Crises: Climate and Critique in the Literature and Arts of the English-Speaking World

Deadline: April 1st 2021
Contact: Pierre L. Patoine, Assistant professor of American literature, Sorbonne Nouvelle University
Email: [email protected]
Phone: +33785825552

Crises: Climate and Critique in the Literature and Arts of the English-Speaking World after 1800

International conference in Paris · November 18 – 20, 2021

University Sorbonne Nouvelle

Our times are marked, perhaps even defined, by crisis: sanitary, economic, social and epistemic crises but also (and perhaps more prominently) ecological and climate crises, which gave rise to the “crisis of the imagination” identified by Lawrence Buell in 1995. Twenty years later, the matter stands unresolved, driving writer Amitav Gosh to declare in 2016: “the climate crisis is a crisis of culture, thus of the imagination.” Confounded by the biological, geological and planetary scales of the crisis, humankind seems unable to coherently grasp, feel or represent the ongoing catastrophe.

Yet, some writers have been warning us about ecological degradation since the 1840s (Susan Fenimore Cooper) at the very least, while others have given voice to nonhuman interests (John Muir), prefiguring the Gaian ethics today defended by thinkers such as Bruno Latour. Is it then literary criticism and theory that have been late in considering the environmental imagination? How are the fields of critique evolving nowadays as they seek to engage with a growing body of literary and artistic texts (emerging notably from speculative fiction and cli-fi) mandated with anticipating or negotiating the cataclysm, representing this “hyperobject” (Morton 2013), and tracing maps to navigate the unthinkable (Patrick Lagadec)? What new ways of reading and interpreting does this double crisis, of the climate and of the imagination, call for?

From the “crisis of the concept of literature” announced at the beginning of the 20th century (Jacques Rivière), to Edgar Morin’s theory of “crisology” (1976), the wide-ranging concept of “crisis” spans so many horizons of our contemporary consciousness it has become a “ready-made cliché” (Randolph Starn, 2005), regularly wielded to label breaks and ruptures of all kinds, ideological or political upheaval as well as aesthetic apotheosis. The word – originally carrying a dimension of decision, examination, and judgement, that closely relates it to critique – has been emptied out, even turned against itself as it has come to designate the (recurring) dysfunction of a system caught in the loop of permanent indecision. Considered both a source of instability and innovation, the concept appears thus inherently ambivalent (in Hölderlin’s words, “where the danger is, also grows the saving power”). Will the current ecological crisis signal the renewal of the relation between literature and the world, rendered so problematic by 20th century avant-gardes? Are we witnessing a rebalancing of activism and formalism, ethics and aesthetics within the fields of artistic practice? Will climate change invite literature and the arts to rethink their relationship with science?

If for McLuhan “there are no passengers on spaceship Earth, we are all crew”, we are not equally exposed to the turbulences shaking our planet, and the very idea of crisis can become the pretext for an authoritarian reinforcing of these inequalities. This conference will also be the occasion of interrogating how ecocriticism meets decolonial theory (Ferdinand 2019), and how the perspectives of animal and plant studies are connected to the minority positions that have been structuring literary studies since the 1980s (feminist and gender studies, queer theory, African-American studies, disability studies). Can we talk, with Dipesh Chakrabarty (2019), of the planetary as an “emergent regime of historicity” demanding that we reevaluate national histories (the scale at which we still mostly observe literature)? Finally, the conference will also allow us to explore how different literary genres grapple with the double crisis of climate and imagination: is poetry, which since Mallarmé (1897) has been suffering a a perpetual “crise de vers” better suited to formulate the unthinkable? What then of the theater, which thinks itself as the genre of crisis per se (Artaud, in The Theater and the Plague, 1938: ” Theater, just like the plague, is a crisis which can only be resolved by death or a cure”)? Through these explorations, we hope to better grasp the positioning of contemporary criticism in the face of global catastrophe.

Presentations may be in French or English and touch upon:

Climate change & the crisis of imagination
Representing climate change
Data visualizing & big data in literature and the arts
New genres in the era of climate change (post-pastoral, cli-fi, Anthropocene noir, etc.)
Close reading & distant reading
Ecocriticism & post/decolonial studies
The global or the planetary
Crisis capitalism
New discourses of futurity
Literature & environmental justice
Literary activism, ecopoethics
Nonhuman diplomacy
Geography/cartography in literature
The “studies” in the face of climate change
Critical reevaluations of notions such as:
– crisis
– precariousness and resilience
– the Anthropocene
– posthumanism
– Gaia / Pachamama
– terraforming & geoengineering

250-500 words proposals accompanied by a short bio. should be sent to:

[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]

Submission deadline is April 1st, 2021.

Proposals will be subjected to blind peer-review by the scientific committee. Authors will be informed of the results of their submission before April 20th 2021.


Isabelle Alfandary, Sarah Montin & Pierre-Louis Patoine

This conference is an initiative of the Sorbonne Nouvelle University (EA 4398 PRISMES – Groupe 19-21 Modernités critiques).

Posted on December 17, 2020