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2022 | Buch

Literary Animal Studies and the Climate Crisis


Über dieses Buch

Literary Animal Studies and the Climate Crisis connects insights from the field of literary animal studies with the urgent issues of climate change and environmental degradation, and features considerations of new interventions by literature in relation to these pressing questions and debates. This volume informs academic debates in terms of how nonhuman animals figure in our cultural imagination of topics such as climate change, extinction, animal otherness, the posthuman, and environmental crises. Using a diverse set of methodologies, each chapter presents relevant cases which discuss the various aspects of these interstices. This volume is an intersection between literary animal studies and climate fiction intended as an interdisciplinary intervention that speaks to the global climate debate and is thus relevant across the environmental humanities.


Narrating Entangled Vulnerabilities in an Age of Global Crises
We are ever more connected, on a global scale, and our problems have no real borders, as we are increasingly aware in the ongoing discussions of the global climate and biodiversity crises. This collection brings together different vantage points on the interstitial relationship between these considerations. While the chapters in the volume are organized in three sections—perspectives on the climate crisis; concrete challenges of extinctions; and posthuman reconfigurations of human-nonhuman relations—this introduction traces other elements of continuity between the chapters: framing, vulnerability, and interconnectedness. We open by discussing how framing operates when considering climate crises and the nonhuman. Then, following Rachel Carson, we consider the notion of vulnerability, as we are faced with global problems of pandemic and climate crisis. This is shared—by human and nonhuman actors alike—but shared unequally and impacts disproportionately. The introduction highlights this phenomenon and draws connections along this axis. For, just as we are vulnerable, we are also interconnected, which is both a strength and part of our vulnerability. Our narrative responses to these challenges, paired with the goals of such a discussion, bring us back to the frame of the debate and frame the collection as a whole.
Sune Borkfelt, Matthias Stephan

Climate Crisis

Hopping, Crawling, Hiding: Creatural Movements on the Path to Climate Emergency
Many of the best works of recent literary and creative prose to engage with the climate emergency and extinction risks do so by telling the stories of human lives intricately and often magically woven together with the lives of nonhuman animals. Building on eco-critical research around the practice of a “creatural writing,” I look at the movements both human and nonhuman beings take along “creatural paths” in the ficto-criticism of Joshua Lobb’s The Flight of Birds; the ways in which both animals and writing “hide” inside Nicholas Royle’s An English Guide to Birdwatching; and trace the elusive paths of a Woolly Rat around the ark narrative of Abi Curtis’s apocalyptic Water and Glass as an exploration of nonhuman agency and resistance to our climate and animal emergencies.
I argue that these works, foregrounding as they do the embodied movement of sentient beings, are responses to the specific corporeal nature of the threat we face as a species from climate disaster, a reckoning with our bodily alienation from the nonhuman world. In moving along “creatural paths” that are (or imagine) embodied encounters with nonhuman others, these works offer an encounter with this reckoning we need as a species if we are to respond appropriately to the emergencies we face, and, focusing on the production as well as the reception of texts, perhaps such forms of literary production are a way to nurture embodied practices to help us admit we are, and always have been, vulnerable bodies dependent on our environment.
I wish to argue for a clear political value of such texts. While perhaps it is harder today than in Anna Sewell’s time for an individual text of literature to “change the world,” what these, and other, texts do, in a time of proliferating animal voices and nonhuman agency, offer a powerful intervention in the value of non-dominant and unconventional narrative. Developing Anat Pick’s idea of “creaturely poetics” with some broader work in speculative futures that allow us to better question dominant human-centred narratives of the climate emergency and Anthropocene, I suggest creatureliness is a political term with agency that can help us adapt and account for better human responses to climate crises. While others, such as Kathryn Yussof, have argued for either “a billion black Anthropocenes or none” I also take up similar lines to suggest, building on the world of eco-literate critics such as Carol Adams, Roman Bartosch, and others, that we have a trillion animal emergencies wrapped up inside the climate emergency. The way to undo this knot is, I argue, to follow creatural paths, the hopping, crawling, and hiding of animals in texts that resist and re-appropriate the body for nonhuman and human survival under a crisis light.
Alex Lockwood
Polar Bears and Butterflies: Allegory, Science, and Experientiality in Climate Change Fiction
According to Dipesh Chakrabarty, climate change is a phenomenon that is open “as much to science and technology as to rhetoric, art, media, and arguments and conflicts conducted through a variety of means.” Apparently, climate change has begun to make its way into the cultural imagination, and yet popular fictions still utilize conventional, human-centered narrative strategies in the face of something that presents a huge challenge to the very future existence of human and nonhuman species. While a popular topic in science fiction, fantasy, graphic novels, movies, and documentaries, climate change has been an issue rarely grappled within the mode of a realist or conventional novel. Arguably the best-known climate change novels so far, Ian McEwan’s Solar (2010) and Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior (2012), still fall in the category of the realist novel despite their metafictional and allegorical dimensions, in the sense that they are “set in the here, the now, and the local,” as Patrick Murphy has it. In this paper, I also try to read the presence of nonhuman animals in these two novels, which remain more or less human-centered narratives. David Herman suggests that it is part of the nature of narrative to focus on the impact of events on experiencing minds and embodied consciousnesses. In his Narratology Beyond the Human: Storytelling and Animal Life (2018), Herman is interested in the interplay between nonhuman agents and their surrounding environments, arguing that human as well as nonhuman minds are embedded in those natural and social environments in which they act and interact.
In McEwan’s Solar, the polar bear, living or dead, functions as a recognizable icon or symbol of global warming to those familiar with the history of environmentalism and its rhetoric, but its meaning escapes McEwan’s arrogant protagonist, Nobel Prize-winning scientist Michael Beard. “Flight behavior” in the title of Kingsolver’s novel not only refers to the migration of millions of orange Monarch butterflies from Mexico to North America, because of climate change, but also to the main character Dellarobia’s own flight behavior in her love life, at least in the eyes of the conservative Appalachian community she lives in. As I argue, narrative fiction typically emphasizes human experientiality or allegorical storytelling; indeed, it is through narratives—including metaphors, symbols, and allegories—that the complex problem of climate change can be rhetorically offered to the larger public imagination. As Ursula Heise argues in Sense of Place and Sense of Planet (2008), perceptions of climate change and other environmental risks are shaped by narrative modes and rhetorical tropes, which serve as a means of “organizing information about risks into intelligible and meaningful stories.” Consequently, classical figures, tropes, and allegorical story models, such as pastoral, apocalypse, irony, tragedy, and comedy, retain their vitality when novelists and other artists try to come to terms with climate change. While polar bears and butterflies function as icons and symbols of climate change in these two novels, they are finally marginalized in human-centered stories. But they still have their disturbing effect: the living polar bear’s traces on the snow are like prints on the paper, and the dead polar bear is a motif that launches the narrative in Solar. In Flight Behavior, the appearance of millions of Monarch butterflies destabilizes the lifestyle of a human society, and everyone is interested in giving their specific interpretation of the event. In these two climate change novels, nonhuman animals, such as polar bears and butterflies, are used as allegorical figures, as mirror images of devastating human actions in the age of the Anthropocene.
Markku Lehtimäki
A Spokesbear for Climate Crisis?: The Role of Zoos in Yoko Tawada’s Memoirs of a Polar Bear
Memoirs of a Polar Bear, a novel by Yoko Tawada originally published in German as Etüden im Schnee: Roman (2014) and translated into English by Susan Bernofsky in 2016, is a climate change parable, since its protagonists, three polar bears, are at risk from warming seas and melting ice caps. But it is also a critique of the capitalist exploitation of the human predilection toward conserving (especially cuddly and cute) nonhuman animal species which takes the form of consumerism rather than activism. The novel contains three memoirs of three generations of polar bears, each of whom becomes less anthropomorphized: the unnamed grandmother speaks with humans freely, her daughter Tosca communicates with her trainer through dreamlike states, while her grandson Knut can only use gestures. The characters of Tosca and Knut are based on real polar bears at the Berlin Zoo; born in 2016, Knut became a sensation, attracted huge crowds, and was photographed by Annie Leibovitz for the cover of Vanity Fair. He was also the subject of controversy: whether it was ethical to let live a bear born in captivity, one who would not survive in his natural habitat, and whether such an animal could cohabitate with other bears or be around humans. Although the first memoir is preoccupied with female autobiographical authorship and political repression, all three draw attention to the plight of polar bears in captivity, in circuses and zoos, an animal rights issue exacerbated by the continual disappearance of wildlife habitats due to climate change—the impending reality of which makes the original title of Tawada’s work (“Etudes in the Snow”) painfully ironic.
In my close reading of the novel in the context of current animal studies and Anthropocene discussions, I argue that, besides challenging what Franz de Waal calls “anthropodenial,” the blurring of the human-bear line in Tawada’s Memoirs asks us to imagine collaborative potential of interspecies relationships in a world radically shaped by anthropogenic climate change; by foregrounding human and nonhuman labor, moreover, as well as a queer, interspecies entanglement between Tosca and her trainer, the novel invites us to work toward what Anna Tsing terms “collaborative survival” and, in Donna Haraway’s words, to “stay with the trouble” with a new focus on our “multispecies muddle” and “oddkin.” It also demonstrates the importance of literature for thinking about the role of zoos as sites of conservation in the post-Anthropocene and the potential disappearance of all natural habitats, a role all the more ethically problematic given the fraught connection between consumerist capitalism, which allows the zoos to function, and their less utilitarian pursuit of conservation, breeding, and scientific study. Thus, this paper concludes with a discussion of two recent controversies, the first involving the Berlin Zoo, where the real Knut’s short life and tragic death were exploited for commercial gain, and the second, at the London Zoo, where animal rights activists argued that “zoo nights,” canceled in 2015 and revived in 2019, while great for the zoo’s bottom line, risked traumatizing and stressing the animals.
Anastassiya Andrianova
Undoing Creation in the Climate Change Apocalypse: Animality and Evolution in Louise Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God
We are now in the midst of the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth. Half of the world’s animal populations have been lost in the past few decades. It is unsurprising that literature has emerged that addresses this crisis. In this article I will discuss Louise Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God, a dystopian novel in which evolution has reversed, arguing that the novel deconstructs the border between human and animal. In the novel, babies of all species are born from earlier stages of evolution, resulting in a dystopia in which pregnant women are held by an authoritarian government. While there are numerous implications for this newly reversed evolution, in this paper I will explore the theological implications of Erdrich’s novel, which imagines a climate change apocalypse specifically emerging from the problem of animality in Christian discourse.
Theologian Eric Daryl Meyer argues that “the mainstream of Christian theological tradition has been committed to some version of a categorical distinction between human beings and all other animals” (2). I argue that Christian theologies have historically relied upon a “dominion” model of the relationship between human and animal that draws on a reading of Genesis that posits human difference from and power over the natural world. The King James Version puts it this way: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth” (Genesis 1:26). To summarise, humans are born b’tzelem elohim as the Hebrew terms it, made in the image of God—and animals are not. Fundamentalists of all stripes have therefore seen evolution as a threat to their narratives of creation ever since Darwin first published his theories, while climate change has more recently emerged as a challenge to human dominion over the natural world. But what would happen if species stopped “breeding true,” as the novel puts it? What if the natural world had become so polluted that life stopped being reproduced in knowable ways?
What Erdrich’s novel does therefore, in reversing the progress of evolution, is return humanity to its animality. The work of animal studies of the last 20 years has problematised the difference between human and animal, in particular inspired by Derrida’s reflections on the subject in The Animal That I Am. In Erdrich we can see that the creation model in which human and animal constitute radically different domains is becoming undone by climate change. Like a number of other significant dystopias including The Children of Men, the novel explores the disintegration of society through the experience of a pregnant woman, a move which cannot but help recall Christian iconography of the Virgin Mary. But a Messiah will not save us from climate change, nor save the animal kingdom from the sixth mass extinction, and Erdrich is canny enough not to provide such an easy redemption narrative. While the novel does take some of its power from “reproductive futurism,” as the queer theorist Lee Edelman has termed it, its deconstruction of the boundary between human and animal suggests a more ambivalent conclusion: we are all in climate change together, and our fates are bound up in one another.
Emily McAvan
Bodies Tell Stories: Race, Animality, and Climate Change in Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones
This chapter explores Jesmyn Ward’s novel Salvage the Bones as an enactment of what Claire Jean Kim calls an ethics of avowal of race and animality—in which racialized violence is not conflated with violence toward animals, but rather understood as mutually constitutive and inseparably linked. Ward’s novel takes place over twelve days leading up to Hurricane Katrina and the day after. Drawing from critical race studies, animal studies, feminist science studies, and Black feminist critique, this chapter analyzes Ward’s novel within a climate of anti-Blackness and a climate-changed world. Ward’s novel enacts a kind of noticing of what Katherine McKittrick terms Black livingness that is inextricable from more-than-human aliveness. Through this lens, Salvage the Bones is a different kind of companion species manifesto—a manifesto-novel, a declaration of survival, and a site of resistance—one that tells a complex and contradictory story of co-constitutive relationships between bodies in a world that is always already more-than-human. This chapter examines the current confluence of global crises as a time to turn toward the animal and animalized bodies (both human and more-than-human) and reclaim power, as the vast majority of people and beings on this planet have been excluded from, and exploited by, Western-white-male-humanity.
Elana Margot Santana


Playing Against Extinction: “The Dreaded Comparison” and the Distribution of the Human in Mlima’s Tale
The climate change and extinction crises are—above all—crises of values. World leaders, CEOs, and other humans in positions of power largely understand the science behind climate change and the structural changes necessary to address it, but thus far the popular and political will necessary to enact those changes has been lacking. This crisis of values is one which the arts and humanities seem especially suited to address given their wide-reaching capacity to shape public discourse. However, the paradox at the heart of ecologically oriented artistic practice is that the artists are (almost always) humans, and they are therefore liable to reproduce the same destructive anthropocentrism that has led to our collective emergency.
This paradox seems especially difficult to negotiate in literature—whose historic reliance on written language inextricably intertwines it with human-centric logic—and even more difficult in dramatic literature, which almost always assumes the central presence of the human body at the heart of the text and performance. How can a form so bound up with the idea of the human speak to something like the sixth mass extinction without reproducing the destructive anthropocentric logic that led to it? There have been attempts to index the nonhuman in Western dramatic literature and practice since at least ancient Greek tragedy (from the Greek tragōidia, meaning “goat song”). However, as scholars like Una Chaudhuri, Kari Weil, and Nicholas Ridout have shown, most attempts to represent the nonhuman animal in the theater result in the animal’s interpellation into anthropocentric systems of meaning-making, therefore reproducing the animal as a symbol or tool for human (mis)use. Not to mention, in practice, bringing animals onstage often raises ethical concerns about their welfare, which blurs the boundaries between a piece’s “meaning” and its material reality.
This chapter analyzes Pulitzer- and Tony-winning playwright Lynn Nottage’s Mlima’s Tale (2018) as an intervention into the representation of the nonhuman animal facing extinction. The play follows Mlima, a “big tusker” elephant, as he is hunted, killed, and bought and sold through the global ivory market. Much of the media surrounding the premier described the play as a “problem play” in which Nottage is trying to “save the elephants,” classifying the project as yet another attempt to cultivate spectators’ empathy by highlighting and anthropomorphizing the plight of a mediagenic endangered species. However, as this analysis of both the play-text and the original production will show, Mlima’s Tale is not—primarily—about “saving the elephants”; rather, it is working to highlight and deconstruct the means by which the social category of “human” is distributed across beings.
The play makes no attempt to realistically represent an elephant onstage. Instead, a black man (in every production so far) performs Mlima such that the play draws what Marjorie Spiegel has called “the dreaded comparison” between human and animal slavery. In doing so, the play illuminates new networks of responsibility and response-ability (Haraway) between human and nonhuman animals, new opportunities for cross-species assembly (Butler), and new ways of imagining extinction and its consequences.
Abby Schroering
Animal Narrators and Resonant Silences in “The Great Silence” by Ted Chiang and Sila by Chantal Bilodeau
In Wild Ones, Jon Mooallem writes that whenever he contemplated the fact that polar bears “might stop existing,” he would become “viscerally uneasy”—and so, he admits, he “usually didn’t,” even as he was writing about them (85). His confession is illuminating: how do we mourn for the losses caused by humanity in the Age of the Sixth Mass Extinction? The effects of climate change are too complex to hold in our minds and our ability to process extinction on a planetary scale is also thus limited. Yet animal characters may bypass the “viscerally uneasy” feelings produced when considering climate change, in part because they circumvent culpability and represent an innocence that many humans would desperately like to claim as their own. In this way, animal narrators open a space for readers to mourn, to sympathize—and sometimes even empathize—with the suffering caused by planetary imbalance for an increasing number of beings, including humans.
In this chapter, I analyze two texts that employ animal narrators as prisms for viewing the effects of, and the suffering caused by, climate change as it escalates to also endanger human communities. Specifically, this paper interrogates how anthropomorphization works as a literary device that may open a space for emotion or affect in two texts, “The Great Silence” by Ted Chiang (2015) and Sila by Chantal Bilodeau (2015). Each approaches anthropomorphization differently, but with common goals: to articulate the trauma of other-than-human approaching extinction events as the same forces causing extinction imperil human communities. In “The Great Silence,” a parrot details the human search for “intelligence” in the vast scope of space, even as most humans simultaneously ignore the many intelligences that surround us on this planet. The parrot narrator thinks about how the forest may fall silent, mimicking the silence humans think they hear from our solar system, and meditates upon both species-specific extinction and planetary extinction. Sila also contains other-than-human narrators, polar bears, as they struggle for survival in a quickly changing landscape alongside Inuit communities who similarly struggle. As the play unfolds, Sila argues through the polar bears—iconic darlings of the climate crisis—that “extinction” is not just a threat to singular species, but to entire ecosystems, and will inevitably impact the human communities with which specific species are related and intertwined.
Through animal narrators, these two texts create a space for readers to see from other-than-human views, to perceive the world differently, uncomplicated by human politics or the messiness of blame. These narrators can communicate loss and suffering in a more “pure” form—however problematic that may be—and these texts show that lack of agency to fight extinction isn’t solely the experience of other-than-human animals—human communities can and do suffer similarly.
Brianna R. Burke
The Climate of Extinction: Resistant Multispecies Communities in Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior and Richard Powers’s The Overstory
In a 2018 special report on the impacts of global warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) observed that one half of local extinctions during the twentieth century could be attributed to climate change. The report notes that insect and plant species unable to escape or withstand extreme weather events are particularly threatened by anthropogenic climate disturbance. While the IPCC report clarifies the cause and effect relationship of climate change and species loss, it does not propose strategies for limiting this violence. Searching for ways to resist species loss caused or exacerbated by climate change, this chapter turns to the projects of resistance plotted by contemporary U.S. climate fiction. Taken together, Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior (2012) and Richard Powers’s The Overstory (2018) fictionalize historical attempts to mitigate the threat of extinction posed by climate change in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. The novels describe a diverse cast of characters (human and nonhuman) who come together to protect two species threatened by climate disturbance: the monarch butterfly in Tennessee and the coast redwood in the Pacific littoral region. In both instances, conservation science provides a site from which researchers, environmental activists, and other beings forge multispecies coalitions that defy climate-induced extinction by supporting mutual well-being.
To study how multispecies communities practice care for one another and resist species death, this chapter reads Flight Behavior and The Overstory through the critical frameworks developed by the emerging field of extinction studies. This approach shifts attention away from popular accounts that dramatize the loss of a final remaining organism as a singular event occurring within the lifespan of modernity to, instead, the networks of ecological embeddedness developed through deep time that become compromised when a species ceases to exist. In Flight Ways: Life and Loss at the Edge of Extinction (2014), the Australian multispecies scholar Thom van Dooren coins the phrase “the dull edge of extinction” to describe the entangled evolutionary histories lost when a species goes extinct. Extinction, in this framework, is a collective death that implicates groups of humans and nonhumans in multiple, and always unfolding, ways. In the follow-up volume Extinction Studies: Stories of Time, Death, and Generations (2017) inspired by this multispecies approach, Deborah Bird Rose, van Dooren, and Matthew Chrulew argue that by rethinking extinction as a cascade of multispecies losses, people can cultivate care for vulnerable others. By foregrounding multigenerational and overlapping lifeways threatened by climate change, Flight Behavior and The Overstory recognize species loss as a problem of entanglement and tell narratives of multispecies communities that emerge at the dull edge of extinction to practice care for insect and plant species acutely experiencing climate violence. Describing how a scientific team seeks to protect millions of monarchs whose annual southern migration is disrupted by unseasonal temperatures and how a botanist who studies the impacts of climate change on tree species ultimately inspires eco-activists to fight for redwoods, these cli-fi narratives imagine multispecies communities that challenge the entangled violence of climate disruption and extinction.
Nathaniel Otjen
Do Humans Dream of Disappearing Insects?: Fictional Strategies to Convey the Impact of Insect Loss
This chapter explores the use of fictional representations to convey urgency about the impact of disappearing insect populations. Philip K. Dick’s iconic Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? offers a powerful case that empathy is an essential attribute of humanity. However, it is difficult for most of us to experience the same empathy for insects that we feel for other animals. Insects are perceived as invasive, carriers of disease, and destructive of property; they are less “cute” and companionable. What fictional strategies can be employed to engage a public who, in Donna Haraway’s phrase, are “dithering” over the loss of insects? Strategies would include stories where humans experience the pain of loss of insects, not only emotional loss but deprivation of plant sources needed to feed animals and ultimately human populations.
This chapter considers fiction which may elicit empathy and lead to sympathetic identification with, for example, bees and butterflies. I discuss Maja Lunde’s The History of Bees, Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior, Donna Haraway’s “Camille Stories,” and Barbara Litwick’s “Monarch Blue.” In these stories protagonists experience varying types of inter-species bonding with bees and butterflies—emotional identification, role reversal, and even adoption of physical attributes. These are stories where the lines between humans and insects blur.
However, even if readers resist emotional connection, I argue for the application of certain principles adapted from Care Ethics philosophy to insect populations.
There is an ongoing debate about our moral obligation to insects; because they do not exhibit sentience as we know it, their capacity to feel pain is in question. I argue that even if we doubt the ability of insects to feel pain, care ethics principles are relevant to decision-making given our own interest in preserving pollinators. While the moral philosophy of care ethics originally focused on caregiving to family members and close familiars, two recent extensions are relevant to preserving insect populations: extension to animal ethics and extension of care ethics principles to public policy, even on a national or global scale. Animal care ethicists have emphasized our obligation to vertebrate animals rather than insects. I offer a rationale for extending care practice to insects as a matter of praxis, regardless of whether we recognize a duty.
Sara Schotland


Resurrecting Species Through Robotics: Animal Extinction and Deextinction in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) is often understood as commentary on what it means to be human contra android. Less work has been done on animals in the novel, probably because the animal aspect was downplayed significantly in the movie version Blade Runner (1982), an entrance point for many scholars. Ecocriticism scholar Ursula Heise is one of the few who have focused on the novel’s animals, concluding that Dick demonstrates acceptance of ‘technological simulation of animal life’ to fulfil organic functions.
In this chapter, I build off Heise’s assertion by looking more closely at the central narrative of animal extinction in the novel and how robotic replacements are part of a deextinction process. In the backstory, the religious figure Wilbur Mercer was punished because he could “bring dead animals back as they had been” before after-war contamination by dust caused their extinction. Mercer’s mystical resurrection was dependent on extinct animal resurrection. It is no wonder then that humans, following the teachings of Mercer, worked hard to re-fill the world with animals. Yet since many organic animals were extinct, robotic animals became their replacements. I read the electric replacements as attempts to deextinct species through technological means that blur the boundary between natural and artificial.
Then I apply my analysis of Dick’s writing to the contemporary development of robotic bees in the face of predicted bee extinctions. The Wyss Institute at Harvard University first introduced RoboBees in 2013, and in March 2018, the American company Walmart filed a US patent for ‘Systems and methods for pollinated crops via unmanned vehicles’ using small flying devices as pollinators. The novel helps explain both the rationale behind these developments and how the natural-artificial boundary is made meaningless through them.
Dolly Jørgensen
Alien Oceans as Climate Salvation: Finding Hope in Kinship with the Deep Blue Unknown
Drawn straight from headlines of rising sea levels, the dominant cultural image of the ocean in climate fiction is as an agent of annihilation that drowns the world. It may come as a surprise, then, that another emerging trend in science fiction sees the ocean as an embodiment of hope and transformation. In this new literature, from the blue depths emerges a nonhuman entity that offers higher forms of understanding, environmental liberation from the prisons of capital and energy conservation, and reckonings with justice. From the sea comes absolution, rebirth, and hope.
This essay interrogates this literature, focusing on Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon, Todd Strasser’s The Beast of Cretacea, China Miéville’s The Scar, Jane Rawson’s From the Wreck, and Sam Miller’s Blackfish City, and examines the role of the oceanic animal/nonhuman savior. Drawing on scholarship from Science and Technology Studies, I compare this emerging trope of ocean-as-savior to the trope of ocean-as-destruction and argue it is a direct response to the seeming helplessness of humans to stop the climate crisis.
The projection of the unknown and unknowable onto the ocean dates back to antiquity and has historically been negative; we tremble before the ocean, we lose ourselves in its vastness, we would be fools to expect anything from it. What secrets the sea hides are best left alone; think Moby Dick whose pursuit leads only to destruction or the incomprehensible alien sea of Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris.
The destruction of the terrestrial spaces humans historically see as home has prompted a reexamining of these tropes and the emergence of new ones. The water is coming for us, rising with the seas, and the aliens of this literature are its native inhabitants—they are nonhuman animals, humans who ally themselves with the nonhuman, extraterrestrials who take their form. In a critical shift characteristic of the Anthropocene, the sea may be able to save us because it is vast, unknown, and holds secrets. Perhaps disturbingly, salvation must be alien and external. We are insufficient to save ourselves from climate change, but the ocean is alien, not us; through its otherness it is permitted to work miracles.
At the same time, I argue that perhaps the ocean in these stories retains an indestructibility that the real ocean lacks. The Anthropocene sea is an agent of destruction; it is also vulnerable to acidification, warming, species migrations and extinctions, and the collapse of intricate and vast ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef. I interrogate whether this framing of oceanic salvation distracts from the real dangers the ocean faces. When seas must save us, who will save them? In the words of Adrienne Rich, what does this literature do to “the thing I came for/the wreck and not the story of the wreck/ the thing itself and not the myth”? Can literature grasp an ocean at risk?
Aaron Van Neste
Ecocrises and Posthuman-Animal Futures in Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl and Schoen’s Barsk
Drawing on Suvin’s notion of “cognitive estrangement” in Science Fiction and the place of the animal “other” in conceptions of posthuman theory (after Deleuze and Guattari, Braidotti, Vint, and Wolfe), this proposed chapter examines how two recent Science Fiction texts present posthuman-animal figures within imaginative future worlds in ecocrisis. Both Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl and Lawrence M. Schoen’s Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard present posthuman future scenarios that include important reconsiderations of the place of animals within human-animal relationships.
In the former, Bacigalupi looks to a not-too-distant future Thailand as the setting, providing a tension between the surrounding multinational domain where gene-spliced species are rampant and a kingdom that attempts to selectively cordon itself off from ecocatastrophe. In this narrative, animal and other organisms are suspect: tailored for particular roles (such as labouring animals like megodont, who are a refiguration of an earlier elephant workforce) or part of bio-economic warfare. In such a world, the titular “New People” windups are popularly equated with the denatured nonhuman world created by human technology; Bacigalupi’s text presents both the problems of a biological neo-imperialism and reactionary opposition that relegates lifeforms (including varieties of the “human”) into categories to be feared and eradicated.
Likewise, Schoen’s future scenario posits a new position for the descendants of our “natural” animals: his text is as much “Postanimal” as it is “Posthuman,” depicting a galaxy inhabited by apparently “uplifted” species sometime after the epoch of human dominance; this post-extinction scenario, however, seems still to reflect an analogue of human patterns of imperial power and attempted decolonization. The future interspecies Alliance presented in this book seems to mirror an aggressive military-economic power structure across thousands of planets; the planet Barsk presents a resistance, a marginalized race of neo-elephants whose specific gifts and resources present a threat to the wider hegemony, partly in their cultivation of a biological “lifeboat” and “nativism” at odds with the wider intergalactic society. Schoen’s thought experiment clearly references a dialogic of colonial power and decolonial “newness” (after Bhabha) while also presenting problems of ethology’s stereotypes of animal behaviour and the issue “subaltern” animal Umvelts: how can the animal others speak to us except through anthropomorphic utterance?
While both writers respond to crises of the Anthropocene by placing nonhuman animals and posthumans in the crux of their discussions, their choice of development of Posthuman concerns demonstrates differing complications with the place of such beings and the possibility of “solutions” to these crises.
Daniel Bedggood
Literary Animal Studies and the Climate Crisis
herausgegeben von
Sune Borkfelt
Matthias Stephan
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