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Plasmatic Nature: Environmentalism and Animated Film

July 11th, 2011

Over the last decade, graphic novels and animated films have increasingly attracted the attention of scholars of literature and culture as genres that are no longer primarily oriented toward children, but address complex topics such as war, science, memory and trauma in sophisticated aesthetic forms. “Plasmatic Nature” will explore the significance of animated film for environmentalist thought and expression. From Disney’s Bambi (1942) to Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke (1997), animated film has shaped perceptions of nature and animals for a public whose number far exceeds that of print and visual art genres. The presentation will focus particularly on the “plasmatic” bodies of animated film – following one of Sergej Eisenstein’s meditations on animation – that is, the infinitely flexible and reshapable human and animal bodies characteristic of the genre. Theorists of animation and animatedness have pointed to the ambivalence of plasmaticness, which both points to the constraints of bodies contained by automation and mechanization, and to their transcendence of such constraints. In the environmentalist context, plasmatic bodies often point to the dynamics of evolution and ecology; but their indestructibility also raises difficulties for environmentalist thought, which has conventionally emphasized nature’s fragility. “Plasmatic Nature” will discuss these difficulties and more broadly the importance of animated film, especially in its recent developments, for environmentalist thought.

Prof. Dr. Ursula Heise is Professor of English and Director of the Program in Modern Thought & Literature at Stanford University. She is also affiliated with the Woods Institute for the Environment and the Program in Science, Technology & Society. Her major academic interests focus on environmental culture, literature and art in the Americas, Western Europe and Japan, and on theories of modernization, postmodernization and globalization. Other areas of interest include media theory, literature and science, science fiction, and narrative theory. Her book Chronoschisms: Time, Narrative, and Postmodernism appeared from Cambridge University Press in 1997, Sense of Place and Sense of Planet: The Environmental Imagination of the Global from Oxford University Press in 2008 and Nach der Natur: Das Artensterben und die moderne Kultur (After Nature: Species Extinction and Modern Culture) from the German publisher Suhrkamp in 2010. She is also working on a book provisionally entitled The Avantgarde and the Forms of Nature.