Popular Culture Workshop : SUPERNATURE
US Popular Culture Workshop :
Danièle André and Christophe Becker
La Rochelle Université & Université Paris 8 – CRHIA
For the AFEA (The French Association of North-American Studies) 2020 Conference - Post(-)America, Lille University (France), May 26-29, 2020.
The Nature the European colonists were faced with on their landing on the American soil was from the start problematic. Indeed, up until the end of the 15th century, herbaria were copied from Greek and Latin originals without any changes. Their botanical illustrations were most of the time of poor quality, and few scientists dared say there were plants Pedanius Dioscorides, a physician traveling throughout the Roman Empire with Emperor Nero's army, had not listed. The most widely spread idea at the time was that flora had been created by God and was evenly distributed across the Earth's surface. The scientists identified plants thanks to simple alphabetical lists that were obviously not comprehensive. The plant and wildlife species endemic to America were thus problematic because they clearly proved the common belief wrong. The yellow-billed magpie, the chipmunk or the American paddlefish were maybe harmless, but their very existence called into question a whole section of what was an unshakeable religious common belief.
It is clear from this first observation that natural sciences are also based on ideology and not only on science and biology. Even nowadays, Nature cannot be dealt with without political and economic bargaining. The Trump administration has helped defeat the laws that were supposed to protect biodiversity – it has weakened the Endangered Species Act of 1973; it has revoked California’s authority to set stricter auto emissions rules – and still negates global warming despite the many alarmist reports from the IPCC or the NASA.
While constantly refusing to listen to the scientific community and trying to destroy the credibility of an ecological discourse that is now biased or caricatured, Humanity, and America in particular, hints at a planet where human beings would not be welcome anymore and would be condemned to disappear like so many species before them. A new (hi)story is about to start: After the Anthropocene and the triumph of human beings’ industrial genius, a period when flora and fauna, now finally rid of humanity, can grow again and evolve towards new forms through both endogenous and exogenous factors.
This post-historical era (post-human by definition) does not announce the end of the world. Instead it incites writers to question the role and situation of human beings on Earth. Margaret Atwood, for instance, imagines a world where genetically-modified organisms rule the planet then finally rid of most people (The Ory and Crake trilogy from 2009 to 2013), Jeff Vandermeer remembers his trip to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Florida to dream up “Area X” whose ecosystem is an enigma that remains impenetrable to naturalist (The Southern Reach trilogy, 2004).
Several questions arise:
- Can civilization exist without Humanity?
- What is the link between post-nature and the notion of apocalypse, destruction as well as revelation (The Genocides by Thomas M. Disch, 1965).
- What is the form of tomorrow's biodiversity? (Mother of Storms by John Barnes, 1994; the comic book Trees, by Warren Ellis, 2014/6).
- What does the concept of post-nature say about our incapacity to understand our own environment? (the comic book Oblivion Song by Robert Kirkman, 2018/9).
- What is the role of popular culture in our relation to nature and post-nature? According to Selin and Pelin Kesebir, since the 1950s, nature has become less present in works of popular culture (films, songs, novels...), which shows and reinforces the break between human beings and their natural environment. Moreover, some academics (such as Lauren Holt) are interested in species considered post-natural, such as those that can be seen at The Center for PostNatural History, and artists, such asVincent Fournier, imagine other post-natural creatures (White Fennec, Rain Bird, etc.).
- Which role does post-nature leave to mankind? Human beings have been overrun by Nature but does this mean we have to evolve to adapt to the new ecological niche, or will we be led to devolve? (The Sheep Look Up, John Brunner, 1972). How can mankind react to the existence of new species and to its obvious decline?
In a transdisciplinary perspective, the workshop is open to all approaches which may further the understanding of these questions. Proposals may put forward different fields of study and theoretical frameworks and approaches. But the papers must deal only with North-America.
Proposals (from 300 to 500 words approximately) and a short biography are to be sent to both Christophe Becker (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Danièle André (email@example.com) for January 31st 2020 at the latest.
NB: To present a paper, one has to be a member of the AFEA association (around 60 euros) and to pay the registration fees for the symposium (also around 60 euros).