Edited collection: Nonhuman Animals, Climate Crisis and the Role of Literature

deadline for submissions: 
December 31, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Matthias Stephan, Aarhus University
contact email: 

The world is in crisis: socially, politically, environmentally. We are increasingly confronted with notions of otherness as the world is shrinking – we interact with diverse cultures, ideas, agendas as we never have before. Yet, at the same time, we are increasingly polarized in our thinking, with the rise of a global right-wing agenda challenging a progressive wave of policies the world over. Yet, these crises seem to pale in consideration of the increasingly urgent climate crisis.

 

There is little debate left on whether the climate is changing, though there are still some people arguing about the cause. As McKibben notes, this is no longer a question for science, but rather, what we need is an interpretation and communication of the urgency of the problem which produces meaningful and effective change. For many years, the question of whether fiction could articulate the vastness of the problem was up for debate. Ursula Heise, in Sense of Place and Sense of Planet (2008), identifies a failure on behalf of fiction to intervene as due to the complex nature of climate change, which happens on a scale, and over spatial, temporal, and cultural divides that are unprecedented historically. Nonetheless, there have been increasing amounts of narratives – including in literature – which concern themselves with global climate change. For example, Climate Fiction, or Cli-Fi, has been seen in ecocriticism as a potential answer to this call.

 

While climate change is sometimes framed as a largely human concern, or even as nature ‘striking back’ against human over-use and abuse of its resources, the growing climate crisis creates problems for human and nonhuman animals alike. Indeed, there is now widespread recognition that climate change is a leading cause of a current mass extinction event affecting species across the globe. This raises questions about how the current crisis connects to our historical disregard for the interests and capacities of other species, and of whether changing attitudes to human-nonhuman relations can help point towards new, more sustainable ways forward. In Animal Alterity: Science Fiction and the Question of the Animal (2010),Sherryl Vint notes that among science fiction’s ‘most promising’ themes is the ‘aspiration that humans might interact with an intelligence other than our own and be transformed by it’. Vint asks the question of what imagining animals through science fiction may do, and points out that the other species with whom we already share the planet could be those ‘aliens’ that make possible such a dream of transformation. Taking a slightly broader perspective, one could ask what this means – for all literature or for climate fiction specifically – in an age of climate crisis and mass extinction.

 

There are numerous examples of literature having a ‘real-life’ impact, from Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin to Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.  More recently, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring speaks directly to environmental concerns, and Nevil Shute’s On the Beach focuses on nuclear power and speaks to devastation which can be ameliorated. The question is whether literature, in this global internet age, can still have the same kind of impact, can still be a force for change and reconsideration of our way of life – a change made in time to preserve human and nonhuman lives. Can novels such as Ian McEwan’s Solar, Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, Rawson’s From the Wreck, or Leigh’s The Hunter, to name just a few, push conversation into action? Do dystopian novels like Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? or D’Lacey’s Meat, in which nonhuman animals are seemingly extinct, force us to meaningfully consider such a loss, enough to enact change?

 

Literature itself, in reaction to such tangible problems, might also be evolving. Media messages in our post-millennial climate, in which social media is more prevalent and the news cycle is more all-encompassing, even as our attention and media is fragmented and polarized, makes storytelling all the more important in imparting messages, especially those intended to create change. In considering contemporary media, it is possible that the concept of literature can cross traditional, generic boundaries, to allow climate narratives to be activated and promoted in a post-internet age. In addition, authors have increasingly experimented with new ways of portraying nonhuman animals in recent decades, in response to both scientific developments and renewed ideas of species kinship. Questions thus arise about how such artistic innovations and challenges may respond to climate crisis and extinction and how these phenomena may lead authors to explore new artistic avenues in their writing. 

 

This collection calls for considerations of new interventions by literature in relation to these pressing questions and debates. We are seeking chapters which present cases of literature attempting such intervention, theoretical considerations of the role of literature in these debates, and questions about the efficacy of such a project. We seek diverse voices and perspectives, hoping to see the impact that stories about the issue, and speculating about solutions, can have in shifting debates toward real life concerns.

 

Potential topics include, but are not limited to:

 

Nonhuman Presence and Absence in Climate Fictions and Apocalyptic Narratives

 

Dystopia, Post-apocalyptic, and Revisioning the Globe with a Changed Climate

 

Narratives of Extinction and Species Endangerment

 

Nonhuman Animals in (G)local Narratives of Environmental Change

 

Theoretical Approaches to the Depiction of Climate Change in the Global South

 

Representation, Race, and the Asymmetrical Impact of Climate Change

 

Intelligence, Sentience, and Ethics

 

Nonhuman Experience of Environmental Change and Destruction

 

Animal Monstrosity and Environmental Degradation/Destruction

 

Fantasy, Imagination, and the Animalization of Alien Others

 

The Deep Unknown: Blue Humanities and the Impact of Global Climate Change

 

Nature Fighting Back: Representations of Nonhuman Agency

 

The Interests of Species and Nonhuman Individuals in an Age of Climate Crisis

 

Conservation Narratives and Animal Rights

 

Representations of Habitat Loss

 

Posthumanism and Climate Crisis  

Proposals should be for original works not previously published (including in conference proceedings) and that are not currently under consideration for another edited collection or journal. Proposals of 500 words (or optionally completed papers) and abbreviated CVs listing academic affiliation and publications are due December 31st, 2019. Notifications made in January.

If the essay is accepted for the collection, a full draft (5000-7000 words) will be required by May 15th, 2020.

We have had positive preliminary discussions with Palgrave about publication, and the editors of the Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature series are looking forward to receiving a full proposal once the abstracts have been selected.

Please send all queries and proposals to editors, Sune Borkfelt, Aarhus University engsb@cc.au.dk and Matthias Stephan, Aarhus University engms@cc.au.dk. The editors are happy to discuss ideas prior to the deadline.