New Nuclear Criticism: ASLE-sponsored MLA 2019 panel

deadline for submissions: 
March 1, 2018
full name / name of organization: 

Do we need a new nuclear criticism? How can ecocritical frameworks and new archives and methods help us re-encounter “the nuclear” and re-asses its relationship to literature and culture? 


For most, nuclear criticism was a blip on the radar of literary criticism. What began as an honest attempt to ground deconstruction and “high theory” in pragmatic, ethical matters all but ended with the fall of the Berlin wall, even as “the nuclear” in its many material and symbolic valences continued to structure geopolitical relations and ecological conditions. If “the nuclear” represents a critical intersection of geopolitics and ecology, then how might contemporary ecocritical frameworks help develop a new nuclear criticism, one that is expanded and reconfigured to address the shortcomings of this project’s previous manifestation? Furthermore, how might the energy humanities, new materialisms, indigenous studies, feminism, queer theory, critical race studies, or affect theory (to name a few) offer inroads to re-examining the relationship between literature and the nuclear?

The “original” nuclear criticism, incited by President Reagan’s revival of cold war rhetoric in the 1980s, primarily analyzed nuclear narratives implicit in political discourse and uncovered unconscious nuclear fears in canonical literary texts, reaching its pinnacle with the 1984 issue of Diacritics featuring Derrida’s well-known, elliptical piece, “No Apocalypse, Not Now (Full Speed Ahead: Seven Missiles and Seven Missives)”. At its outset, proponents of nuclear criticism imagined it would be a wild success, envisioning its institutionalization and establishment as a discrete academic department in colleges around the world. Why, then, did it all but fade into obscurity simply because the Cold War had been declared over? One possible explanation is that its exigency rested too heavily on the rhetorical coupling of the Cold War and nuclear weapons, as it based its theoretical interventions on the unthinkability of nuclear apocalypse (see Frances Ferguson’s “nuclear sublime”) and on nuclear war as a totalizing event (Derrida’s “ultimate referent"). Furthermore, this version of nuclear criticism relied upon a fairly narrow archive (political discourse and novels or films), method (deconstruction), and formulation of the nuclear (“the bomb” or the spectacular event). Thus, a new nuclear criticism must rely on alterative avenues of support to defend its necessity and portability.

We invite papers that explore alternative archives (how does poetry, for instance, treat the nuclear?), expanded methods (how does critical race theory undermine ideas about the “apocalypse” as central to the nuclear imaginary?), and different forms of the nuclear (what is the relationship between the event of the bomb and the slow violence of nuclear waste?). Whether or not we agree with the New Yorker that we are entering a “Cold War 2.0,” or contend that we are simply entering another phase of the Long Cold War, “the nuclear” continues to structure both geopolitical and ecological relations and thus requires renewed attention and scholarship.


Note: this is a non-guaranteed MLA 2019 panel sponsored by the Association for Literature and the Environment (ASLE)


Please send questions and/or submissions (300-500 word abstracts) to Kristin George Bagdanov by 1 March 2018.