Reading and Writing the World: Perception and Identity in the Era of Climate Change
An International Conference organised by EMMA (Etudes Montpelliéraines du Monde Anglophone) in collaboration with CECILLE (Centre d’Etudes en Civilisations, Langues et Lettres Étrangères)
5–6 April 2019
Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3, France
Site Saint Charles
Thomas Dutoit, Université de Lille 3, France (confirmed)
Sarah Wood, University of Kent, UK (to be confirmed)
Convened by doctoral students: Laura Lainvae (EMMA) Sarah Jonckheere (CECILLE)
The current climate crisis is an ongoing chaotic disturbance that defies teleology, mastery, and control. For the first time in human and planetary history, a species has made an impact so profound and traumatic upon its environment that it has rewritten the earth. The Anthropocene as a scene of eruptions and fractures, of shifting grounds and shaking structures, of de-centering and opening, could, as such, be read as solicitation to set in motion a change in identity: in order to find solutions, our thinking about Earth as well as about our place in it should change. “Politics in the wake of the ecological thought must begin with the Copernican ‘humiliations’ – coming closer to the actual dirt beneath out feet, the actuality of Earth”, Timothy Morton suggests, evoking a shift in perception and hierarchy. Such shifts could be investigated through modernist and postmodernist literary grounds, through various modes of writing that challenge our anthropocentric modes of thinking, decentralizing man, and wondering about the agenda and authority of other beings. As Thomas Dutoit writes about Alice Munro: “Munro’s favourite is the ‘kame, or kame moraine,’ the description of which, in earthly and cartographical shapes, stresses the fact that if ‘geography’ (earth-writing or writing-earth) is the attempt, by man, to write, to describe, to map, the earth, ‘geography,’ by the inverse genitive, is also the earth’s writing, the traces that the earth itself inscribes. This ‘geo-grapher’ — the earth — is a never-stopping arranger, in degree more an earth-writer, a géo-littéraire, than even Alice Munro, even if, in kind, they are molecularly the same.”
This conference will attempt to trace and analyze modes of reading and writing that are not based on human mastery and exceptionalism, but rather make room for different possible viewpoints, while also questioning our identity as well as the objectivity and limits of human perception. The conference is built around the necessity to adopt a different way of reading and writing that shakes the foundations of our thinking about Earth and its various inhabitants, and forces us to see anew a landscape whose very form has been defamiliarised by the forces that traverse it. Such reading and writing might have to come to terms with what Timothy Morton calls “the symbiotic real” – the interconnectedness between species. Sarah Wood, in “Without Mastery: Reading and Other Forces” recognizes such thinking in poetry. She writes: “Browning’s feminine Music does not serve the self in its closeness to itself. We have to go beyond ourselves, to dream and read, to hear her singing.” Today, going beyond ourselves requires learning to reread ourselves and our current environment to understand our vulnerability while assuming responsibility for the endangered planet and non-human species. From encounters with diverse forms of non-human otherness (the planet, animals, forests, …) and one’s otherness within, would emerge an ethics of alterity.
We welcome papers for 20-minute presentations in English on writing and reading (not limited to literature or to humanities only) the Earth/the world/ worlds. Some questions that could be discussed include, but are not limited to:
- Writing and reading the Earth/the world/worlds in literatures, histories, and arts
- Undoing the “I”/eye in the climate change era: shifting perceptions of the self from anthropocentrism and narcissism to humility, vulnerability, and empathy
- The Earth as the other. How do we invent, and are invented by, that other through reading and writing? How is la terre (Earth) irreducible to alter[re]ity?
- Ecocinema: shifting focus/ changing perceptions
- Affect theory and climate change
- Terraformings: writing and reading the Earth in science-fiction
- Deconstruction and ecocritcism
- The Earth and law: decentering human rights
- Ethics of care and climate change
- Climate change and invisibility: how to read/understand/protect what we cannot see
- Non-humans in the humanities: hospitality or hostility?
- Scientist’s gaze
- Animals studying humans
- Anachronism and spacing: time and space as being out of joint / Geological time and space in fiction
- Posthumanism and the environment: the posthuman as the post-humus, what comes after the Earth and must take care of the earth
Proposals of about 300 words together with a short biographical note (50 words) should be sent to Sarah Jonckheere (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Laura Lainväe (email@example.com) by November 1st, 2018.
 “To constitute an ideal object is to put it at the permanent disposition of a pure gaze,” (78) Derrida writes. The current global climate crisis challenges the very idea of the possibility of a pure gaze. According to one of the most noticeable ecological thinkers of the 21th century, Timothy Clark: “The Earth is not ‘one’ in the sense of an entity we can see, understand or read as a whole. No matter how far away or ‘high up’ it is perceived or imagined, or in what different contexts – of cosmology or physics it is always something we remain ‘inside’ and cannot genuinely perceive from elsewhere. It is a transcendental of human existence, and its final determinations are undecidable. The image of the whole Earth opens upon ‘abyssal dimensions to which we can never suitably bear witness’ (David Wood).”