!) Thanks very much for the comments and ideas!

    • joeheumann says:

      Robin and I liked your piece, really like Raw, and wished it had been available when we wrote our chapter on Gendering the Cannibal:Bodies and Landscapes in Feminist Cannibal Movies. We feel, from our work, that many people don’t want to confront their desire for meat based diets. We have examined numerous documentaries on meat production (Film and Everyday Eco-Disasters) and countless cannibal films. It’s hard to say what would change peoples minds about consuming meat. Showing Franju’s great Blood of the Beasts sends many students to the door, but they are happily eating their burgers again within a day or two.

      • Kristen Angierski, Cornell University says:

        Thanks very much Joe and Robin! I should say that your work is all over my dissertation and that your specific readings of Jennifer’s Body and American Psycho continue to influence the way I think about “feminist cannibalism.” (I also love your piece on Wall-E, which I use in my Literature and Climate Change class.) Anyway! It is comforting (sort of) that scholars who have studied “meat” and its grosser representations for much longer than I are also baffled by the general non-response to these unsettling ecomedia. (Earthlings is the only film I’ve ever known to change someone’s mind, permanently.) It’s frustrating to get to the “So what?” of an argument for a paper like this and have to meekly say: Well, it asks hard questions and makes people think, for a second. A dark kind of optimism: the problem of factory farming cannot be ignored forever, I think. Thank you very much for commenting!

        • rlmurray50 says:

          Thank you for your thought-provoking take on *Raw*! How exciting to read that our feminist cannibalism chapter influenced your work. Feminist cannibal horror film directors like Julia Ducournau and Ana Lily Amirpour (loved The Bad Batch–2016) clearly connect eco-horror with gendered bodies and what Christy called body horror. Vegetarian cannibalism brought to mind the silly claim in *Twilight* that vampires could be vegetarian if they drank only nonhuman animal blood. Comic takes on eco issues seem to work best for my students. They responded well (at least initially) to *How to Boil a Frog*.

          • Kristen Angierski, Cornell University says:

            Thanks very much for the text and film ideas, Robin! Vegetarian vampires– how interesting. (That maps precisely onto the vegetarian vs. vegan tension: Are eggs also meat? Is milk a kind of flesh? Is it intellectually coherent to refuse flesh for animal rights reasons but to eat yogurt? You can probably guess how I’d answer these questions.) I love the idea of incorporating more eco-comedy into my teaching. I can sometimes find humor in ecohorror but it’s of the darker, anarchic, and “hysterical” sort.

            • Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

              From a vegan perspective milk and eggs are flesh. And obviously now a part of the industrial food complex. Yogurt is milk. Vegans would say no. Robin and I are both Veg Heads, but only about 95% so. It’s hard to get to 100%. Note that from an industrial perspective, the more people turn away from dairy, the faster western food companies provide alternatives: Milk and yogurt made from soy or almonds etc. Egg substitutes and cheese substitutes. Burger and hot dog substitutes. It’s freaking out the conventional industry to be slowly assaulted by newer food industries. But the bottom line is people love their red meat, chicken, veal, fish. And the richer countries become the more they want of it.

              • Kristen Angierski, Cornell University says:

                Oh I should have stated this more clearly: I wasn’t asking those questions in earnest (I have been vegan for years) but saying that those are the types of questions one might pose to vegetarians. The vegan vs: vegetarian divide seems to me to echo the silly idea in Twilight (which Robin brought up) that vampires who only drink animal blood would be vegetarian. (If you want a super aggressive version of this– vegans hating on vegetarians, arguably counter-productively and often problematically– you can look to the subreddit “r/vegancirclejerk” (sorry for the crass name)).

                I am so here for all the substitutes, some more than others! Have you tried the Beyond Meat burger? 🙂

                • Kristen Angierski, Cornell University says:

                  To clarify even further: In the same way that calling an animal blood-drinking being a “vegetarian” seems silly, some animal rights activists think being vegetarian and not vegan is silly– or intellectually incoherent. (Not necessarily what I think!)

                • Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

                  I have tried all sorts of alternatives and use many of them in cooking. It’s fascinating to look at the attempts to repurpose plants into things that look like turkey, chicken, beef, etc. It’s fascinating to look at all the vegan bacons, frankfurters, kielbasa, etc. It’s a pathway for some and an interesting side effect of trying to convince people to go meatless. The idea of putting kale and other greens into what looks like “meat patties” is a new interest. There are people out there who want to be helped towards a veggie lifestyle. Making things look “normal” is one way. But most people do not want to know how their food is produced, especially their hot dogs. That’s why I find it amusing to see healthy ingredients processed and pushed into faux intestines and called sausage.
                  Vegans hating on veg heads is an old story that gets re-introduced every few years or so.
                  I don’t worry about the circle jerk reference . The Circle Jerks are one of my fave punk bands.

                  • Kristen Angierski, Cornell University says:

                    The phenomenon of vegan meats gets a lot of “omnivores” or “carnists” incensed, though I’ve never been able to totally follow the logic of the anger/confusion. I think the idea is: If vegans think meat is murder, then why are you trying so hard to eat it in artificial forms? (The question makes no real sense to me. It’s not as if vegans hate the taste/texture of meat or should hate the taste?) I think your understanding is spot on. Vegan meat helps people transition. Others would say fake meat reinforces and normalizes the eating of flesh. The “vegan police” can be merciless!

                    The enthusiasm for lab-grown meat is also fascinating. That seems like a whole lot of work and expense when, as one of my vegan friends says, “you can just eat a bean taco.”

                    • Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

                      It is the logic of perfection. Having known vegans through the decades, many have grouped to together for support, and then applied strict rules that govern behavior. It’s a tad bit too religious for me, no matter what the intentions.
                      Thus, vegans not wearing anything of leather, not getting into a car with leather in it, etc etc
                      It’s a lifestyle choice that then determines ones outlook and behavior and one can be judged by standards that appear to be clearly drawn.
                      Fudge that with faux meat, faux leather etc and people lose it. Religious police are usually a drag, but that’s why people group up.
                      The Vegetarian is really interesting to me for the observers trying to understand the actions of the main character. A meat based society can react violently to outliers. Each observer tries to align their perceptions to the resister and fail, but not before intruding on her actions in all sorts of approaches. And it’s really beautifully written.

    • Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

      I finished The Vegetarian a few days ago, but not sure whether to ruin it by watching the film of it. That’s one interesting novel. Robin has it now. I love the way it circles around the heroine from so many points of confused view.

      • Kristen Angierski, Cornell University says:

        I haven’t watched the film either. The novel is so good, though upsetting. I am especially interested in its treatment of restrictive eating disorders (self-eating, in a sense) as perversely ecologically sound. Yeong-hye in a way is the best environmentalist there is, treading so lightly on the earth that she gradually floats away from it entirely. I see the novel as a commentary on the dangers of ethical perfectionism, but I would also critique it for making that case first via vegan eating (the trope of “veganorexia” is something Laura Wright writes about in The Vegan Studies Project).

  2. Sara L. Crosby, The Ohio State University at Marion says:

    Hi! This is Sara Crosby with “H(it)ler Came from the Swamp.” Apologies for the shakiness of the filming and the verbal typos. (Sorry, Bernice not Beverly Murphy.) My mother broke her neck last month, and so I was rushing to record this while I was back in South Louisiana taking care of her and waiting for Tropical Storm Alberto to knock out the power. It’s been a crazy month.

    Thesis of the talk . . . America’s key eco-metaphor for political corruption and fascism or demagoguery, the “swamp,” as in “drain the swamp,” originates, at least partly, in the shocking events that occurred in 1930s Louisiana: the political activation of Cajuns and other “swamp people” that initiated the rise of Huey P. Long and threatened to overwhelm the nation’s (more or less) democratic order. I walk you through some of the hysteria around Long and his “swamplanders”– the explosion of articles, artwork, cartoons, novels, films– to uncover the genealogy of an inverse “rural gothic.” Instead of evil “hicks” setting upon unwary tourists who’ve wandered into the hinterlands of America, the swamp marches into the nation’s capital to menace America with an even more unsettling ecohorror.

    So . . . this argument is part of a book I’m writing about ecohorror and the oil industry’s colonization of South Louisiana. The next part of the argument will look at how Big Oil tamed those scary swamp people and turned them/us into docile political supports with a well-coordinated propaganda campaign that included films like Louisiana Story, Jimmy Stewart’s Thunder Bay, etc. If you can think of any texts– primary or secondary– that you think I really should take a look at, I would truly appreciate any tips. Any helpful theoretical concepts I should make sure to engage? I suppose the “big” questions here I want to address are: how does the fossil fuel industry colonize a nation? What does that have to do with the popular representation of swamps and swamp people? And how do we untangle ourselves from it?

    • Christy Tidwell, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology says:

      Really fascinating talk, Sara, and I’m interested to see your development of this in your larger project. I think what I’m most intrigued by is the way that these people (and the environment they’re associated with) and their representation seem to shift. In the “swamp people” / “drain the swamp” construction, they are threatening and dangerous, but they are also sympathetic figures (displaced, mistreated, etc.). Although you end by asking about whether they can be “de-swamped before the swamp drains into America,” do you think that another direction might be possible? Could there be an embrace of the swamp people as a crucial part of America? And, related, an embrace of the swamp itself as vital and diverse rather than monstrous?

      • Sara L. Crosby, The Ohio State University at Marion says:

        Hi Christy! Short answer to your questions: Yes! I was still parroting Locke Langley a bit with that ending. Should have made that clear. I think validating and valuing the swamp is going to be key to so much progressive political and environmental and feminist work. It would mean a major re-setting of our most fundamental metaphorical frames and most pernicious narratives. It would mean re-doing Beowulf and the great American political novel to move us beyond that stupid man v. nature plot that defines the conquering white/ male/American against the menacing dark/feminine/swampy other. I think horror, especially ecohorror, is where a lot of this reworking is being done now. In a South Louisiana context, Anne Rice really kicked this off in the 70s and is still working it, and sometimes those stupid reality shows about South Louisiana will sneak in a reframing even while they seem to be reaffirming the man v. swamp heroic narrative. But doing this re-narrating requires facing grief and guilt and loss, while investing beings other than big Beowulf daddy with rights and power. Not always easy to do.

        Thank you for the questions, btw. I’m about to go watch your talk now. Looking forward to it!!

    • Kristen Angierski, Cornell University says:

      Hi Sara! First, I am so sorry about your mom. I hope you’re managing.

      For what it’s worth, I didn’t find your talk to be shaky at all (and why didn’t I think to simply film a Powerpoint instead of putting myself through the unique terror of watching oneself speak?!). 🙂 Your parenthetical comment about “backdoor queen” made me laugh out loud, so thank you for that.

      I think this is a beautiful argument. Of particular interest is your inversion of ecohorror’s actors’ movements: from hidden away scary places that one can avoid by simply…avoiding…like a factory farm… to those scary locations’ inhabitants coming to your house (in this case, the White House). (This made me think of factory farm escape stories (that is, when a farmed animal breaks free from a truck on its way to the slaughterhouse and is “granted” life). The horror of the factory farm breaks out of its rural hiding place. This is just an association I had, nothing you need to respond to.)

      Some questions or ideas: Your brief discussion of the “swamp hag” has me thinking about the association of Louisiana with voodoo and the series “American Horror Story: Coven.” Here’s a link to a scene with “Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau” on her gator throne: In the series, Louisiana (New Orleans) is mystical, magical, and home to the descendants of Salem’s witches. What does it mean that New Orleans is the home of “dark” magic in the American imagination and all the racialization that implies? Another, though non-fiction, contemporary Louisiana “witch” story is the Dee Dee Blanchard murder. It might be irrelevant to your argument, but a documentary on Blanchard and the daughter who killed her is: Mommy Dead and Dearest. So I guess a question would be, how do you reconcile these dark witchy associations with contemporary Southern Louisiana’s “docility,” politically-ecologically speaking? Of course no rush to answer and forgive any geographical ignorance that these questions might imply! Take care.

      • Sara L. Crosby, The Ohio State University at Marion says:

        Hi Kristen! It’s so nice to finally meet you, even virtually. Your question about “Voodoo” is so apt. I’m writing a chapter about America’s cyclic “Voodoo” hysteria and how that has impacted representations of South Louisiana and facilitated exploitative resource extraction in the region (esp. timber and oil). So . . . to answer your question specifically . . . how to reconcile the “docility” and the “dark witchy associations” . . . The opposition is actually necessary to maintain the extraction industry’s hegemony. We Cajuns were not always reliable supporters of the oil industry– or any big, rich conglomeration. And as long as we remained recalcitrant and independent, we were placed in a category of otherness connected to blackness. We were even called Acadian n-words. This kind of othering had very real and violent consequences– as it did tenfold for African Americans obviously. For instance, my great-great uncle was murdered by an ex-Confederate officer in a dispute about whether my family was white enough to marry into a German family. A white jury in New Orleans refused to even indict the killer, largely because of the suspicions about our community’s whiteness. In the 1940s and 50s, when the oil industry and whiteness came calling and asked if Cajuns wanted to sign up– we’d just have to promise to be “docile” and cute rather than resistant and scary and not ask too many questions about environmental impacts– well . . . wouldn’t you? But of course we can always lose our newly-acquired and shaky whiteness, our marginal American-ness, and I think the “dark” and “Voodoo” association actually helps keep Cajuns and South Louisiana docile and scrambling to connect ourselves to the modernity and whiteness the oil industry still appears to offer.

        As to awesome witchy cases, check out Clemintine Barnabet.

        And thank you so much for laughing at my joke.

        About Raw . . . I’m making my way through the movie now. (I have to do it in snippets when an 11-year-old is not around to be traumatized.) I really enjoyed your talk and especially how you grappled with the director’s telling obtuseness. The scene at the lunch table when Justine argues that monkeys can be raped, can suffer that violation, and the “mature” response is that she’s being stupid and degrading to women or femininity by equating women with animals . . . ugh. I’ve had this same argument so many times. The assumption is that it’s dehumanizing to women to connect them to animals. Fair enough. But the real power move, the real trick, of course, is to “dehumanize” animals in the first place so that the threat of equating women and animals becomes dangerous. Anyway . . . I wonder if you look at other cases where a group was made un-rapeable– “lewd” (single, poor) women in 16th c. England, slaves and African American women in 19th c. and 20th c. America, etc.? I know you said the word “un-rapeable” was awkward, but I actually think it’s brilliant of you to connect this idea to the un-eatable or cannibalistic. I would love to see you run with it.

        Also . . . I’m sure everybody and their uncle have mentioned Soylent Green and all the Wendigo texts to you. Probably not particularly relevant, but cannibalism . . . Early American conquest narratives also express all kinds of anxieties about sacrifice and flesh-eating– on both sides.

        • joeheumann says:

          We love Wendigo texts and had fun looking at Ravenous for our chapter on Gendering the Cannibal.

        • Kristen Angierski, Cornell University says:

          Hi again Sara! Nice to meet you virtually, too. I am very interested in your book project and I appreciate the thorough response! Wow, ok, so if I can paraphrase: the oil industry essentially held out a (white) hand, bribing the Cajun populace and promising some form of economic security and distance from “dark,” “Voodoo” blackness in exchange for silence, for playing the industry’s game and smiling politely. Some thoughts:

          -Your blending of personal and political history is very powerful.

          -I wonder if Hurricane Katrina had any effect on Cajun “docility.”

          -Oh dear, yes please keep an 11-year-old far away from Raw. I am glad you’re with me re: the troubling concept of “dehumanization.” That very logic requires a non-human other to foist violence upon to make much sense. Monique Allewaert does a great reworking of dehumanization (“reclaiming” (that might be too strong of a word) a kind of “parahumanity”) in Ariel’s Ecology: Plantations, Personhood, and Colonialism in the American Tropics. I’m sure you’ve already read and re-read her book and its chapter(s) on swamp ecologies!

          -Perfect, helpful connection– thank you! I have not looked deeply into the idea (and “reality”) of “un-rapeable” populations historically, but it’s definitely worth sitting with longer given that the capacity for suffering is still not granted equally among humans, let alone non-humans: (I also sometimes get “Plants feel pain” as a carnist response to animal rights advocacy (as if responding to stimuli = sentience) so the question of “edibility” and “inviolability” remains fraught.)

          I am writing about the Donner party now (a fictionalized version of their story, The Hunger by Alma Katsu) and who gets eaten first– who is “closest” to the animals and therefore most easily reduced to “meat”– is definitely racialized. The novel is drawing on the Wendigo texts, but if you have a particular version or re-telling you like, I would love a suggestion! Thanks very much for your generative ideas and questions! I appreciate it.

    • joeheumann says:

      Robin and I really liked your oil piece. Especially your concern with how the oil industry creates effective public relations campaigns to make oil drilling an important part of peoples lives. We wrote a chapter on this very area in Film and Everyday Eco-Disasters called The Search for the “Golden Shrimp”:The Myth of Interdependence in Oil Drilling Films. It focuses primarily on films like Thunder Bay and Louisiana Story, both of which attempt to argue for the introduction of oil drilling into South Louisiana. So we were really interested in your take on this area.

      • Sara L. Crosby, The Ohio State University at Marion says:

        Thank you so much for the reference! I went ahead and ordered your book just now. I suppose my angle on it is fairly personal. I’m trying to figure out why so many people in my community– even after BP and Katrina, even facing down the actual disappearance of our land and homes– still won’t say boo about the oil companies that were primarily responsible for causing this disaster. What’s happening in South Louisiana doesn’t seem exactly parallel to the devastation wrought in other petroleum sacrifice zones, at least not in the response of the people affected. The oil industry was so effective not just in its self-poofing propaganda but in actually replacing the identity of a community with one it had constructed.

        • joeheumann says:

          Well, in the same book we look at Blue Vinyl in our chapter Give Me Shelter: The Ecology of Homes and Homelessness. Back to Lake Charles, Louisiana, and other states where the local population has to contend with life long poisoning. From oil, vinyl production asbestos production (the film Libby, Montana). You’ve seen Blue Vinyl?

        • Christy Tidwell, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology says:

          For one more recommendation, I taught Petrochemical America by Richard Misrach and Kate Orff (a book of photos and infographics all about south Louisiana) in my environmental lit/culture course this past semester, and it was extremely effective. It might not introduce new information for you, since you’re already quite familiar, but it might be interesting to consider as another approach to the topic and the setting – both in terms of genre and media.

        • Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

          Charles Stivale has a book called Disenchanting Les Bon Temps: Identity and Authenticity in Cajun Music and Dance. I don’t know if you know it, but it is taking on some of the subject matter that concerns you and your work.

        • rlmurray50 says:

          Thank you for buying our book! We hope you find it useful. You might also look at responses in predominately African American communities such as Mossville, Louisiana. Nice work!

    • CAHagood says:

      Hi Sara!

      I really enjoyed your talk and learned so much from it, particularly about portrayals of Huey Long. I really admire the care you are taking with understanding this multivalent and powerful figure of the “swamp” and “swamp people.”

      One thing that really interests me and sometimes vexes me about the phrase “drain the swamp” (and especially about hearing it reappropriated in 2016) is that actually draining swamps has proven, in so many cases, not to be a good way to clean things up, but a great way to create another, much messier, situation. There are so many examples of reclamation efforts on a grand national scale that have failed, leaving a wild tangle of ecological and economic issues that have become less, not more, manageable with time. This old “man versus nature” / Hrothgar versus Grendel struggle aside, environmental history has helped us understand that a total control approach to managing wetlands is both problematic and, in very real ways, dangerous, especially to economically and socially vulnerable populations.

      But surely that history looks different in the era you are writing about, and I guess that’s what I’d like to know more about: how have Cajuns figured in the environmental history of south Louisiana, especially with regard to wetlands reclamation, and how does that history influence the representation of the swamp and its people in the texts you are discussing? Does the political effort to “drain the swamp” align with historical programs for flood control and reclamation?

      Again, thanks for such a wonderful presentation. I’m looking forward to exploring the others in this panel–everything looks really intriguing!

      • Sara L. Crosby, The Ohio State University at Marion says:

        Thank you! These are great questions. Let me address the second one first about the connection between the political metaphor and actual swamp draining. Short answer: the political metaphor helps drive the stupid engineering. Elsewhere in this book I discuss the fraught history of wetlands– how they have been seen as anti-modern “wastelands” that need to be drained and tamed, etc. Of course, we know now, and we even really knew then, that this was stupid and that wetlands were incredibly productive and important. Literally “draining the swamp” was always political, in that it was more about a display of power and control, than anything terribly practical or sensible. When you drain the swamp, you tame the swamp dweller, who is often regrettably independent and recalcitrant. When you levee the hell out of the Mississippi and dump all its freshwater and sediment off the continental shelf, instead of renewing wetlands, then you show your badass top-down control of nature, even if it means you promote massive coastal erosion. As John Barry showed, even when the river was being leveed after the flood of 1927, a vocal minority of engineers pointed out the stupidity of this approach. But the political need to “drain the swamp” outweighed the actual dangers of draining the swamp.

        Now about the second question as to the role of Cajuns in the history of wetlands reclamation and in representations of the swamp. Well, most of the wetlands in South Louisiana were not “reclaimed,” but rather canaled for oil pipelines and transport, which opened marshes and swamps that had already been starved by levees to deadly saltwater intrusion. Also, Cajuns of course are not a completely homogeneous group, but, for the most part there’s been a cultural tendency to work with and utilize wetlands (for hunting and fishing) rather than destroying them. They have been places of retreat– where tyrannical powers leave us alone– and of sustenance and fun. However, starting in the 40s, many of us made devil’s bargains with oil companies, who wanted to put “just a little” canal through (which grew into massive open water eventually), or had our land straight up expropriated by oil industry outsiders with shady paperwork. To ease this taming of the marsh and swamp, oil companies like Standard spread around a little cash and promoted very effective propaganda vehicles– buying newspaper editors and local politicians, as well as putting out texts like the film Louisiana Story. This propaganda basically amplified the supposed cute backwardness of Cajuns and the benignity of the swamp (rather than their recalcitrant scariness) and showed how our welcoming (rather than shooting at) oil derricks, etc. would make us modern and powerful and rich. We would be bayou hicks (or coonasses) no more! So swamp and Cajun were reconceptualized as benign and docile helpers of industry. This is where we got the cutesy “stage Cajun” you see in films from Thunder Bay to The Waterboy. You still see it in the “aw shucks” version of us you get in Swamp People. By the 50s, then, swamps and swamp people became just fine, even tourist attractions, as long as they’re supporting industry along the Gulf coast. They’re still “other” but no longer threats to be eradicated at least.

        (Perhaps it’s coincidence but this shift also coincides with the invention of the word “wetlands,” as opposed to the morally-freighted “swamps,” and the official U. S. government recognition that they might be useful. I think it’s plausible that the finally-successful experience of Big Oil in using/taming the wetlands along the Cajun Coast might have played a weird kind of role in that. Maybe.)

        Hope that kind of answers your questions?

        • myates says:

          Hi Sara, I thought your talk was very interesting! You make a lot of interesting connections that I had not really thought about before. And, I hope your mom is healing well and things are calming down for you. It seems like the notion of ‘drain the swamp’ is very much articulated to racial politics and a particular construction of hegemonic white masculinity – that was true of the 1930s as you narrate here and also for during the Trump campaign more recently. Also, its interesting to me that it seems that there was a kind of nostalgia for a particular kind of white masculinity attached to the notion of drain the swamp already even in the 1930s. Maybe this is just a comment not a question, but if you have time, I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on this. Thank you so much!

    • csoles says:

      Sara– Great talk! Like other commenters, I also appreciate how you interweave the personal and political here. I want to hear more about those who backed Long and their ties to big oil — I assume there are direct links to Gulf Coast oil exploitation, swamp / wetland reduction along the Gulf Coast, the later events of Katrina, etc.? How exactly did Long line his pockets? {I can see you already addressed this issue to an extent in your reply to CA Hagood.)

      Your description of Flamingo as a “white blonde aristocrat [who] shoots somebody” reminds me of my shark attack movies, which feature young white women doing the dirty work of patriarchal empire, killing off foreign beasts.

      Also, there is a persistent “birds” motif with these white women beast-killers, i.e., the aptly-named Flamingo uses exotic birds as a murder weapon in A Lion Is in the Streets (as you discuss), Nancy has her bird ally Steven Seagull in The Shallows, stuffed birds of prey surround the aptly-named Marion Crane in Psycho, bird attacks *seem* to follow Melanie Daniels around in Hitchcock’s The Birds, a film in which young Cathy also has her caged lovebirds, etc. Isn’t there also a bird-loving woman on the swamp island estate in Frogs (1972)? Do you have any thoughts about the significance of this association of defiant, unruly women with birds?

  3. Christy Tidwell, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology says:

    Hi all, I’m excited to be part of this great panel on ecohorror, and I hope you’ll feel free to ask me any questions you might have and make any suggestions about other texts or ideas I might consider in my analysis of Junji Ito’s Uzumaki. Japanese culture and manga are not actually my primary area (I mostly focus on U.S. culture), but I’ve been looking for an opportunity to say something about this text since I first read it. For those of you who teach horror, I’ll note that Uzumaki teaches really well, too, and my students found a lot to discuss in it.

    • Kristen Angierski, Cornell University says:

      Thank you for all the definitions, even as you expand and complicate them! I honestly had never heard of “cosmic horror” before. Have you thought about this manga in relation to Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, which also seems to blend body horror, plant horror, cosmic horror, and ecohorror? I am going to get my hands on this text asap.

    • rlmurray50 says:

      Hi Christy, Your talk worked well for me–it encouraged me to watch Junji Ito’s Uzumaki! If I get a chance to watch the film in the next couple of days, I’ll leave a better reply. For now I would like to thank you for introducing me to this film!

    • Sara L. Crosby, The Ohio State University at Marion says:

      Hi again, Christy! So . . . I have a question that I hope is not too irritating. But I wonder how compatible you think ecohorror and cosmic horror are — on an epistemological as well as ethical, mostly ethical, level? Human-induced climate change and Cthulhu don’t seem like exactly interchangeable disasters. Humans don’t have any responsibility for the old gods or Area X (mostly) or spirals, and we can’t do anything about them but suffer and melt and die. But ecohorror– even goofy texts like Sharknado– underlines human responsibility or at least points in that direction. Cosmic horror exculpates and disables us. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Lovecraft was a lunatic racist who was terrified of immigrants and nostalgic for some fake pure New England Brahmin past. Cosmic horror tends to be reactionary, and it seems to me that the turn to cosmic horror, particularly as it accompanies petro-narratives like the Cyclonopedia, etc., is the final form of fossil fuel propaganda: telling us we can do nothing but accept this beyond human disaster. But Exxon and BP are not agents of Cthulhu, no matter what South Park says. So . . . I guess what I’m saying is . . . I’m a huge fan of cosmic horror, and I will love reading this manga. And I see how it reflects a psychological truth about how overwhelming the human impact on the planet has become, but I worry that it elides the “human” in that horror and so lets us off the hook. Maybe that’s why I enjoy it. It’s soothing for a guilty or angry conscience.

      • Christy Tidwell, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology says:

        Not an irritating question at all. This is something I’m wrestling with. I think part of my response would be to clarify that I don’t mean to say that climate change and Cthulhu are interchangeable. It might be more accurate for me to say that the emotions induced and our perceptions of them are – if not interchangeable – very similar. I think it’s important to acknowledge this sense of being overwhelmed because it ultimately is a significant part of how we respond (or don’t) to climate change and environmental destruction. I think this is actually a big part of why I want to bring cosmic horror and ecohorror together – while cosmic horror alone can elide the “human” in its horror, ecohorror often (though certainly not always) relies quite heavily on anthopocentric models of the world that still put humans at the center and give us as a species a great deal of power – maybe too much. I will definitely keep thinking this through, though.

        On Lovecraft, yeah, he’s awful as an individual – cosmic horror goes well past Lovecraft, though, and I wouldn’t want to limit the discussion of the genre to him and his particular issues – even though I did for expediency in the presentation. He’s the most obvious representative, but he didn’t start it and he doesn’t own it. So while his xenophobia and racism do *definitely* shape his vision of the world and the cosmos, as I develop this further, I’ll probably want to bring in more instances to show how cosmic horror reaches past him, too.

        • Sara L. Crosby, The Ohio State University at Marion says:

          I think you’re right about cosmic horror. I’m looking at it through Lovecraft-colored glasses a bit too much. His precursor, Edgar Allan Poe, was far more ethical and environmentally-conscious. Not to toot my own horn on this, but I wonder what you’d think of my articles on Poe and if they might be useful? I had one come out in ISLE a couple years ago, and I just had one come out in Poe Studies. In that one, I actually talk about the Old/New Weird just a bit. Matthew Taylor’s article(s) on Poe’s post-humanism might also be good to look at.

        • Matthew Holtmeier, Ithaca College says:

          Hi Christy,

          Sara pretty much asked my question, so I won’t repeat it, but I think your distinction between eco- and cosmic-horror here is useful, and I appreciate the way you draw considerations of cosmic horror into the discourse by suggesting that eco-horror is perhaps a bit to anthropocentric! I wonder if you have any thoughts on the significance or ramifications of limiting the anthropocentrism of environmental horror?

          Perhaps we could return to the Uzumaki as an example, which I remember reading at least parts of, but that was a while back. Is the source of the spiral ever revealed? Is it environmental degradation or otherwise man made, so that we are implicated in the breakdown of our own bodies and that blurring between humanity and nature?

          Your talk describes the way that Uzumaki sort of starts as the obsession of one man, but then this obsession spreads. At the same time, the spirals seem to be unlike other man-made practices that we can either stop or find an alternative to (burning fossil fuels, eating meat produced in factory farms). Or can we? And perhaps that is the environmental question that Uzumaki asks?

          Of course those fern-like structures at the end are particularly fascinating, because it no longer seems like destruction of a world but the creation of one without humans as the creative force. I think Kristen is right that this really resonates with the Southern-Reach Trilogy, which she posted elsewhere in this thread.

          I think the sort of taxonomy of horror you explore here, and is explored in the other comments directed at this panel, is very interesting. Thank you again for your talk!


          • Christy Tidwell, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology says:

            Thanks for your questions and comments, Matt. I’m not sure if I have a good response to your initial big picture question at this point, really. It’s something I come up against in my teaching on a regular basis, though – how anthropocentric our discussions of environmental issues are (whether in horror or elsewhere), what trying to move away from that anthropocentrism brings to the forefront, etc. In my teaching, this often leads to more conversations about what makes place, life, etc., valuable outside of human use or enjoyment of it. If it’s not to protect ourselves, then why do we or should we care about such issues? (As a side note, this is one reason why I come back to dinosaurs over and over again, I think. As an extinction narrative, they offer us something without our being in the picture at all. But that’s an idea I’m working on elsewhere….)

            In Uzumaki specifically, I believe it’s made clear toward the end that the spirals are not human-caused but come from something outside of the human and may even manipulate the human. This is where I see the text turning to cosmic horror. The fact that it isn’t caused by humans doesn’t diminish the environmental elements of the text, although it does complicate the comparison to climate change that I might like to make. Its more-than-human origins a) pushes us to consider our place in the universe differently and b) still requires the characters (and readers) to respond to the blurring of human/nonhuman lines that are the result of its effects.

  4. rlmurray50 says:

    This is a response to “A Monstrosity of Scales: The Shifting Spatiotemporalities and Anthropocentric Realities of Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island” by Jeffrey Marchand.

    Thank you for your exploration of popular film in relation to shifting temporal and spatial scales perhaps required by the Anthropocene. I would be interested to read how you might apply your methodology to eco-horror outside the “animal attacks” sub-genre.

    • jmarch71 says:

      Thank you for your interest in my work, and I appreciate your question, as it is one that I have been attempting to think currently. One of the ways that I have been trying to work through this is by positioning these types of ecohorrors as apocalyptic narratives and, conversely, by attempting to position the dystopic post-apocalyptic trend in current film as, ultimately, a type of eco-horror. In doing so, I have been working with such speculative films as Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, which has similar opening credits to that of the two films discussed here. However, my focus in these types of films has shifted to the representation of the human/plant relationship as represented through the trope of seed saving. In these types of post-apocalyptic films that feature seed-saving tropes, human and plant spatiotemporalities converge forcing us to reconsider survival and/or flourishing in terms of other-than-human rhythms and senses of place. Of course this work is still in process, so I would be interested in further suggestions of films that might help me make my case

  5. jmarch71 says:

    Hello, all! My name is Jeffrey Scott Marchand from the University of Texas at Arlington.

    I am really excited to be part of this conference and am intrigued to see how the next two weeks play out and the conversations that may emerge here. Thanks to all the other panelists here (I have only briefly listened to the talks, so I will require another listen/watch through for more extensive comments).

    As for my own talk, I am attempting to work through the limitations and the possibilities that are inherent in the eco-speculative film genre. This talk is part of a larger work that I am in the process of writing entitled “‘This is the Place:’ A Posthuman Guide to the Apocalypse, or Becoming-World through Pop Culture.” I am attempting to work with apocalyptic ecohorror narratives in pop culture through the posthuman lenses of critical animal studies, plant studies, race studies, and queer theory. As this is a work in progress, I welcome any comments and/or recommendations for other texts that may be relevant to my cause.

    • Kristen Angierski, Cornell University says:

      Hi Jeffrey! I really enjoyed your talk. First, I think the rejection of snobbery when it comes to pop culture films is (when it comes to all things, really) absolutely necessary. Are there really academics who still explicitly malign the popular? Yikes. I also appreciated the turn to ethics: to what these films can *do.* I wonder, more concretely, if you think these films can create behavioral change or if they “merely” allow one to inhabit the dizzying spatio-temporal hyperobject space of the Anthropocene? In my own experience with critical animal studies and animal rights activism, films (from violent documentaries set on factory farms to cute, fuzzy animal stories) do not seem especially likely to turn anyone on to more sustainable foodways. I am not of course asking for a solution to this enigma.

      I was also interested in what you wrote above about ecohorror as dystopia. You might be interested in this quote: “To think of these ‘end of the world’ narratives as cautionary tales is to assume the position of the liberal blessed, those happy few for whom conditions of scarcity, violence, volatility and ‘existential threat’ are not part of day-to-day existence. When one looks at some ‘end of the world’ scenarios – such as the most recent Mad Max installment – what ‘we’ see is a ‘future’ where water has been seized and is conspicuously wasted by the parasitic few, in order to dazzle and enslave the barely surviving many. How is it possible to view films of this type and say that it is easy to imagine the end of the world? This is not the end of the world, but what the world is, and has been, for the majority of humans.” _Anti-Catastrophic Time_ Claire Colbrook (2017) (and non-humans, I would add– especially those living out their torturous days on “concentrated animal feed operations”)

      That is not a critique, but just a way of thinking– against catastrophe– that you may already be reckoning with in your work!

      • jmarch71 says:

        Thank you for the great suggestions here, Kristen.

        One of the main problems for me is the idea of behavioral change (or more precisely, the lack there of) and how these films do not, in fact, create any concrete change. However, I’ve been trying to think through why that is, especially given that these are expressions of a popular imagination that already contains a positive ecological sentiment. I’m hoping that perhaps creating more accessible readings, as ecocritics, could in fact spark debates that could lead behavioral change. The fact that these types of films can even emerge in popular culture, and be well-accepted, gives me hope that there is the possibility of a change in popular understandings from which more sound ecological practices could be born.

        Still, what I think is the most important aspect of these films is the dizzying allowances that they do afford (love this phrasing), and that audiences who might not think in terms of ecology could emerge from these experiences with a better understanding of the interconnections of human actions within always more-than-human systems.

        • Kristen Angierski, Cornell University says:

          I am very on board with the idea of more accessible readings and public scholarship. The subject of my Master’s thesis from a million years ago was a Palestinian woman writer named Sahar Khalifeh and she has this great quote about the uselessness of obfuscatory writing and the politics of clarity. I can’t find the quote at the moment (it might actually be from an unpublished interview.) Anyway, I do hope you’re right about ecomedia’s potentialities and the power of pop culture! Thanks for the response.

    • Christy Tidwell, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology says:

      Thanks for your talk! I’m always happy to get a chance to think about Godzilla (I’m less invested in King Kong, but that’s good, too)! I have three questions/comments for you at this point.

      1. You focused on U.S. versions of these stories, but at least with Godzilla, that’s such a small part of what’s been produced. How do the many (many, many) Japanese Godzilla films fit into or compare with your analysis? For instance, what do you make of the shift in those films to seeing Godzilla as a protector rather than a threat?

      2. When you discuss the possibilities of these films, you focus a lot of on audience response. I wonder if you could anchor this more concretely – when you argue that the films force or allow viewers to think in these shifting scales, is there any way to know that this is really happening? It’s one thing to say that the texts provide this possibility or lend themselves to such readings; it’s another to say that they force audiences to do so or to emphasize how these films might prompt action.

      3. Finally, I thought your observation about deep time, prehistoric creatures, and cryptozoology in Kong: Skull Island was quite interesting. What do you think of other recent films that turn to similar combinations? I’m thinking of Syfy and Asylum movies like Megashark vs [whoever] or Crocosaurus, for instance.

  6. ehamner says:

    Hi everyone in panel 1,

    I don’t have a pressing central question–just a bunch of small curiosities, and I hope something among them will prove helpful. More than anything, I just want to voice my appreciation for these talks.

    Sara, you had me thinking back to the climate change seminar at ASLE13 and our panel at SLSA13 as well. The papers you gave then, both of which engaged Beasts of the Southern Wild in some measure, have stayed with me, and I’d be curious how they look to you now. While that’s not ecohorror, really (except insofar as it involves a little girl losing her father), it does belong in this conversation for other reasons. While an improvement on Avatar’s fantasy, as you said, it does still make things a bit too easy. You concluded one of those papers, “I want a real outcome, a real story, a real narrative to guide me, to help me build that bridge my daughter and everyone else needs. No lifeboats, no Edens, no Aurochs even.” What’s come the closest for you in the time since? Or are you writing it yourself, in the form of literary and film criticism rather than fiction?

    Christy, to echo Kristen’s comment, your talk immediately made me think about VanderMeer’s Annihilation and its film adaptation. But even more than all of the wonderfully weird images provided by this novel, its sequels, and its film treatment–and with the many ways they undercut a simplistic nature-civilization divide–I was fascinated by your discussion of how Uzumaki ties spirals to dissolution, madness, and disembodiment. That symbol-shape has long been a positive one for me: I find its fusion of linearity and circularity, sequence and simultaneity, profoundly (if also paradoxically) helpful. Rather than thinking in terms of spiraling down, of being assimilated by a consumptive spiral, I more often ruminate on spiraling onward, embracing repetition with difference. This is closer to the usage one finds with Cosima’s character in Orphan Black (and her spiral tattoo), or more figuratively, with the narrative structure of mother!, which (crucially) reaches past merely coming full circle. So you made me wonder: are their other places in ecohorror or ecofiction more broadly where you’ve seen the spiral or a corresponding shape function so intensely? And is there both a “downward spiral” and an … inward (?), trans-dimensional (?) one we might juxtapose?

    Kristen, thank you for your passionate treatment of *Raw.* As the grandson of cattle farmers who grew up being served meat at nearly every meal, its consumption is a topic on which I have a real mess of feelings and intuitions, and for the moment I’ll just say that I much appreciated the occasion to ponder them again. I care simultaneously about the animal ethics approach, the health angle, and other ways of considering the issue, but I’ve probably thought the most about the connections to climate change and global justice. I saw some interesting stats via academic Twitter recently about how different agricultural contexts heavily influence the relative costliness and efficiency (in terms of energy, water, greenhouse gases, and other factors) of plant vs. animal-based diets, but I haven’t yet read enough to feel confident about making any strong arguments. What I am confident about is that new technologies will not be enough, and that consumption habits must also change. So I’ve made significant personal changes there, even if they continue to evolve. In any case, thank you for the encouragement to keep pondering this and for your evident commitment to bridging the personal and the scholarly.

    Jeffrey, while watching your presentation I was reminded of an element of Anne Schmalstig’s presentation in my own panel (#5). She raises the question of whether the deep timescales of “science faction” (a provocative neologism) like The Future is Wild are actually doing anything positive to reshape human behavior presently. Noting the ease with which the show writes off not just our species but also our effects on much larger and longer ecological scales, she considers more of the potential negative consequences of such escapism. Meanwhile, your take on the Kong & Godzilla films feels a bit more optimistic, viewing them as sometimes problematic in various registers (e.g. racially, anthropocentrically, etc.), but also suggesting–if I understand you right–that the mere act of leading audiences to think on the longer timescales required by the Anthropocene may be in itself productive (even if unconsciously, perhaps?). I too was viewing rapidly (and with interruptions) here, but if this much is correct, I’d be curious about what ingredients you–and Anne–think might make the greatest difference (if anything) in shifting such entertainment experiences toward a more reflective audience response. Put another way: isn’t it ironic that here we have fantastic films opening new possibilities for our relationship to deep time, while purportedly realistic/nonfictional edutainment is busy excusing us from any such responsibility?

    • Christy Tidwell, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology says:

      Thanks for your comments and questions, Everett. I’m not sure I have a very good answer to your question right now, but it’s something I’ll definitely be thinking about. As I continue to develop this project, I’ll have to think about how to clarify the relationship between horror and the spiral because I actually don’t think this spiraling movement is entirely negative. There’s potential there, too, for development of new ideas and connections, but it’s of course complicated by the genre. (I’m definitely still processing this, so don’t hold me to my current inarticulate thoughts!)

      Related, part of my research that wouldn’t fit into this presentation got me looking at another earlier manga artist – Osamu Tezuka, the so-called “god of manga.” Some of the criticism of his work that I was reading focused on his use of circles and spheres to represent unity and to challenge divisions and hierarchies. This is also seen as a rejection of “angular terms”; Ito’s use of spirals moves away from angular terms, too, but the spiral is more open and unfinished than the circle/sphere, which I find interesting. I plan to dig more into this and see where it takes me.

    • Kristen Angierski, Cornell University says:

      Hi Everett! Thank you for the kind response to my talk, which I had hoped would encourage some reflection, if not immediate veganism. 🙂 I love hearing from farmers and children of farmers, vegan or not. The farming community in the United States is hurting right now (TW: suicide: and I am seriously perturbed when I see vegans (rare as it is) celebrating rural devastation. You might be interested in some of these stories about farmers who went vegan:

      I do try to blend the personal-political-academic in my work while also muddling the boundaries between these categories. This is part of the challenge of doing “vegan studies”: I get the sense that some take it less seriously because of a.) all the baggage that comes along with the term “vegan” and b.) that persistent attachment to the idea that how one eats is deeply personal and should not be critiqued. The latter claim has some validity– my biggest fear is accidentally exacerbating disordered eating in my students– and yet to say that food choices are a “personal choice” erases the beings who were never given a choice: the farmed animals.

      Thank you again for your kind comments!

    • Sara L. Crosby, The Ohio State University at Marion says:

      Hi, Everett! It’s wonderful to hear from you again! And thank you for the great question– and your great memory. Let’s see. I suppose the most famous pop culture text that comes closest to challenging unhelpful narratives is probably Mad Max: Fury Road. The most pernicious old narrative is basically a western: great white man hero who’s really good at violence will take the chosen few from the broken old land and into a new eden. Lifeboat. Fury Road explicitly starts down this path and then realizes there is no new eden, and our heroes turn around, go back to the dystopia, and fight the bloated oligarch/patriarch who controls and exploits all the resources and mal-distributes them to amplify his own power. Plus, Max decides to support the heroism of Furiosa, a disabled woman, and her compatriots, rather than set himself up as the new patriarch-hero. “Hope is a mistake. If you don’t fix what’s broken, you’ll go insane.”

      Also, I’m finding ecohorror a promising genre for other narrative possibilities beyond the lifeboat-western. The best ones ask us to face nonhuman and human nature as it’s been mutilated by human greed and stupidity. It makes us look at our grief and loss and our own abjection– not to defeat it or escape it– but to accept and embrace it, to learn to love this compromised nature. I think Annihilation (the book, not the movie so much) works toward that. (And, Christy, I wonder if we could see that text as using the cosmic as a way to amplify/metaphorize the Anthropocene’s ecocidal alterations?) A few other texts I see moving this way: The Babadook, The Witch, Uninhabited, a lot of Edgar Allan Poe. Do you have any faves Everett? I’ve got to run. Thank you for the great question!

  7. myates says:

    Hi Kristin, Great talk! Loved it!!! I really like Vincent Woodard’s The Delectable Negro, in which he talks about empirical evidence for the actual cannibalistic consumption of slaves in the U.S. and how these narratives have been discarded by historians. The spatial location is different (U.S. versus France) but the fundamental politics of colonization, imperialism, and white supremacy might make this text useful in expanding your argument about the consumption of Adrien – which I think is a brilliant reading. I really like the use of disgust to frame your ecofeminist reading of the film. I think a lot about disgust in my own work on waste, in that we have a dominant Euro-American cultural affect of disgust toward excretion and bodily matter like poop. Is there a comparable reading of Raw? Is waste a useful concept in which to read the film?

      • Kristen Angierski, Cornell University says:

        Not to worry! But thank you for correcting it. The Delectable Negro sounds like a horrifying but necessary read for any work on cannibalism. I wish I had had more time to go into the potential postcolonial messaging of the film so I am glad you are interested in and asking about Raw’s (conscious or not, who knows) racial messaging. It’s also important to know that the character Adrien is gay, but Justine aggressively encourages/coerces? him into sex anyway. This relates to the “monkeys and AIDS” lunchroom discussion in which Adrien senses that his (white) veterinary school colleague is asking him about monkeys and sex because of his racial and sexual identity. He cuts off that conversation with an interesting call for politeness: “I’m trying to eat” and “Were you raised by wolves?”– an inversion of the imposition of “savagery” on the postcolonial subject. It’s as if Adrien’s hunger is continually unsatisfied– interrupted by disgusting conversations or aggressive/borderline-consensual sex with a woman. And then of course he is murdered and Justine gets to live on as some kind of paragon of moral maturity, according to the director with whom I seem to agree on next to nothing.

        As for waste, that’s a really interesting point and I need to read some of your work! There is a scene in Raw in which the two sisters pee on a roof together, one teaching the other to do it standing up, “like a boy.” Justine ends up peeing all over herself. On the one hand, I think this scene is meant to chip away at the imagery of delicate, polite, tidy femininity (one could say that about the whole film I suppose) but you have me considering that there might be more to it, theoretically. Vomit is perhaps the most relevant kind of waste to Raw thematically. And peeling skin. But I guess these fluids/solids are not exactly the daily, banal kind of waste of which you speak. I will have to think of this more. Thank you for your questions and ideas!

  8. Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

    Hi Michelle and Kristen:
    Get me up to speed on the concept of disgust. While we have looked at it, my Psych Prof friend informed me that there is now an area called Disgustology. Have either of you caught up to this psych subfield? We did a little bit of work there, but didn’t have the time to pursue it.

    • Kristen Angierski, Cornell University says:

      I have never heard of “disgustology”! I have looked into “moral psychology” which seems to be related and tracks phenomena like: the evolutionary basis for certain taboos, a neuroscience and cognitive science of morality, the relationship between morality and (fending off) disease. I have found reading in these fields to be helpful, but I am ultimately more interested, I think (in part because catalyzing biology-based revulsion does not necessarily do a darn thing to the reader/viewer of a repulsive text) in work like Sara Ahmed’s The Cultural Politics of Emotion which centers the sociocultural creation of disgust through narratives about racial Others and their power to “contaminate.” (Environmentalists sometimes fall back on this rhetoric of contamination and purity. I’ve found Sarah Jaquette Ray’s The Ecological Other helpful in thinking about “environmentalist disgust” with non-normative, non-white bodies, non-“healthy,” non-thin bodies.)

  9. kiuwaichu says:

    Hi Christy thanks for your presentation.
    I like Junji Ito’s comics too and particularly Spiral. Your reading of it expanding from body horror to cosmic horror makes a lot of sense to me. Thinking in “scale” terms, may I also try to pull back from the cosmic, planetary scale, and try to approach Japanese ecohorrors from more regionally/culturally specific perspectives? For instance, the impacts of minamata disease and mercury poisoning in 1950s have been documented very visually in some documentaries, highlighting the horror of victims’ physical deformities. I can’t help but wonder whether these real life eco-disasters have impacted Japanese horrors since decades ago. Writhing Tongue by Yoshitaro Nomura would be another example from the 80s.
    The more recent Fukushima nuclear disaster and its lingering effects also provide a setting for intriguing tales to be told. While I can’t really think of any ecohorror example at the moment, the motifs of crossing species lines; plasmaticity and corporeal transformations you identified in Ito’s works, can be seen in a wider range of Japanese films such as Kuroe/Chloe (by Go Riju); Bare Essence of Life; Funky Forest; and the animated characters, forest dwarves “Kobito Dukan” that are so popular in Asia. (This could be the most bizarre thing you see today if you haven’t seen them before! In short, I think the ideas you suggested based on Ito’s Spirals are great, and perhaps also something we can observed more broadly in contemporary Japanese culture, in relation to recent environmental crises?

    • Christy Tidwell, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology says:

      Thanks very much for the suggestions of other texts to consider! I did some research on Minamata disease and other instances of toxic contamination in Japan as I prepared this presentation and definitely think it is relevant; unfortunately, most of that got cut for time. I look forward to doing more research on this element and plan to include some consideration of such regional/cultural issues in the longer version of this, though. I think you’re absolutely right that the text’s specific context is important.

  10. Inez says:

    Hi Kristen,

    Thank you for your insightful reading of Raw. I also particularly like the analysis of Adrien. I didn’t know about the director’s stance earlier, so that is slightly unexpected. I agree with your reading of the film’s implied critique or satire of the carnist culture, the relationship between eating an animal and eating a human, and its vegan/vegetarian message. I myself also interpreted it that way. However, at the same time, I’ve encountered many comments from meat eaters that tend to read the film as, more at its face value, a sarcasm to the “hypocrisy” of the vegetarians (or rather, the film becomes a medium for some people to channel their veganphobia). This interpretative ambiguity (though for me it doesn’t work on the same level) might also be an intricate point to analyze.

    Along reading the thread, the discussions reminded me of Marquis de Sade’s two “utopian” islands in Aline et Valcour, which expresses the idea that only the cannibalistic and the vegetarian/vegan society are consistent with their values. (Justine could also be a Sadian reference)

    The evocation of disgust, as also explained by the cited Kristeva’s Power of Horror, also speaks to the theme of waste. I think they are the two ends (or two sides) of lack of bodily distinction, just as digest and excretion can never be separated. I’m also interested in thinking about Justine’s autophagy.

    P.S. There’s a Brazilian band called Vampiras Veganas…

    Thanks again!

    • Kristen Angierski, Cornell University says:

      Hello again Inez! Thanks for your wonderful comments. I am so deeply invested in my own reading that I am having a hard time even understanding the argument that the film is about vegetarian/vegan “hypocrisy.” Is the idea that (and this is why I pair the film with the novel The Vegetarian) we all commit harm, one way or another and so veg-people are really just performing moral righteousness/their “superiority complex” and not really “doing anything”? (I get this argument from surprisingly progressive corners; it’s as if they believe individual consumer choices make an impact in some arenas (Boycott Amazon!) but when it comes to animals there is “no ethical consumption under capitalism”– and therefore factory farming is fine?) I guess that type of argument echoes the director’s; Justine becomes a moral agent when she realizes she must live with her cannibal impulses and inevitably cause pain so that she might live. I can understand that reading but I disagree vehemently with its politics.

      Ah, thank you so much for additional sources and ideas and music! I have to track down your waste studies work now.

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