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.
Blue Humanities in Transition
Panel 6.8, Friday 1 September, 11.00am – 12.30pm, Lecture Theatre 3
Hannah Boast (University of Edinburgh): Blue Humanities in Japan
Susanne Ferwerda (Utrecht University): Underwater and Outer Space: Blue Humanities in the Pacific
Ashley Cahillane (University College Dublin): Transnational thinking with hydrofictions: keeping us grounded
The Blue Humanities has moved from a marginal concern in Environmental Humanities to a central theme. Its increasing importance reflects a wider acknowledgement in the social sciences and policy worlds of the centrality of water to the future of life on Earth. The UN now states that ‘climate change is primarily a water crisis’, and recently held its first freshwater conference in 50 years. If debate on water is thriving, the Blue Humanities remains loosely defined. This panel takes this as an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the ‘Blue Humanities’ and what its key disciplinary, aesthetic and political concerns are and ought to be, including how Blue Humanities scholars might effectively intervene in public conversations about water. By bringing together scholars working on fresh and saltwater, across different geographies, the panel offers a snapshot of the field and invites a dialogue between panel and audience about the identity and future of the Blue Humanities.
Hannah Boast’s paper, ‘Blue Humanities in Japan’ uses the work of Japanese activist-writer Ishimure Michiko (1927-2018) as an entry point into reading Japanese environmental history through Blue Humanities methods. Boast shows how this context can enrich Blue Humanities thinking on hydromodernity, hydrocolonialism and hydropower at a time of transition away from megadams. Ishimure is often described as ‘the Japanese Rachel Carson’, a nickname that reflects her campaigning on Minamata Disease, a form of severe mercury poisoning that affected the city of Minamata’s fishing community in the mid-twentieth century. Ishimure published widely on Japan’s twentieth-century industrial development and its uneven impacts nationally. Her novel Lake of Heaven (1997, trans. by Bruce Allen) focuses on a fictional village destroyed for the construction of a dam. It addresses Japan’s status as one of the most dammed countries in the world and the impacts of this policy on Japan’s marginalised rural populations. Japan exported its enthusiasm for megadams to its colonies in East Asia, yet was also the site of Asia’s first dam removal project in 2014. This talk situates Lake of Heaven in relation to Ishimure’s work on Minamata, showing how both events reflected the supremacy of hydromodernist approaches to water in postwar Japan over alternative water ontologies represented by Minamata’s fishing community and the displaced villagers. These alternative ontologies resonate with contemporary Japanese efforts to decommission dams and daylight urban rivers.
The second talk, ‘Transnational thinking with hydrofictions: keeping us grounded’, by Ashley Cahillane, examines the manifold material and symbolic meanings of water in contemporary British and South African literature. Cahillane analyses the global imaginaries of two contemporary novels about water resources: Niall Bourke’s Line (2021) and Damon Galgut’s The Promise (2021). Line is (probably) set in England, whereas The Promise is set in South Africa. Cahillane argues that both novels respond to freshwater issues and imaginaries that cross local, national, and global scales. Both evoke Astrida Neimanis’s (2017) notion of ‘bodies of water’—water-mediated interconnections between multiple human bodies, places, nonhuman entities, and politico-economic forces. Yet freshwater in the texts also connects individuals to larger global forces of climate and capitalism. Freshwater allows these two texts to renegotiate borders: between human bodies, human communities, nonhuman entities, places, and nations. Combining world-literary and Blue Humanities approaches, Cahillane argues that freshwater inspires us to think transnationally. Freshwater is mobile: it can cross bodies, borders, and territories in its various forms. Yet Cahillane also argues that freshwater loses much of its use value for humans (and many other species) when separated too severely from land. As Jamie Linton (2010) argues, neoliberal capitalism also imagines freshwater as ‘global’, with detrimental effects for people, water, and ecosystems. The capitalist world-system is represented in Line and The Promise, where freshwater is also a vehicle for closing down borders—around individuals, communities, places, and nations who are left precarious or dry as a result of open trade borders. Cahillane concludes that freshwater necessitates temperate transnational thinking, attuned to the ongoing significance of keeping it tied to land.
The final paper, ‘Underwater and Outer Space: Blue Humanities in the Pacific’ by Susanne Ferwerda, moves to another geographical region and hydrological zone: Australian and Pacific oceanic literatures. In the Pacific region, the lived reality of rising sea levels and changing coastlines has increased attention to living with oceans in transition. Analysing contemporary writing by Gina Cole and Ellen van Neerven, Ferwerda considers the speculative potential of blue literatures in changing oceanic environments. Via Pasifikafuturist (Cole 2022) oceanic and outer space exploration, as well as resistance to continued settler colonialism, Na Viro (2022) by Gina Cole and “Water” (2014) by Ellen van Neerven reimagine pasts, presents and futures of oceanic life. Their work employs literary tropes well known in Western scifi—from tentacular creatures that rise from the sea to space ships, robots and human enhancement—from Aboriginal and Indigenous Pacific ways of thinking and being. They reframe these tropes via the Pacific ocean to foreground elements of alien invasion, dispossession, progress and survival, which have long been part of the region’s history into the present. Van Neerven’s “Water” extrapolates Australian settler colonialism to offshore terraforming and Aboriginal resistance that rises from the water to entangle land and sea. And in a time of increased attention to ‘blue’ commercial space exploration—think Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin project—Na Viro extends the ocean into outer space via Pacific wayfinding. Ferwerda ultimately asks: how do oceanic representations and ‘bodies of water’ (Neimanis) in flux add to the growing Blue Humanities discourse that no longer universalizes the Western imagination, to urge us to think of worlds in which the oceanic extends even beyond imagined Earthly confines? What does Pasifikafuturism do for a Blue Humanities in transition?
These papers show the range of scholarship occurring under the heading of the Blue Humanities, looking to the diverse meanings of water as energy, scarce resource, space and symbolic connection, in the different geographies of Japan, the UK, South Africa, and the Pacific. In doing so, they invite conversation between panellists and audience about key themes and priorities of Blue Humanities and its future directions.
Ecologies of Reparation and Maintenance
Panel 5.6, Friday 1 September, 9.00am – 10.45am, Lecture Theatre 1
Henry Ivry (University of Glasgow)
Arthur Rose (University of Exeter)
Aaron Rosenberg (King’s College London)
Rebecca Macklin (University of Edinburgh)
As this year’s CFP makes clear, there is a dangerous understanding in many of the popular and political discourses that focus on “transition” – who, after all, is transitioning into what? In this rendering, transition is depoliticized in order to emphasize a neutral version of change, one that does not interrogate the preexisting conditions prior to transition.
Our roundtable seeks to repoliticize transition by supplementing it with two terms pertaining to the political management of transition, maintenance and reparation. Drawing on the dialectic relation between maintenance and reparation, we seek to unseat the depoliticized hegemony of transition and its accompanying vision of progress. We ask, what are the other ways of imagining a world on the brink of climatic collapse? How might terms like both maintenance and reparation, help us develop an alternate lexicon for otherwise worlds?
Through our discussion, we hope to develop ecologies of both reparation and maintenance, a way of thinking and reading with “fissures and flaws to build the conditions for other worlds and forms of life” (Nemser and Johnson). At the same time, we also understand the need to avoid some sort of Edenic return to a pre-Anthropocene past. We take these terms to be indicative of what Steven Jackson calls “broken world thinking.” Indeed, at the center of this exploratory ecology is a way of imagining practices that seeks to both work from and outside of entrenched epistemes. This is a repair, in other words, that AbdouMaliq Simone describes as “recognizing both that the brokenness cannot be fixed within the master’s domain or within his terms and how such brokenness is the very means of reestablishing a relationship with this world from an outside, from a relationship to it that is broken.”
This theoretical framework provides the backbone of our conversation as we ask questions including: What is the role of literature and/or literary studies in reparation and/or maintenance? What and where are the infrastructures of repair? What are the forms of reparation? How about the forms of maintenance? How does a politics of reparation or maintenance alternate our relations to ideas of transition?
Eco-Medievalisms I: Landscapes of Apocalypse, Flood, and Wilderness
Panel 1.6, Wednesday 30 August, 11.00am – 12.45pm, Teaching Room 6
Emma Nudding (The University of York): Reading Fenland with the Monastic Ecopoetics of Henry de Avranches’ Vita Guthlaci
Lynn Butzlaff (The University of York): Re-thinking Wilderness in the Poetic Edda
Abigail Bleach (Manchester University): Navigating the Eco–Medieval with Paul Kingsnorth’s ‘The Wake’
This panel steps beyond the bounds of central spaces in medieval worlds to explore their edgelands: wilderness, fenland, untethered space and post-medieval apocalyptic landscape. It finds precedent in studies such as the works of Richard Hoffman and Alfred Siewers, intersecting these environmental historical approaches with contemporary queer-eco theories, such as those of Jack Halberstam and Heide Estes. Thus, we read medieval and post-medieval ecopoetics in medieval religious narratives, in hagiography and mythology, and in spaces in and under flux, in the floating and fragile archive of Bill Griffith’s boat and the equally-fragile archetype of apocalypse in Paul Kingsnorth’s medieval-appropriated landscapes. We find new ways of understanding contemporary ecological crisis in environmental landscapes of the medieval and post-medieval, in the tensions between centre and edge that hold them together. In transitioning away from established central spaces of monastery, mythology, and traditional medievalism we ask the following questions:
How do we define edgelands in medieval texts in contrast with established centres of religious and economic power? Is it helpful to call these outer spaces ‘wilderness’ in terms of a medieval eco-poetics?
What constitutes a post-medieval eco-poetics: must this apply to medieval texts alone or might it also apply to post-medieval, neo-medieval, and otherwise medievally-influenced texts?
What can medieval ecopoetic texts teach us about contemporary ecological crisis; and conversely how does our relationship with a fast-changing ecological environment intersect with, frame, and undeniably influence our study of medieval environments?
What fresh understandings does stepping away from more traditional ways of studying medieval texts bring to the field? What frameworks exist for these journeys away from the centre and how should we thus proceed?
Emma Nuding reads Henry de Avranches’ thirteenth-century Vita Guthlaci, a life of the eighth-century hermit St Guthlac of Crowland, as shaped by the priorities of Crowland Abbey, the monastic community which later grew up around the site of Guthlac’s hermitage. Simultaneously, she argues that Avranches’ text is also shaped by the fenland landscape around that abbey, whose fertility and shifting sands resulted in endless disputes over which humans had the right to use its resources. She investigates how these two shaping factors of Avranches’ text connect by arguing that the Vita is attuned to the actualities and particularities of the fenland landscape primarily because of such monastic agendas. Thus, the ecopoetics of Avranches’ Vita is co-opted by a particular kind of anthropocentrism: it is a monastic ecopoetics shaped for institutional needs and desires. She argues that identifying these agendas for what they are can allow us to read beyond them to reconstruct an environmental history of the fens: in doing so, we learn much about the fenland’s fishes, turves and peat, and its miraculous deeps.
Lynn Butzlaff argues that a constructed ‘Wilderness’ was not only a central tenet of Old Norse pre-christian ontology but that the Poetic Edda (thirteenth century) does not offer a greener relationship with nature based upon reciprocity. In doing so she complicates Lynn White’s contrast between a ‘green’ paganism with an environmentally exploitative Christianity. Drawing on the theories of Jack Halberstam to suggest a colonial relationship based on the marginalisation of the natural world as ‘Wilderness’ in the Edda’s clear distinction between Midgarðr/Ásgarðr and Jötunheim, she seeks to re-shape our understanding of the Edda’s ‘Wilderness’ to include ‘another-world’ rather than simply ‘Otherworld’.
Abigail Bleach uses Paul Kingsnorth’s controversial novel The Wake (2014) to think through the kinds of ‘eco‘ thought that early medieval narratives facilitate. She argues that, rather than viewing Kingsnorth’s work as an example of ‘bad’ anachronistic medievalism, we can instead use it as a kind of roadmap—a tool to help us work our way through the epistemological and ideological questions that accompany ecological crisis
Eco-Medievalisms II: Avian Landscapes, Languages, and Travels
Panel 6.4, Friday 1 September, 11.00am – 12.30pm, Teaching Room 6
Becca Drake (The University of York): The Avian Journeys and Environments of ‘Örvar-Odds saga’
Jessie Summerhayes (The University of York): Occupying Bird-Space in Anglo-Saxon Literature
Shona Turner (The University of York): Cuthbert’s Interactions with Birds in the ‘Vitae’
This panel turns its gaze upwards and outwards to the bird-spaces of medieval art and literature, laying its exploration at the intersection of historical ornithology and medieval cultural avian archetypes. It is preceded by the so-called ‘animal turn’ in medieval Norse studies and Old English studies, in the work of Carl Phelpstead, Harriet Evans Tang, Tim Bourns, and James Paz. We embrace the conference’s theme of ‘Transitions’ in multiple ways: by shifting our focus in reading medieval saga literature away from it’s traditionally held human centre, thus transitioning towards possible aviancentric readings of medieval texts; by observing the transitions of avian forms in stone through geologic time; and by considering representative acts of translation in medieval poetry for how these express avian voice. We ask the following questions:
How are avian communities represented in medieval literature and art, and to what extent is it possible to view them from a deanthropocentrized perspective? What would be the stages in such a transitional perspective?
How are birds appropriated as tools for thinking in human narrative forms and meaning?
How can eco-poetics helps us to construct a view of past medieval environments in literature, and how can this view be narrowed specifically to avian habitats, cultures, and narratives?
Becca Drake proposes a new reading of the thirteenth-century Örvar-Odds saga which moves away from traditional anthropocentric readings of this text and seeks its often hidden avian worlds. She asks what avian environments lie between the lines of this typically laconic saga, as well as how this saga frames interactions between birds and humans in terms of migratory exploration and return.
Jessie Summerhayes considers the human imaginative occupations of the space of birds and the purposes and implications of that occupation in the Exeter Book. In this Old English context, such occupation often seems to facilitate mental travel – the texts presenting birds as imaginative vehicles through which the human mind is transported into otherwise inaccessible spaces, in the tradition of Classical ideas of mental flight and cosmological models found in the OE metrical translation of Boethius’s Consolatione De Philosophae. She argues that in medieval literature close observations of birds do not reflect an interest in the bird-corporeal but rather the bird-figurative and -imaginative; therefore, what kinds of blurred distinctions operate to facilitate this inter-species imagining?
Shona Turner explores the symbolism of birds in the medieval saints life Vita Sancti Cuthberti (seventh to eighth century), balancing this with an awareness of how this hagiographic text represents animal agency in the context of early medieval England. She asks how and why birds speak, what agency they have in Old English narrative, and whether they are beholden to divine authority for this agency. Moreover, she asks how birds fit into the medieval world order in relation to the human, and whether this is ubiquitous across bird species. Considering various species of corvids and geese, she therefore seeks to understand the role of animal agency and emotion in Old English hagiographic literature.
Energy Transitions in Long Modernity
Panel 3.2, Wednesday 30 August, 3.15pm – 4.45pm, Lecture Theatre 3
Tiffany Werth (University of California-Davis): Fuelling Space Travel Before Fossil Fuels
Liam Lewis (University of Liverpool): Bio-Acoustic Energy in Medieval Bestiary and Song
Todd Borlik (University of Huddersfield): Monstrous Energy in Forbidden Planet
This panel examines and theorizes representations (or misrepresentations) of energy use and energy crisis, and assesses the role of literary texts in narrating what we are calling “energy transitions.” To do so, we focus on integrated symbolic and representational aspects of premodern studies and highlight ways in which the study of the premodern world can contribute to and shape environmental humanities and our own perceptions of energy regimes. How were past energy transitions facilitated or resisted and by whom? How are the planet’s energy resources configured as plentiful and inexhaustible in some texts while others emphasize economies of scarcity and the need for renewability?
Todd Borlik (University of Huddersfield)
“Monstrous Energy in Forbidden Planet”
In a classic sci-fi adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a space cruiser from earth arrives on a remote planet where a scientist has discovered the remains of an ancient yet advanced civilization known as the Krell, who had developed a technology that enabled them to generate and transmit energy telepathically. When the scientist and Prospero figure Dr. Morbius begins to tinker with this alien machinery and transmit supercharged brainwaves, his subconscious materialises in the form of a ferocious ‘Id’ monster, and he soon concludes that the same phenomenon must have led to the self-destruction of the entire Krell civilization.
This paper reads the 1956 film as an anxious commentary on tech-driven energy transition in the mid-twentieth century. First, the Krell’s achievement resembles Nikola Tesla’s dream of harnessing free energy from the earth’s atmosphere and transmitting it wirelessly through the Wardenclyffe Tower. Secondly, Forbidden Planet speaks to post-war apprehensions about nuclear energy. Three years before its release, President Eisenhower had launched his ‘atoms for peace’ program to kickstart nuclear energy development in the USA, and in 1954 Russia activated the world’s first nuclear plant in Obninsk. While warning of the problems that bedevil the search for clean and affordable energy, the Id monster might also be interpreted as figuring forth the imperfect repression of the unacceptable consequences of our dirty energy regimes. The energy released by the combustion of coal and fossil fuels has inadvertently stirred invisible geo-climatic forces that threaten ecological stability and the long-term survival of industrial civilization. Fusing eco-historical and eco-psychological approaches, this paper considers how cultural texts like Forbidden Planet manifest the trauma of energy transition. (269 words)
Liam Lewis (University of Liverpool)
Bio-acoustic Energy in Medieval Bestiary and Song
In 1977 Canadian musicologist R. Murray Schafer published The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. This influential study of sound presents a chronicle of bio-acoustic evolutions from biblical Creation to the Industrial Revolution, and argues that natural and industrial energy revolutions can be tracked across the audible spectrum. This paper takes its cue from Schafer, asking not how we can manage sound, but rather how premodern conceptions of bio-acoustic energy can reposition our understanding of sound as a force. Exploring how acoustic ecology provides hitherto underexplored directions for thinking about energy regimes and transitions in the Middle Ages, I show how medieval ‘literary’ texts use sound to depict energy transitions through the concept of the breath. Premodern texts commonly depict a material conception of natural and cosmic sounds, in which human and nonhuman breath and vocalization is an integral component to making things happen with, and exercising control over, other nonhuman animals. Medieval bestiaries and songs reveal just how carefully writers listened to fantastic ecologies in which whales and sirens efficiently draw other agents into their control through breathwork, or singers imitate the spinning of the stars, rays of light, and the roars of lions. This paper places these imagined sounds into a broader energy transition, in which sounds increasingly regulated human activities, from church bells to the hue and cry. Drawing attention to imbalances in medieval ecological soundscapes I reveal how, long before Schafer’s study was published, texts and songs were already subverting sound imperialism to reimagine the possibilities of bio-acoustic energy.
Tiffany Jo Werth, UC Davis (member ASLE US)
Fueling Space Travel Before Fossil Fuels
As contemporary news headlines track the ambitions of the “billionaire space race” between Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Virgin Group’s Richard Branson, and Tesla’s Elon Musk, to launch rockets and vehicles into space, questions about the energy costs of such missions are often downplayed amidst the competitive excitement to claim lunar and suborbital space. Yet, we might ask, what are the casualties of such energy-rich investments and how might premodern notions of biopower underlie such dreams of space? To probe the deep history of western space travel and energy costs, this paper turns to early modern accounts of reaching the moon from John Harington’s 1593 translation of Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso to Spenser’s 1609 Mutability Cantos and, finally, Francis Godwin’s 1638 The Man in the Moon, to track how an anthropocentric biopower undergirds the energy force needed to breach the firmament and aspire to the stars.
Estranged Earth: Terraforming Beyond the Human
Panel 6.7, Friday 1 September, 11.00am – 12.30pm, Flex 2
Peter Sands (University of York): Between Hopepunk and Misanthropy: Species Revival, Terraforming and Queer Planetary Futures
Samantha Hind (University of Sheffield): Wilderness States: Speculative Conservation Zones and Rewilding in Diane Cooke’s The New Wilderness (2020)
Christie Oliver-Hobley (University of Sheffield): Terra Beneath the Waves: The Earth-sculpting Aliens of John Wyndham’s The Kraken Wakes (1953)
As a fantasy that takes place between literature, science and philosophy, terraforming positions the earth system as a technical object available to be moulded by the ecologically attuned subject (Pak, 2016; Woods, 2019). Yet projections of “earthlikeness” often reproduce anthroponormative frameworks that see planetary futures imagined as exclusively—or primarily—for the human. In this panel, we will investigate how speculative fiction (sf) authors from transatlantic contexts since the mid-twentieth century have imagined terraforming otherwise: as a mode of transition that disrupts, displaces and decentres human ecological agency. Each of these sf works—in its own fashion—offers a vision of terraforming beyond the human. Together, our papers ask: how can nonhuman subjects be incorporated into discourses of terraforming and worldbuilding? What implications arise from recentring nonhuman ecological agency? How might we queer the futures proposed by biotechnological projects of terraforming? What might it mean to imagine terra as “formless” (Bataille, 1985)?
Paper 1 will read two contemporary novels that present differing visions of terraformed futures through the lens of de-extinction science: Ned Beauman’s Venomous Lumpsucker (2022) and Annalee Newitz’s The Terraformers (2023). In both novels, the concept of species revival figures reproduction across multiple scales, from the ethical lives of individual animals involved in surrogacy to the planetary imaginaries of genetic biobanking. Yet while Beauman’s novel illustrates de-extinction’s investment in the fantasy that Lee Edelman (2004; 2022) describes as “reproductive futurism,” satirising the biocapitalist drive to archive genetic life in order to secure a future in which the human’s agency over the earth system is preserved, Newitz draws species revival into dialogue with a more reparative vision of ecological futurity. Drawing from discourses of queer negativity and queer theory’s turn towards lateral, reparative or ambient forms of reproductivity (Ahuja, 2015), this paper argues that Beauman and Newitz engage equally pertinent dimensions of de-extinction’s terraforming fantasies: the investment in a hopeful future conceived ultimately for the human; and the necessary reconfiguration of reproductive meaning heralded by de-extinction’s unsettling of the concept of “species.” Beauman rejects the reproductive futurism of species revival, ending his novel with a perversely affirmative depiction of human extinction as a misanthropic counterforce to de-extinction’s hopeful futurism. Newitz instead elects to reconfigure reproductivity’s capacity to mean across deep evolutionary timescales, writing a future in which biotechnological reproduction facilitates a form of “ambient queerness” whereby what Beth Shapiro (2015) describes as the “species-as-reproductively-
Paper 2 will transport delegates to a world devastated by climate change, where polluted cities bloom and children suffocate on smog. Here, the only place of sanctuary for Earth’s flora and fauna is a rewilded conservation area that humans are normally prohibited to enter: the Wilderness State. This is the speculative future of Diane Cooke’s The New Wilderness (2020), where a climate-changed planet forces a mother and daughter to join an experimental programme in the Wilderness State, to see if humans can coexist with nature and transform their health. However, the transitions that occur within the Wilderness State are not simply physical; behaviours and relationships—personal and ecological—are in flux, among this rewilded environment. Therefore, as Earth faces a growing climate and biodiversity crisis, The New Wilderness envisions a mode of terraforming that seeks to create a rewilded, proto-Earth that decentres humans, encouraging us to think about what kinds of speculative conservation zones might be necessary to restore Earth’s biodiversity and tackle the climate crisis. This paper will analyse how The New Wilderness explores these different “wilderness states”—both as physical environments and ecological relationships—in its speculative conservation zone. It will examine how the flora and fauna of this zone transition into a newly biodiverse ecology when humans are no longer granted unfettered access, and what kinds of relationships emerge, when humans return to—or, indeed, encroach on—the new wilderness. In order to enhance this analysis of The New Wilderness, the author will draw on research on terraforming (Pak, 2016) and contemporary ecologies (Morton, 2016), alongside current debates around rewilding and conservation. In conjunction, these approaches provide fruitful material for understanding how The New Wilderness grapples with the “wilderness states” of human and nonhuman relationships in the rewilded environments of speculative conservation zones.
Paper 3 will cast its critical gaze back to the sf of John Wyndham. Wyndham was, for decades, the most widely read British sf author (Sawyer, 1999), and his work has spawned retellings and adaptations ever since. The few scholars to have explored his works have tended to assume they contain a single authorial voice that might be excavated; Wymer (1992) and Sawyer (1999), for instance, argue that their “bleak Darwinism” vocalises the author’s post-war pessimism or amorality. Over the past four years, however, cracks have appeared in this image. The first biography (Binns, 2019) presents Wyndham as a man distrustful of any authority, and deeply morally ambivalent. Oliver-Hobley (2022) has further dismantled this tenuous consensus, reading the same ambivalence in Wyndham’s Web (1979). In keeping with this reappraisal, our final paper locates a non-anthroponormative example of geoengineering in another of a Wyndham’s most overlooked works: The Kraken Wakes (1953). Here, inscrutable aliens colonise Earth’s oceans, mining the seafloor and melting the icecaps, triggering climactic upheaval and stoking Cold-War tensions to boiling point. The aliens are eventually eradicated using new sonic weapons, but only after ocean levels have risen 120 feet. This paper reads Kraken as a satire of geopolitical insularity in the face of climate change, with Wyndham juxtaposing ostensibly irreconcilable national differences against the absolute inexplicability of the nonhuman invaders. Yet even as Kraken reaffirms “humanity” as the basis for solidarity, it estranges the anthroponormative presumption that Earth—and the universe—exist solely for humans to (re)engineer and exploit. This paper will unpack these centrings and decentrings, analysing Kraken’s prescient depictions of terraforming and climate breakdown across and beyond “nation” and “species.”
Green & Blue Transitions I: Thinking Back with the Ocean & Unlearning Marine Science Epistemes
Panel 4.5, Thursday 31 August, 9.00am – 10.45am, Teaching Room 5
Susanne Ferwerda (Utrecht University)
Rhys Madden (London School of Economics)
Meghan Judge (Stellenbosch University)
This ICHO-sponsored roundtable, and its sister “Green & Blue Transitions II”, propose to think with the ocean trans-disciplinarily and trans-gressively to unlearn marine science and colonial epistemes and to envision a more sustainable socio-ecological future. Both hybrid roundtables and their interventions invite the audience to question issues pertaining to the role of the ocean and marine sciences in relation to the broader theme of “transition”, from those we call “green” in decarbonization movements to gender identity. In all the interventions, participants propose to think trans-disciplinarily with the ocean across creative and scientific practices and ask how can we unlearn and re-learn with the ocean in a time of socio-ecological alienation and collapse?
The discussion opens with a very brief introduction of the roundtable’s themes and interventions, it will then be followed by Susanne Ferwerda discussion of how the prominence of the color blue in the Blue Humanities has resulted in thinking with blue as a disruption to simplistic representations of the sea as empty or only for azure tourist consumption. In this contribution, Ferwerda asks us to consider what it means to think with seawater and color and what kind of transitions does blue and green materiality call for, and how does seawater diffract the tonal relationships between transition and coloniality?
Continuing to think through “Blue” and “Green”, Rhys Anil Madden addresses the role of the ocean in decarbonization movements on the South Coast of England and coastal habitat restoration, and the role of seagrass in carbon sequestration. Following Ferwerda’s proposition to think with blue and the ocean, Madden and Meghan Judge’s contributions invite us to learn with and from the ocean as well as coastal communities whose relationship with the sea has been obstructed by colonialism and global capitalism. Madden reflects on experiences of working with volunteers on seagrass restoration projects along this coast, and how they think about the decarbonization possibilities inherent to seagrass. The thoughts and experiences of volunteers also highlight the perceived limits on future restoration that come from the ocean, the tides, and the physical make-up of the coastline. This has consequences for the ways in which the ocean’s role in transitionary times is understood.
Subsequently, Meghan Judge’s contribution invites us to think and listen with the ocean waters of the Cape in South Africa. These have been in a state of transition ever since those who traditionally, had practices of relations with them were forcibly removed from its shore initially to benefit the project of whiteness. Listening to the “great African sea forests” of kelp that sway at the shoreline by these waters provides provocative and highly sensitive re-orientation points for material-affective relations, shaping the imaginary of the ocean beyond the hegemony of the knowable. Judge proposes an ecopoetics of sonic sensing that has been gathered through a forest of practitioners who submerge themselves to listen with kelp. This listening beyond hearing critically attunes past the edges of knowability and into a relational encounter, one difficult to word when back on land.
Green & Blue Transitions II: Thinking Forward with the Ocean for more Sustainable Futures
Panel 5.7, Friday 1 September, 9.00am – 10.45am, Teaching Room 6
Yi Fong Loh (University of Minnesota-Twin Cities)
JR Carpenter (University of Southampton)
Anna Selby (Manchester Metropolitan University)
Julia Jung (German Marine Research Alliance)
Following on from “Green & Blue Transitions I”, this ICHO-sponsored roundtable continues the discussion started and expands on it by questioning issues of transitionary identities and deep time by thinking forward with the ocean for more sustainable socio-ecological futures and relationships.
Yi Fong Loh’s contribution opens this discussion by thinking through a different type of grammar and linguistics, as Ferwerda’s intervention did in the first roundtable. Loh proposes an environmentally and socio-historically situated framework of translation in which mangroves are translators within the Malayo-Polynesian language family in deep time. Cultural, social, historical similarities are inter-semiotic, and the Nypa Fructicns – one of the first monocots in the fossil plant record of 100 million years old from the Cretaceous period of Borneo – has a grammar shared across multi-species and multi-human ecologies. Connecting land and sea, mangroves are translators of power originating from the environmental settings in deep time: drifting and stabilizing, both within and outside of an antagonism of (post)colonialism and the resistances that arise in their wake.
Then JR Carpenter’s intervention will move from the island of Borneo to that of the UK and in a similarly trans-disciplinary manner, Carpenter considers oceanic transitions on vast temporal and spatial scales, through a discussion of fossil hunting as a practice-led research methodology. First in how the fossilized remains of a coral reef in a riverbed in North Yorkshire bring a 340-million-year-old blue ocean into contact with persistent notions of the green pastoral in poetry. Second by using marine fossils as indicators of displacement through wind-powered colonialism, from echinoid fossils transported in Late Cretaceous chalk to the Thames foreshore. How do these transitory fossils transgress the boundaries of when, where, and what oceans are? What hybrid poetics emerge as a response?
Anna Selby’s intervention continues this discussion as Selby asks what does it mean to have a creative practice akin to that of a marine biologist, in which poems are made in the ocean, over several years, observing marine habitats, the transition of seasons under the surface and migrations of new species? Connecting with literature such as Gumbs’ Undrowned (2021), Selby will share extracts from her work made in and under the Atlantic Ocean, and reflections from interdisciplinary residencies and collaborations.
Thinking trans-disciplinary and trans-gressively with the ocean also means resisting and challenging heteronormative and anthropocentric ontologies as Julia Jung discusses in an intervention on oceanic queer identities. Indeed, there has been a growing recognition of the need for more trans-disciplinary collaborations to catalyze the necessary transitions towards living with the ocean in a more sustainable way, however, these efforts rush trans-disciplinary collaborations by focusing on narrow outcomes instead of the potentially transformative experience for communities and individuals that participate in these collaborations. Drawing on examples from a range of ArtScience initiatives, this contribution illustrates how we can embrace transitions on an individual level. Taking the Ocean as a concept for active identity construction is inspired by the link between queerness and the ocean that is based on embracing fluidity.
On Mermaids and Metamorphosis: Underwater Women in Anthropocene Writing
Panel 4.7, Thursday 31 August, 9.00am – 10.45am, Flex 1
Lisa Mansell (Independent Scholar): Welsh Mermaids and Tidal Ecolinguistics: a Poetic Enquiry
Melanie Ebdon (Staffordshire University): Ecomagical Transformations in Our Wives Under the Sea (J. Armfield) and The Mermaid of Black Conch (M. Roffey)
Philippa Holloway (Staffordshire University): You Know Where You Are With Water (short fiction)
Atthira Unni (Leeds Beckett University): Transitions and Oceanic Posthumanism in The Mermaid of Black Conch (2020)
The panel will explore, through creative and critical responses, the re-writing of the mermaid in the Anthropocene, specifically in eco-poetry and magical realist prose. The panel’s approach is underpinned by the post-human ecofeminist phenomenology of writers such as Stacy Alaimo and Astrida Neimanis, E. K. Brathwaite’s concept of ‘tidalectics’ and Irigarayan theory.
Part of this panel will encompass an eco-poetical digital work deploying tidal eco-linguistics to navigate liminality of place or environment, language and subjectivity which demonstrates how these ideas are embodied by Welsh mermaids. The prose explored by the panel will consist of two published magical realist novels (Julia Armfield’s 2022 novel Our Wives Under the Sea and Monique Roffey’s 2020 novel The Mermaid of Black Conch) and an original magical realist short story by Dr Holloway, set in the UK’s urban canal waterways during the present moment. Representative of our relationship with nature, these magical realist stories are a re-enchantment of literary realism which ‘reimagine[s] the world within another integrated context, emphasising a biocentric, holistic view that acknowledges the interconnectedness of all things in the universe’ (Holgate, 2019, pg.9). All three papers address, to differing degrees, the ways in which women negotiate the constraints and expectations of patriarchy at the level of the body and the outcomes of that negotiation in a time of climate emergency. Reconsidering the nature of transformation, from a Classic and Romantic notion of Mermaids, Nymphs and Sirens as ‘unnaturally natural’ and disturbing forces that threaten the patriarchal and commercial relations between men and water, we propose an alternative view of these Underwater Women as products of external threat. Rather than being creatures that men, and capitalism, traditionally attempt to conquer, tame or subdue, Mermaids here are shown to be ‘made’ by heatwaves, by patriarchal notions of womanhood, and by linguistic restrictions of formalised grammar and speech that impose a state of ‘otherness’ and hybrid form onto women who do not, or cannot, conform.
Dr. Mansell’s poetry performance and poetic commentary explores a return to both homeland and mother tongue through a re-assessment of the mermaid in Welsh mythology and a consideration of how the mermaid embodies a transgressive liminality between languages, environments and subjectivities. The fluid borders of her seaside home, of the languages she uses, and the tidal poetics she employs to negotiate the hybridity of her practice are entangled with the politics of the mermaid as a concept: linguistic and environmental liminality has intersected with feminine subjectivity that has existed in folklore and literature since Anglo-Latin vernaculars, though Gwenhidwy of Medieval Mabinogi to sixteenth century pamphlets such as the ‘Pendine Mermaid‘ tract. While traditional, and monoglottal, language assumes a singular, universal subject position, which often aligns with male experiences and perspectives this poetic enquiry proposes a rejection of dualism and binary opposition, influenced by Irigaray, who advocates for a language that accommodates liminality, indeterminacy and multiplicity of voices and expressions. This ecolinguistic methodology connects subjectivity to place and environment though acknowledgement of linguistic liminality between languages.
Dr Ebdon offers an ecocritical analysis of The Mermaid of Black Conch (M. Roffey, 2020) and Our Wives Under the Sea (J. Armfield, 2022). These contemporary magical realist novels depict bodily transformations of women into a mermaid and a less classifiable aquatic life-form, respectively; each metamorphosis explores the human-animal/human-nature borderlines of patriarchal, Eurocentric modern thought through tropes of abjection, monstrosity and myth in relation to the female body. In particular, the magical realist mode employed in these novels interrogates the principles of realism, the favoured form for the novel throughout European modernity, reliant upon the principles of empirical science. In The Mermaid of Black Conch, the legacy of colonialism (from Columbus to the late 20th century) and its impact upon ethnicity is examined as an aspect of the human transformation. With its setting in London, the centre of the largest of the 19th-century empires, science and exploration form a counterpoint to the magical phenomenon in Our Wives Under the Sea. The paper examines these twin discourses of patriarchal modernity – colonisation and science – and their implications for a reassessment of human identity in the Anthropocene.
In Dr Holloway’s short story, a woman on the cusp of menopause finds relief from a heatwave in the local city canal. Transgressing the status of canals as dirty and post-industrial spaces only accessible by boats, her immersion into these murky waters, and the negative behaviours of passers-by that follow, lead to her transformation into urban mermaid. Changing physically to adapt to a future that may demand such (de)evolution, is a survival move, mentally and physically: she gains relief from the negative effects of modern digital culture which perpetuate the dry and discrete myth of individualism (Neimanis, 2017) and which harm both identity and biology, and finds herself reconnected with the phenomenal world through ‘the-more-than human hydrocommons’ (Neimanis, 2017 p12). But this transition is not a choice, nor without its dangers – the canals are polluted by both man-made waste and behaviours, and her release is mitigated by the liminality of the canal systems as neither natural nor entirely industrial anymore, a closed system that can protect and trap the mermaid simultaneously. This story is particularly relevant to the post-industrial geography of Liverpool, which is part of the Leeds-Liverpool canal network, itself a palimpsestic map of industrial/colonial culture that now transitions from urban gentrification, through edgeland decay, and into rural ‘nature spaces’ re-purposed for recreation. Canals are liminal spaces, and as such serve as a locus for reflections on the rapid changes made in the UK regarding the effects of the industrial age, and the new digital revolution.
These creative and critical responses have been developed in conjunction, through regular research meetings and close collaborative working. As such they speak to each other
Holgate, Ben (2019) Climate and Crises: Magical Realism as Environmental Discourse. Routledge.
Neimanis, Astrida (2017) Bodies of Water: Posthuman Feminist Phenomenology. London: Bloomsbury.
Transitions and Oceanic Posthumanism in The Mermaid of Black Conch (2020)
Mermaids have been reclaimed in contemporary sea fiction by artists and writers of colour with scholars noting that the figure of the half-human, half-fish allows to explore the sites of slave memory, and to elicit ecological and political commentary (Mohulatsi, 2023; Nies, 2021). The fictionalized mermaid of the Caribbean seas is a triply oppressed figure in terms of race, gender and her Othered ‘half-and-half’ self. In Monique Roffey’s captivating novel The Mermaid of Black Conch (2020), Aycayia the centuries-old mermaid of Taino ancestry is an emissary of precolonial indigenous history, silent witness of neocolonial extraction and powerful posthuman agent of the sea. Her association with the sea, as the carrier of sea creatures, and her nomadic posthuman agency, enables her to survive brutal violence and sexual assault while also invoking ambiguous responses of fear, disgust and desire from men. In this chapter, I use my concept of oceanic posthumanism, rooted in Blue Humanities and posthuman feminism, and Bill Ashcroft’s notion of archipelagic consciousness to explore how Aycayia’s transitions from mermaid to woman on the land embodies a liminal presence making her an oceanic posthuman agent capable of shedding light on terrestrial norms and resisting various forms of violence. Roffey uses the figure of the mermaid to navigate terrestrial and oceanic territories with transitions juxtaposed with the racial and cultural hybridity on Black Conch island. Roffey reclaims the mermaid lore of the Caribbean seas with references to Mama Wata and other figures of the mystic feminine to present female agency and to resurrect a precolonial indigenous history.
(Un)Just Transitions: Modelling Intergenerational Climate Futures in Recent Anglophone Fiction and Non-Fiction
Panel 5.8, Friday 1 September, 9.00am – 10.45am, Lecture Theatre 3
David Higgins (University of Leeds): Procreation, Modelling, and Uncertainty in the Climate Essay
Julia Hoydis (University of Klagenfurt): Resilience, Routines, and the Figure of the Child to Come in Realist Disaster Novels
Roman Bartosch (University of Cologne): Teaching the Future Imperfect: Intergenerational (In)Justice and Future-Making in the Literature Classroom
The panel presents work in progress from ‘Just Futures? An Interdisciplinary Approach to Cultural Climate Models’ (2023-2026), a collaboration by researchers in the UK, Germany, and Austria, with funding from the AHRC, the German Research Council (DFG) and the Austrian Science Fund (FWF). The project focuses on how culture models climate futures in relation to intergenerational justice. Bringing together methodologies from literary studies, linguistics, STS, and literature pedagogy, it addresses how texts move between seemingly neutral climate facts (‘models of’) and normative social values (‘models for’). It understands the qualitative cultural modelling of climate change as an important complement to dominant scientific quantitative models. This panel derives particularly from the project’s literature component. The first two papers examine how personal essays and novels envision intergenerational care in the context of future civilizational and environmental breakdown. The third paper builds on their analysis by investigating the role of literature in sustainability education, especially in relation to the ‘intergenerational rift’ created by climate injustice.
Procreation, Modelling, and Uncertainty in the Climate Essay (David Higgins)
The last decade has seen the emergence of a new subgenre of the personal essay, written from the perspective of a parent concerned about the future of their child and the ethical ramifications of procreation during a climate crisis. This paper focuses on two of the most interesting examples of the form: Eileen Crist’s ‘Is it OK to have a child?’ (2020) and Roy Scranton’s ‘Raising My Child in a Doomed World’ (2018). Each text has a complex relationship to climate modelling. Crist acknowledges that it is unlikely that global heating will stay below two degrees Celsius. But she also emphasises that there are uncertainties, both physical and socio-political, which means that ‘the consequences of a heating climate are extremely difficult to predict’. Therefore, she has ‘hope for the possibility of human flourishing in unprecedented and as yet unimaginable circumstances’. Scranton’s rhetoric is more pessimistic: he suggests that ‘the middle and later decades of the 21st century – my daughter’s adult life ¬– promise a global catastrophe whose full implications any reasonable person must turn away from in horror’. And yet he also concedes that the required ‘revolutionary socio-economic transformation’ is not impossible. In any case, he sees his role as a parent as committing to living ‘ethically in a broken world’ and to teaching his daughter to do the same. Both essays draw on technical climate models but move from descriptions of likely futures to prescriptions about procreation and child-rearing. They find justifications for parenthood even given the child’s future carbon footprint, and the deterioration of the global environment.
Resilience, Routines, and the Figure of the Child to Come in Realist Disaster Novels (Julia Hoydis)
This paper explores narratives of survival amidst and after environmental disaster in recent prose fictions by female British authors: Kate Sawyer’s The Stranding, Jesse Greengrass’s High House, and Bethany Clift’s Last One at the Party. Published in 2021 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic – a time which brought the importance of critical infrastructures and the global interrelations between environmental, health, and other crises and questions of intergenerational justice into sharp focus – the texts deconstruct visions of the Western metropolis (London) as an inhabitable, safe space. With their haunting depictions of once familiar environments turned hostile after the break-down of human-built infrastructures, they imagine futurity and survival against the odds by refashioning and ‘defamiliarizing’ (Levine 2022) realist modes of narration (e.g. by finding shelter inside a whale corpse). The examples deviate from other environmental crises and post-apocalyptic narratives in content and narrative form by foregrounding routines and resilience. They also present alternative visions of the nuclear family and intergenerational care while revisiting familiar tropes of hope for the future such as pregnancy and childbirth. Modelling climate futures here entails finding a narrative balance between possible world-building and world-ending, capturing the paradoxical sense of human futures premised on imagining “Living cannot go on; living will go on” (Oh 2022, 982).
Teaching the Future Imperfect: Intergenerational (In)Justice and Future-Making in the Literature Classroom (Roman Bartosch)
This presentation draws the group’s research on the personal essay and recent climate fictions together with research on educational materials and practices. It addresses the challenge that demands for sustainability education and shared future-making in school and university education are in tension with a fundamental intergenerational conflict between (older) educators and (younger) learners. This conflict, it will be argued, impacts on the authority of the educator as well as the receptiveness of learners and requires education scholars to rethink the potentials and practices of teaching (fiction) in times of climate injustices. Starting from the observation that the basic promise of education – that if learners follow the lead of educators, their future will be an improved version of the present – no longer holds, this presentation discusses the intergenerational rift in education in light of recent developments in educational research and policy. These developments suggest a wealth of new pedagogical objectives (such as resilience, flourishing, or futures literacy) and educational models of instruction and assessment. They will be analysed in light of the group’s understanding of cultural modelling and intergenerational conflict, which will help to make a case for working with creative literature in education from primary to tertiary levels and in the context of (in)justice and shared future-making.
Levine, Caroline. “Realism for Sustainability.” Realism: Aesthetics, Experiments, Politics. Ed. Jens Elze. Bloomsbury, 2022, 191-208.
Oh, Rebecca S. “Apocalyptic Realism: A new Category of the Event.” ISLE 29.4 (2022): 967-986.
Speculative Nature Writing: Feeling for the Future
Panel 3.1, Wednesday 30 August, 3.15pm – 4.45pm, Lecture Theatre 1
Jos Smith (University of East Anglia): Speculative Form: Affect, Anticipation
Hetty Saunders (University of London): Speculative Nature Writing: Editing the Anthology
Richard Kerridge (Bath Spa University): Truelove’s Tiger: Nature Writing Deranged
This panel will explore a fresh context for nature writing as a creative-critical practice of anticipation, inquiry and engagement with change. It will discuss recent developments in nature writing criticism by way of introducing an anthology. Speculative Nature Writing: An Anthology will be published in September this year, edited by Hetty Saunders and Jos Smith (contributors to this panel) and with new work by, among others, Richard Kerridge (also a contributor to this panel), Ben Smith, Anita Roy, Anna Fleming and Karen Lloyd. As well as contextualising the anthology within the nature writing landscape, the panel will examine what we mean by the term ‘speculative nature writing’, reflect on the intervention that this work aims to make, and showcase some of the genre-bending work that has emerged from the anthology and associated public-facing workshops.
Last year saw two landmark publications concerned with British and American nature writing. Modern British Nature Writing, 1789-2020 by Will Abberly, Christina Alt, David Higgins, Graham Huggan and Pippa Marland, and Nature Prose: Writing in Ecological Crisis by Dominic Head have presented different but comparable critical appraisals of the nature writing genre that invite a fresh critical curiosity. We will argue that this invitation extends to creative responses as well offering an exciting context for experimentation and anticipation.
Stephen Benson has described the popularity of contemporary nature writing as ‘the most prominent literary symptom of ecological crisis’ (‘New Ornaments’ 16). While it would be inaccurate to reduce the work of these two monographs to the description ‘symptomatic reading’, there is an element here that reframes nature writing (and ts popularity) as entangled within the very crises it appears to be addressing, never quite as demystificatory, nor quite as ideological, as readers sometimes assume.
Abberly et al. are sympathetic to the way nature writing is ‘a conflict-ridden mode that speaks to the contradictions embedded within the modern condition’; and, as ‘a crisis-ridden mode that addresses, whether directly or indirectly, some of the crises that have come over time to be associated with modernity’. There is a generosity in that phrase ‘whether directly or indirectly’ which is picked up in the way Dominic Head frames the nature writer in relation to crisis. As Head puts it succinctly, twentieth and twenty-first century nature writing ‘emerges in a time of crisis, but which is also, in some ways, in crisis itself.’ Head explores a series of narrative tensions in the modern nature writing text, often between forms of literary artifice and methods of scientific realism, not as contradictions but as ‘literary effects’, as what he describes as the form’s ‘productive paradoxical effects’.
In the editorial work, we were interested in the ways in which speculative nature writing might intensify such effects, might push at this tendency towards conflict and crisis to articulate a concern for the future that doesn’t fall foul of the pull towards either utopian or dystopian work, but rather ‘stays with the trouble’, luring readers into ambiguous landscapes where they would have to feel their own way forward.
The anthology is a part of a wider AHRC-funded RD&E Fellowship (early career) run by Jos Smith which also includes the writing of a creative monograph of ‘speculative nature writing.’ Jos will introduce the wider project and the creative monograph, including some of the creative-critical context that pushes at the boundaries of mode and convention to generate anticipatory affect through ‘genre trouble’ (Stephanie LeMenager). He will also touch on the ways in which this research has provided the ground for some of the public-facing workshops that the project has run and end with a short excerpt of the creative work.
Hetty Saunders will follow with an account of the way in which the editorial work for the anthology sought to turn some of these questions about nature writing’s past towards a meditation on its present and its possible futures, its anticipations and premonitions, its experiments and innovations. Hetty will discuss the different affordances of the term ‘speculative nature writing’ and the way in which we encouraged authors to test the overlap between fiction and non-fiction, push at familiar forms and conventions, explore marginalised experiences, or reach towards an uncertain future. The aim was to bring possible futures alive in unnerving, ambiguous, and provocative ways to address some of the difficult questions about value, meaning, identity, and sustainability that we face in a changing world.
Richard Kerridge will discuss his contribution of short fiction which explores the technological ‘derangement’ of our experience of places and wild creatures. These forms of mediation are so readily available now on television, the internet and social media, that audiences become visually familiar with them in advance of any embodied encounter. Such images include intimate close-ups that give the viewer an implied position they could not occupy in real proximity. The ‘real’ encounter, which is likely to be distant and momentary, interacts with these images, in anticipation and retrospect. Memories may blend the two, and even the moment of the encounter itself may be invaded by a sense of recognition and by remembered details that supplement what is immediately seen.
Such processes have to be seen in their interaction with the colonial history, in which the genre has so many roots, and with developing economic and cultural relationships between ecotourists and local people. These perspectives, in combination, place great pressure on the conventional use of narrative viewpoint, timescale and emplotment in nature–writing: so much so, that the genre’s established practices seem no longer fully entitled to the term ‘realism’.
Panel 2.7, Wednesday 30 August, 1.30pm – 3.00pm, Lecture Theatre 3
John Wedgwood Clarke (University of Exeter): Red River: A River in Pieces: the poetics of becoming disrupted in a long river poem
Mandy Bloomfield (University of Plymouth): “From the Open Sea”: Muriel Rukeyser’s ecopoetics of the shoreline
Ben Smith (University of Exeter): Ghost Nets and Phantom Islands: Mapping the Anthropocene
Panel Outline: Terraqueous landscapes are transitory zones, elementally, ecologically, historically and culturally. Charting a course from river to shoreline to sea, the three papers in this panel examine literary practices of mapping terraqueous material geographies, cartographies and imaginaries as ways of engaging with ideas about the Anthropocene, Capitalocene and world-ecological history.
Outlines of papers:
John Wedgwood Clarke (University of Exeter), Red River: A River in Pieces: the poetics of becoming disrupted in a long river poem
In the 1880s the Red River in West Cornwall was described as the Cornish ‘Klondike’ and a Pactolus for the immense wealth extracted in the form of tin from its ‘slimy bed’. Even now, heavy-metal laden water decants into its flow from the abandoned mines that generated these riches. In this practice-as-research paper, I will read from my recently completed long poem Red River: A River in Pieces and think through the way the Red River’s toxic waters and broken body offers itself as dirty, power-stained, weird, queer addition to the continuous waterways of river poetry. In making the poem, I tried to receive these complex riches into a poem whose techniques embody the river’s damaged complexity and draw on Modernist long-poem techniques to achieve this. But the river is more than a story of ecological erasure and ruins. Despite the pollution, strange biodiversity thrives in the network of tanks, ponds, leats and dams that once diverted and syphoned-off 100% of the river’s summer flow. This is river as machine; river as railway sidings; river as body transfused with poison; river as cultural artefact turbid with the sediments of human/more-than-human mingling; river as hideous sublime. Its strangeness is a way to see the impact of the Capitalocene transformed by a body of water that shows, through its bacterial growths and dragonfly hotspots, the damage we’ve inflicted and how life will evolve again without us.
John Wedgwood Clarke is a poet and associate professor in creative writing at the University of Exeter. He has published three collections of poems Ghost Pot (2013), Landfill (2017) and Boy Thing (2023). He has been a Leverhulme Artist-in-Residence, an AHRC Leaderships Fellow and is currently a CI on the NERC-funded RENEW project. He regularly collaborates with artists and scientists on transdisciplinary projects. For more on the Red River go to redriverpoetry.com
Mandy Bloomfield (University of Plymouth), “From the Open Sea”: Muriel Rukeyser’s ecopoetics of the shoreline
This paper will focus on how the post-war American poet Muriel Rukeyser thinks-with the transitional spaces of shorelines. Throughout the body of her work, Rukeyser uses imagery of the interface between land and sea to map out a poetics of relation and process. But the shoreline is not just a metaphor; it is a materially felt presence in both her theory and practice. I will argue that her poetry’s engagement with specific material, historical and cultural interfaces at the Atlantic shoreline are vital in her development of what we might now recognise as an politically-engaged ecopoetics. Rukeyser’s shorelines are zones of world-ecological colonial-capitalist encounter and appropriation. As such, they are also spaces that open up possibilities for an aesthetics of responsibility toward what Rukeyser capaciously terms “life.” By engaging with Rukeyser at the shoreline, I hope to sketch out a poetic sensibility which speaks to us now more powerfully than ever.
Text/Image/Archive/Action: creative engagements with past, present and future environments
Panel 1.5, Wednesday 30 August, 11.00am – 12.45pm, Flex 1
Lucy Burnett (Independent Scholar/ Writer)
JR Carpenter (Winchester School of Art)
Mike Collier (University of Sunderland)
Harriet Tarlo (Sheffield Hallam University)
For this roundtable we gather together a group of artist academics who respond to the past, present and future of places in transition through projects involving archival, site-specific research and the production of text and image. Collectively, our work shares an interest in how experiments in form/medium can reflect a changing more-than-human world in the context of varied landscapes across the U.K. Our work variously engages with the multiple environmental crises we live amongst, learns from the past in order to understand the present in forms of creative revisiting, and relates meaningfully to local and digital communities. In our conversation we will discuss methods including fieldwork and walking, archival research, exhibiting, and publishing; specificities from the histories and images of particular times, places and bioregions such as weather, plants, birds and geologies in relation to ‘The Lakes’, flooding in Somerset, and the Lincolnshire Saltmarsh; community engagement through the arts and how this can contribute to future landscape decisions. In relation to the conference CFP, we address the ‘fostering of new ways of looking and feeling towards human and non-human others or at environments that are themselves in transition’ and ‘new formal innovations in ecopoetics and art practice arising in response to a world in transition’. This curated conversation will interest delegates working on place and climate in text and image (whether as individuals or within cross or inter disciplinary projects), creating impact projects within or outside the academy or using archival research in academic, creative or hybrid work.
We look forward to exploring the commonalities and differences in our approaches: Mike Collier is an artist, writer, and curator for whom collaboration within and without the arts has been key in the production of extensive work on walking, Wordsworth and Basho and the collection Songs in Place and Time: Birdsong and the Dawn Chorus in Natural History and the Arts; J.R. Carpenter is an artist and researcher across performance, print and digital media whose projects This is a Picture of the Wind and The Gathering Cloud appear simultaneously in all these forms and draw on fieldwork as well as archival research into weather phenomena; Lucy Burnett is a poet, photographer and environmental campaigner whose book Through the Weather Glass (KFS 2016) employed hybrid forms to investigate how literature can engage with climate change away from the apocalyptic norm and whose project, SCREE, created a digital guidebook to reimagining the Lakeland Fells in relation to the environmental crisis; Harriet Tarlo and Judith Tucker (poet and artist respectively) have worked together now for over ten years on place-based projects in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire (Tributaries, Project Fitties, Hideaway) involving exhibitions, workshops and artists’ books. They co‐convened the CMIT (Cross Multi Inter Trans) ASLE UKI Biennial in Sheffield and subsequently edited a special issue of Green Letters Vol 23:3 (2019) on CMIT environmental art. Our chair, David Borthwick, works on Environment, Culture and Communication at the School of Interdisciplinary Studies, University of Glasgow and is a key contributor to Songs of Place and Time.
Tipping Points: Discourse, Narrative, Politics
Panel 1.8, Wednesday 30 August, 11.00am – 12.45pm, Lecture Theatre 1
Leo Steeds (University of Glasgow)
Theo Aiolfi (CY Cergy Paris University)
Mekhala Dave (TBA21 Academy)
Since the term was brought into climate science in 2008, ‘tipping points’ – ‘critical threshold[s] at which a tiny perturbation can qualitatively alter the state or development of a system’ (Lenton et al. 2008) – have become widely accepted as a framework for conceptualising abrupt, self-sustaining and non-linear transformations in the Earth system that are predicted to occur in the Anthropocene.
To date, most work in this area has focused on the identification and modelling of negative biophysical tipping points (such as Amazon dieback, the shutdown of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) and Boreal permafrost collapse), or proposals for triggering so-called ‘positive’ tipping points in social systems. Positive tipping points include the socio-technological (the shift from petrol to EV’s), socio-ecological (transformations in the food system) and socio-political (changes in mindset and behaviour), all of which are presented as potential pathways for stabilising the Earth’s climate and avoiding or mitigating the impacts of negative tipping points (Tabara et al. 2018, Otto et al. 2020).
Presented in this way, tipping points provide an alluring framework for policymakers, activists and communicators, offering potential intervention points for policy, social action and narrative to cut through the complexity and scale effects of the planetary climate crisis. However, as yet there is no established framework for the governance of tipping points (either biophysical or social), and the ethical and political implications of defining, let alone triggering, ‘positive’ tipping points are only beginning to be discussed. In the urgency to communicate research on tipping points, it is important to consider what discourses, narratives frameworks and even genres, the language of tipping points operates within and how these might impact individual, governmental and global responses.
This roundtable will bring together researchers from across the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences to begin a conversation about the discourse, narrative and politics of tipping points, addressing the following questions:
• What does it mean to define a tipping point and thus impose a ‘limit’ or ‘threshold’ on a complex biophysical or social system?
• What existing political discourses, narrative forms and genres do we operate within when we talk about tipping points?
• What does it mean to define a tipping point as ‘positive’ or ‘negative’? ‘Positive’ for whom? How are such definitions problematised by issues of justice and ethics?
• How might the definition of a singular ‘point’ occlude marginalised voices and belie the plurality and complexity of possible futures?
• How might the language of tipping points both help and hinder wider efforts to communicate the threat of climate change and its associated crises to the public?
• As researchers answering these questions, how might we need to transition between disciplines and transgress boundaries in our own practice?
Transition and Environment in local communities in Wales
Panel 2.4, Wednesday 30 August, 1.30pm – 3.00pm, Flex 1
Linden Peach (School of Traditional Arts): Ely Cardiff Not Cambridge: Peter Finch’s Environmental Writings
Francesca Brooks (York University): ‘Falling into precipice and monastery’: local Welsh environments in Lynette Roberts’s wartime writing
Jamie Harris (Aberystwyth University): Transition and the environment in new town settlement in Raymond Williams’s The Fight for Manod
Critical discussions of Welsh literature have long focussed on the extent to which Wales is a nation of ‘internal difference’ – socially, culturally, linguistically and, above all, environmentally. The papers in this panel discuss significant literary responses to three very different Welsh environments. Paper 1 examines the poet and psychogeographer Peter Finch’s account of Ely, an urban suburb of Cardiff, which has changed and developed around shifting ‘hypercentres’. Paper 2 considers the response in three mid-twentieth century works by Lynette Roberts to the estuarine and coastal environments of rural west Wales and considers how stories of medieval saints shaped Roberts’s ecological vision. Paper 3 is focussed on transition and the environment in new town settlement in south Wales through a discussion of Raymond Williams’s The Fight for Manod (1979), the third and relatively neglected but thought-provoking novel in Williams’s trilogy that began with Border Country (1960). Although addressing very different works about distinctive environments, these papers share three principal themes. Each concerns a writer seeking to write themselves into a particular locality and, in doing so, unveil the complex nature of the relationship between environment and settlement as sites of transition. Each examines the ways in which different communities in their localities acquire particular visions of themselves and their environments. And each explores the precarity and sustainability of different Welsh communities when viewed from environmental, ecological and ecocritical perspectives. The panel suggests that unravelling and understanding the historical complexities of communities within their environmental contexts is essential if Wales is to have a sustainable and coherent future as a nation.
‘Verse with wings of skill’: examining transitions between literary and practical texts in the early modern period
Panel 5.5, Friday 1 September, 9.00am – 10.45am, Teaching Room 5
Edward Stein (University of Cambridge): ‘Turning and returning’: Adapting Genre and Evolving Mentalities in John Taylor’s Verses on the Mine at Culross (1618)
Emily Naish (University of Sheffield): Transforming fenlands into poetry in Michael Drayton’s Poly-Olbion
Todd Borlik (University of Huddersfield): Shakespeare and Snake Handlers
Chloe Fairbanks (University of Oxford): ‘Experience by view, and due observation’: perambulation and embodied knowledge in Henry IV and King Lear
Early modern texts promoted and participated in intertextual, cross-generic reading, and it was not uncommon to see practical instructional texts sold alongside Shakespeare’s plays in the bookstalls of St Paul’s. Yet in the growing body of scholarly work on the intersection of early modern literature and environmental thinking, comparatively little attention has been paid to the ways in which these texts spoke to each other across genres. This panel aims to redress this gap, extending the parameters of literary scholarship by studying non-traditional texts alongside the established canon to yield fresh insights about the relationship between early moderns and the natural world. Reading the works of William Shakespeare, Michael Drayton, and John Taylor alongside surveying manuals and zoological treatises, the papers will explore how environmental thinking was transmitted into English literature in the early seventeenth century. In doing so, they seek to disrupt generic boundaries, demonstrating the rich interplay between ‘literary’ and ‘practical’ writing during this period. Questions considered will include:
– How did authors like Shakespeare and Spenser engage with contemporary debates about cultivation and improvement?
– Similarly, how did non-canonical authors find poetic inspiration in less respected parts of the landscape?
– What might we gain from broadening our understanding of literary source material to include equally popular instructional tracts on land management and animal husbandry?
The panel will consist of four papers, covering topics of land management and animal husbandry. Edward Stein gives attention to mines and mining, an unusual topic for poetry before the seventeenth century. This paper considers a poem by John Taylor, written on the occasion of his tour of a coalmine at Culross in Scotland. Situating Taylor’s poem alongside both self-consciously literary poetic works and non-literary works which explore the question of the appropriate use of the land, the paper argues that the poem should be interpreted as an interface at which classically inspired poetry meets non-literary improvement discourse. In the process, it suggests that the history of generic change and the history of human intervention in the environment are closely related. Following on from this, Emily Naish examines representations of England’s fenlands in the early seventeenth century. At the time, surveying texts depicted these marshy regions as agriculturally unproductive and their inhabitants as similarly idle. Indeed, large drainage projects were commenced in the 1630s with the intention of improving East England’s Great Level. However, despite their perceived faults, the fens were in fact fertile places of provision for their inhabitants and the neighbouring communities alike. Michael Drayton’s Poly-Olbion (1612/1622) is unusually appreciative, and provides (the paper suggests) an early defence of a much derided part of England’s landscape. Turning to the subject of animal husbandry, Todd Borlik compares early modern treatises on herpetology (most notably Edward Topsell’s History of Serpents) that sought to cultivate scientific curiosity about snakes with literary representations of them that exploited and intensified ophidiophobia, an irrational fear of them. In stoking fears, Renaissance playwrights, the paper argues, also mimicked the strategies of itinerant mountebanks and snake handlers who cast serpents as sinister co-performers in a popular form of street theatre to terrorise spectators into purchasing their magical antidotes. Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra both parodies and pays an ambivalent homage to the snake handling tradition, and in doing so, Shakespeare re-enacts the wonder-working of snake handling and transforms it into secular theatre. The panel is rounded off with an examination of land husbandry. Chloe Fairbanks explores the problem of absentee landlords, a source of serious concern in late Tudor and early Stuart England. Her paper reads Shakespeare’s Henry IV and King Lear in light of debates over land management, positioning the plays alongside contemporary surveying manuals which emphasised the importance of ‘know[ing]’ one’s own land. It suggests that Shakespeare’s engagement with surveying literature offers a way of understanding good government which is inseparable from bioregional consciousness. In doing so, it offers a caveat to scholarship that frames the cartographic revolution as pivotal in the formation of national identity.
Taken together, the papers will offer a bracing recontextualisation of early modern poetry and drama within the popular practical literature of its time, illuminating the intertextual and collaborative relationship between conventional conceptions of literary culture and practical writing.
Welsh Fictions: Extraction, Energy, and Environmental Justice
Panel 4.8, Thursday 31 August, 9.00am – 10.45am, Teaching Room 6
Elizabeth Edwards (University of Wales Trinity St David): Racial and Environmental Justice: Ann Julia Hatton’s Gonzalo de Baldiva (1817)
Aidan Byrne (Wolverhampton University): History, Memory and Injustice: contemporary fiction about Tryweryn
Andrew Webb (Bangor University): Welsh Petrofictions
This panel focuses on texts which register social and environmental transitions caused by the extractive and energy industries. Each paper demonstrates a connection to Wales in some way. Paper one considers the links between racial and environmental justice in an 1817 Welsh novel of intercultural encounter: Ann of Swansea’s Gonzalo de Baldiva, set largely in a Peruvian silver mine worked by slaves trafficked from Sierra Leone. Paper two argues that the Tryweryn reservoir, constructed in the 1950s and 60s – in the face of universal Welsh opposition – to provide Merseyside with the water it needed to expand is ‘a rupture of equilibrium’ (Pierre Nora) in Welsh history: a site through which Welsh culture explores and refracts contemporary issues of environmental destruction, democratic deficit and injustice. Paper three traces the shape of Welsh petrofiction: it tracks the footprint in Wales of the global oil industry from the 1920s to the present, and it suggests ways in which the transitions associated with these (dis)investments are registered in the literary record: in fictions of oil-encounter modernization; in a ‘petro-unconscious’ in texts about devastated Welsh coal mining communities following the ‘turn to oil’ in the 1920s, consolidated in the ‘Great Acceleration’ post-World War Two; and in contemporary writing which features commodities derived from oil. Together, the three papers explore the Welsh experience in/of a globalising capitalist modernity through the lens of resource extraction, labour exploitation and (de)industrialisation. The texts they discuss are similarly ‘worlded’, acknowledging the complexity of issues of environmental and social justice experienced in and beyond a particular site.
Liz Edwards, Racial and Environmental Justice: Ann Julia Hatton’s Gonzalo de Baldiva (1817)
Ann Julia Hatton, also known by her pen name ‘Ann of Swansea’, was a prolific novelist (and poet) writing for the popular press in the 1810s–1830s. Her 1817 novel Gonzalo de Baldiva, signed from Swansea in July 1816, is characteristic of her action-packed, densely plotted fictions, which tend to run several narrative lines at once in multiple and sometimes foreign locations. Even so, Gonzalo stands out for its colonial settings and abolitionist narrative, dedicated to William Wilberforce, the most prominent figure in the movement for the abolition of the trade in enslaved African people in the period.
Gonzalo is set in Britain, Sierra Leone, Mexico and largely Peru (actually modern-day Bolivia), where the Potosi silver mine plays a crucial role in the narrative. Perhaps the world’s most infamous mining site, Potosi saw human violence and environmental contamination on a huge scale. In Hatton’s novel, the mine becomes the site of an uprising of enslaved people working there, led by a small number of enslaved Africans trafficked from Sierra Leone. Gonzalo was published at a point in British culture when attention in the abolitionist movement was shifting from the slave trade to slavery (although the slave trade was outlawed in Britain in 1807, chattel slavery remained lawful until 1833). In this context, Hatton is an intriguing figure. She had travelled to America in the 1790s, but not to South America, nor to Africa, so her accounts of these places are imagined or armchair travelled only. In the light of that fact, this paper asks what might she have known about the scenes of her fiction, and how might she have known them, as she shaped her novel around devastating themes of racial and environmental catastrophe.
Aidan Byrne, History, Memory and Injustice: contemporary fiction about Tryweryn
According to Pierre Nora, the acceleration of history is marked by ‘a rupture of equilibrium’ in which custom, tradition and the ancestral habits have been displaced by historical self-consciousness, crystallised in particular places which retain memories amidst environments of loss and destruction. History, according to Nora, has eradicated the lived experience of memory in the human consciousness.
In contemporary literature and cultural texts by and about Wales, Tryweryn has become the prime lieu de memoire, a fixed point of rupture whose meaning appears clear. In the wider landscape of Goggledd Cymru, sites (often associated with water) whose meanings and memories are contested by multiple individuals and communities appear frequently: reservoirs, lakes, beaches, mountains and national parks, even house names. This paper examine the frequent, almost pathological representation of specific Welsh locations and landscapes in fiction such as WG Sebald’s Austerlitz, Jonathan Coe’s Bournville, Manon Steffan Ros’s Llyfr Glas Nebo and in recent creative non-fiction to explore whether the dichotomy between history and memory provides readers with new ways of understanding places and cultures in constant physical and conceptual flux.
Andy Webb, Welsh Petrofictions
‘we breathe naphthalene air, the pillars of smoke writhe and the astringent sky lies pale at her sides’: this line in Lynette Roberts’ 1941 poem ‘Swansea Raid’ registers the dramatic effects of the Luftwaffe’s bombing of oil industry infrastructure in south Wales. The Llandarcy oil refinery in Swansea, founded in 1921 by Anglo-Persian, was the UK’s first, and was one of a number of oil industry installations in south Wales – including the Angle Bay oil terminal in Milford Haven, its 46-mile pipeline to Llandarcy, the Baglan Bay petrochemical site near Port Talbot, and the chemical plant in Barry, near Cardiff. While Anglophone Welsh literature is usually associated with the coal industry, this paper begins to set out a critically-neglected tradition of Welsh petrofiction. There are texts of oil-encounter modernization: texts which register the impact of the oil industry in south Wales between 1921 and the closure of most sites in the 1990s and 2000s. More subtly, and following Mark Bould’s concept of the Anthropocene Unconscious, this paper identifies petrofiction in texts which depict the devastation of communities in Welsh coal producing areas – following the ‘turn to oil’ in the third decade of the twentieth century and the ‘Great Acceleration’ in the aftermath of the Second World War. Finally, the paper identifies some modern and contemporary Welsh fiction which registers the increasing presence in our lives of products that come from the process of oil extraction.