Surreal Entanglements: Essays on Jeff VanderMeer’s Fiction

Deadline: October 15, 2018
Contact: Prof. Louise Economides, Professor of English, University of Montana
Email: louise.economides@mso.umt.edu
Phone: 4065310965

Book proposal to be submitted to Routledge’s Studies in World Literature and the Environment series, in response to expressed interest in the project.

This collection of essays engages Jeff VanderMeer’s fiction as the starting point and springboard for a series of sustained critical inquiries into the changing material realities and posthumanist discourses that are now identifiable features of the Anthropocene. The concept of “entanglement” – introduced by Donna Haraway and initially taken up by other late Twentieth Century theorists and philosophers of science as a tactical counter to humanist discourses and the binary, colonialist, spatiotemporal logics of modernity – is an increasingly “normal” feature of everyday life around the globe. Following Jeff VanderMeer’s literary lead, this collection argues that such entangled, multi-scalar human, nonhuman, and planetary practices of life require thoroughgoing exploration, precisely as they emerge and circulate so ubiquitously today. We have chosen “entanglement” as a heuristic principle for organizing essays in this collection not only because this trope captures the radical ontological uncertainty of life in an era of global capitalism and climate change – a time when modernist dualisms between culture and nature, machine and organism, semiotic and living systems are no longer adequate for navigating emergent material conditions – but also to delineate important counter-narratives to hegemonic models of the Anthropocene. VanderMeer’s fiction radically deconstructs the conceptual categories which underwrite techno-deterministic discourses that seek to reduce contemporary eco-social challenges to an engineering problem and/or which assume a universalist subjectivity that erases the critical role that neo-colonialist, racist, sexist and speciesist politics play in our current crisis.

Pursuing the questions and quandaries at the core of VanderMeer’s fiction, the essays in this collection will explore what it might take to reckon with, and creatively realize relations of entanglement at material, political, cultural, global, and even cosmic sites and scales so that these surpass the present, often acritical acquiescence to these challenging interrelations. We believe that a sustained engagement with VanderMeer’s work can encourage conversation about emergent onto-materialist realities that remain suppressed in mainstream, universalist Anthropocene theory. If, as VanderMeer’s fictive storyworlds so convincingly suggest, we can no longer find purchase in colonialist divisions between inside and outside, subject and object, human and nonhuman, virtual and material, imagined and real what exactly are the ecocritical, aesthetic and political resources necessary to sustain complex and diverse life? How might literary and aesthetic practices, such as those Jeff VanderMeer’s fiction fearlessly devises, enable us to work through or surpass the colonialist spatiotemporal logics and epistemic violence of our recent pasts and presents instead of perpetuating them under a new sign? How does his work both mobilize and re-imagine the conventions of established genres – from nature writing to horror to travel narrative and science fiction – in order to avoid the pitfalls of both mimetic and correlationist representation? More concretely, how and why is his prose at once realist in its naturalistic evocations of geographically distinct ecosystems and problems associated with climate change and (simultaneously) sur-real, dream-like and uncanny in its explorations of bizarre phenomena that short-circuit existing conceptual frameworks and/or which are too traumatic to be processed via existing epistemologies? VanderMeer’s conceptual and formal experimentalism invites us to explore the Anthropocene as a set of interrelated, open-ended questions rather than reducing the present to the latest chapter in the long history of “Anthropos”’s attempts to dominate the planet and disenfranchised “others” (human and non-human) via language and other technologies.

Given the eclectic quality of VanderMeer’s writing and subject-matter, we invite contributions from scholars working in and across diverse fields, including ecocriticism, new materialisms, posthumanist and postcolonial theory, feminist science studies, American literary history, science fiction, climate change and Anthropocene fiction. Bringing together a wider array of scholars in these overlapping areas, the collection intends to provoke more complex, reflexive, transdisciplinary inquiries into the respective ways we currently understand literary and aesthetic practices’ entanglement with the present material conditions, opening onto other possibilities suggested by VanderMeer’s fiction and other contemporary art practices attuned to these shifts.

Given the Anthropocene’s complexity and debates over technology and art’s roles in this phenomenon and in keeping with our heuristic of entanglement, we invite essays that approach these questions with transdisciplinary expertise and frameworks, though the focus of Routledge’s Studies in World Literature and the Environment series will lead us to prioritize ecologically-focused essays to some degree. The collection will be divided into three sections focusing on important dimensions in VanderMeer’s fiction: the first on his work’s ecological implications, the second on its links with emergent scientific and new materialist philosophies, and the third on the aesthetics of entanglement and their political possibilities and limitations. Rather than a tidy division, however, these sections encourage essays and vectors of thinking that travel across these domains depending on contributors’ interests.

Questions that essays in this collection might address include:

a. How/why VanderMeer’s fiction brings together many of the broader environmental-social concerns reflected in theories of the Anthropocene (environmental justice, postcolonialist, gender-based and species-based politics, etc.). How does this fiction challenge problematic dimensions of Anthropocene theory (its universalism and/or techno-determinism regarding how we should “manage” problems like climate change);

b. Ways VanderMeer’s work challenges the “realist” frameworks typically employed within traditional “nature writing” and ecocriticism. That is, while his fiction is very relevant to contemporary political-environmental concerns, it doesn’t rely upon a representationalist or correlationist theory of language. VanderMeer’s fiction seems to employ elements of “naturalist” writing, but radically rejects romantic valorizations of place as something that offers an escape from the ontological and epistemological uncertainties of modernity;

c. How VanderMeer’s fiction allows us to explore emergent ideas regarding materiality, derived from a diversity of fields (scientific frameworks, new materialist philosophy, feminist philosophy, etc.). Likewise, ways his material storyworlds deconstruct modernist dualisms (between text-materiality, organic-inorganic domains, mind-body, human-more-than-human, etc.);

d. The consequences of new materialist philosophy and animal studies, ecologically-minded storyworlds to rethinking gender, race, colonialist and humanist knowledges in the present with an eye to their potential hyperacceleration and/or transformation;

e. How VanderMeer’s fiction engages with emerging material technosciences and tropes of computation, astrophysics, animal ethnology, microbiology, etc. as actual and creative materials that can expand awareness, perception, affect, interrelation, and cognitive models;

f. How VanderMeer’s fiction repurposes and recombines the spatiotemporal affordances and aesthetic modes of prior literary genres and traditions, rendering these newly perceptible and raising crucial questions about the political force of aesthetic practices on meaning and being today.

You can send your proposal as an .odt or .doc document. Please put “Surreal Entanglements” in the subject line and include the following in the body of your message:

· Your name and a short biography

· An abstract of no more than 500 words

· A list of five keywords/tags

· Preferred email address

Proposals should be sent to Laura Shackelford (lxsgla@rit.edu) and Louise Economides (louise.economides@mso.umt.edu) by October 15th, 2018. Completed essays of 3,000-6,000 words in length will be due in March 2019.

Posted on August 14, 2018