Abstracts of Preformed Panels and Roundtables
These are the abstracts of of roundtables and preformed panels . They are presented in alphabetical order by panel title.
American Indian Literature Charting New Literary Territory
Panel 7.1. Thursday 8 September, 1.30 pm – 3.00 pm, room 221
Chair: Todd Borlik (University of Huddersfield)
Brianna Burke (Iowa State University). Remaking, Rewriting, Reimagining the world in Thomas King’s The Back of the Turtle.
Anik Chartrand (Brandeis University). Beyond Storytelling: James Welch’s Fools Crow as Contemporary a Native American Bundle System.
Abbey Ballard (University of Worcester). ‘Coax Stories out of the Permafrost’: Stories from the Ice Within Tanya Tagaq’s Split Tooth.
This panel explores the work of American Indian authors as they chart new literary territory. Starting with the novel *The Back of the Turtle*, this panel explores King’s work as it charts new territory by combining the Skywoman creation story with Genesis, creating a new hybrid and distinctly American religion for the 21st century that ultimately argues that creation is ever unfolding and that humans have a responsibility to work for paradise right here on Earth. The second paper argues for a new understanding of James Welch’s *Fools Crow*, a rarely analyzed novel by the well-known Blackfeet and Gros Ventre writer, arguing that bringing a distinctly American Indian ethos to analyzing the novel — that of the medicine bundle — reveals whole new understandings of Welch’s work.
We will need a 3rd (and perhaps 4th) panelist.
Panel 6.1. Thursday 8 September, 11.15 am – 12.45 pm, room TBA
Chair: John Miller (University of Sheffield)
Laura Gelfand (Utah State University). Love, Respect, and the Legacy of the Lupa Romana.
Indigo Gray (University of Sheffield). Slime and Protoplasm: Evolution and Descent in the Animalia of Germinal.
Mo O’Neill (University of Sheffield). The Vegetarian Limits of Edward Carpenter’s Modernist Self-fashioning.
“Love, Respect, and the Legacy of the Lupa Romana”, Laura D. Gelfand (Utah State University)
Five years ago, two young wolves were captured on video walking through a nature reserve just outside Rome, and the return of the animals to this major metropolis was met with mostly positive responses from the city’s residents. This is a stark contrast to the apprehension and violent reception wolves usually receive when they resettle areas where they have previously been eradicated in most of Europe and the US.
Rome was said to have been founded by Romulus, who together with his twin brother that he subsequently killed, was suckled by a she-wolf. Roman warriors were favorably compared to wolves, and the image of the she-wolf with her human foundlings appeared on Roman coins, armor, and elsewhere throughout the extensive reach of the Roman empire. Rome’s founding myth, with its positive associations with wolves, differs dramatically from stories told about wolves elsewhere in antiquity where they were almost universally characterized as monstrous. Thanks to these negative representations wolves were completely eradicated from England and Scotland by the 17th century. Once they were no longer present in the environment, artists and others were able to further exaggerate the size and ferocity of wolves without having to worry that their exaggerated depictions would be contradicted by an encounter with a wolf in the wild.
Wolves were hunted extensively throughout Europe and the US, but thanks to their long, positive associations with them, wolves were not pursued in Italy with the destructive zeal or the goal of complete eradication found elsewhere. Mika Rissansen described the ancient Roman approach to the wolf as closely akin to totemism, and this deep, historical connection seems to have continued to the present day. In this paper, I investigate how the positive associations established by Romans in antiquity came to influence later representations of wolves in Italian literature and art, together with their treatment in reality, in areas that were part of the Roman empire. I contrast this with more negative representations of wolves elsewhere in Europe—which may also have originated in associations of Roman warriors with wolves¬—and compare how these negative representations continue to influence perceptions of wolves thousands of years after their initial invention.
“Slime and Protoplasm: Evolution and Descent in the Animalia of Germinal”, Indigo Gray (University of Sheffield)
Emile Zola’s Germinal (1884) is ostensibly a novel about the local political struggles of coalminers in 1860s France, their attempts to strike and demand appropriate wages inevitably thwarted as they struggle against industrial capitalism, dehumanisation and a hungry ‘beast’ of a mine. Attention to representations of species in Zola’s novel, however, elucidates a complex network of human and animal actors whose bodies coalesce with one another and with their damp surroundings. Informed by TH Huxley’s 1868 theory of protoplasm, I argue that the presence of slime in Germinal – from coal-blackened phlegm to the ebbing tide within the mine – allows for questions about animality, evolution and origins to seep into the text. Huxley’s formulation of the ‘semi-liquid’ or ‘limpid liquid’ protoplasm as the origin of all life situates Germinal’s miners in direct contact with this primordial soup as they excrete and dip their toes into the slime of their environment. Tracking working bodies of humans, animals and the mine itself, I illustrate Zola’s narratives of evolution and an oscillating march of progress as his characters look back at their lowly, slimy origins and forward at ‘new men […] starting into life, a black army of vengeance slowly germinating in the furrows.’
“The Vegetarian Limits of Edward Carpenter’s Modernist Self-fashioning”, Mo O’Neill (University of Sheffield)
My thesis-in-progress concerns the more-than-human thought of the essayist, poet, and social reformer Edward Carpenter (1844-1929). This paper addresses the complex question of Carpenter’s historical positionality: critics have variously characterised Carpenter as either late Victorian, or the product of a specific moment of either Edwardian or fin de siècle political radicalism. Others have emphasised his affinities with literary modernism. But which of these categories is most useful for the purpose of conceptualising Carpenter’s critically understudied contributions to pro-animal thought? I contend that exploring Carpenter’s vegetarianism provides a route into answering this question. Both his vegetarian thought and the wider nineteenth-century vegetarian movement complexly related to questions of temporality: vegetarianism simultaneously emblematised both ‘back-to-nature’ primitivism, and the utopian emergence of progressive modes of relation to nonhuman animals and environments. Echoing broader anti-vegetarian rhetoric, Carpenter’s critics also used his vegetarianism to stress the ‘faddish’ ephemerality of his thought, highlighting the diet’s contingency in shaping his historical reputation.
First, this paper assesses Carpenter’s attempts to navigate this association with faddism through his own vegetarian self-fashioning, presenting his dietary practices as modern, flexible, and undogmatic. Next, I examine two important aspects of Carpenter’s vegetarianism: his health-based vegetarian advocacy, and the broader agricultural politics he developed through practicing farming at his smallholding in Millthorpe, Derbyshire. I argue that, despite his modern self-fashioning, Carpenter’s emphasis on small-scale, individualised, ‘clean’ production and consumption was incommensurate with the challenges posed by the intensification of animal agriculture within industrial modernity. His vegetarianism provides a microcosm of a broader over-optimism in his utopian thought regarding the longevity and expansivity of the industrial capitalist system that he critiqued. However, I contend that his contributions to the nascent fin de siècle animal rights movement render him a transitional figure, who helped to advance the development of modern pro-animal thought.
Panel 7.2. Thursday 8 September, 1.30 pm – 3.00 pm, room TBA
Chair: John Miller (University of Sheffield)
Vera Fibisan (University of Sheffield). Temporality and Hydromateriality in Elizabeth-Jane Burnett’s Of Sea.
Christie Oliver-Hobley (University of Sheffield). Sad, deserted shore, your fickle friends are leaving’: Time, Melancholy and Migration.
Dominic O’Key (University of Sheffield). The Rewilding Plot: Writing Conservation Futures in the Sixth Extinction.
“Temporality and Hydromateriality in Elizabeth-Jane Burnett’s Of Sea”, Vera Fibisan (University of Sheffield)
Elizabeth-Jane Burnett’s latest collection of poems, Of Sea, is a key text of contemporary landscape poetry, which builds on her previous swimwork in Swims (2018). The collection gathers invertebrate ‘encounters through swimming’ (Burnett, 2021), closely linked to posthumanist notions advocated by Rosi Braidotti and Karen Barad, which see these encounters from the non-hierarchical perspective of the human body immersed and lowered in a body of water. This paper will examine the synergies between hydromateriality and posthumanism in light of the threats of terrestrial and blue
extinction. In addition to the blue conceptions of space and place, this collection also considers the land from the perspective Of Sea or being immersed as a swimmer in a challenging environment. The sea and the field are mouths that are ‘plaited’ (Burnett 2021, p.17), a collective voice, song, and cry of the more-than-human, often finding itself in a perpetual realm of nullity. Furthermore, this paper investigates whether this work be considered ecoelegiac, and if so, why? Burnett’s renewed swimwork is an aquatic escape that is simultaneously liberating and intoxicating, the more-than-human body balancing between the desire for exploration and self-preservation. Wild swimming is proposed here as an extinction ritual, where the act of extinction is seen as a lessening, a diminishing of certain species towards a permanent return to nondescript matter rather than a past event. Simultaneously, Burnett’s poems build on the notion of loss as the ‘bodily bringing together [of] the different structures of nothingness – tracing their entanglements – that the world can mourn’ (Barad 2017, p.56) and energetically name. These individual encounters challenge anthropocentric perspectives by broadening them to more-than-human scales where water is only one conductive element between the here and now of swimwork and the broader implications of climate destruction.
“The Rewilding Plot: Writing Conservation Futures in the Sixth Extinction.”, Dominic O’Key (University of Sheffield)
This paper sets out to theorize the “rewilding plot”, a developing modality of contemporary literary realism in which ecological restoration is not simply described but forms the main social and environmental drama of a given work’s narrative. It will do so by focusing in particular on two novels that differently imagine and dramatise wolf reintroduction projects in the north of Britain: Sarah Hall’s The Wolf Border (2015) and Charlotte McConaghy’s Once There Were Wolves (2021). At their best, I argue, both texts model different futures and new natures; Hall and McConaghy harness the heteroglossia of the novel form to think through the concomitant contestations and convivialities of conservation coalition-building. Yet I will also be interested in showing how these texts, which both feature female protagonists who become pregnant, end up tethering their speculative pathways to reproductive futures which risk subordinating rewilding to the stories’ open-ended social closure. Thus even the rewilding plot, a drama of uneven human–animal relations in the Sixth Extinction, might ultimately use nature as metaphorical foil for a redemptive and human protagonicity.
‘“Sad, deserted shore, your fickle friends are leaving’: Time, Melancholy and Migration”, Christie Oliver-Hobley (University of Sheffield)
Martin Heidegger’s writings on the nonhuman have been received by animal-studies researchers with disdain, chiefly due to his notorious thesis that ‘the animal’ is ‘poor in world’, while human Dasein is ‘world-building’. Time plays a pivotal role in the logic of this exceptionalism; humans enjoy an ‘ecstatic’ relationship with time, Heidegger claims, while nonhumans are unable to apprehend their own temporality. Heidegger argues that humans’ relationship to time is revealed, partly, in melancholia (Schwermut), a ‘disclosive’ mood within Heidegger’s philosophy, which exposes Dasein’s ostensibly unique capacity to mark what has been, hence what has been lost. Yet Heidegger acknowledges a problem with this notion of an atemporal animality via a bizarre act of ventriloquism: “Migratory birds! You, now the winter is coming, now we must soon depart.” I will think through this rare moment of Heideggerian uncertainty via two musings on time, melancholy and migration: Sandy Denny’s Who knows where the time goes? and J.A. Baker’s The Peregrine. Released/published in 1967, five years after Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, these cultural texts depict bird migrations from the perspective of humans who struggle to grapple with their incomprehension and resultant feelings of bereavement. Both narrativize, in their own modes, melancholia towards a passing moment, while asserting nonhuman capacities to apprehend both time and loss. My paper will explore the implications of this more-than-human melancholy, de-humanising Heideggerian phenomenology in the context of theAnthropocene.
Contaminated Landscapes in Historical, Deep and Cyclical Time
Panel 2.1. Tuesday 6 September, 1.30 pm – 3.00 pm, room 221
Chair: Elizabeth Edwards (University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies)
Mary-Ann Constantine (University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies). Avernus in Paradise: poisoned water in the landscapes of Romantic-era Wales.
Andrew Webb (Bangor University). ‘the deep dark zero’: Dylan Thomas and the contaminated landscapes of the future.
Jamie Harris (Aberystwyth University). After Chernobyl: Welsh poetry and nuclear power.
This panel explores the ways in which landscapes are imagined and represented as sites of renewal and destruction across three kinds of time frame: historical, cyclical and deep. It focuses in particular on accounts of contamination, from the lead and copper works of the early industrial revolution, to the imagined nuclear holocausts of Dylan Thomas’s late poetry, to the ways in which more contemporary poetry registers the radionuclides that fell as rain after Chernobyl. While each of the papers explores writing about a particular moment in history, our aim is to provoke discussion about the ways in which the various texts engage with ideas of historical, cyclical and deep time in order to register the contamination of landscapes that their authors encounter.
Avernus in Paradise: poisoned water in the landscapes of Romantic-era Wales
Professor Mary-Ann Constantine
Water is central to landscape writing, but not all water is redemptive and cleansing. This paper examines descriptions of water used in mining and the industrial process by people visiting, living or working in Wales circa 1760-1820. Images and accounts of waterfalls, lakes, rivers and streams saturate late-eighteenth century tourist narratives: but the genre, firmly associated with the picturesque, is also a rich (and under-explored) source of information about the early decades of the industrial revolution. Drawing on published and unpublished accounts recovered by the recent ‘Curious Travellers’ project, I will focus on a complex and recurring cluster of associations around sites where water has been contaminated by copper and lead mining — from the stream running through the landscaped ‘Paradise’ at Hafod in mid-Wales, to the clear, empty lakes around Snowdon and the pool at Anglesey’s Parys Mountain ‘on whose waters, distasteful as those of Avernus, no bird is known to alight’.
‘the deep dark zero: Dylan Thomas and the contaminated landscapes of the future
Dr Andrew Webb
Thomas’s ‘process’ poetry draws attention to the physical matter from which humans are formed and to which we return, and to the constant recycling of that matter into other life forms in an ongoing cycle of creation and destruction across what we now understand as deep time. It obsessively investigates the place of the human in this epochal time frame: an animal both part of and apart from this ongoing cycle. My paper will introduce this concept through a close reading of ‘The force that through the green fuse’ before turning to the manifestation of this obsession in late work informed by Thomas’s fears of nuclear holocaust. In particular, it will show how ‘In Country Sleep’ (1947), ‘Over Sir John’s hill’ (1949), and ‘Poem on his Birthday’ (1952) are haunted by landscapes of future atomic war: ‘the deep dark zero’ and ‘the cyclone of silence’ that would follow nuclear holocaust. His engagement with these imagined sites of future contamination necessitate a re-engagement with the assumptions about deep and cyclical time that govern the earlier ‘process’ poetry. I will suggest that Thomas’s late poetry offers us with new ways to situate ourselves within the complexities of the current crises of climate and apocalypse.
After Chernobyl: Welsh poetry and nuclear power
Dr Neal Alexander
During the 1980s, Wales was a fountainhead of anti-nuclear protests in which many of its foremost poets – working in both Welsh and English – were active participants. The Women’s Peace Camp at Greenham Common had its origins in a ten-day march from Cardiff organised by Women for Life on Earth; and in 1982, Welsh councils collectively proclaimed Wales Europe’s first ‘nuclear-free nation’ (though parts for Trident missiles were still manufactured at RMO Cardiff). Then, in early May 1986, radionuclides from the destroyed Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine fell on areas of North Wales. Subsequently, activists shifted their attention from Wales’s implication in the proliferation of nuclear weapons to its role as a producer of nuclear power at Trawsfynydd and Wylfa. In this paper, I will offer readings of two Chernobyl poems by Gillian Clarke and Einir Jones. Where Clarke depicts a condition of shared vulnerability to nuclear threats and imagines new forms of transnational solidarity, Jones’s darker vision focuses the reader’s attention upon the ways in which the slow violence of radioactive contamination demands a reckoning of deep time, particularly the deep future of its long-term effects. Finally, I trace the long aftermath of Chernobyl in the late work of R.S. Thomas – poet, priest, and anti-nuclear campaigner – which never mentions Chernobyl explicitly but is frequently inflected with the vocabulary and imagery of nuclear disaster.
Crisis, Change, and Isolation through time in the English Countryside
Panel 2.2. Tuesday 6 September, 1.30 pm – 3.00 pm, room 223a
Chair: Tess Somervell (University of Oxford)
Nick Pepper (Northumbria University). The countryside fortress: The conflicted experience of Northumberland’s foot-and-mouth crisis.
Emma Yeo (Durham University). “the most outraigeous Daie for winde & snowe that ever did blow”: Exploring man’s relationship to weather and the natural environment in early modern diaries.
Alexander Hibberts (Durham University). Countryside as Refuge: Marine Transgression and Landscape Transition at Hastings Augustinian Priory, c.1350-1417.
This panel will explore themes of rural isolation and change at moments of environmental crises through three case-studies. From the 2001 foot-and-mouth crisis in Northumberland, we will take you back in time to an Augustinian Priory threatened by sea floods in the late medieval period via famine, plague and adverse weather in early modern times. Notions of the countryside as a fortress, defensive and isolating, and nature as an active protagonist will be amongst the common threads that we will tease out as our apparently discrete tales reveal their commonalities. Temporalities will be blurred as the themes of humanity, nature and landscape are drawn out through the overarching concerns of isolation and change. We will explore ideas of agency and authority in the face of natural disaster and crisis. In making these stories urgent and anchored to their eras, we will convey the emotional impact and immediacy of environmental crisis for individuals and communities caught up in them. We look forward to a varied panel discussion with rich input from the floor, particularly as we face a contemporary environmental crisis. We will approach these case studies as historians; the potential for responses from an ASLE audience to enrich and diversify this perspective will make for a fulfilling and absorbing panel.
The countryside fortress: The conflicted experience of Northumberland’s foot-and-mouth crisis
‘Countryside set to become a fortress’ (Hexham Courant, March 3, 2001)
‘Some farmers could be forgiven for regarding this epidemic almost as a blessing in disguise, for even before its dread tentacles spread into the district, farming was in the direst of straits’, (Hexham Courant, Friday March 30, 2001).
As the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak intruded into Tynedale and started lapping at the boundaries of Northumberland National Park, local newspaper the Hexham Courant – bellwether to the mood in this part of the county – started to evoke the idea of the countryside as a fortress: isolated, resigned and scared. However, within a month of the outbreak starting the Courant dared to suggest that financial compensation to farmers was not only a salve, but a welcome ticket out of an industry in crisis. The national park authority found itself in the awkward position of simultaneously encouraging people to, and discouraging them from, visiting the park. The limits of its authority became apparent as the county council took over the emergency closure of footpaths. Interviews with national park staff revealed the tensions that lay beneath the limits set around accessing the countryside – farms and communities were isolated, ancillary businesses serving rural communities foundered, but some farmers embraced the closure of footpaths across their land with alacrity. This section of the presentation explores these contradictions and tensions precipitated by an early 21st century crisis in the countryside.
“the most outraigeous Daie for winde & snowe that ever did blow”: Exploring man’s relationship to weather and the natural environment in early modern diaries
Diaries provide a unique insight into the relationship between literate members of early modern society and the natural landscape. The early seventeenth century diary of Thomas Chaytor, a member of the Durham gentry, is a key example. Writing in the 1610s with a perspective shaped by the trauma of late sixteenth century famine and plague outbreaks, Chaytor records the impact of adverse weather conditions upon his everyday life in great detail.
In Chaytor’s diary weather appears as a protagonist in its own right. It is a force beaten back only by the “special providence of God”. When unchecked by divine intervention excess rain or snow can isolate him from neighbours and friends, set his boat adrift and damage his harvest. Drought is also problematic during these years, with his recording of his anxieties regarding the harvest providing further insight into his relationship with his land.
An in-depth analysis of Chaytor’s references to the landscape, with reference to a history of emotions approach, demonstrates the importance of providential thinking to understanding the exceptionally problematic weather conditions he was faced with at the end of his life. It also shows Chaytor to be a man beset by justifiable anxiety when facing down the risk of his countrymen starving.
In the second half of this paper, I compare Chaytor’s perspective to that of his near-contemporaries from across England. I reflect upon how typical Chaytor’s perspectives upon nature were and how useful diaries are for uncovering the truth of the relationships between early modern man and land.
Countryside as Refuge: Marine Transgression and Landscape Transition at Hastings Augustinian Priory, c.1350-1417
In 1406, John Pelham sought royal approval to move Hastings Priory, located in Priory Valley, to a new site twenty kilometres away. Pelham claimed this beleaguered institution of Augustinian canons was so beset by ‘tempests and sea flood’ that it was impossible to ‘celebrate divine service’. Echoing Pelham, Moss (1824), Baines (1963), and Antram (2019) also attribute the priory’s relocation, complete by 1417, to the destructive impacts of marine transgression.
The reasons for Hastings Priory’s migration are more complex. Taking an ecocritical approach, this paper offers a new causal analysis which acknowledges non-anthropogenic agents, such as the ocean, as actors in historical narratives. Conventional primary sources, such as charters, custumals, and buildings have been re-read to explore the priory’s relationship with the surrounding geology, landscape, and natural world. Archaeological excavation and priory rent rolls, for example, illustrate a pre-meditated reaction to rising sea-levels on a destructive coastline. This involved transitioning Priory Valley from an urban nexus into a sparsely populated rural grange, more profitable in the long-term through greater resilience to regular flooding. Recontextualising charters in the landscape also reveals a strategic partnership between Hastings Priory and Pelham; the canons migrating closer to valuable assets whilst Pelham’s patronage enhanced his status as local powerbroker.
Ultimately, I suggest Hastings Priory sought the countryside as a place of refuge and improved connectivity to their estates and inland trade, challenging notions of rural isolation. The canons utilised the rhetoric of environmental crisis to justify relocation, emphasising the agency of medieval institutions in face of devastating climate change.
Daily Time and Deep Time: form, language and writing the earth
Panel 6.2. Thursday 8 September, 11.15 am – 12.45 pm, room 221
Chair: Andrew Webb (Bangor University)
Elizabeth Edwards (University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies). Home Circuits: queer temporalities and Welsh landscapes.
Diana Wallace (University of South Wales). ‘Eternal time’: place, space and time in Margiad Evans’s Autobiography (1943).
Matthew Jarvis (Aberystwyth University). Singing in Deep Time: The Work of John Barnie.
This panel addresses the representation of daily time and deep time in life-writing, journals and poetic prose by five writers in and from Wales and the Welsh Borders. Spanning the periods from Romanticism to the contemporary, these are all texts which experiment, although in very different ways, with their use of form and human language in order to convey the complex relationships between temporality, place and the natural world.
Home Circuits: queer temporalities and Welsh landscapes
Dr Liz Edwards
16 November 1785: ‘after breakfast Went the Home Circuit. My Beloved return’d to the Library to draw her Map. I remained in the Shrubbery – Transplanting’
23 October 1788: ‘My Beloved and I went the Home Circuit – very dark – inclined to mizzle. Carpenter at work – Mountain Peach nailed … The fig tree nailed’
13 June 1789: ‘We went the Home Circuit with [Mr Sneyde] … We were delighted at having an opportunity of Consulting the first Botanist in England about our Trees and plants’
When Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby landed in Milford Haven from Waterford in 1778 they were in search of a new life together. After travelling up through Wales, they settled on Pen-y-Maes cottage, which they later renamed Plas Newydd, in Llangollen – never to return to Ireland. Over the following five decades, reading, walking, writing and not least gardening shaped their time and located them in north-east Wales. Year after year, Butler and Ponsonby cultivated their garden (trees, flowers, kitchen produce), recording its progress in almost daily detail as they walked the perimeter of their land, or made their ‘Home Circuit’. The contemporary nature writer Mike Parker has noted how the never-forgotten lives and story of the ‘Ladies of Llangollen’ appears to acquire greater visibility at times of national crisis. In 2019, Parker’s own ‘On the Red Hill’ gave a compelling account of four men’s lives (two couples) at Rhiw Goch, a cottage in mid-Wales, through the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This book is unusually (for auto/biography) modelled on the seasons – one for each of the four characters in it – in a structure that replaces linearity with a more experimental and experiential sense of narrative time. Working between Butler, Ponsonby and Parker, this paper therefore uses life writing to explore the theme of queer temporalities in Welsh nature and place writing.
‘Eternal time’: place, space and time in Margiad Evans’s Autobiography (1943)
Professor Diana Wallace
Margiad Evans’s ‘Autobiography’ is not an autobiography in the sense that we usually understand that term. Rather, it is a record of what Evans calls her ‘gravest (that is happiest) inner existence’, a spiritual autobiography which is deeply rooted in her responses to the natural environment around her home in the Welsh Border country near Ross-on Wye. It is also an experimental attempt to record the immediate moment, the ‘now of it’, through what she calls ‘earth writing’ recorded first in her daily journals. This paper will trace Evans’s exploration of time in relation to the natural world, culminating in her description of ‘the place where I feel I have reached my uttermost growth’. This space under an oak tree is where she attains a sense of existing in ‘eternal time which is immortality in life’. Living in close contact with nature during the war years, Evans felt that she had regained her childhood sense of deep connection, both physical and spiritual, to the earth. Shortly to be reprinted by Honno, Autobiography is a text which, to borrow Richard Mabey’s words, strives to find words ‘to bridge that divide between the otherness of nature’ and the human. As such, it speaks to us now, vividly and urgently, of our own connectedness to the natural world.
Singing in Deep Time: The Work of John Barnie
Professor Matthew Jarvis
In his 1997 autobiographical essay ‘Just Words, That’s All’, Welsh poet, critic, and essayist John Barnie (born in 1941 in Abergavenny) emphasises what he sees as the absolute transience of humanity when set in the context of geological timescales, declaring that ‘Nothing we build, nothing we say or think, will survive deep time’. Making the point in even starker terms, Barnie argues that ‘extinction is the fate of all species and it will be that of our own’. What humanity should do in the face of this perception is perhaps the key question for Barnie’s work as a whole. This paper will consider how Barnie’s long multi-genre oeuvre responds to a vision of humanity as subject to inevitable temporal-material obliteration. It will pay particular attention to Barnie’s 1998 speculative prose volume ‘The Wine Bird’, which places human action alongside a mythic duo (Death and King Alcohol) who allow the author to skip across twenty-six million years to address what – if anything – is left of a humanity that might have once been here. But it will crucially set this perspective against Barnie’s equally uncompromising celebration of human language – of the urge to ‘sing’ as he puts it in ‘Just Words, That’s All’, or (to cite his poem ‘Heroes’) to ‘heyooooh, in the great mass of the air’.
Improving Nature in Early Modern England
Panel 6.4. Thursday 8 September, 11.15 am – 12.45 pm, room 214
Chair: Todd Borlik (University of Huddersfield)
Chloe Fairbanks (Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford). ‘Marry, sir, she’s the kitchen’: women’s work and transcultural encounters in Shakespeare’s Windsor.
Bonnie L. Johnson (Newnham College, University of Cambridge). Trees, Ballads, and Iconoclasm in Richard II.
Tess Somervell (Worcester College, University of Oxford). The Wand’ring Glebe: Georgic Histories of the Soil.
The conviction that humans could and should improve nature was widespread in Shakespeare’s England. This panel examines some literary engagements with the discourse of agrarian improvement, revealing how the management of the soil, food, and other natural resources shaped regional and national identity. Papers will address how the embodied experience of the land varied across lines of gender, class, race, or faith, and how the dream of improving nature was yoked to various biopolitical projects. In hindsight, agrarian improvement seems to promote cornucopianism—the notion that our species would find ways to continuously boost yields to accommodate an ever-swelling human population. Could it also trigger an awareness of limitations to growth and the moral imperative to become better stewards of the earth’s resources? In seeking to remake the earth in our image, are humans reciprocally refashioned in the process?
Narrating Rural Change: socio-ecological pasts, present and futures
Panel 3.2. Tuesday 6 September, 3.30 pm – 5.00 pm, room 213
Chair: Matthew Jarvis (Aberystwyth University)
Kirsti Bohata (Swansea University). Trees in Time: Afforestation and Solastalgia.
Chris Pak (Swansea University). Apocalypse and Utopia: Narrating Rural Change in Welsh Science Fiction.
Discourses of loss, crisis and erasure have been central to many Welsh stories, long before the term solastalgia was coined in Australia. This panel considers some of the cultural and socio-ecological narratives (past, present and future) which attempt to imagine and shape rural and national responses to ecological and climate crises, particularly as they relate to agricultural communities and landscapes. The 2021 ‘Survey of Agriculture and Horticulture’ notes that 90% of land is dedicated to agriculture in Wales. Agricultural communities are frequently home to a high concentration of Welsh-language speakers and the ‘family farm’ is a potent symbol of both precarity and endurance, thus rural change is bound up with questions of cultural, linguistic and even national survival. Since 2015, when the Well-being of Future Generations Act passed into law, Wales has enjoyed a rare statutory definition of sustainability that includes a fourth pillar of ‘cultural sustainability’. This, alongside the other provisions of the Act, demands an holistic ecological-cultural solution to changes in rural land use which involve the wellbeing of rural cultures and communities as we move towards addressing the transformations necessary to address the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. Understanding the cultural discourses which emerge from and inform debates around rural change is an essential component of managing such transformations.
This panel looks back to a period of changing weather patterns in the eighteenth century, the ‘Little Ice Age’, via Welsh-language almanacs, and forwards to apocalyptic and utopian imagined futures via science fiction. It also considers the cyclical or recurring narratives of erasure in Welsh experiences of afforestation, looking back from a present moment of crisis to an earlier ‘battle for the hills’ (Bohata 2004).
The proposal emerges from a multidisciplinary academic, community and arts network entitled: ‘Narrating Rural Change: Socio-ecological pasts and futures of farming and land use’, funded to date by Learned Society of Wales and NERC.
Trees in Time: Afforestation and Solastalgia
Kirsti Bohata (Swansea University)
Trees have been promoted and widely embraced as a key component in mitigating climate change, but in some contexts trees are perceived to threaten rather than protect human communities. Carbon-offsetting adds to the complexity of afforestation policies, particularly in areas where comparatively low land prices give rise to a form of ‘carbon colonialism’ (Bachram 2004). In Wales, resistance to the ‘green land grab’ (Manji 2022) has been framed partly in terms of a prior wave of afforestation orchestrated by the Forestry Commission, which created large conifer plantations in upland areas, replacing hill-farming communities. This paper looks at the cultural reception and resistance to the afforestation programmes of the mid-twentieth century via the literature of the period, and considers the recurring tropes which inform contemporary discourse around afforestation (from offsetting to rewilding) in Wales. It suggests that long before the term solastalgia was coined, Welsh writers were charting a sense of grief, anxiety and shock to identity as their relationship with place was challenged by environmental transformation. It asks how far these cyclical, generational and recurring narratives inform or haunt contemporary discourses around land use and rural change in Wales and beyond.
Apocalypse and Utopia: Narrating Rural Change in Welsh Science Fiction
Chris Pak (Swansea University)
The ‘Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015’ is the first of its kind to connect the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to specific country-level legislation. According to the 2021 ‘Survey of Agriculture and Horticulture: Results for Wales,’ 90% of Welsh land is dedicated to farming. Welsh farming has long been politicised, with idealised visions of agriculture and narratives of a return to the land as historically important discursive elements of Welsh Nationalism. The recognition of the need for change as a response to the effects of climate change and the national conversation about land use and farming in Wales discloses a contested space where visions of the future are hotly debated. This presentation considers works of Welsh science fiction that have attempted to narrate aspects of rural change from the vantage of futurity. Analysing Islwyn Ffowc Elis’ A Week in Future Wales: A Journey to the Year 2033 (2021; original Welsh version 1957), Lloyd Jones’ Water (2014; original Welsh version 2009), and Cynan Jones Stillicide (2019), this presentation asks how rural change is conceived in the Welsh context and how these works relate to other narratives of climate change beyond the Welsh context.
The Ecologies of Nation-Building: Production of Natures and Histories Across the Atlantic
Panel 1.6. Tuesday 6 September, 11.00 am – 12.45 pm, room 222
Chair: Jenny Bavidge (University of Cambridge)
Carlos Abreu Mendoza (Texas State University). The C(o)urse of Rivers: Hydraulic Modernity in Domingo Faustino Sarmiento and José María Samper.
Aarti Madan (Worcester Polytechnic Institute). Estanislao Severos Zeballos, or Nineteenth-Century Argentina’s Environmental Unconscious.
Enrica Renata Leydi (Bologna University). Leopardi’s Volcanic Landscape: The Broom, or the Flower of the Desert (1836).
Axel Pérez Trujillo (Durham University). Into the Vastness of the Plains: Continentalism and Colonialism in Ezequiel Martínez Estrada.
The entanglement between the nation and environmental imaginaries generates temporal geographies that extend from mythical origins to uncertain futures. In this panel, we aim to explore in depth how several men of letters portrayed the land as intimately connected with the history of their emerging nations. Their ecologies of nation-building reveal the political, epistemological and aesthetic commitments required to sustain the narratives of a nation’s origins and its potential futures. More importantly, they manifest the temporality of environmental imaginaries, their construction through and within time. Considering Reyes Mate’s assertion in El tiempo, tribunal de la historia (2018) that encourages readers to ‘reflect on time’ in its specificity, so as to grasp the ‘vital rhythm’ of a given epoch (24), the panel looks to embed history in the representations of land and territory in Argentina and Italy during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The first paper proposes to re-examine the nineteenth-century’s hydraulic modernity through the discursive contagion of the national and the corporeal in the works of Domingo Faustino Sarmiento and José María Samper. Exploring Argirópolis (1850), Viajes de un colombiano en Europa (1862), and other political writings by Sarmiento and Samper, it locates their place within the hydraulic despotism (Schama 1995; Pettinaroli and Mutis 2013; O’Bryen 2016) that characterizes the transnational modernization efforts unfolding across the continent. The second paper draws on Lawrence Buell’s notion of the environmental unconscious to unpack nineteenth-century Argentina’s paradoxical approach to production and preservation of nature. Using the writings of Estanislao Severos Zeballos (1854-1923) as a case study, it shed lights on the ways in Argentina’s environmental unconscious emerges circuitously and politically through aesthetic practices. The third paper seeks to offer an analysis of landscape in Italian writer Giacomo Leopardi, anchoring its exploration in the poem La Ginestra (1836). The category of landscape will be help leverage the historicity of the concept of nature and its role in forming the environmental imaginaries of the twentieth century. The paper will offer a fascinating point of discussion to establish connection across the Atlantic, especially given the presence of Leopardi in Argentine writers. The fourth and final paper argues for the presence of dominant continentalist imaginaries—intimately linked to colonial modes of portraying the land—in the representations of the plains throughout Latin America, taking as its point of departure Ezequiel Martínez Estrada’s Radiografía de la Pampa (1933) alongside his travel diaries. The Argentine Pampas have long been a contested site of political and ecological interests, one that is reflected in the countless volumes dedicated to portray its vast lands (Alonso 1990; Madan 2017; Thacker 1989). Martínez Estrada’s writings establish a meta-reflection on the role of the Pampas in the Argentine nation, an exploration of how the process of colonisation and later nation-building has as its core the experience of the plains as a vacant place to be populated (Feustle 1972; Pollman 1991).
As an interdisciplinary and transnational collaboration, the panel aims to foster and share ideas as to how different cultures have engaged with the dialectic between nature and historicity latent in nation-building projects across the Atlantic.
The Spectacle of Extinction
Panel 3.4. Tuesday 6 September, 3.30 pm – 5.00 pm, room TBA
Chair: Dominic O’Key (University of Sheffield)
Deborah Schrijvers (University College Dublin). Moonwalking in the Berlin Zoo: Resisting Giant Panda Reproductive Regimes.
Kári Driscoll (Utrecht University). Extinction as Spectacle.
Hannah Boast (University College Dublin). Endangered Animals in Palestinian Film.
Conversations about extinction are always also conversations about time. The accelerating disappearance of the world’s species as part of the Sixth Mass Extinction, itself one of the most widely-reported impacts of the Anthropocene era, serves as a constant reminder that time is running out for the environmental movement. In response to this threat, zoos frame themselves as ‘buying time’ for animals (Conway 2011) through conservation and breeding programmes. This shift is also an outcome of changing social norms in the late twentieth century that saw zoo practices of animal display appear increasingly out-of-time. In this context, zoo animals, particularly charismatic megafauna, have become incorporated into ‘spectacles of extinction’ (Brandon 2021) that circulate readily on social media, and bear complex and fraught relationships to conservation projects on the ground. This panel considers representations of extinction and the zoo across a variety of media, including literature, film, and an art installation, from Italy, the Netherlands, Palestine and Germany. In doing so, it illuminates the role of the zoo as an ‘institution for managing time’ (Boast and Seymour 2022; Szczygielska 2017), and the capacity for spectacles of extinction to mediate other forms of economic and political power.
The first paper, by Deborah Schrijvers, considers the giant panda, which has become an icon for conservation and of the fight against extinction. To alleviate the enormity of the looming Sixth Mass Extinction (Chrulew et al 2017), conservation programmes are set in place, both in situ (wild) and ex situ (captivity, such as zoos). One of the key strategies of ex situ conservation is breeding programmes. Zoos frame this practice as part of their commitment to conservation and collective action against mass extinction. Giant panda loans – as part of ‘panda diplomacy’ – are one of the most lucrative breeding programmes executed by zoos. These loans are granted for the purpose of research collaboration between China and the host zoo. The research objective is to let the giant pandas reproduce on foreign soil, to enlarge the giant panda population and fight its vulnerable status and extinction (Songster 2020). This paper aims to critically read giant panda loans to zoos through reproductive futurism (Edelman 2004, Parreñas 2018) by investigating the heteronormative and biopolitical Western zoo regimes of reproduction as applied to the (female) giant panda and her commodification. Through an analysis of the video installation Panda Moonwalk or Why Meng Meng Walks Backwards (2018) by German artist Kerstin Honeit, which takes the ‘queer’ behaviour of walking backwards of loaned panda Meng Meng to the Berlin Zoo as its topic, this paper looks at giant panda resistance. The paper argues that giant panda resistance is reconfigured as shared human and nonhuman political resistance in terms of gender, sexuality and race, both in and through this artwork.
In the second paper, ‘Extinction as Spectacle’, Kári Driscoll discusses two recent satirical zoo novels, Lodewijk van Oord’s Albrecht en wij (2014) and Pascal Janovjak’s Le Zoo de Rome (2019), in which the last remaining member of a species (a white rhinoceros in Amsterdam and an ironically unspectacular anteater in Rome) becomes the focal point of a media frenzy exploited or even orchestrated by the zoos to resolve their financial woes. These grotesque spectacles of extinction lay bare the inherent contradictions of the zoos’ dual commitment to conservation and commerce, and provide an opportunity for satirical commentaries on broader issues relating to the contemporary human–animal relationship. Both novels explicitly frame their zoos as heterotopias, counter-sites that simultaneously represent, contest, and invert the societies that erected them. Like the zoos, which bring together in one space multiple, otherwise incompatible spaces (and species), the novels feature multiple narrators and temporal layers. As heterotopic and therefore heterochronic spaces, these zoos are haunted, often literally, by the ghosts of history and of a future diminished by mass extinction. Despite their centrality to the plot of both novels, the star ‘endlings’ remain inscrutable and largely invisible to the reader, hidden behind the layers of history, culture, and spectacle, which are only partly deliberate. Taking this ambiguous interplay of visibility and invisibility as a starting point, the paper explores the aesthetics and politics of representing endangered species.
The final paper, by Hannah Boast, considers the relationship between animal conservation programmes and Palestinian national futures, via Palestinian director Rani Massalha’s film Giraffada (2013). Giraffada has been widely available to metropolitan viewers since 2021 as part of Netflix’s ‘Palestinian Stories’ collection, making it a high-profile representation of Palestinian life, and an incongruous one, centred not on high politics, but on a misfit boy’s relationship with the giraffes of Qalqilya Zoo, in the West Bank (see Braverman 2013). The film, loosely based on a true story, depicts the efforts of the boy’s father, the zoo vet, to restore its giraffe family, after the male giraffe is killed in an Israeli assault during the Second Intifada. This event threatens to leave a giraffe calf without a father. Giraffada functions as (somewhat heavy-handed) allegory, evoking the devastation inflicted on Palestinian families through Israeli occupation, and, in a final scene of the giraffe striding across the Separation Wall, the Palestinian spirit. At the same time, by portraying a Palestinian concern for endangered species and participation in (albeit unofficial) zoo exchange programmes, the film counters Israeli stereotypes of Palestinians as lacking environmental care, and articulates a vision for a Palestinian national future.
Two Short Films: ‘Newland’ and ‘Fawley’ (Preformed Panel)
Panel 4.3. Wednesday 7 September, 9.00 am – 10.45 am, room 002
Chair: Kelly Matthew (Northumbria University)
“Newland: New Vision for a Wilder Future”
Discussion of the films led by Pippa Marland (Bristol) and Matt Kelly (Northumbria)
In this panel, Matt Kelly (Northumbria) and Pippa Marland (Bristol) will introduce two recent short films, show the films, and lead a discussion.
The first is “Newland: New Vision for a Wilder Future”, directed by Suzie Cross and made by Suzie Cross and Dave Lynch for the AHRC-funded “Tipping Points” project at the Universities of Leeds and Bristol. The film centres on Yorkshire-based father and son farming team Andrew and Ted Hughes and is underpinned by the perception that although farmers play a significant part in shaping and maintaining the countryside their voices often go unheard. Suzie and Dave’s aim was to help dismantle negative preconceptions and stereotypes of farmers while encouraging greater respect for the land from the public. They also wanted to inspire more farmers to consider the legacy that they leave on the land and to work towards the regeneration of the countryside. The film won the Best Climate Emergency Film category in the AHRC 2021 Research in Film Awards.
The second is “Fawley”, directed by Chu-Li Shewring and Adam Gutch, which Matt Kelly will introduce in the context of his project looking at the decommissioning of twentieth-century energy infrastructure in Britain. The project includes this beautiful film about the decomissioning of Fawley power station in Hampshire that culminates in the demolition of its iconic chimney.
Water Works: Responding to Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Centuries Water Systems
Panel 3.6. Tuesday 6 September, 3.30 pm – 5.00 pm, room 223a
Chair: Jemima Matthews (King’s College London)
Rosamund Paice (Northumbria University). Milton versus the Medici: Controlling Water in the Gardens of Eden and the Pratolino.
Claudine van Hensbergen (Northumbria University). Gabriel Caius Cibber’s ‘Curious Works’: Charles II’s Fountain in Soho Square (1681).
Jodie Matthews (University of Huddersfield). Lucid Undulation’: Erasmus Darwin, Josiah Wedgwood and the Industrial Canal.
At a time of environmental crisis, studying histories of the manipulation of natural resources has never been more important. While our ancestors used different terms to talk of such matters, they engaged with (or stridently disengaged from) the same questions.
Water’s centrality to life has long made it a rich source for metaphor and symbolism. Engineered and managed water, however, has not garnered as much attention as other varieties of water. The ‘blue humanities’ has tended to prioritise certain ‘natural’ waters and their human and non-human inhabitants, especially saltwater environments (Brayton, Shakespeare’s Ocean, 2012; Mentz, Shipwreck Modernity, 2015). Yet recent studies (Mukherji, Impossible Engineering, 2009; Ash, The Draining of the Fens, 2017) have shown the potential for the study of managed or mechanical water systems (drainage and irrigation, sewer pipes and sophisticated hydraulics, wells and fountains).
This panel focuses on two contrasting types of managed water, fountains and canals, and explores the ways in which seventeenth- and eighteenth- century artists and writers conceptualised the power of water in relation to powers human, divine or of nature. Our papers investigate how specific water projects relate to their temporal moment as well as to broader conceptions of time, from the biblical to the geological. They also raise questions about the place of managed water systems in contemporary culture.
Watery Bodies, Wetlands, and Maritime Ecologies in Early Modernity
Panel 2.6. Tuesday 6 September, 1.30 pm – 3.00 pm, room 214
Chair: Rosamund Paice (Northumbria University)
Tamsin Badcoe (University of Bristol). ‘A pitcht peece of reason calkt and tackled’: The Uncertainty of Early Modern Maritime Ecologies.
Jemima Matthews (King’s College London). The sea made this’: Entangled maritime resources of the 1630s.
Todd Borlik (University of Huddersfield). The Curse of the Wetlands: Malaria and Magic in The Witch of Edmonton.
Watery Bodies, Wetlands, and Maritime Ecologies in Early Modernity
The human body may be 60% water but dwelling on or near water is obviously fraught with peril. Drawing on the blue humanities and material ecofeminism, this panel charts some elemental entanglements with water as well as efforts to maintain a discrete distance from water through hydroengineering and nautical technology. The papers will examine the ways in which humans are both constituted and compromised by their watery environs.
Sailors were imagined as physically enmeshed with their vessels and the sea, contaminated by tar and salt (rather than the luxurious cargo they imported). Likewise, poor cottagers who dwelt alongside sodden fens and marshes were thought to be infected with diseases and humours that rendered them truculent and superstitious. Ecocriticism tends to privilege intimacy with the non-human environment but this panel illustrates that prior to the industrial era an intimacy with bodies of water was often perceived as terrifying or degrading rather than cleansing, edifying, or exhilarating.
Panel 5.6. Thursday 8 September, 9.00 am – 10.45 am, room 222
Chair: Rosie Paice (Northumbria University)
Catherine Evans (University of Manchester)
Hannah Armstrong (University of York)
Rebeccca Drake (University of York)
This roundtable will turn to the muddy, oozy spaces of estuary, fen, sea floor, and tideline. Work on the Blue Humanities has often prioritised wide oceans, but more recently Lowell Duckert (2017) and John Brannigan (2014) have focused attention on the places where land and sea combine. These environments are at times unappealing and inhospitable to human life, shifting and protean, characterised by their mixed nature. This roundtable discussion will see four new and emerging literary scholars, working from the medieval to modern, examine these spaces of decomposition and consider the materials that they have provided for literary (re)making, including in our own creative practices. We ask:
How do tidal landscapes engage writers with, and across, time?
What can Premodern Studies learn from contemporary ecocriticism, particularly the Blue Humanities, and vice versa?
How do spaces of decomposition complicate the division between the human and the natural?
How are our critical impulses shaped by our creative desires, and how might we undertake creative research alongside critical research?
Catherine Evans explores the spots where the ‘tide doth wash on the slimy beach’ in John Donne’s works (1572-1631). In Donne’s sermons, the mud of the sea stores aeons of epochal change, as he repeatedly asks “in what corner, in what ventricle of the sea, lies all the jelly of a Body drowned in the general flood?”
Hannah Armstrong presents work on another clergyman writer, Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924), best known for collecting ballads and folklore, but also one of the most prolific (but unpublished) Old Norse saga translators of the 19/20th century. Baring-Gould focused on his own retellings of the sagas, remarking that he was disinterested in “servile translations”. These creative recompositions emphasised and embellished the sagas’ ecological details to better suit 19th century romantic ideas of “authentic” medieval archipelagic landscapes.
Francesca Brooks’ current project looks at the writing of two late modernist Anglo-Welsh writers, Lynette Roberts (1909-1995) and Brenda Chamberlain (1912-1971), and their recomposition of medieval literature in landscapes at the water’s edge. In the tidal Welsh spaces of Chamberlain’s Tide-race (1962) and Roberts’s Gods with Stainless Ears (1951), these writers find early medieval voices resurfacing from the Old English elegies to Y Gododdin. Brooks will also draw on her own practice as a creative writer for whom the sea edge has loomed large, particularly during the pandemic lockdowns when remembered or imagined coastlines were a site of longing.
Rebecca Drake’s doctoral research peers between the texts of Middle English and Old Norse-Icelandic romance to understand late-medieval authors and audiences’ lived relationship with the maritime environments of the North Atlantic. As poet-in-residence at the Maritime Museum in Hull, an important medieval port connecting England and Iceland in the fifteenth century and an imaginative backdrop for the Middle English romance Havelok, Drake applied her knowledge as a medievalist to write a series of poems retelling the museum’s objects, re-situating them in the surrounding memory-laden ooze of the Humber.
‘Our future is still the future of 1973’: Militant Ecologies and the Work/Energy Crisis (Roundtable)
Panel 4.1. Wednesday 7 September, 9.00 am – 10.45 am, room TBA
Chair: Daniel Eltringham (University of Sheffield)
Fred Carter (University of Amsterdam)
Tom Crompton (University of Warwick)
Natalie Joelle (Birkbeck College, University of London)
Emila Weber (University College London)
Faced with the acute conjuncture of energy shortages, economic downturn, and decolonial liberation struggles, Fredric Jameson recognised an emergent structure of feeling ‘crystallized in the great shock of the crises of 1973’ (1984). Bringing together five contributors from the forthcoming special issue of Green Letters, “Militant Ecologies” (ed. Carter and Eltringham, 2023), this roundtable asks what it means to frame contemporary crises of capital, climate, and energy against the residual cultures and infrastructures of a decade that continues to shape petrocapitalist domination. “Our future is still the future of 1973,” as Jeff Diamanti puts it in his recent Climate & Capital (2021). Grounding literary production against the terrains of struggle and the terminal landscapes of the 1970s, we take up the Midnight Notes Collective’s framing of the ‘work/energy crisis’ (1980) to examine the multiple temporalities of labour militancy, extractive logistics and fossil futures across globally distributed flashpoints of resistance and counterrevolution.
Where Jameson and Diamanti articulate 1973 as a moment in which energetic, ecological, and financial flows are increasingly abstracted from the material world, an ecocritical reading of this work-energy nexus frames materialism and abstraction within a dialectical continuum as sites of contestation between labour, capital, and the deeper temporalities stored and released by fossil fuels. As a critical manoeuvre, thinking with militant ecologies also entails the relocation of 1970s ecopoetics away from neoromantic wilderness and towards the prison, the logistical blockade, the guerrilla encampment, the agroecological co-op, and the clandestine transmission of radical literature across linguistic and physical borders.
In his response, Fred Carter tracks the resource aesthetics of Marxist-feminist poetics between the oil shocks of 1973–79 and the anti-nuclear occupations of 1981, reading the ‘work/energy crisis’ through temporalities of radiation and refusal in Liliane Lijn’s kinetic work ‘Get Rid of Government Time.’ Tom Crompton explores how experimental British poets employed collage aesthetics as registration and response to deindustrialisation as a socioecological work/energy crisis, while Daniel Eltringham discusses how the translation of Indigenous Mexican poetry and temporal concepts by Anglophone poets in the early 1970s levelled a materialist challenge to settler and capitalist temporalities through the Mesoamerican calendrical system and cosmovision, grounded in solar energies and cycles. In her contribution, Natalie Joelle argues that lean managerial language was formalised in response to the so-called energy crises of the 1970s through the creative-critical methodology of “gleanologics”: a militant vegan practice that unpacks the patterns of violence and ecocide encoded in the lean management of everyday life. Lastly, Emilia Weber considers the alliance between Liverpool dockworkers and the environmentalist group Reclaim the Streets by tracing their collaborations across the 1980s as performances of militancy, from the dockers’ refusal to handle toxic waste and nuclear cargo to Reclaim the Street’s creative direct action protests. Responding to Mario Tronti’s insistence that ‘knowledge is tied to struggle’ (1966), such a poetics of militant ecology works to refigure sedimented relationships between praxis, autonomy, and knowledge by returning to 1973, a critical moment of resistance and refusal in the history of petrocapitalism.
Politics and Ecocriticism (Roundtable)
Panel 1.5. Tuesday 6 September, 11.00 am – 12.45 pm, room 222
Chair: John Parham (University of Worcester)
Sam Solnick (University of Liverpool)
Caitlin Vandertop (University of Warwick)
Aidan Tynan (Cardiff University)
Pippa Marland (University of Bristol)
This roundtable presents an opportunity to discuss one of the oldest questions in ecocriticism. In Romantic Ecology (1991), Jonathan Bate asked, can ecocriticism only ‘concern itself with consciousness’ or might it politicise literary criticism in a new way? Notwithstanding a 2014 special issue of Forum for World Literature Studies on ‘activist ecocriticism’ the question remains unanswered. It has, however, assumed renewed importance in the light of escalating ecological crisis and burgeoning protest movements (e.g. school climate strikes, Extinction Rebellion (XR)). One aspect we’ll explore is how far literature can put historical periods into dialogue towards understanding current ecological predicaments and imagining sustainable futures. Our five speakers are all contributors to an upcoming (2023) volume of Essays and Studies, the annual publication of the UK’s English Association, entitled ‘The Literature and Politics of the Environment’. The roundtable will present for discussion two themes emerging from that volume.
Theme 1: can literary form help untangle the relationship between Britain’s imperial past and today’s ecological realities? Reflecting on the legacy of the sugar trade on post-industrial Merseyside, and the development of hydrocarbon capitalism, Sam Solnick will ask whether literary aesthetics (e.g. eco-gothic or ‘irrealist’ fiction) can help expose how dominant political forces became environment-making systems? Correspondingly, Caitlin Vandertop will introduce the idea that matter can assume narrative agency. Reflecting on historical fiction from Hong Kong, she considers how recurring images of water’s agency help us see the British Empire as a vast metabolic and circulatory system which reorganised flows of finance, resources and waste on a global scale, linking past waves of hydro-colonial violence to current struggles over postcolonial and environmental futures.
Theme 2: might contemporary writing and academic public engagement help us reimagine those environmental futures? Taking up Greg Garrard’s plenary on ‘Brexit ecocriticism’ at the last ASLE-UKI conference, Aidan Tynan will foreground how writers like Paul Kingsnorth communicate the enormity of ecological collapse. He’ll invite us to consider a key question: if ‘dark ecology’, nihilism, and eco-fascism are part of how literature imagines the future, how might ecocritics respond? Conversely, Pippa Marland will ask us to reflect upon what might be gained by rediscovering voices lost in environmental discourse and writing. The past, present and future intersect in regenerative farming – a particularly earthy and practical form of activism. Could nature-friendly farming voices, brought forward via academic public engagement, help us envisage a better environmental future?
Timothy Clark argues that the complexities of climate change disclose the limits of literary representation, questioning whether writing or criticism really can ‘change the world’. Our introduction to this roundtable will conclude, however, with John Parham (the volume’s editor) positing the interrelationship of thought and practice in Marx and Engels’ The German Ideology as a model for an activist ecocriticism answerable to XR’s fifth principle: to establish a cycle of ‘action, reflection and learning, and planning for more action’. This will open-up the discussion to interventions from our ecocritical friends and colleagues.
Without End: An Interim Ecology of Forms (Roundtable)
Panel 5.4. Thursday 8 September, 9.00 am – 10.45 am, room 213
Chair: Henry Ivry (University of Glasgow)
Jos Smith (University of East Anglia)
Julia Jordan (University College London)
Maria Sledmere (University of Strathclyde)
Ben Smith (University of Exeter)
In Working Group II’s contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report published earlier this year, there is a telling political and temporal reorientation that occurs. Politically, there is an increased focus on an expansive account of “climate justice” which is meant to plot any account of climate change and action along axes of distribution, governance, and recognition. Far from imagining the planet or humanity as an en masse entity, the IPCC foregrounds the asymmetries and granularities of both human and nonhuman worlds. Temporally, the future planning scenarios of the document (a staple since the First Assessment Report) now include accounting for risk “introduced by human responses to climate change.” This element of recursive risk allows for a temporal multipolarity to enter the IPCC’s planning documents and signal the possibilities of different worlds. These different worlds are not linear or exclusive, but rather simultaneous and symbiotic. While the outcomes are all still fairly bleak, the Sixth Assessment Report offers an account of our current climate crisis that is both differential and responsive to the situated needs and local ecologies of human and nonhuman worlds, while also moving forwards and backwards in time to think beyond our current impact of impending
apocalypse. We start with this lengthy diatribe on the IPCC report as it signals how a gap has emerged between the literary and scientific imaginaries of climate crisis. As a policy document, the IPCC is able to capture potential pathways in response to problems of “adaptation, vulnerability, exposure, resilience, equity and justice, and transformation.” These slow moving targets, however, often elude literary and critical forms. While literature has been instrumental in mapping out disaster, crisis, and apocalypse, a focus on ending has created something of an impasse, an articulation of acute crisis that may be masking a fear of something more chronic. What would a novel of “adaptation” look like? What creative forms can represent “exposure”? What is the critical mode of “transformation”? How, in other words, can we as critics and writers move beyond finality to think about the ongoingness of climate
crisis? These questions backbone this roundtable as we seek to move beyond the choice of apocalypse or business-as-usual and explore new forms of ecology for futures both near and far. Our roundtable asks two interrelated questions: what sort of literary modes move beyond the end of the world and what critical forms can we use to read them? This roundtable is intended to be speculative and tentative, moving away from finality and surety and into an extended exploration of the messiness of the present.