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Keynote Lecture "Into the Multiverse: Cultural Studies and Environmental Futures"

Prof. Ursula Heise at 18:00 on Tuesday, June 20 (online)

Keynote Lecture "Into the Multiverse: Cultural Studies and Environmental Futures" with Prof. Ursula Heise at 18:00 on Tuesday, June 20 (online).

The multiverse or existence of parallel worlds has come to the fore as a major theme as well as an important narrative strategy in novels and films of the last twenty years. The scale of these parallel worlds ranges from the individual life decisions in the Oscar-winning film Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022) to the ecological transformations in Gibson's novel The Peripheral (2014), social structures and racial inequality in the animated film Spider Man: Into the Spiderverse (2018) and Micaiah Johnson's The Space between Worlds (2020), all the way to different evolutionary trajectories in M.R. Carey's Infinity Gate (2020). Narratives such as these reflect, on the surface, on socioeconomic disparities and culture clashes, but they also engage with a deeper sense of epochal change, environmental crisis, and pervasive uncertainty that prevents not only confident forecasting of the future but also cognitive mapping of the present. This presentation will argue that the meme of split and parallel worlds has also affected cultural studies, which has increasingly fractured into tenuously connected epistemic ventures since the turn of the millennium. The paradigm of justice (social, economic, and environmental) has provided a new connective tissue over the last five years, but is itself subject to cultural divergence. The lecture will explore to what extent the cultural studies of the future need connecting paradigms and to what extent the multiverse might prove a productive metaphor for research on cultures.

Ursula K. Heise holds the Marcia H. Howard Term Chair in Literary Studies in the Department of English and the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA. Her research and teaching focus on the environmental humanities; contemporary environmental literature, arts, and cultures in the Americas, Germany, Japan, Spain, and Vietnam; literature and science; science fiction; and narrative theory. Her books include, among others, Sense of Place and Sense of Planet: The Environmental Imagination of the Global (Oxford University Press, 2008) and Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species (University of Chicago Press, 2016), which won the 2017 book prize of the British Society for Literature and Science. She is co-editor of The Routledge Companion to the Environmental Humanities (Routledge, 2017), and co-editor of the series Literatures, Cultures, and the Environment with Palgrave. Her most recent book, a co-edited essay collection on Environment and Narrative in Vietnam, will be published in 2023. She is currently at work on a book entitled Reclaiming Ecotopia: Science Fiction and Environmental Futures.