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KL: Erin James: Narrative in the Anthropocene

When Dec 10, 2019
from 06:00 to 08:00
Where Phil I, GCSC, R.001
Contact Name
Contact Phone +49 641 / 99-30 053
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When scholars speak of narrative and the Anthropocene, they tend to do so in one of two ways. The first is the conversation that dominates work in the environmental humanities and positions narrative as part of the problem of and solution to environmental crisis. Change the stories, these scholars suggest, and change the damaging attitudes and behaviors that have brought us to this point. A second group of scholars link narrative and the Anthropocene in a much less optimistic way, suggesting that narrative is a rhetorical mode deeply unsuited to our current epoch. These critics argue that narrative is intimately tied to human perspectives and, as such, cannot adequately represent the broader timescales and wider conception of inhuman lives that our current moment of environmental crisis demands. 


In this talk, I offer a third option for considering the relationship between narrative and the Anthropocene—one that questions what contribution the epoch stands to make to narrative studies and vice versa. I bring together the until now disparate conversations of the environmental humanities and narrative theory to propose an “Anthropocene narrative theory,” or a theory of narrative sensitive to matters commonly associated with the epoch, to explore how narrative and the Anthropocene inform and are influenced by each other. I do this by thinking through various ideas and issues that we associate with our new geological epoch—especially those relevant to representations of narrative time and space and the processes of narrative production and interpretation—and envisaging their possible narratological correspondents. As my talk explains, an Anthropocene narrative theory poses the following questions: how does narrative help us think differently about the Anthropocene? How do narratives provide us with safe contexts in which to explore how humans make and inhabit worlds in their own image? How does the reading of strata in rocks, tree rings, and ice cores, which are themselves material representations of sequences of events, challenge our most basic conceptualizations of narrativity? How do the materials that we associate with the Anthropocene—rocks and ice, but also the fiber cables and LCD screens of digital medias—change the way that we interact with narrative? How do the new, broad conceptions of geologic time and planetary space associated with the Anthropocene diversify models of narrative chronologies and spatializations? How does an awareness of collective agency of humans as a geological agent shed new light on types of narration and narrators?

// Prof. Erin James (University of Idaho)

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