Imagining Climate Change: Fiction, Memory, and the Anthropocene
Climate change, arguably the greatest global challenge of our time, is usually treated as a strictly scientific phenomenon; however, it also has a cultural dimension. The last two decades, and especially the last few years, have seen the publication of a spate of literary texts—often grouped together under the rubric of “cli-fi” or “climate fiction”—that adapt, transform, or reinvent conventional modes of representation in an attempt to capture and communicate the nature, causes, and effects of climate change and the urgency required to address it. This FWO-funded research project (2016-2020) explores how literature is grappling with the problems posed by a warming planet, with particular attention to issues of memory. It consists of three interrelated strands. The first, formalist strand examines the literary innovations demanded by climate change, a phenomenon whose magnitude and complexity challenge customary forms of narrative. The second, historicist strand links climate change fiction to literary responses to earlier crises that radically altered humanity’s relationship to the past, present, and future: the discovery of geological time in the early nineteenth century and the Cold War threat of nuclear annihilation. The third, postcolonial strand investigates to what extent and in what ways climate change fiction addresses inequalities in the global distribution of responsibility for and vulnerability to climate change, which the developing Anthropocene narrative with its species-level understanding of humanity risks obscuring. The project’s overall aim is to contribute to the humanistic endeavour to help incorporate the far-reaching consequences of climate change into human experience and thereby to assist us in confronting them more effectively. [Download poster.]
Transcultural Holocaust Memory in Contemporary Literature
This FWO-funded postdoctoral research project (2009-2012) examines how, why, and to what effect the memory of the Holocaust is invoked, mobilized, and represented in literary texts that connect the Nazi genocide of the European Jews with other exceptionally destructive, criminal, and catastrophic histories, such as slavery, colonial oppression, and other genocides.
Trauma, Testimony, and Community in Postcolonial Literature in English
This FWO-funded postdoctoral research project (2006-2009) examines how trauma theory can break with Eurocentrism and thus realize its self-declared ethical potential. It consists of a theoretical part in which the possibility and point of “postcolonializing” trauma theory are investigated, and a practical part made up of three case studies of postcolonial literary oeuvres that bear witness to the suffering engendered by colonial oppression (J. M. Coetzee, Caryl Phillips, and Eavan Boland).
Trauma and Ethics in the Novels of Graham Swift
This FWO-funded PhD research project (1999-2003) analyses the novels of the contemporary British writer Graham Swift against the background of the “ethical turn” in literary studies and the emergence of trauma theory. It charts the entire trajectory of Swift’s engagement with the perils, pitfalls, and possibilities of navigating a post-traumatic condition, proceeding from an emphasis on denial in his early work, through an intense preoccupation with the demands of trauma in the “middle-period” novels (including Waterland), to a seemingly liberating insistence on regeneration and renewal in Last Orders and The Light of Day.