Proposed MLA 2018 Special Session: Anthropocene/Andropocene
While ‘the Anthropocene’ has yet to appear as a formal chronological appellation on the Geologic Time Scale, the term has become a commonplace descriptor of our current epoch, and the Anthropocene Working Group voted in August 2016 to recommend the term’s formal adoption as an epochal designation by the International Committee on Stratigraphy. The term ‘Anthropocene’ refers to the period of geologic time in which the effects of human activity on earth’s ecosystems can be considered the characteristic factor, and start dates for the period vary widely, ranging from as recently as 1964 to as far in the past as 1610 (Lewis & Maslin 2015), with some researchers suggesting dates much further back - in human prehistory (Doughty et al. 2010). Aside from questions of criteria and chronology, the term encapsulates an eco-critical argument of importance not only to climate scientists and human geographers, or even to academics working in the humanities, but to all humans.
However, if the sense of kairos expressed by the term 'anthropocene' is to be of maximum utility, it is necessary to further specify the object of inquiry or, in this case, the Subject thereof. While every member has contributed to our species’ impact on the planet to some slight degree, specific humans have had outsized influence over the representation of that impact since the emergence of writing, as they have played an outsized role in making the impact itself: men. With the historic advantage of majority, particularly physical control over resources and a traditional ascription of ideologically-based right thereto in most societies over time, men in largely (often exclusively) homosocial institutions have repeatedly theorized the meaning of masculinity and represented the ‘face of Man’ in various areas from law to literature, largely so as to justify masculine supremacy over cultural and physical resources. They have sought, in other words, to make the Anthropocene into the Andropocene.
This special session asks whether, in addition to the critical eco-humanism expressed through the prefix 'anthro-,' there should not be further attention paid to the role of ‘andros’ within 'anthros,' within critical theory but also in its application to literature, if only to avoid slipping back into the traditional rhetorical frame-category of Man. What has it meant to state, with Protagorus, that ‘Man in the measure of all things?’ Who has this Man been, where has he been from, and how has he been described in various literatures and in various chronological/geographical locations? What are the local variations among these characterizations and what can they tell us, and are there responsible, overarching generalizations to be made about them? How has a narratorial tradition accreting around an often-overdetermined central figure - ‘Man’ - marked the Anthropocene in both ideological and phenomenological terms, and what are the necessary ideological and phenomenological changes precessory to forging a reflexive, feminist engagement with andropocene figurations of subjecthood? Are there in fact subject positions available outside this hegemonic masculinism, or is ‘The Andropocene’ an unnecessarily andro-centric rhetorical frame through which to understand anthropogenic climatic effects? How has this marked our most lasting meaning-making tradition, literature?
Questions submitting authors might consider:
- How do shifting political trends from Dryden to Djuna Barnes inform the literary theorization of the Andropocene? Are there critical approaches available to literary scholars that can simultaneously explicate the widespread and deeply-felt affective engagement with specific figures of hegemonic masculinity, while also theorizing an alternative? Relatedly, is there a presentist literature of hegemonic masculinity, perhaps even ‘Trumpian’ masculinity? If so, what is its canon and what can that canon tell us about the likely ecological and ideological impact of a Trump administration?
- Also relatedly, how are iconic figures of monstrous masculinity - e.g. Mr. Hyde, Grendel, Patrick Bateman - represented such that they form the necessary counterparts to figures of ideal masculinity such as Dr. Jekyll, Beowulf, or Ronald Reagan? Is this a necessary aspect of transatlantic Enlightenment masculinity, and if it is so, why? Can we use insights gained in our literary-critical engagement with these texts to address theorizations of North American gender hegemony, like that of ‘rape culture,’ in classroom discussion?
- How can we map typological literary representations of ‘located’ masculinities onto the specific historical contexts of which those figures became emblematic - e.g. the American hard-boiled detective of the 30s, 40s, and 50s, the wounded hero of the English Gothic novel, or Kingsley’s muscular Christian masculinity - in such a way that we can better understand the process by which they gained such rhetorical centrality? Can we do the same for theory, treating such thoroughly gendered and located figures as the dandy, the lad, or the flâneur, as such? What is queer theory’s engagement with the gendered subject of discourse, and how has it changed popular representations of masculinity post-1990?
Abstracts should be less than 350 words, and be emailed to Thomas Spitzer-Hanks at email@example.com by March 1, 2017. Please include ‘MLA 2018’ in the subject line of your email. Dependent on the volume and quality of submissions, this CFP will become a special session at the 2018 MLA Convention, to be held in New York City January 4-7. It should be noted that submissions can only be accepted from current members of the Modern Language Association.
Lewis, Simon L. & Mark A. Maslin. "Defining the Anthropocene." Nature 519 (12 March 2015): 171-180. doi:10.1038/nature14258
Doughty, Christopher E., Adam Wolf, Christopher B. Field (2010). “Biophysical feedbacks between the Pleistocene megafauna extinction and climate: The first human-induced global warming?” Geophysical Research Letters 37.15 (L15703): 1-5. doi:10.1029/2010GL043985