Vegetable Avatars: Plants, Identity, and Subjectivity in Literature and the Visual Arts

deadline for submissions: 
September 20, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Pamela Cooper, Shayne Legassie University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
contact email: 

Accepted Panel: NeMLA 2020 --Vegetable Avatars: Plants, Identity and Subjectivity in                                                                             Literature and the Visual Arts

Chairs: Pamela Cooper (UNC at Chapel Hill) & Shayne Legassie (UNC at Chapel Hill)

Format: Panel

Topic Area: Comparative Literature


This panel approaches the theme of identity in literature and visual art from a flexibly eco-critical perspective. It considers how these modes of representation approach plant life as a means of thinking speculatively about identity and subjectivity in both their individual and collective dimensions.  Our aim is to contribute to current debates about non-human agency in environmental studies, and to analyze the role of literary and art criticism within these. We are interested in issues such as hybridity, inter-species relationships, responsibility, and ways in which “modernity,” broadly construed, is shaped by questions about these. How do forms of intimacy with plant life inform ideas of “the modern” at any point in history and in any given cultural context?  How does human engagement with the plant world complicate established distinctions between flora and fauna (and, by extension, humans’ ideas about their place in the natural and cosmic order)?  How do relationships with plants inform a culture’s approach to living in the world? Though interested in the pressing ecological issues of this moment, we seek submissions on literary and artistic topics from various cultures and time periods, including (for example): 

*images of riotous and alien vegetation in writers such as Virginia Woolf and Dante Alighieri.

*traditions of scientific illustration in Japanese, European, and Sanskrit botanical texts.

*accounts of the vegetable ancestry of humankind in the Popol Vuh, Greco-Roman epic, and other mythological and folkloric traditions

*the entangling plants of Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits, and their possible kinship with Hieronymus Bosch’s strange gardens and Claude Monet’s serene foliage.

We welcome papers that reflect on how historically nuanced scholarship grounded in a particular cultural context might reveal alternative possibilities for organizing social, economic, and political life—especially in light of rampant ecological degradation and environmental injustice, biological determinism, global warming and mass extinction.


Please submit 200-250-word abstracts to Pam Cooper, UNC Chapel Hill,

By August 15 2019