[UPDATE] MMLA 2015 Earth's Human Layer

full name / name of organization: 
Rebekah Taylor Midwest Modern Language Association
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Special Session MMLA 2015

As both science and the arts engage in conversations about the proposed new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, this interdisciplinary panel seeks papers addressing the "human layer" in turn of the century and early twentieth century literatures. Currently, scientists measure the human layer quantitatively, defining the human in terms of geological impact. But how is the human layer conceived before such sophisticated scientific measurement was possible? Where does the human species—proven to be a geological agent —fit into the division of the Earth into spheres—the lithosphere, biosphere, atmosphere, and hydrosphere? How does the identification of these spheres affect the concept of the human, or does it? Are science and the arts in agreement about where the human fits into these systems or can a study of a particular author or text suggest a difference?

Papers that engage the idea of the noosphere—first proposed to add an additional human layer to the existing four systems—are particularly welcome. Do discussions of a noosphere imply that humans do not belong in the biosphere—the sphere containing life? Does the proposal of a noosphere suggest an understanding that the human is separate, exceptional? What is the distinction? How does modernist literature articulate the noosphere? Is there use in formulating a distinct human layer? Is the noosphere a helpful concept—then and now? In the age of the Anthropocene, the human layer often connotes destruction, but is there a way to make it more positive?

Broadly conceived, papers might address the way in which the human species or an individual interacts with earth systems. Is the human separate or included in these earth systems? Does turn of the century and early twentieth-century literature suggest humans capable of interrupting or altering natural processes, interfering with earth systems, or depict humanity as a system all its own? Papers might even enter the topic through a study of the treatment of air or sky—atmosphere—soil or digging—lithosphere, for example. Is there evidence in literature of the early twentieth century that identification of earth systems affects humanity's conception of itself?

This session will be a 4-person panel or 5-6-person roundtable. Please submit 350-500 word proposal interpreting the "human layer" problem, together with a short biographical note to Rebekah Taylor, Kent State University: rtaylo36@kent.edu by April 5th. Alternative presentation styles are also welcome.