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Hacking the Loop: Energy Politics in Market-Mediated Recycling

Kameron Sanzo

As we work towards managing our energy needs on an overheating planet, we encounter “efficiency” language that becomes increasingly crucial to parse. Appliances are advertised as “energy-efficient,” gas is labeled as “fuel-efficient,” and recycling initiatives emphasize “efficiency loops.” This presentation argues for a need to unpack and destabilize what I call the efficiency narrative, or the expansion-motivated fiction of energy conservation. I trace a connection between London’s early-to-mid nineteenth century recycling infrastructure, and the early thermodynamic principles that linger in our recycling literatures and infrastructures today.

One of the most important contextual, and yet now invisible aspects of the language of efficiency, is the thermodynamic insistence that energy is fungible and can be transferred universally across all systems. There is therefore a misleading collapse of economics and energy into one sustainability model. When thermodynamicists framed their new science in the Victorian era, the law of conservation of energy opened up the romantic notion of self-sustained, endless consumption without the consequences of energy loss. We can observe the vestiges of waste romanticism in our own energy-focused century. For instance, recent waste studies have identified the nineteenth century dust yard, where household waste was recycled for profit, as an exemplary model of efficiency. Additionally, in October 2019, BP released plans to construct a pilot plant for its new recycling technology, BP Infinia, a depolymerization process that deconstructs plastic waste into polymer building blocks for new plastics. Two months later, BP announced its involvement in a consortium of corporations joining forces to keep plastics in an “infinitely-recyclable loop.” While this kind of recycling may indeed reduce some landfill waste, it also relies on perpetuating capitalism’s status quo of boundless economic growth and commitment to market-based solutions. Using PowerPoint visuals with voiceover, this presentation lays bare the now invisible connections between nineteenth-century energy logic and the efficiency narrative of our own moment.

Kameron Sanzo is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Riverside, where she specializes in Victorian literature and science. Her dissertation project theorizes energy’s infrastructure, which emerged contemporary to classical energy physics in the nineteenth century and naturalized western assumptions about bodies, resources, movement, and possibilities. Her project argues that the Victorian period is crucial to understanding how certain formations of energy have become embedded in our cultural imaginaries, in our literature, in our infrastructures, and in our sciences. Because energy deals in conversions and relationalities, strategies of representation such as models, fictions, and infrastructures produce a version of modernity that we recognize while obscuring other possibilities.

Humanizing the Non-Human: Aesthetic Reflections of the Anthropocene in Contemporary Petrofiction

Lisa Schantl

The Anthropocene is characterized by the following major criterion: the human footprint has become inextinguishable from the Earth. “Human action is visible everywhere,” as Bruno Latour (5) puts it. The consequence is that Earth can no longer be seen as an object only; lasting human interaction turned it into a subject. In this context, Hubert Zapf (139) identifies a “vital interrelatedness” between culture and nature which poses a set of new questions: while the culture-nature dualism may be overcome, culture can no longer be dissolved into nature and the creation of an “ecocentric naturalism” has become impossible. The arising questions thus are: What does it mean to be human in the age of the Anthropocene? What separates human beings from nature? And what distinguishes human beings from the technology they create?

This paper examines these questions by exploring two contemporary petro-novels, namely Heat and Light by Jennifer Haigh (2016) and Long Change by Don Gillmor (2015). A specific focus will be on the novels’ use of devices such as personification, anthropomorphization, analogy and metaphor. Based on the ethical and aesthetic dimensions of eco-literature proposed by Hubert Zapf, I shall demonstrate how these literary devices function as essential tools in ascribing agency to human and non-human entities. Thus, this paper goes beyond the common juxtaposition of active human subject and passive material subject (cf. Grewe-Volpp 214): for example, the anthropomorphization of the Earth as female and the drill head as male is shown to be an act of humanizing both passive nature and active technology, consequentially turning both into subjects that can arouse empathy as well as horror (cf. Löschnigg 550). Thus, elements of agency and variations of subject-object-relations in contemporary petrofiction will be revealed, with the aim to increase the general sensibility for the interplay between human and the non- human spheres.

Lisa Schantl is an English and American studies graduate student at the University of Graz, Austria, focusing on ecocriticism and North-American literary studies. She has earned her Bachelor degrees in English and American Studies as well as in Philosophy at the University of Graz and completed additional training programs in media sciences and publishing. She is currently working on her Master thesis entitled “’Too Bad About the Trees’: Capitalism and Economic Growth as Threats to the Environment in Contemporary Petroliterature”. Besides her academic interests, she is the founder and editor-in-chief of Tint Journal, a literary journal dedicated to non-native English writing.

Nihilism and Bravery

Nathan Schmidt

“Courage is the solution to despair; reason provides no answers.”  – Ethan Hawke as Reverend Ernst Toller, Paul Schrader’s First Reformed

 Toller’s statement in First Reformed defines a dichotomous relationship between nihilism and bravery that is reflected in responses to the chrisis of climate change and human extinction—one can despair or move forward in brave tenacity. Considering the relationship between philosophy and the Anthropocene, I ask the extent to which philosophy, even nihilistic philosophy, is a brave response to catastrophe, or if it offers something beyond the dialectic of courage and despair. Starting with Aristotle’s circular and affective account of bravery in the Nicomachean Ethics, I consider how this account is brought into the scene of everyday life in Kierkegaard’s figure of the “knight of faith,” and look at how this bravery becomes the mystical ground of being itself in Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be. I then consider how Nietzschean nihilism preserves the idea of bravery in the courage to accept the eternal return, but also how Nietzsche’s interest in science is mysticized by Eugene Thacker.

Following the trail of bravery as it leads into nihilism and finally into mourning and melancholia in Thacker, I close with Kristeva’s account of forgiveness as an antidote to melancholia. Honestly reckoning with the fact that there is something abject and distasteful in the thought of a planet that can and will go on being without us seems to be the starting point from which something as difficult and contradictory as a deep and sincere love can grow. By Kristeva’s radical re-definition, forgiveness for the earth would, rather than providing the means to get to the end of love, suspend the question of ends and means altogether, refusing any cornucopian conception of the earth as a tool for the use or rescue of courageous “mankind,” and trade the mysticism of melancholia for a task more impossibly formidable than anything mere bravery would dare.

Nathan Schmidt is a Ph.D. candidate at Indiana University Bloomington in the Department of English. He works at the intersections of critical theory, animal studies, and the history of science. Specifically, he engages with the critical paradigms of biopolitics and new materialism to investigate the relationship between the development of environmental consciousness and material infrastructures in America across the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. Key literary figures for him include Whitman, Melville, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Henry Adams; key scientists are John Muir, Nikola Tesla, and Percival Lowell; important critical figures include Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, and Karen Barad.

Different Daylight: Crises of Visuality and Futurity in Sueyeun Juliette Lee’s Post-Fluorescent Poetics

Emily Simon

Sueyeun Juliette Lee’s speculative poetic work, Solar Maximum, envisions a future in which the sun’s intensifying glare has rendered all bodies permeable and semi-transparent, “made of water and light, [running] towards an end without demarcation.” This imagined solar catastrophe precipitates a crisis of visibility already incipient in the totalizing illumination of fluorescence, ozone permeability, and light pollution, whose glares burn up shadows, shades, and variegations of detail and difference. That is, she advances a poetics of emergency in which emergence—the flickering nuances of perceptual texture, intersubjective distinction, and affect—has been foreclosed. Changing light conditions also imperil future-oriented temporalities of potentiality, since the future glows only indistinctly within the field of the present into which it might intervene, as borders between timeframes impede change with their radiant inter-penetration. Lee queries of this suspensive temporal immanence, “How does one become in a state where everything is and always already in full burgeoning,” like when a star twinkles in a night sky already burning thick with city lights? This paper posits a crisis of illumination and visual texture attendant on Anthropocene reworkings of conditions of visibility, which also suspend the imaginative capacity to see sites of becoming lit differently than our current moment. I read Lee’s poetry both as a speculative record of this crisis and as a possible solution, inasmuch as it formally recuperates texture through a poetics of interference that complicates textual and lucent fields by interspersing opacities and diversions. Such interventions confound unidirectional reading and thinking processes in order to respond multiply to her urgent question: “How to speak after a different daylight emerges?” Since visuality is so material to this presentation, I would record it over a PowerPoint situating Lee’s typographical innovations alongside artworks and cultural documents that showcase light’s suspended emergence in this time of emergency.

Emily Simon is a graduate student in English at Brown University, specializing in 20th- and 21st-century poetry and poetics. Her research is oriented by materialism and formalism, engaging questions of time, texture, and detail at the intersection of poetry, science, and the visual arts. She is currently at work on a dissertation on different modalities of qualitative change and surface effects in contemporary American and Canadian feminist poetry.

Naming Asian American Environmental Literature in an Era of Environmental Crisis

Karen Siu

Narrated by two Japanese American immigrants, Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being (2013) details the struggles of being uprooted from home against a backdrop of environmental crises. Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland (2013) features two Indian brothers navigating their concerns with political injustice and environmental degradation in the U.S. and India. Each novel involves different region-specific environmental concerns (respectively, Great Pacific Garbage Patch and Calcutta marshes) while also focusing on common themes of Asian American literature, such as issues of diaspora, families, and immigration. By situating environmental crises in common Asian American themes, I argue that these two novels familiarize global ecological crises under the notion of “Asian American” and exemplify what I call an emerging category of “Asian American Environmental Literature” that deviates from Western environmental literature. Broadly, the correlation between Asian American literature and environmental concerns should not be surprising given that immigrant and diasporic narratives understandably abound with global and local concerns of space and place. I argue that these novels depict nature (i.e. animals and plants) experiencing diaspora due to environmental crises alongside Asian American immigrants as a way to focus on how nature, like Asian Americans, is being compelled to relocate due to environmental changes. Asian American literature then has the capacity to deviate from preservationist environmentalism, offering insights on an alternative environmentalism based on diasporic movement, adaption, and change that might otherwise be left out of the mainstream ecocriticism. Indeed, naming these novels as “Asian American Environmental Literature” acknowledges how Asian American immigrants understand and imagine a way forward from today’s global environmental crises through their heterogeneous experiences of diaspora and immigration.

Karen Liu is currently a PhD student in English at Rice University. Her interests include contemporary Asian Anglophone literature, ecocriticism and climate justice, and speculative fiction. Her most recent work concentrates on how Asian Anglophone novels grapple with and imagine a way forward from global emergencies, such as climate change and COVID-19, in relation to Asian American experiences of diaspora, discrimination, and immigration.

Cinematic Wasthetics: An Empirical Eco-critique of Slow Violence and Plastic Pollution

Nicolai Skiveren

This paper asks two questions: How can an eco-documentary make processes of slow violence perceptible, and how can we, as eco-critics, study the workings of this perception, as it emerges in real viewers? With a point of departure in a qualitative reception study of the eco-documentary Plastic China (2016) conducted in 2019-2020, the paper shows how, why, and to what extent the study of eco-media can benefit from incorporating the methodologies of empirically oriented disciplines such as social science. Especially, the paper argues that the phenomenological practice of qualitative research interviewing has the potential to assist eco-critics interested in investigating the affective experiences of eco-media. By probing the filmic aestheticization of waste (what I term ‘cinematic wasthetics’), the paper first shows that the audio-visual depiction of environmental dumping in Plastic China can be read as embodying a form of slow violence that unfolds across social, ecological, geographical, and temporal borders. Moving beyond the formal aesthetic analysis, the paper then presents the multiple affective responses that the case study found Plastic China capable of producing as well as the strategies and language viewers employed to make sense of their experience. Whereas some felt compelled toward action, others were agitated by the film’s explicit appeal to emotion, while others, again, found themselves situated within a contradictory space of urgency and powerlessness, compassion and inaction, sympathy and exhaustion. By taking into account the rich affective pluralism of the real flesh-and-blood audience, the paper shows why eco-critics should broaden their horizon of academic critique to include reflections on the actual impact of eco-media, whether it be in the context of the film experience or its affective and cognitive reverberations in the micro-political spaces of our everyday lives.

Nicolai Skiveren is a PhD-fellow (5+3) at the Department of English, Aarhus University. His PhD project, Cinematic Waesthetics, examines the role of waste in contemporary cinema and film. Drawing on media affect theory, eco-media, new materialism, and post-constructivist film philosophy, the project explores the affective potential of moving images in shaping our experiences of and attitudes toward waste. The aim of the project is to uncover how film-worlds of waste can work as ecologically responsive sites for inciting material transformations, social mobilizations, and perceptual re-adjustments.

Environmentalism Un-Earthed: Estranging the Energy Narrative from the Human Experience

Nicole Stahl

When the Exxon Valdez tankard hit Bligh Reef in 1989—as the generation before had prophesied—newscasters were as unsuccessful at containing the disaster to a single scapegoat as first responders were at burning off the spilled crude, and Prince William Sound became a body of water and oil. The nature of the Anthropocene is to blur lines between elements and agents, and our traditional information sources struggled to navigate this stranger-than-fiction terrain because the new causes and consequences were unfamiliar to our locally grounded environmentalism. In this essay, I will consider how two science fiction films (both released in the early 1990s to skeptical audiences) responded to these decentered crises by creating fictional worlds without immediately familiar earthly contexts: director Kevin Reynolds’s Waterworld and Werner Herzog’s Lessons of Darkness. Both stories take place on planets outlandish and apocalyptic; only when we are immersed in their land- and waterscapes do we recognize our own Earth. Waterworld has more traditional villains—the smokers traveling the endless sea on an oil tankard (the infamous Exxon Valdez), terrorizing post-flood survivors and burning their makeshift atolls—and these villains are defeated when the tankard’s oil (black-stuff) is ignited, an apparently self-contained story and solution. But in Lessons the lakes of oil are this alien world’s water, and Herzog’s creatures’ relation to the oil fueling their war is more ambiguous: although Herzog has decontextualized the news- and documentary-style footage used in his movie, these are the western firemen come to extinguish the Kuwaiti oil fires after the Gulf War, a moment at once relevant to and removed from its contemporary audience. By revisiting these two future Earths, which were at once products of their/our environment and new fictionalized prophecies of an Earth yet to come, we can adapt to better manage our own earthly crises.

Nicole M. Stahl is a doctoral student at West Virginia University (Department of English). She received a dual Master of Arts in English and Environment/Natural Resources at the University of Wyoming; and she is currently studying Industrial Revolutionary poetry as a precursor to modern environmentalist activism and policy.

Selling the American ‘Oil Frontier’: Tulsa, Giant, and American Resource Politics during the Early Cold War

Sarah Stanford-McIntyre

This paper takes a second look at two classic, mid-century oil films, Tulsa (1949) and Giant (1956). Understanding the early 1950s as a period of oil industry anxiety over industry consolidation and the waning importance of domestic oil production, this paper identifies both films — and their creators — as appealing to Cold War nostalgia for a fictional industry past built on limited government interference and domestic resource sovereignty.

Visual and narrative storytelling are at odds in both films, reflecting the cultural and political tensions of the early 1950s. Narratively, both films are relatively critical of the oil industry and the racial and gender biases of the era. However, they are also politicized vehicles for American free enterprise, using oilfield spectacle to mythologize oil speculation for audiences at home and abroad. According to these films, while the oil industry has its problems, it is also a big, loud, and exciting free-for-all in which anyone – regardless of background or personal wealth — can become instantly, fabulously rich. Belying midcentury changes to the global oil industry, these films identify the industry as a quintessentially American enterprise, built off of American land, and fundamental to American individualism and American success.

Sarah Stanford-McIntyre is an Assistant Professor in the Herbst Program for Engineering, Ethics & Society at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her current book manuscript examines the relationship between oil work, environmental risk, and twentieth-century conservatism. She is co-editor of the forthcoming volume, American Energy Cinema. Among other publications, her work can be found in in the edited volume Inevitably Toxic.  She received her PhD from William & Mary in 2017.

Urgencies of the Dry City: Cape Town in the Global Imagination

Brooke Stanley

Cape Town made headlines around the world in 2018 as it anticipated “Day Zero,” when municipal water levels would drop so low that the city would shut off the taps. Though “Day Zero” was forestalled, reportage on the drought installed Cape Town in the global imagination as exemplar of climate urgency. The Dry City could be a “wakeup.” Or, Cape Town could represent an inevitable future: a “new normal,” a “harbinger of things to come.”

This essay takes Cape Town as paradigmatic site for theorizing urgency. Tracking the city’s portrayal for a global audience, I explore Simon Wood and Francois Verster’s documentary “Scenes from a Dry City,” Eve Fairbanks’ essay “Dry, the Beloved Country,” and Henrietta Rose-Innes’ short story “Poison.” Juggling present and future, and journalistic and speculative modes, these texts ask whether Cape Town is exceptional or representative. This question echoes across South Africa’s association with racial injustice, even as coverage of the drought treats the apartheid past as submerged present, bubbling up from dry pipes. What is global about Cape Town, I suggest, is its tension between two ways to understand climate urgency: the need for collective mitigation versus a scramble to secure the privilege of the few.

Brooke Stanley is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Delaware. They work in the environmental humanities and postcolonial studies, with a focus on twentieth- century and contemporary fiction from the global South. Their interests include globalization, food studies, postcolonial ecocriticism, theory of the novel, climate fiction, and gender and sexuality. Their current book project explores the politics of food in contemporary environmental novels from South Africa and South Asia.

 “Marking” the Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle as Future Cultural and Environmental Heritage

N.A.J. Taylor

The Earth is marked by the nuclear age—Earth is, in effect, a nuclear archive. This is true whether we consider the history of the nuclear age, or its future. Not only do the origins of the Anthropocene epoch coincide with the dawn of the nuclear age (see Zalasiewicz et al. 2015), but high-level radioactive waste repositories are intended to be sealed and passively monitored (without human intervention) for the next 100,000 or more years. Technical solutions have been established to manage the ecological risk, but there is broad agreement that the risk of (human) intrusion remains. It remains an open question as to how, if at all, these sites should be archived—by the establishment of “markers”. That is, what symbols, texts, images, and warnings might humans responsible for such markings use today in order to communicate to beings 10s and 100s of thousands of years into the future? Will these intruders comprehend—and agree with—the warnings delivered by present-day humans at all?

This paper is part of a much larger three-year project that approaches these transdisciplinary concerns by approaching the nuclear fuel cycle as future cultural and environmental heritage. Specifically, the project is the first systematic study of the limits and possibilities of far-future nuclear communication in relation to the Australian nuclear fuel cycle. Although a burgeoning literature has emerged that explores nuclear wastes and contaminated sites as both toxic legacies and heritage futures, Australia is almost entirely neglected in favour of site-specific studies beginning in 1980 with the Human Interference Task Force in the United States (see Sebeok 1984; Trauth, Hora, and Guzowski 1993; Brill 1993; van Wyck 2005). Focusing on Australia is both theoretically interesting and empirically important since it contains more than one third of the world’s known uranium, as well as the world’s oldest continous cultures on Earth’s most arid and stable bedrock. For these reasons it has been earmarked for several decades as the prime candidate for any proposed international intermediate- and high-level nuclear waste repository. Regardless, given Australia has the capacity to be both the largest contributor to the problem of nuclear waste and contamination (i.e. via the nuclear fuel cycle that traces Australian uranium to Fukushima) as well as the ancestral lands and waters of Indigenous peoples with the longest-lived experience of heritage preservation spanning more than 65,000 years (see Clarkson et al. 2017), Australia is a critical site for conceiving of the nuclear fuel cycle as future cultural and environmental heritage. In so doing, the empirical innovation of foregrounding Australia’s nuclear archive is met by the conceptual innovation of addressing contemporary concerns with interdisciplinary methods and theories.

The proposed virtual paper for the “Humanities on the Brink” symposium develops a central research question to which I seek interdisciplinary engagement from fellow panellists in order to devise a robust answer: What methods and means can be identified in Australia that advance international best practice for communicating nuclear heritage into the far-future? 

Dr. N.A.J. Taylor is an incoming 2020-22 Killam Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at The University of British Columbia, and an Honorary Lecturer in Environment & Society at The University of New South Wales. He has previously taught for more than thirteen years in Australia and north America, most recently at The University of Melbourne where his subject Australian Environmental Philosophy averaged 5/5 “overall” in student evaluations. He has held honorary and visiting appointments at Bard College, Sciences Po, Linköping University, La Trobe University, Roskilde University, Whitman College, and The New School, where he was an Australia Awards fellow. Taylor has published two books, Athens Dialogue on a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction as well as their Means of Delivery (European Public Law Organisation, 2013) and Reimagining Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Nuclear Humanities in the post-Cold War (Routledge, 2017), as well as three special issues, “Re-imagining Hiroshima” (Critical Military Studies, 2015), “Internal Relations” (Borderlands, 2017), and “Reimagining Maralinga” (Unlikely: Journal for Creative Arts, 2018). His works-in-progress include two authored books under contract with Palgrave and Routledge on visual and narrative nuclear politics, respectively.

‘Y’all Sitting up Here Comfortable:’ Extracting the Afrofuturist Myth from Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther

José Sebastián Terneus

This paper brings together postcolonial theory and the environmental humanities to examine how the extraction and distribution of a natural resource in Black Panther (2018), directed by Ryan Coogler, complicates the film’s relationship to the Afrofuturist genre. Vibranium builds the utopic setting of Wakanda, yet postcolonial black bodies outside of the kingdom’s borders are disallowed from benefitting from the resource. As such, I argue that Wakanda falls outside of the Afrofuturist realm as the country utilizes nationalist policies to protect its political, economic, and environmental interests from the African Diaspora. Re-viewing Coogler’s film from an “extractive” perspective generates new ways of imagining more equitable and sustainable futures for postcolonial nations and marginalized groups.

Dr. José Sebastián Terneus is an Assistant Professor of 20th and 21st Century Anglophone Literature at Miami Dade College. His research and teaching analyze how consumer practices and global economies continue to oppress the people, cultures, and environments of postcolonial Anglophone nations.

“Destruction is a Real Hidden Investment”: Waste’s Modernity in the Urban Pastoral

Orchid Tierney

In Wasted Lives, Zygmunt Bauman proposes that modernity is not only “a state of perpetual emergency,” it is also “a state of design” and “where there is design, there is waste.” In engaging with the NCN Virtual Symposium’s theme of Humanities on the Brink, this paper explores the idea of modernity’s perpetual emergencies of waste, urban ruination, and urban design. As Ann Laura Stoler argues, ruination is an active process that traces the enduring imperial and racial legacies that remain disturbingly effusive and animate in contemporary socio-political formations, relations, systems, infrastructures, and material artefacts. Whether in a gentrifying neighborhood or on a First Nation reservation, these racialized legacies propose the slow burn of ecological violence and displacement, in which the brink is anticipated but never fully actualized. To engage with the slow illegible emergency of imperial detritus, this paper places into conversation two contemporary collections of American poetry—Ed Roberson’s City Eclogue (2005) and Tommy Pico’s Junk (2018)—and explores their mutual interrogations of empire, waste, and displacement through gentrification and segregation within the racialized spaces of New York City, New Jersey, and Pittsburgh. Roberson’s City Ecologue collapses the binary of the city and pastoral to attend to the ruinations produced paradoxically by urban renewal projects and sanitation infrastructures, while Pico’s Junk explodes the sexual accumulations of the American Empire on the reservation and in New York City. I argue that these poets register the sticky residue of emergency and waste to investigate the contestations of industrial modernity where urban spaces and nature chaff against one another. I suggest that these poets demonstrate the critical leverage of poetry to foreground the wastefulness of modernity’s emergencies and its dire transformation of human habitats. By making these claims, I also underscore the methodological purchase of waste studies as a lens into poetry’s capacity to produce knowledge and critique on urban restoration projects and their displacements of populations living under conditions of precarity.

Orchid Tierney is an Aotearoa-New Zealand poet and Assistant Professor of English at Kenyon College. She is the author of a year of misreading the wildcats (Operating System, 2019) and Earsay (TrollThread 2016), and chapbooks ocean plastic (BlazeVOX 2019), blue doors (Belladonna* Press), Gallipoli Diaries (GaussPDF 2017), the world in small parts (Dancing Girl Press, 2012), and Brachiaction (Gumtree, 2012). Other poems, reviews, and scholarship have appeared in Jacket2, Journal of Modern Literature, and Western Humanities Review, among others. She is a consulting editor for the Kenyon Review.

Sounding the Environmental Benefits of the COVID-19 Pandemic in Nigeria

Olusegun Stephen Titus

Popular music scholarship has tended to dwell more on wealth and romance. With little attention directed at the current COVID 19 global pandemic and its environmental sustainability benefits especially in the fourth largest city Lagos city and Niger Delta areas of Nigeria, this paper therefore examines musical analysis on the benefits of COVID 19 on the climate and environmental sustainability. I engaged with musicians like Fela Anikulapo, Olusegun Jimoh and Bayo Olushola, Lover Boy The paper seeks to contribute to discourse of Climate change, environmental degradation and the need for sustainability at the trajectories of global pandemic and isolationism.  The paper employs phone call interview and whatsApp call and messages as method of data gathering, musical, textual and video analysis of the selected musicians. This paper is based on the concept of slow violence and environmentalism of the poor and hinged on ecomusicology theory. I argue that music has potential to explain current burning global issues like the environmental crisis like excessive heat in Lagos and monumental environmental change and disaster in Niger delta. And the current relative restoration of environmental sustainability through global isolationism, reduced air travels and heavy industrialised pollutions.

Olusegun Stephen Titus is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Music, Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria. He obtained a PhD degree in Ethnomusicology at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. His research focuses on Medical Musicology/Humanity, Environment, Climate Change,  Urban Spaces, Ecomusicology, Migration and City studies because musical narratives on water, air and land give better socio-cultural explanation on issues of  healthy life in the cities  and offers the best way of speeding up awareness in the developing world. Titus coordinates the MESI study group of the ICTM (West and North African sub-Regions). He is a Fellow, IFRA-Nigeria, 2012, Fellow, A. G. Leventis Program and visiting scholar, SOAS, University of London, United Kingdom 2014, AfOx-TORCH Fellow and visiting scholar Oxford University 2019.

Pastoral Access, Activism, and the Plague Archive

Sara Torres

Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron famously depicts a group of noblemen and women who flee from plague-stricken Florence into the surrounding countryside. Scenes of urban catastrophe gives way to a semi-allegorized landscape redolent of the classical pastoral, which provides the backdrop to the group’s hundred tales of human wit and folly. The medieval and early modern plague archive is filled with stories, both real and imagined, of deurbanization and retreats to rural estates. This paper explores the literary trope of the pastoral – as both a rhetorical strategy and embodied practice – in historical responses to plague and considers this textual tradition in light of contemporary practices of spatial justice.

As writers such as Boccaccio, Defoe, Poe, and Camus all suggest, contagion alters and reshapes social bodies. The Decameron’s storytellers form an idealized community led by women that maintains the propriety and cultural memories of a society in the midst of catastrophe. But the retreat of the noble companions to an increasingly stylized locus amoenus space – a retreat into the classical literary tradition itself – raises several issues about class, ethics, and gender. Drawing on the work of Jonathan Combs-Schilling and Terry Gifford, I explore the tension between the Decameron’s utopian social fantasy of resilience in the midst of plague and the forms of class inequity and violence that frame the story-collection.

The Decameron, moreover, employs metafiction to explore the affordances of storytelling itself. The book’s narrator emphasizes that it was written to offer its (gendered) readers a textualized form of comfort that recreates the consolation provided by his friends. Transhistorical approaches to the Decameron’s narratives of space and sociality offer an opportunity to reflect on contemporary issues of literary and social consolation, affect, and embodied pedagogy in the digital sphere.

Moving between the scales of locality and globality, Boccaccio’s narrative of pandemic prompts us to access the contemporary politics of access to “natural” or “green” spaces during the current coronavirus crisis. Likewise, I hope to complement my broader, transhistorical consideration of pastoral access in the time of plague with a more local texture by considering the history of one local park (currently overrun by self-isolating individuals and families) in the Charlottesville region: the Ivy Creek Natural Area, a place rich in local African-American social and agrarian history. By offering my own on-site experience of the site during the coronavirus pandemic, I hope to bring local conservation efforts into conversation with literary history, and to demonstrate how the pastoral imaginary in a time of crisis serves as an ideal around which communities can form – or be driven apart by unequal access.

Sara Torres is a Visiting Scholar at the University of Virginia, where she recently completed a Third Century Postdoctoral Fellow in Medieval Studies. Previous to this she held the Speculum Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Medieval Academy of America and a lectureship in English at UCLA. She has published essays on global medieval and early modern studies and literature of the Hundred Years War.

The Death Train Narrative and Infrastructural Brutalism in Snowpiercer and Train to Busan

Michael Truscello

Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer (2013) and Yeon Sang-Ho’s Train to Busan (2016) are “death train narratives” that depict revolutionary themes from opposite ends of the revolution: Snowpiercer tracks the violent upheaval of a proletarian mob assigned to the impoverished end of a train circling the globe after a cataclysmic event has plunged the planet into a perpetual freeze; and Train to Busan imagines a zombie plague from the perspective of mostly bourgeois train passengers who first believe the societal disruption is being caused by a general strike. Both films work within the parameters of their respective genres—postapocalyptic and zombie horror—to represent the possibilities and constraints of revolutionary praxis within the paralytic environs of what I call “infrastructural brutalism,” and both films confine most of the action to a train with a fatalistic destination. In the case of Snowpiercer, the train must stay on track for a continuous journey, else the passengers risk the inhospitable climate of a world transformed by geoengineering run amok; for the passengers in Train to Busan, their destination, Busan, has been overrun by the zombie hordes, and the humans on the train are being overwhelmed by the spread of the zombie virus. In both films, the existential crisis that envelops the train combines with a class struggle on board. The films’ revolutionary imaginary presents railway infrastructure as a delimiting materiality instead of an inherently liberatory one, and class struggle as occurring within the infrastructural limitations, not external to them. In other words, the revolutions in these films portray railway infrastructure as something to be overcome rather than an inherently progressive element of antiauthoritarian struggles. Unlike much contemporary theorizing of technology, for example, which often proposes technological affordances more politically flexible than they typically are, Snowpiercer and Train to Busan consider modern infrastructure as a prominent barrier for the existential crises of anticapitalist struggles.

Michael Truscello, Ph.D., is an associate professor in English and General Education at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta. He is the author of Infrastructural Brutalism: Art and the Necropolitics of Infrastructure (MIT Press, 2020) and co-editor of Why Don’t The Poor Rise Up? Organizing the Twenty-First Century Resistance (AK Press, 2017). His recent publications on petrocultures have appeared as chapters in Petrocultures: Oil, Culture, Politics (McGill-Queen’s UP, 2017), Interrogating the Anthropocene: Ecology, Aesthetics, Pedagogy, and the Future in Question (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), and Fueling Culture (Fordham UP, 2017). He directed the film Capitalism Is The Crisis: Radical Politics in the Age of Austerity (2011).

“Shit Happens”: Excavating Excrement in Contemporary(ish) Ecopoetics

Elijah Two Bears

Camille Dungy’s fabulous essay, “Is All Writing Environmental Writing?,” equips us with ways to hold writing accountable in a world of irreversible climate change. While Dungy does not wish to assign herself the “license” to shout a resounding confirmation to the question that the essay’s title poses, she notes, “What we leave ​off t​ he page speaks as loudly as what we include” (Paragraph 19, 2). I propose that what is most often left off the page, in poetry and literary criticism, is shit. Poetry and shit both arise from the body to produce artful and inextricably linked results on our environmental imagination. This presentation will explore fecal poems from Nickole Brown, Yu Xiaozhong, Maxine Kumin, and more to argue that turning our attention to the power of shit poetics reminds us that shitting is a sacred and universalizing bodily process. Shit disrupts our identities as humans, reconnects us with our environment, and pushes us towards a new ethics. This ethics of excrement calls us to honor all living beings and material substances so we can better position ourselves to respond to the urgent need to create a more equitable​ and ​livable​ future amidst our current age of environmental destruction.

Elijah Two Bears (they/them) is a M.A. student in English at the University of Mississippi. They received their B.A. in English from Lehigh University in 2012. Elijah’s main area of focus is queer theory and ecocriticism in Early Modern English literature.

Rig Talk as Disidentification in Peter Christensen’s Rig Talk and Mathew Henderson’s The Lease

Melanie Dennis Unrau

Peter Christensen’s 1981 book Rig Talk was the first Canadian poetry collection about oil work. Although Rig Talk is largely forgotten in Canadian poetics, it nonetheless marks the beginning of a tradition that critics often assume began with Mathew Henderson’s 2012 collection The Lease. One striking similarity between these two “first” books is the way the poets incorporate rough, violent, misogynist, and racist rig talk into their poetics, blurring and overlapping the talk of workers and ecopoets. In this paper, I adapt Michel Pêcheux’s and José Esteban Muñoz’s theorizations of disidentification to argue that Christensen and Henderson use rig talk to perform, mourn, and resist the versions of petrocultural subjectivity on offer. Both poets manage a desire to prove that they belong among the workers and an opposite desire to stand apart as a lone or innocent ecopoet. They choose to dwell in the tension between these opposite interpellations and to resist the harmful ideologies that underlie them, including the idea that oil workers do not write poetry or care about the land.

As a poetry scholar with commitments to environmental justice and cultural-studies methodologies, I am concerned about the failure of academic and poetic “business as usual” to pay attention to the work of marginalized, subordinated, and working-class poets. While some oil-worker poets push the limits of what counts as poetry on the “experimental” end of the poetic spectrum, my research and literary criticism on workers’ poetry has often been concerned with experimentation on the other end—poetry that has been called doggerel or unpoetic because it is too rough, literal, old-fashioned, earnest, or sentimental. This paper addresses the “Emergency Humanities” by treating workers’ poetry as cultural texts that propose poetic, theoretical, and practical approaches to the emergencies of climate change, boom and bust, energy transition, and energy justice.

Melanie Dennis Unrau is a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. She is a co- editor of The Goose: A Journal of Arts, Environment, and Culture in Canada (the journal of the Canadian chapter of ASLE); and poetry editor at Geez magazine. Melanie is the author of Happiness Threads: The Unborn Poems (The Muses’ Company, 2013) and a co-editor of Seriality and Texts for Young People: The Compulsion to Repeat (Palgrave, 2014).

Developmental Bibliotherapy and Cli-Fi: Reframing Young People’s Responses to Climate Change

Judith Wakeman

Few Australians escaped the emotional impact of the fires that raged for over four months during the summer of 2019/20 and surpassed the capacity of fire fighters to protect us. News stories of survivors, a persistent smoke haze and reported deaths of billions of animals overwhelmed our emotions.

Barely weeks later, as those events are eclipsed by a global pandemic, money is found to bail our big businesses despite there being previously none available to address issues of climate change, reports emerge of unfettered environmental devastation and government collusion and corruption occurring while environmental defenders obey orders to stay at home, and our young people, already disillusioned with those elected to protect them, are among those whose mental health is at greatest risk in the face of these disasters and are left without answers as they wonder who they can trust.

Understandably, young people experience eco-anxiety, solastalgia, climate grief and pre-traumatic stress (fear of the future) in far greater numbers than the generation

that is currently in power. Their concerns are valid, reasonable and justified emotional responses to the very real and existential threat posed by climate change.

So, how do we raise their generation to look forward to the future with hope when all they see around them are messages of gloom? How do we, as educators, effectively inform our students of the science of climate change without merely presenting them with problems they have no authority to solve? And how do we reinforce the emotional resilience of our young people, nurture their core confidence and prepare them for an uncertain future, without paralyzing them with anxiety?

In this presentation I will look at Developmental Bibliotherapy (how and why Young Adult Fiction prepares teens for adolescence) and why Cli-fi is an important, if not vital, part of the conversation that parents and teachers need to be having with young adults about climate change.

As a lifelong learner with tertiary qualifications in Mathematics, Science including Earth Sciences, Computer Science, and Information Management, Judith become a Teacher Librarian in 2004. In 2018, after studying Literature and Mental Health, and Youth Mental Health First Aid, she found herself entrance in research demonstrating ways that reading fiction can benefit our mental health. Recently she has confined her research to how Developmental Bibliotherapy (using Young Adult fiction to mitigate the disruption caused by used mental health issues) can combine with Cli-Fi (Climate Change Fiction) to reframe adolescents’ responses to and concerns about climate change, and thereby address eco-anxiety. Judith lives in Victoria, Australia.

Crudely Written: A Petro-Poetry Survey

Connor Weightman

Despite the enormous influence of oil on international politics, environmental outcomes, and the shape of contemporary life, relatively few poets have sought to specifically write about or draw attention to oil. This could be for a number of reasons, such as the monumental scale of the problem, the anti-lyrical and didactic language use we associate with it, or the pervasive invisibility of the influence of petro-products to the majority of consumers. Nevertheless, several poets have made oil the central theme of their collections over the past two decades. This hybrid presentation surveys poetry collections by Lesley Battler, Andrea Brady, Adam Dickinson and Ogaga Ifowodo, with a view to understanding how these authors have worked through some of the broader challenges faced in incorporating oil-themes into poetry, before discussing what lessons may be taken up by future petro-poetry projects, and establishing what ground remains to be broken.

Connor Weightman is a postgraduate researcher at Charles Sturt University in Australia, currently writing a thesis on using long poetry to creatively map oil as a totalising social and political problem. His poetry has previously been published in various Australian literary journals, including Cordite, Westerly and Plumwood Mountain.

Australian Botany on the Brink

Jessica White

The South Western Australian Floristic Region (SWAFR) stretches for roughly three hundred thousand kilometres across the south-western corner of Western Australia. The region is a biodiversity hotspot, an area which features a high percentage of plant life found nowhere else on earth and which faces exceptional levels of extinction.

This paper argues that storytelling is an important way of raising awareness of plant species in the SWAFR that are on the brink. Specifically, it highlights the use of ecobiography to tell the stories of the lives of plants. A form of life writing that represents the interlacing of humans and other-than-humans, ecobiography posits that, if we want to write the lives of humans, we must also narrate those lives upon which humans rely.

Drawing on my work-in-progress, an ecobiography of 19th century West Australian botanist Georgiana Molloy, this paper shows how plants were critical to the development of Molloy’s sense of self. It demonstrates how the colonisation of this area by the British disrupted the relationships which traditional custodians, the Wardandi Noongar people, formed with plants. It also stretches into deep time to illuminate the longevity of plants and to underscore that, if plants suffer, so too do humans and their fellow beings.

Jessica White is the author of the award-winning A Curious Intimacy (2007) and Entitlement (2012), and a hybrid memoir about deafness, Hearing Maud (2019). Her short stories and essay have appeared widely in Australian and international literary journals and have been shortlisted or longlisted for major prizes. Jessica is currently working on two books: an ecobiography of Western Australia’s first female scientist, 19th century botanist Georgiana Molloy, as well as a scholarly monograph on the genre of ecobiography. Jessica is a 2020 fellow at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich.

Imagining Anthropocene Future: Indigenous Communities, Extractive Industries and the City in Zainab Amadahy’s Resistance (2013)

Paula Wieczorek

Growing environmental and social injustices aggravated by the Anthropocene have sparked many popular movies and science fiction novels about the future of the Earth. While literary scholars have focused on the ecocritical analyses of science fiction written by mainstream writers, scant critical attention has been given to the genre of science fiction created by contemporary Indigenous female writers.

The main intention of the following paper is to examine the way Black/Cherokee writer Zainab Amadahy responds to the challenges posed by the Anthropocene epoch through her 2013 science fiction novel Resistance. Amadahy’s work focuses mainly on the life of Indigenous people and their struggle to survive in the city of Toronto, which is transformed by human greediness. The paper discusses the impact of extractive industries on (urban) Indigenous communities as well as the way Amadahy represents in her work the relationship between human bodies and the environment. Applying material ecocriticism’s theories of Stacy Alaimo, Serenella Iovino or Nancy Tuana, the paper analyses Amadahy’s conception of the urban landscape and explores the city as a porous body. Special attention will be paid to Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and its relevance to sustainable development. What is more, the Indigenous writer demonstrates how the same oppressive patriarchal conceptual framework that motivates corporations to degrade the environment leads them to enact policies that exploit disenfranchised groups, including women and minorities.

Following Margaret Atwood, Amitav Ghosh argues that “the Anthropocene resists science fiction” since it concentrates on “an imagined other world located apart from ours” (Ghosh 2016, 72). I would like to argue, however, that Zainab Amadahy uses science fiction genre to imagine the future that makes the readers think critically about the present and the past, thus, her fiction can be seen as environmental justice work and a form of resistance against extractive industries. My talk will consist of a screen recording of a presentation with voiceover.

Paula Wieczorek (M.A.) is a PhD candidate and an academic teacher at the University of Rzeszów, Poland. Her particular fields of interest include posthumanism, ecocriticism, material feminism and contemporary North American literature. She is currently working on her doctoral dissertation on speculative fiction of selected North American Indigenous writers. In her research, she examines the relationship between human and non-human as illustrated in contemporary American fiction. She is a member of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE).

‘Bearing Witness’ as a Method for the Environmental Humanities

Dominic Wilkins

Recent years have brought into clearer focus the need for humanities scholars to not just increase their attention to environmental and climatic crises but also act in response to these crises and make a practical difference with their work. As a result, there is increasing agreement that further, meaningful engagement with these various emergencies is required of humanities scholars. However, if the present moment of crisis and calamity requires new methodological approaches, there has been less discussion about the precise forms that these approaches should take.

This paper assesses whether and in what ways ‘bearing witness’ might serve as one such answer to this symposium’s driving question “what can I do?” Bearing witness has a long history as a popular technique for dealing with overwhelming crises, but it has received far less attention as a potential scholarly method–a gap this paper addresses. It begins by outlining what it might mean for scholars not just to witness but to bear witness to changes in the Earth system and their consequences for human and non-human life alike, asking what it means to carry, support, or endure witnessing these intersecting and ever-worsening socio-environmental emergencies. This paper also discusses how bearing witness can allow for increased collaboration between scholars and non-academics, as it need not be academics or academics alone who tackle the challenges of knowledge production while we collectively face catastrophe. Throughout this presentation, I attend to the limitations of ‘bearing witness’ as a method and the potential pitfalls that may stem from its misapplication. I also highlight both academic and popular texts that can be understood as examples of what forms ‘bearing witness’ might take in our work.

Dominic Wilkins is a PhD Student in the Department of Geography at Syracuse University, where he completed his MA in 2019 researching how the U.S. Catholic Church is responding to climate change and other environmental issues. His work focuses on how further critical engagement with religion and the Catholic Church can strengthen the environmental humanities and political ecology, particularly concerning the study of social movements and climate denial. His recent publications include articles in Environmental History and Progress in Human Geography. 

Embodied Ecocriticism: Action and Agriculture as Environmental Texts

Bethany Williams

What can we do? ​I keep hearing this question. I keep asking it. Whether I’m participating in a conference, perusing hippie / prepper forums online, or grabbing a drink with friends, conversations often turn to climate change and inevitably cul-de-sac in a plea for some pragmatic solutions. ‘Round and ‘round and ‘round we go, and when we’ve exhausted the critical frameworks, political platforms, and technocapitalist fantasies, we (re)turn to naked practicality. ​What can we do?​ Of course, the simplicity of the question is deceptive. On the surface, such a query might be addressed by a tidy list of tips and tricks for saving energy or minimizing our carbon footprint. But just as scientific facts and figures have proven to be inadequate motivators, the promise of conserving any number of kilowatts is equally inept: a ‘how-to’ pamphlet will never initiate a new paradigm. So as we tear our clothes and beg for direction, we re-animate an old, ineffectual binary—theory versus practice—forgetting much great work that has already complicated and revealed the always-already conjoinment of these terms. Messy manglings of theory and practice, mind and body, material and semiotic are nothing new within the American ecocritical tradition, and so drawing on scholars of science, American pragmatism, and democratic agrarianism (not to be confused with slavery-condoning aristocratic agrarianism), I articulate an ‘embodied ecocriticism,’ which prioritizes practices of noticing, perceiving, feeling, acting, and experimentation that co-create or become with the world. Drawing on performance studies methodologies, ecocritical practice-as-research reverses dangers disciplinary tendencies that estrange practices of critique from care and separate analysis from its object. I also describe my ventures in embodied ecocritique, focusing on my work on small farms, and explain how we might ​read​ such practices as a new sort of environmental text.

Bethany takes the environmental humanities to the field, combining performance studies, small-scale agriculture, and literary studies to rethink the methodologies and goals of ecocriticism. Attention, labor, and practices of care reveal similarities between literary and agricultural work, troubling easy distinctions between theory and practice. Where do environmental texts end and the world begin? Bethany is a PhD candidate in English at UC Davis, teaches in the English department, and has taught in Davis’ University Writing Program. Equally importantly, Bethany has experience in orange and flower farms. In her off time, Bethany edits a feminist zine and renovates 1960s Airstreams.

“This Place Is a Mess”: Atlanta’s “Woods” and the Everyday Surrealism of Petro-Capitalist America

Eric Dean Wilson

This paper challenges Amitav Ghosh’s argument in The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable that American fiction is ill-equipped to encapsulate climate narratives by considering what Ghosh has not: a non-realist aesthetic. The U.S. contemporary narrative landscape is saturated with climate narratives almost identical in aesthetic approach: most 21st-century climate narratives present the effects of global warming as a foregone conclusion, paradoxically as a realist emergency-to-come. But these approaches fail to convey the emergency as an embodied knowledge—they deny us the feeling of climate change. Instead, I argue that the aesthetic movement best suited to grasping the affective complexities of global climate change may be Surrealism, particularly its deep roots in the Black radical tradition of the U.S., as traced by Robin Kelley’s Freedom Dreams. Building from Ghosh’s assumption that the image-rich narratives of TV are better equipped to confront climate chaos, I consider the strengths and limits of two different aesthetic strategies exemplified by Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale (petro-dystopia) and FX’s Atlanta (Surrealist petrotopia). The Handmaid’s Tale falsely aligns a zero-carbon society with economic austerity and violent patriarchy, two forces that, in reality, a carbon-intensive society generates. Tellingly, the question of race in The Handmaid’s Tale is eerily absent. By contrast, I explore how the episode “The Woods” of Atlanta—a show that never explicitly addresses global warming—nonetheless sharply critiques urban sprawl, the social sorting of car culture, the horror of nature, and the hegemony of oil as material forces that convert the lived experience of urbanites into a surreal detachment from nature. Atlanta’s translation of the everyday into a surreal—and even horrifying—experience distances the viewer from the emergency of the present. In other words, Atlanta shows us that if we want to see emergency, we need only walk outside. I suggest that this second approach might have more generative implications for fiction engaged with narratives of extraction.

Eric Dean Wilson is a writer, educator, and doctoral student at the Graduate Center, CUNY. His creative essays have appeared in Tin House, Heavy Feather Review, Seneca Review, Ninth Letter, and elsewhere. His forthcoming book explores the idea of comfort in the U.S. and its impact on climate change through a history of air conditioning refrigerant. He teaches writing at Queens College. As a PhD student in the Graduate Center’s English Program, he studies American literature through the lens of the environmental humanities and queerness.

Affectsphere as an Ecosphere: Thoreau, von Üexkull, and the Anthropocene of Care

Dong Yang

Claiming that the crisis of the environment happens concurrently with “a crisis of meaning”, David Farrier in his recent work Anthropocene Poetics (2019) expounds the unique ecological and geological visions conceived by selected artists and poets and, fosters an awareness of what both an entangled and a diffracted Anthropocenic cartography of the world would look like. Especially interesting is Farrier’s rejection of the wishful romanticism commonly found in the work of certain contemporary theorists, a weak disposition that too often endorses a kind of egalitarian democracy that extends unrealistic sympathy to inorganic matter by treating them as living beings. Farrier articulates a mild humanism towards the Anthropocene; a fatalistic but optimistic mode of thought that aims for refinement and recovery while acknowledging the unavoidable presence of homocentrism in this newly defined age.

In light of Farrier’s remark, this essay seeks to presents two theories of human-environment relation—in the writings of Thoreau and Jakob von Üexkull– that propose affect as an essential means to restore the correlational symbiosis between the human and ecology. As Branka Arsić observes, Thoreau in his naturalistic writings frequently characterizes the movement and organization of the surrounding inorganic matter as vital and autonomous and sees such a state of affairs as real rather than miraculous. Such an epistemology, following Arsić’s exegesis, necessarily involves a process of transformation between the imaginary/fantastic and the factual/real so that a becoming-other can take place. It entails a propensity of the affective agent to extend his or her own vitality to inert matter, creating a liminal space where the lives of both the self and the other can be concomitantly experienced. Jakob von Üexkull provides a dualistic theory of the environment on both the perceptive and productive levels. According to him, the concept of environment need not be generic and all-inclusive; rather, we may recognize an environment if it contains two processive “worlds” with respect to both sensation and action. The affective dynamism that necessarily involves a passive reception of affects—physical or intellectual—from the outside and the reciprocal and affective actions generated towards the outside serve as the foundations of the two worlds respectively, and their unity constitutes a minimal nuclear environment, whose collective combination would form a comprehensive picture of the vitalistic network. The two theories of affectsphere project a humanistic approach that guides how we can cope with the Anthropocene and live together with the nonhuman ecology.

Dong Yang is a doctoral candidate of comparative literature at the University of Georgia, where he also holds a fellowship in the Program of Film Studies. Currently he is completing his dissertation on the connection between vitalism and affect in continental philosophy and world cinema. His primary research interests include: twentieth-century French philosophy (Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida, Bruno Latour); affect theory; new materialism; experimental animation; and the French New Wave cinema. His writing has appeared in The Agonist: A Nietzsche Circle Journal, In Passage, Phenomenological Reviews and Recherche littéraire /Literary Research.

Reading the Anthropocene in Parasite (2019): Class, Society, and Climate Change

Seon-Myung Yoo

While most film critics note the explicit manner through which Bong Joon Ho’s 2019 film Parasite critiques social hierarchies and class distinctions, this presentation spotlights the effects of climate change and class differential in experiencing environmental disasters in the backdrop of the film. While the number of cultural productions related to climate change—although not nonexistent in the past—have only been on a clear rise in the last decade, some scholars accuse literary writers of the “great delusion,” not representing climate change in their creative works. However, this presentation will show that climate representation in contemporary cultural productions has always been in the backdrop but has largely been neglected by scholars, as opposed to being nonexistent. I will examine the necessity of reading the Anthropocene in cultural productions that do not explicitly deal with human-induced climate change. In dialogue with works by Lawrence Buell and Ursula Heise, this presentation will argue for a hermeneutics of Anthropocene through which to analyze the way climate representation not solely as scene setters or plot devices, but rather as critical examination of the centrality of climate change in human societies. It is in this context that this presentation will explore the way Parasite conveys a sense of urgency in the need for acknowledgement of not only the immediacy of climate change, but also the class differential experience of climate related disasters. In this presentation, I will argue that the flood in Parasite is central to understanding class-based social hierarchy and its ensuing contrast in the experience of social and physical mobility.

Seon-Myung Yoo is a Ph.D. student in the English department at Texas A&M University. After completing her master’s thesis, examining the potentials of transnational spaces in Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, her research has centered around postcolonial and transnational studies. Her research interests are politics of Asian and Asian American cultural productions and the way they contribute to collective memories. She is currently working on her dissertation project that reads literatures and films of women figures such as picture brides, comfort women, and camp town sex workers in the midst of imperial race in the Asia-Pacific region.

Carbon Glow

Regina Young

“Carbon Glow” is deeply informed by the influence of the coal industry on the state of Kentucky. To “come from coal,” as Maggie Chelland Martin writes, is a “legacy” into which one is born. While to “come from coal” is traditionally understood as being born into one of those so-called “coal counties” or having a coal miner for “kin,” in a country where vast amounts of corporate wealth are invested in the industry, I suggest that, in many ways, we all “come from coal.” “Carbon Glow” moves from a traditional focus of a series about coal in Eastern Kentucky to Central Kentucky, where I am from, in an effort to demonstrate the ways in which coal companies and the focus on coal truly dominate and infiltrate every part of the state. I am interested in the ways in which coal influences all parts of Kentucky, not just those considered to be “coal counties.” The structure of “Carbon Glow” is deeply experimental in nature. It, like several of the texts I referenced above, is hybrid—ranging from prose poems to photography. As my narrative moves forward in time, I hope to show pockets of resistance to coal’s stranglehold on Kentucky as a state.

Regina Young is a Ph.D. student in English at the University of Mississippi. She received her B.A. at the University of Kentucky in 2010 and her M.A. at the University of Mississippi in 2019. Her research interests include ecocriticism, gender theory, and the medical humanities in 20t​ h​ century American literature. She also writes fiction and creative nonfiction, both of which have been published in ​FOLK Magazine,​ with “Carbon Glow” appearing​ ​in a forthcoming issue of ​About Place​.

Interdisciplinary Environmental Interventions through Humor and Satire

Massih Zekavat, Tabea Scheel

As the CFP also acknowledges, humanities have missed many opportunities at the time of gloomy, fear-inducing news. One might even suspect some scholarly discussions were primarily aimed at perpetuating an inaccessible position reserved exclusively for intellectuals through inducing the illusion that academics are the first responders to an impending apocalypse, while, at least partly, they aimed at securing tenure-track positions for themselves. No wonder these academic efforts have been rather inconsequential at public and policymaker levels. This is while literature and culture have traditionally reached beyond mere aesthetic concerns and have been engaged with pertinent socio-political issues. By looking at one of the most engaged literary and cultural forms, therefore, we try to reveal how humanities can make meaningful interventions in the world. In an interdisciplinary undertaking, this research aims to draw on insights from environmental psychology to convey how humor and satire can be wisely employed to advocate pro-environmental behavior.

Synthesizing the insights of affective and symbolic models, the theory of planned behavior (TPB), norm-activation model (NAM) and value-belief-norm theory (VBN), goal framing theory postulates that goals—rather than affect, beliefs or values—frame behavior. This theory maintains that one of the three general hedonic, gain and normative goals becomes focal, while the other goals move to the background. These background goals can reinforce the focal goal when they are in line with it. We contend that humor and satire can be employed to reshape symbolic aspects (hedonic goals), modify attitudes and subjective norms (gain goals), and activate personal norms and envision a new environmental paradigm (normative goals). Thus, humor and satire can be employed not only to address environmental crises but also to advocate critical environmentalism and pro-environmental behavior at public and policymaker levels. Another implication of this study is that humanities should attempt to develop new methodologies and broaden its horizons by engaging other disciplines in order to be equipped for encountering contemporary and developing challenges.

Massih Zekavat is an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Fellow at Europa-Universität Flensburg. His fields of interest include environmental humanities, critical theory, comparative literature and satire. His Satire, Humor and the Construction of Identities was published in 2017 by John Benjamins, and with Tabea Scheel, he is currently working on a monograph on Satire, Humor and Ecological Crises for Routledge Environmental Humanities series.

Dr. Tabea Scheel is a professor of work and organizational psychology at the Europa-Universität Flensburg and an Alexander von Humboldt-Foundation alumnus. Her research interests include motivational and emotional processes at work, change and leadership in environmental work contexts, as well as humor in work contexts. She has published in international peer-reviewed journals including Human Resource Management, European Journal of Work & Organizational Psychology and Work & Stress. She has also authored a book on humor at work.