Call for Papers: The Rising Tide of Climate Change Fiction
Studies in the Novel is currently seeking submissions for a special issue on “The Rising Tide of Climate Change Fiction,” guest-edited by Stef Craps (Ghent University) and Rick Crownshaw (Goldsmiths, University of London), which will be published in spring 2018 as part of the journal’s 50th anniversary volume.
Often described as emergent, climate change fiction constitutes a by now well-established set of literary texts that has attracted the attention of both academic and non-academic communities of readers. Prominent examples include Ian McEwan’s Solar, Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior, and Nathaniel Rich’s Odds against Tomorrow. The cultural place of this kind of writing has been confirmed by the recent publication of Adam Trexler’s survey Anthropocene Fictions: The Novel in a Time of Climate Change, amidst a growing body of literary-critical work (such as Adeline Johns-Putra’s), and the increasing acceptance into the mainstream of the “cli-fi” label. A typical facet of much climate change fiction is its imagination of a catastrophic future world in which climatological devastation, unfolding but often imperceptible and ignored in our times, is made tangible and inescapable. Other works steer clear of the prevalent post-apocalyptic or dystopian mode: set in the present, they explore the political, ethical, and psychological dimensions and ramifications of climate change at the current moment.
In addition to the rise of fiction grappling with the representational and existential challenges thrown up by a warming planet, the last few years have seen the publication of a significant amount of sophisticated humanities scholarship theorizing climate change and its cultural framings and impacts. Questions of scale have been key, from the planetary imagination of environmental crisis (Ursula Heise), over the conception of climate change as a form of slow violence (Rob Nixon) or a hyperobject massively distributed in time and space (Timothy Morton), to the derangement of temporal and spatial scales by which climate change can be mapped and represented (Timothy Clark). These scalar recalibrations have been prompted by the ascendancy in the academy of the notion of the Anthropocene. Even if the inception date of the new geological epoch defined by the actions of humans is subject to debate (Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin), the conceptualization of humanity’s geological agency has afforded ways to chart the history of our species before and beyond globalized industrial capitalism and its effects on the climate (Dipesh Chakrabarty). Moreover, it has created an awareness of the need to think beyond the humanist enclosures of critical theory (Tom Cohen) and to acknowledge the interconnectedness of the human and the non-human (Jane Bennett; Stacy Alaimo). Meanwhile, postcolonial, feminist, and queer theorists have reminded us of the disparities in agency, vulnerability, and impact among the world’s people in the “age of humans” (Nicholas Mirzoeff; Elizabeth DeLoughrey; Claire Colebrook).
This rich body of theoretical work provides numerous opportunities for developing new approaches to fictions of climate change. We invite paper submissions that engage topics such as the following:
Submissions should be sent in Microsoft Word format, devoid of personally identifiable information. Manuscripts should be 8,000-10,000 words in length, inclusive of endnotes and works-cited list, have standard formatting (1” margins, double-spaced throughout, etc.), and conform to the latest edition of the MLA Style Manual. Endnotes should be as brief and as limited in number as possible. Illustrations may accompany articles; high-resolution digital files (JPEGs preferred) must be provided upon article acceptance. All copyright permissions must be obtained by the author prior to publication.
Questions and submissions should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The deadline for submissions is February 10, 2017.
The essays gathered here are slightly revised versions of the position papers presented as part of the roundtable on “Memory Studies and the Anthropocene” at the MLA Convention in Philadelphia in January 2017. What sparked this roundtable is the increasing currency of the Anthropocene, on the one hand, and the observation that the field of memory studies has lately begun to grapple with its implications in earnest, on the other. The participants, all of them leading scholars in the fields of memory studies and/or the environmental humanities, had been asked to respond to the following questions: “What are the implications of the notion of the Anthropocene for memory studies? How, if at all, does the awareness of living in a new geological epoch defined by the actions of human beings affect the objects of memory, the scales of remembrance, and the field’s humanist underpinnings?”
Fiction writers who try to do justice to the vast temporal and spatial scales and the enormous complexity of climate change are faced with the problem that the phenomenon exceeds human perception and that it is not dramatic in the traditional sense. In this article we explore the formal challenges that arise when fiction takes on the temporality of climate change by examining three very different novels that seek to capture the geological timescale. We analyze Richard McGuire’s time-bending graphic novel Here (2014), Dale Pendell’s fictional future history The Great Bay (2010), and Jeanette Winterson’s cautionary science-fiction tale The Stone Gods (2007) through the lens of Barbara Adam’s concept of the timescape, Rob Nixon’s idea of slow violence, and Timothy Clark’s notion of destructive doubles to see what kinds of literary innovations and translations the timescale of climate change has provoked. In doing so, we ponder Clark’s question, posed in his recent book Ecocriticism on the Edge: The Anthropocene as a Threshold Concept (2015), whether humans are constitutionally incapable of imagining the Anthropocene—the new geological epoch defined by the action of humans of which climate change is the most salient manifestation—or whether authors can adequately depict and convey it by disrupting conventional modes of representation. We conclude that while each of the three novels ultimately falls short in this regard, collectively they do chart possible pathways for successful literary treatment of the most pressing ecological threat of our time.
This roundtable brings together a group of academics and artists working throughout Europe to discuss the question of memory in theoretical and artistic contexts at a historical moment highly preoccupied with acts of commemoration and moving memory.
Convened by Charlotte McIvor and Emilie Pine
Participants: Stef Craps, Ghent University;
Astrid Erll, Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main;
Paula McFetridge, Kabosh Productions;
Ann Rigney, Utrecht University;
Dominic Thorpe, artist
That an empathic response to testimonies can lead to altruism is a key assumption of much cultural research on trauma and witnessing, which prides itself on its ethical commitment. Most trauma theorists also agree that empathy is to be distinguished from forms of affective involvement that do not recognize and respect the otherness of the other, and which are variously referred to as sympathy, projective identification, incorporation, or crude empathy. While this caveat against imperialism and appropriation is meant to prevent empathy from turning into a closed-loop process, canonical trauma theory itself has been plagued by Eurocentrism from its inception, as it tends not to adequately address the sufferings of members of non-Western or minority groups. In this essay, I will discuss the challenges that transcultural witnessing poses for empathic understanding and ethical thinking, using both theoretical and literary texts as examples, and focusing specifically on Dave Eggers’s novel What Is the What. Published by McSweeney’s in 2006, What Is the What, subtitled The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, is a collaborative first-person testimony that tells the story of a refugee from the second Sudanese civil war. I argue that in this book Eggers manages both to stay true to the continuing cultural demand for empathy with distant others and to defuse or counter the prevailing scepticism about the morality of empathic identification that tends to find such efforts hopelessly wanting. What Is the What does not resolve all the moral ambiguities surrounding transcultural witnessing, but it is unafraid to confront them and refuses to be paralysed by them. The novel harnesses feeling in the face of suffering while continually reminding the reader that Deng’s experiences are not his or hers to inhabit. Rather than solidifying an already existing community, it calls a community of otherwise distant and disconnected people into being for the purposes of alleviating suffering.
What unites much of the most exciting research going on in the field of memory studies today is a tendency to regard memory not as fixed but as fluid, not as static but as dynamic, not as bound but as unbound. Memory is increasingly being studied as something that does not stay put but circulates, migrates, travels; it is more and more being conceptualized as a process, as work that is continually in progress, rather than as a reified object. Memory Unbound is the first book to systematically explore the four most important dimensions of the mobility of memory: its transcultural, transgenerational, transmedial, and transdisciplinary drift. While these dimensions have been treated separately to a greater or lesser extent in a number of publications, this collection considers them comprehensively and in an integrated manner. Bringing together many of the leading scholars of memory with emerging voices in the field, Memory Unbound transforms our current knowledge of the movements of memory across cultures, generations, media, and disciplines and sets an ambitious agenda for the future of memory studies.
With an introduction by Lucy Bond, Stef Craps, and Pieter Vermeulen and chapters by Aleida Assmann, Rick Crownshaw, Astrid Erll, Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer, Brian Johnsrud, Rosanne Kennedy, Amanda Lagerkvist, Max Silverman, Joyce van de Bildt, José van Dijck, Frauke Wiegand, and Jessica K. Young.
Memory Unbound is exemplary of the research and writing of the “third wave” of memory studies. It heralds a new departure in keeping with the transforming effects of new technologies of communication, and conveys the energy and excitement attending the precipitous emergence and rapid development of this new realm of scholarship.
Patrick Hutton, University of Vermont
This is a great book – provocative, timely, and thoughtful. It proposes a future for memory research that finds a place for new investigators to embed their ideas.
Joanne Garde-Hansen, University of Warwick
This introductory essay situates the four sections of the book in ongoing discussions on the methods, ethics, and politics of memory studies. Starting from the observation that memory is increasingly being studied as a dynamic process rather than a static product, it identifies the four main dimensions of mnemonic mobility in a globalized and digitalized world: transcultural, transgenerational, transmedial, and transdisciplinary. Underlining that these four dimensions cannot be studied in isolation from each other, it contends that attention to the interrelations between them is indispensable for the study of memory today. The essay shows how all twelve chapters in the book contribute to the project of capturing the dynamics of memory.
This essay explores a narrative device familiar from sci-fi and dystopian fiction that is commonly used in literary and cultural responses to climate change, and which is particularly suggestive for thinking through the implications of the Anthropocene for memory and the field of memory studies. Works as generically diverse as Franny Armstrong’s film The Age of Stupid (2009), Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway’s fictional future history The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future (2014), George Turner’s novel The Sea and Summer (1987), and Jan Zalasiewicz’s popular science book The Earth after Us (2008) all feature a historian, archivist, or geologist who looks back on our present moment from a distant vantage point in a dystopian, (almost) post-human future irrevocably marked by climate change. These works can thus be seen to respond to the challenge of the Anthropocene—an era that requires the future anterior tense for its very conceptualization— to consider human and inhuman scales in relation to one another. The preoccupation with anticipated memory and preliminary or proleptic mourning evident in fictional future histories of climate change, which subvert the customary parameters of memory in terms of both scale and directionality, resonates with recent calls for memory studies to become more future-oriented instead of merely backward-looking. Scholars typically seek to make memory studies relevant to the present and the future by forging more robust links between memory and transitional justice or human rights discourses. Climate fiction of the future-history variety—which mourns future losses proleptically in order for these losses not to come to pass in the first place—presents another promising avenue for further research in the same spirit.
This article compares Dave Eggers’s What Is the What and Invisible Children’s Kony 2012, two recent and much-debated instances of human rights advocacy that mobilize subaltern testimonies. They do so in mutually illuminating ways, as they interact quite differently with the neocolonial discourses that come into play as Western activists and audiences engage with the disenfranchised voices of the Global South. We argue that Kony 2012 appropriates the subaltern’s voice and subsequently reaffirms colonial power relations by evoking a strong sense of the charitable West sympathetically giving to the perpetually inferior and destitute South. Eggers’s use of testimony, by contrast, is collaborative rather than appropriative, and is therefore able to challenge through both its form and its content many of the detrimental neocolonial assumptions and hierarchies that abound in Invisible Children’s campaign.
Just as books and films about traumatic events have become part of Western popular culture, so the theme of trauma and its accompanying tropes have been seeping into video games over the last two decades. In spite of the discernible trauma trend within video games, however, and the potential they exhibit for representing trauma in new ways, they have received very little critical notice from trauma theorists. In this article, we argue that a trauma-theoretical study of games has much to offer our understanding of the ways that trauma can be represented, in addition to giving game studies scholars further insight into how games manage to elicit such strong emotions and difficult ethical quandaries in players. We demonstrate this by performing a close reading of one recent and much-discussed game, The Walking Dead: Season One, analyzing how it incorporates psychological trauma in terms of inter(re)activity, empathy, and complicity.
This round-table, which featured literary critics Professor Stef Craps, Professor Bryan Cheyette and Dr. Alan Gibbs, was recorded as part of the “Decolonizing Trauma Studies” symposium organized by Dr. Sonya Andermahr and Dr. Larissa Allwork at The School of The Arts, The University of Northampton (15 May 2015). Convened a week after the University of Zaragoza’s “Memory Frictions” conference, where Cheyette, Gibbs, Andermahr and Allwork gave papers, the Northampton symposium and round-table was sponsored by The School of The Arts to coincide with Andermahr’s guest editorship of this special issue of Humanities. Craps, Cheyette and Gibbs addressed five questions during the round-table. Namely, does trauma studies suffer from a form of psychological universalism? Do you see any signs that trauma studies is becoming more decolonized? What are the challenges of a decolonized trauma studies for disciplinary thinking? How does a decolonized trauma studies relate to pedagogical ethics? Finally, where do you see the future of the field? While this edited transcript retains a certain informality of style, it offers a significant contribution to knowledge by capturing a unique exchange between three key thinkers in contemporary trauma studies, providing a timely analysis of the impact of postcolonial theory on trauma studies, the state of the field and its future possibilities. Issues addressed include the problematic scholarly tendency to universalize a western model of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); the question of the centrality of the Holocaust in trauma studies and the implications of this for the study of atrocities globally; the vexed issues posed by the representation of perpetrators; as well as how the basic tenets of western cultural trauma theory, until recently so often characterized by a Caruth-inspired focus on belatedness and afterwardness, are being rethought, both in response to developments in the US and in answer to the challenge to ‘decolonize’ trauma studies.
On 18 March 2015 we had the rare opportunity to interview the celebrated American author Dave Eggers and Mimi Lok, co-founder with Eggers of the socially engaged oral history non-profit Voice of Witness, in front of a student audience at the Vooruit cultural center in Ghent, Belgium. The occasion for their visit was Eggers’s being awarded the 2015 Amnesty International Chair at Ghent University in recognition of his human rights work. The interview aimed to give the audience an overall sense of the various creative and charitable projects in which Eggers and Lok are involved and which have earned them widespread acclaim. This published version of it is an edited and condensed transcript. The interview consists of two parts. The first part deals with Eggers’s literary work, homing in on The Circle in particular. The second part focuses on Voice of Witness and on how this project relates to Eggers’s work as a writer.
The Freudian concept of Nachträglichkeit is central to the psychoanalytical understanding of trauma. However, it has not received much attention within the contemporary field of trauma studies. This paper attempts to reconstruct the logic inherent to this concept by examining Freud’s remarks on the case of Emma. Furthermore, it is argued that Nachträglichkeit offers an interesting perspective on both (a) the well-established yet controversial finding that traumatic reactions sometimes follow in the wake of non-Criterion A events (so-called minor stressors or life events) and (b) the often-neglected phenomenon of delayed-onset PTSD. These two phenomena will appear to be related in some instances. Nachträglichkeit clarifies one way in which traumatic encounters are mediated by subjective dimensions above and beyond the objective particularities of both the event and the person. It demonstrates that the subjective impact of an event is not given once and for all but is malleable by subsequent experiences.
This chapter explores the role of Holocaust memory in Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children, a short play written in response to Israel’s 2008-2009 attack on Gaza. Controversially, the play invokes the memory of the Nazi genocide of the European Jews to criticize Israeli violence against the Palestinians. To accuse Seven Jewish Children of anti-Semitism for allegedly equating Jews with Nazis, though, is to ignore the play’s complexity, multivocality, and indeterminacy. Seven Jewish Children does not deny the narrative of Jewish victimization but undermines the assumption that Jews have a monopoly on victimhood. The memory of Jewish suffering is mobilized in the service of a politics that seeks to diminish suffering universally.
This chapter discusses attempts to theorize the interrelatedness of the Holocaust and other histories of victimization against the background of, firstly, the recent broadening of the focus of the field of memory studies from the national to the transnational level, and, secondly, efforts to bridge a disciplinary divide between Jewish and postcolonial studies preventing the Holocaust and histories of slavery and colonial domination from being considered in a common frame. In so doing, it highlights the pitfalls as well as the possibilities of bringing different atrocities into contact, a challenging and often controversial endeavour that holds both perils and promises. Next, it explores the ways in which the Native American writer Sherman Alexie negotiates various comparative perspectives on the Holocaust in “The Game between the Jews and the Indians Is Tied Going into the Bottom of the Ninth Inning” (1993), a sonnet-length poem that considers Jews and Native Americans as similarly oppressed ethnic minorities, and “Inside Dachau” (1996), a long, meditative poem that describes a Native American’s reflections on visiting the site of a former Nazi concentration camp.
Despite a stated commitment to cross-cultural solidarity, trauma theory – an area of cultural investigation that emerged out of the “ethical turn” affecting the humanities in the 1990s – is marked by a Eurocentric, monocultural bias. In this chapter, I take issue with the tendency of the founding texts of the field to marginalize or ignore traumatic experiences of non-Western or minority groups, to take for granted the universal validity of definitions of trauma and recovery that have developed out of the history of Western modernity, and to favour or even prescribe a modernist aesthetic of fragmentation and aporia as uniquely suited to the task of bearing witness to trauma. I contend that the suffering engendered by colonialism and its aftermath needs to be acknowledged more fully, on its own terms, and in its own terms if trauma theory is to redeem its promise of cross-cultural ethical engagement. I illustrate this argument – developed at greater length in my book Postcolonial Witnessing: Trauma Out of Bounds (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) – with a case study of a literary text that seems to me to call for a more inclusive, materialist, and politicized form of trauma theory. Published in 2010 to great critical acclaim, Aminatta Forna’s novel The Memory of Love examines how survivors of the Sierra Leone Civil War cope with the physical and psychological scars of those years. One of its protagonists is a British psychologist specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder who is volunteering with the stretched mental health services in Freetown in 2001, and who brings familiar Western ideas to the problems of the local population that he has been parachuted in to help solve. The novel is marked by a profound ambivalence about the applicability and viability of Western treatment methods in post-Civil War Sierra Leone. While there is a measure of closure for some characters, The Memory of Love – a fine example of literary realism – also awakens its readers to the chronic, ongoing suffering endured in silence by whole swathes of the population, in the face of which narrative therapy is an inadequate response. Thus, Forna’s novel can be seen to pose a challenge to trauma theory to remove its Eurocentric blinkers – a challenge, I argue, that the field would be well advised to embrace.
There exists a conceptual parallel between psychological accounts of psychic trauma on the one hand, and French philosopher Alain Badiou’s notion of the event on the other: both are defined by a relation of incommensurability or excessiveness with regard to the pre-existent context or system. Further development of this parallel, i.e., viewing trauma as an event in the Badiouian sense, enables us to pinpoint and clarify a logical fallacy at work in psychological theories of post-traumatic growth. By thinking of trauma recovery as a process of accommodating the preexistent mental schemata to the “new trauma-related information,” these theories risk taking as a given that which must first be constituted by the subject: the “content” (i.e., “information”) of the trauma. By emphasizing the necessity of the activity of the subject for the development of a new context that allows the event to be “read,” Badiou’s theory of the subject offers a way around the aforementioned logical fallacy. In so doing, it re-introduces the essential yet generally neglected political dimension of trauma recovery. This is illustrated through the example of the speak-outs of the 1970s women’s liberation movement.
This essay interrogates the nature, limits, and effects of the juxtaposition of Great Britain and Melanesia that takes place in Pat Barker’s The Ghost Road (1995), the final installment of the much-lauded Regeneration trilogy. Published two years before the handover of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China, which marked the unofficial end of the British Empire, and four years after the end of the neocolonial charade of the first Gulf War, The Ghost Road brings its readers back to the beginning of the twentieth century, cannily meshing a carefully researched portrayal of the First World War with its protagonist’s dreams and memories of a Melanesian society suffocating under the oppressive weight of colonial law. Drawing on Paul Gilroy’s concept of postcolonial melancholia, we read the success of the Booker Prize-winning novel as reflecting a deep-seated anxiety about the downfall of empire(s) that continues to characterize political life in the West. The novel’s strength lies in the way it highlights the insidious workings of class prejudices on the front lines, the complex matrix of sexuality, duty, and friendship that defined relationships between men in the trenches, and the reshuffling of traditional gender roles that the war brought about both at home and abroad. In spite of its merits, however, the transformative and challenging confrontation with the human cost of Britain’s imperial transgressions that The Ghost Road offers is consistently deferred and masked behind its more visible portrayal of the melancholic fantasy of a racially homogenous, tragic, and exclusively Western First World War.