Panel 1: A Speculative Narratology for Climate Futures



Panel 1: A Speculative Narratology for Climate Futures

Narrative and Anthropocene Imagination

David Rodriguez, Stony Brook University

An essential part of action in the present is enabled by our image of the future. This presentation will work from now to 2050 through a speculative test of phenomenological theories of imagination that are rather unselfconsciously concerned with how the imagination of the world in the present can affect the future. Through an analysis of three anthropocene texts, I show how these unique imaginative experiences can vitally supplement theorizations of imagination in the anthropocene (more).

Narrative in the Anthropocene

Erin James, University of Idaho

This presentation imagines how narrative can best represent the environmental changes that are to come. Specifically, it engages recent discussions about the Anthropocene to imagine a theory of narrative that is sensitive to matters commonly associated with the epoch. I argue that an “Anthropocene narratology” stands to enrich a universal model of narrative by incorporating ideas pertinent to this new geological epoch and developing a richer vocabulary enabling us to understand better the current state of the world and our relationship to it (more).

Climate Futures, Narrative Experiments

Marco Caracciolo, Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies

This paper asks how narrative can become a tool for modeling the ambivalence of climate futures. I argue that experimental texts are in a better position than fiction of the realistic variety to build the open-endedness and instability of climate change into a narrative. I focus on five strategies that make this possible, offering concrete examples for each strategy (more).

Q & A

Have questions or comments? Feel free to take part in the Q&A!

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14 replies
  1. Marco Caracciolo, University of Freiburg says:

    Hi everyone,

    Thanks for participating in this Q&A session! Just to provide a little more context: with this talk I’m starting to think about how environmental issues raise a challenge for storytelling, and how–in turn–storytellers may devise creative solutions as they confront nonhuman realities. This is a new project for me, as most of my work is in cognitive literary studies–a field that I would hope to bring into conversation with the environmental humanities.

    I’m looking forward to any comments or questions you may have!

    All the best,


  2. David Rodriguez, Stony Brook University says:

    Hello all–

    Looking forward to all responses and discussion. I’m interested in responses to the idea of the “negated” present through the act of imagining the future. This is a potential interesting alteration to the positive construction of storyworlds, no matter how far this conceptualization gets from a representational account, “in” the mind or even “outside” and of the text, rather than as attuned to an image of the environment. Also interested to hear responses to my framing of Helton’s use of the term “fictional” for her landscape photographs as well as a similar fictionality in 10:04.

    • Erin James, University of Idaho says:

      Great presentation, David!

      I gesture towards this idea in my response to Madison’s question below, but I want to ask you about any links that you see between your argument here and the election. As the results rolled in on Tuesday night I couldn’t help but think of that idea that fictional narratives provide us with a “negation” of the real-world. As I write below, I’ve always thought the process of readers transporting themselves to narrative storyworlds as a generally positive thing — we read narratives about experiences and worlds that differ from our own immediate environments and we come to understand our world a bit better. But the polarization of the country and the role that social media (esp. Facebook) plays in that polarization suggests to me now major negatives of this process: we curate echo chambers that provide us with narratives that confirm our understanding of the world and the people that we share it with.

      You focus on fictional narratives in your presentation. How applicable are your ideas of negation to non-fiction narratives and aggregates of such narratives on social media platforms, do you think?

      • David Rodriguez, Stony Brook University says:

        Using these ideas to think about digital media in general (unrelated to environmental issues) is a really interesting and unexpected turn, so I’m glad you’re helping us think about it.

        I’m not sure if I feel that any of the narratives I encounter on social media are “thick” enough for immersion (or even its opposite), and so I’m not really sure if the concepts I’m trying to develop graft to our engagement with popular political narratives in that medium. But still, fictionality–outside of thinking about storyworlds–seems relevant, as the frames of what is “real” and not have been flipped for a lot of people by something as simple as “official” polls being so obviously wrong when it came to election results.

        I’ve experienced this in the context of extreme, radical, or what I perceived as marginal conservative comment boards (such as on Infowars) that I used to read because it was interesting and compelling to me to see the contrast between what was so obviously a fictional world (perhaps the echo-chamber effect you mention) that was driving hateful and violent comments and the progressive “reality” that seems so major, obvious, and inevitable. Maybe I was already shaded by my optimism, but regardless, a day later these comments have taken on an entirely different relation to fictionality because of their framing: because the “anchor” of the world-frame (a political leader) won out over another, their world is suddenly less fictional than it seemed, and the comments become less compelling and more alarming. This is a pretty strong interpretation that I’m not sure about.

        Maybe we have a weird sense of the “world” being transported, in this case, and not the reader. Anyway, I’m not very comfortable stretching the argument this way, even though I’m glad you’re bringing this to the medium of political discourse–not somewhere it’s my reflex to attend to. Again, I’m not sure if we’re talking about something as textured as a “storyworld” rather than the more ephemeral “worldview” that is more difficult to tie in with these theoretical points.

  3. Erin James, University of Idaho says:

    HI everyone,

    Thanks so much for listening to my talk! This work represents the origins of a new project that explores how narrative can (and might) respond to our changing environment. I’m keen to hear your feedback, and am especially interested gathering examples of primary texts that illustrate the types of narrative structures that I discuss here. So please do let me know about your favorite stories that feature very long durations or solastalgia, narratives that are set underground or under water, and stories that feature collective narration. I would also love to chat with folks about the connections between the rise of the novel and the origins of the Anthropocene.


    • Madison Jones, University of Florida says:

      Hi, Erin,

      I really enjoyed your talk. I am especially interested in the ways in which the change in narrative, especially the uncanny temporal changes you describe, might enter the non-fictional realm through games like Pokémon GO and other media which collapse virtuality and actuality in ways similar to postmodern narratives. Your call for expanded models in the face of the Anthropocene, such as with Nixon’s concept of slow violence, might include the visualizations of geologic changes in climate we are faced with on a daily basis on social media (such as ____ being the warmest month on record). What do you feel the role of new media might be (as part of this epoch) to further splinter the singular, omniscient ways we interact with story-world. How does the rise of backpack journalism, and social media change how we construct and convey narrative in this epoch? Can narrative writing move from word to world in new media? I guess I wonder if we can extend these event narratives to media technologies we interact with on a daily basis and the ever-expanding siege of scientific data with which we must reckon.



      • Erin James, University of Idaho says:

        Hi Madison,

        This is a great question. I must admit that I haven’t done a lot of work with digital narratives and new media. My focus has thus far been on”traditional” narratives (novels and short stories). Part of the reason for this focus is because of my own technological ineptitude. But another key part is my resistance to the arguments of scholars like Timothy Morton and Claire Colebrook which suggest that these traditional narratives are unsuited to representing the Anthropocene.

        But your question has me thinking about new media as an obvious site of inquiry and a rich set of texts to examine. I’ve been especially conscious of this over the past few days in my reaction to the election. I’ve always thought the process of readers transporting themselves to narrative storyworlds as a generally positive thing — we read narratives about experiences and worlds that differ from our own immediate environments and we come to understand our world a bit better. But the polarization of the country and the role that social media (esp. Facebook) plays in that polarization has me thinking now about the negatives of this process: we curate echo chambers that provide us with narratives that confirm our understanding of the world and the people that we share it with. David talks about this brilliantly in his presentation — the idea that narratives offer us a negation of the “real world.” (This more negative view of the world-creating power of narratives and the echo chamber of social media is also the reason that I’m uncomfortable with the links that Bill McKibben makes in his keynote between the current, diffuse information landscape and the potential democratization of a new energy landscape based on renewable energy. I’m obviously supportive of renewable energy, but I’m not sure that I see the information age as as hopeful a metaphor as he does.)

        So, yes, while I think that you’re right to look to new media, and especially social media, as providing us great models for the splintering of the singularity and omniscience that interests me, I’m not sure that I see that resistance to singularity and omniscience as functioning in the same way that collective narration would function in a short story or novel. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

        (Also, please help out a technophobe and recommend new media narratives that you think that I should check out. I’m all ears!)

        • Erin James, University of Idaho says:

          I should also mention that Marco’s presentation provides us with some language to analyze new media narratives, I think — especially his discussion of “multiple outcomes” and “biocatalogues.”

        • Marco Caracciolo, University of Freiburg says:

          I think these are important questions about digital media and their potential for shaping or reshaping the landscape of people’s beliefs. But I would make a distinction between so-called “social” media and media like video games, interactive fiction, or augmented reality. I think it is difficult to generalize in this area, because the label “digital media” is too broad to capture the major differences between these platforms. I agree with Erin and David in his comment above that social media narratives are not “‘thick’ enough for immersion” (to quote David). But of course video games are quite different, because they can give rise to full-fledged narrative experiences. Consider the history of the idea of “immersion”: clearly, it grows out of longstanding discussions on mimesis and the aesthetic illusion; but in contemporary debates it has become inextricably bound up with video games (as Marie-Laure Ryan points out in her seminal *Narrative as Virtual Reality*, 2001).

          Now, the problem from my perspective is that video games have not used their narrative/immersive potential in ways that are convincing and relevant to the focus of this conference. At least in “mainstream” games, the plots have mostly been predictable, the characters flat and stereotypical. This has changed only over the last decade, with the emergence of “independent” games that, while technically less impressive, have turned to ethically and socially relevant issues. An example would be *Papers, Please* (,_Please), which probes complex ethical questions by placing the player in the shoes of an immigration officer faced with extremely hard decisions. Other games focus on mental illness or explore human psychology in ways that are deeply satisfying (if unsettling) from an emotional and narrative viewpoint. But–to my knowledge!–no game does this in relation to environmental issues, and that is a shame, and a gap to be filled by game developers (perhaps by 2050…). Clearly, such games could greatly extend and enrich the narrative strategies we’re discussing in this panel.

          • Madison Jones, University of Florida says:

            Hi, everyone,

            I’m please that this generated some conversation, and I’m really interested in your replies. I certainly agree that the concept of thickness is useful in distinguishing between locations for these kinds of narratives. I also wonder if distance plays a role in how we perceive narratives, such as in the Kantian sublime where the subject cannot actually be in ‘real’ danger. Lee Rozelle’s Ecosublime certainly makes that point. My work with the Ghost Bikes project (see my presentation for more: has led me to be suspicious of this sense of distance, however. Increasingly, I see locative media as breaking down that distance in ways that might be productive for this topic. The ghost bike project uses augmented reality to push the narrative into the ‘real’ world through digital-material layering. In a way, I see the material world we live in as narrativized, shaped by attitudes and ideologies that tell us to behave in ways that often remain invisible. I’d like to think that some of these media projects might be able to make these narratives visible in ways akin to what literature has done and continues to do.

            If you guys are interested in seeing how you can make digital interventions as part of scholarship, check out TRACE down here at UF: Anyway, thanks for the thought-provoking pieces!



            • Marco Caracciolo, University of Freiburg says:

              Thanks for your further thoughts, Madison. I watched your talk and found your argument very convincing and the project itself very important and resonant. I agree with you that distance can be problematic, but on the other hand it seems to me that your account of ghost bikes as a material critique of petrocentrism reflects a good degree of (critical, interpretive) distance. So my sense is that any effective use of narrative media depends on our capacity to establish–through experience but also analysis and discussion–a distinctive “rhythm” of closeness and distance, immersion and critical reflection. This is not to deny the specific potential, in immersive terms and otherwise, of digital technologies, of course.

              • Madison Jones, University of Florida says:

                Marco, this is a great point. I think “rhythm” is a really interesting way of characterizing that movement between reflecting on, and being in, digital-material places. Certainly the idea of place as a rhetorical “dancing ground” has been written about, especially regarding digital space, in Thomas Rickert’s Ambient Rhetoric. Perhaps what I mean to say is that the sense of “distance” in terms of being “far off” or “remote” begins to collapse as we think not of technological or climate *futures,* but of facing increasingly close realities. I think that this idea of rhythm preserves these important elements of narrative as digital space continues to evert our material lives. Thanks for the great comment and for giving me a chance to think through some of this further. ~Madison

                • Marco Caracciolo, University of Freiburg says:

                  Thank you, Madison! I’m very glad the notion of rhythm seems helpful in this connection. I think it captures nicely many of the complexities of our interaction with narrative art. I’ll be sure to check out Thomas Rickert’s book then, it sounds very relevant.

  4. Laurence Marty says:

    Dear David, Erin and Marco,
    Thank you so much for your pannel !
    The questions you raised about narratives and its different features (time, space, narrators, causality…) are really inspiring (even in this dark day…). In a way, you helped me to theorize some feelings that I had, trying to write cli-fi. I especially enjoyed when you explain how anthropocene tackles and complicates narrative models. It really appears like a challenge : how can we confront the uncertainty of futures ? how can we create a post-colonial narratology ? how can we create narrators with a more-than-human agency ?
    If you have a short while and would like to have a look to my own video (“Three Fragments” in Pannel 5 about Climate Fiction), I will love to have your comment and reviews to help me going further.
    With gratitude,

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