Literature and Ethics in the Age of Hyperobjects (SLSA Conference Panel)

full name / name of organization: 
Matthew Dodson / Oregon State University
contact email: 

Fluid Objects, Solid Texts: Literature and Ethics in the Age of Hyperobjects

Panel Proposal for Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts 2014 Conference – "Fluid" - Dallas, TX - Oct. 9-12, 2014

Send ~250 word abstract and a brief biographical note to Matthew Dodson at no later than April 5, 2014.


We live in a strange world, one in which we constantly encounter traces of fluid, viscous objects that exist on scales of size and temporality completely different from our own—Timothy Morton calls these things "hyperobjects," which range from global warming and nuclear radiation to subatomic particles. As Morton argues, "The more we know, the harder it is to make a one-sided decision about anything. As we enter the time of hyperobjects, Nature disappears and all the modern certainties that seemed to accompany it. What remains is a vastly more complex situation that is uncanny and intimate at the same time."

Since it is nearly impossible for us to see these hyperobjects directly at work in the world—our knowledge of them is, after all, limited to very small slices, to their local effects as translated by our human consciousnesses—perhaps literature can help us to rethink our relationship with hyperobjects by allowing us to trace what Jane Bennett calls "the threads of connection binding our fate to theirs."

Following Bruno Latour's assertion that "the resource of fiction can bring… the solid objects of today into the fluid states where their connections with humans may make sense," this proposed panel asks whether literature can hold hyperobjects in view a bit longer, and if so, how it can allow us to reach a better understanding of their place in the world and how we, as humans, can react to them.

Papers should respond in some way to these ideas, presenting ways of reacting to hyperobjects, rethinking ethical action, and using literary texts to do both—literary texts in this case broadly defined to include film, videogames, and cultural artifacts, as well as more 'traditional' forms of literature, from modern to contemporary. In this panel's case, the collision between literature and ethics is the "thread of connection" binding a wide variety of topics together. Possible topics may include:

> Posthuman subjectivity
> Environmental disasters and responses
> Post-apocalypse and "the end of the world"
> Post-natural ecology and activism
> Animal studies and human-animal relations
> Ethics of the nonhuman, object other
> War technology and posthumanism
> Vibrant matter and object-oriented politics
> Science-in-literature and scientific ethics
> Queer and questioning objects
> Interobjectivity, network theory, and "the mesh"