CFP: Representing Nature in the Age of the Anthropocene

Université Jean Moulin (Lyon 3) & Institut d’Études Transtextuelles et Transculturelles (IETT)
March 22-23, 2018

This conference will focus on the idea of nature in the age of the Anthropocene, climate change, and bioengineering. Various upheavals caused by the “global war” waged by mankind on nature (Michel Serres) have led to a shift in the debate about the meaning of nature and even about its very existence. It is therefore worth analyzing this concept from the perspective of 21st-century environmental challenges and the important technological, medical, genetic and cultural changes likely to occur in the near future.
The intellectual legacy of the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century, which gave birth to the modern era where we live, act and think today, forms the starting point for much of the current thinking about the concept of nature. By calling for modern man to become a “master and owner of nature”, René Descartes’s philosophical works help shed light on the achievements and failures of our technical odyssey.  The ambitious attempts to master nature along with the radical disenchantment of the natural world have led (lest we forget) to remarkable technological achievements and an unprecedented improvement of the living conditions of billions of people; however, they are also responsible for wide-sweeping environmental destruction‒with the current climate change and the sixth great extinction being some of its most spectacular instances.
The destruction of the environment has led environmentalists, nature writers and environmental philosophers to seek a new definition for the relationship between people and nature, one that would provide a break from modernity (J. Baird Callicott). From their perspective, science and its technical applications remain important, in that they support an updated vision of a desired moral relationship between humans and nature. Many attractive and worrisome contemporary developments, however, seem destined to subvert the environmentalist indictment of modern hubris and of the quest of infinite growth in a finite world. The stupendous progress of bioengineering, the decisive contribution of Silicon Valley’s techno-libertarians to the energy transition and the prospect of transhumanism seem to mark the continuation of the Cartesian project of taming nature by other means.
The main goal of this conference will be to discuss the idea of nature in the context of the 21st century and the question of human responsibility in the development of biodiversity preservation, animal welfare and the limitations of the humanistic ethos developed in the Enlightenment (transhumanism and post-humanism). The emergence of new fields of inquiry‒ecocriticism, zoopoetics, ecopoetics, green studies and animal studies‒has been instrumental in revisiting fundamental concepts and reevaluating increasingly pressing challenges (Laurence Buell, Writing for an Endangered World). Are we about to enter an era of limits, as many environmentalists suggest? Or, are we on the verge of breaking through new limits by further blurring well-established dichotomies between the human species and nature, the artificial and the natural, the masculine and the feminine, the sacred and the profane? Our goal will be to determine whether it remains possible to ask people to stop acting like “conquerors of the land community” to become “plain members and citizens of it” (Aldo Leopold) at a time when human activities are reshaping the climate of the Earth and as unprecedented genetic manipulations may soon be democratized? Or, is Yuval Harari correct in asserting that the scientific revolution is just beginning?
The organizers of this conference encourage papers written using a variety of interdisciplinary approaches to the issues at hand and a wide range of analytical perspectives (historical, artistic, literary, political, esthetic, ethical, etc.). It is important to analyze the way in which the various aforementioned changes have transformed how nature is represented in literature, art and film and, conversely, how these representations themselves have transformed our thought and relationship with nature.  These days, various writers and filmmakers draw on post-apocalyptic or prehistoric themes to talk about nature without men or women, a trend that shows their desire to tell stories taking place before or after human existence. In this perspective, the uses and value of fiction should be examined. Others attempt to “re-enchant” the world once again through a poetics that would be devoid of dominating impulses and colonial connotations, but does not such a project risk re-sacralizing nature as the Romantic tradition was criticized for doing?
Abstracts addressing any of the following topics will be considered:
–        The dialectics of modernity/postmodernity: are we witnessing the end of modernity or an intensification of modernity?
–        What ethical restrictions should be imposed legitimately on scientific research and its technological developments in fields such as bioengineering and geoengineering, for example?
–        Tensions between the rhetoric of limits and technological utopianism: is environmentalist advocacy a form of conservatism?
–        Humanism/transhumanism/post-humanism: can and should the question of humanity be expanded and nature improved?
–        Disenchantment and re-enchantment of the world: to what extent can and should nature be sanctified (Dwellings of Enchantment: Writing and Re-enchanting the World, international conference organized by Bénédicte Meillon in Perpignan, June 2016)?
–        Given the fact that ecocriticism emerged essentially within a realist tradition in order to reposition the relationship between the text and the world at the heart of literary epistemology (as a reaction to the deconstructionist notion that “il n’y a pas de hors-texte”), what can or should be the true place of literary and cinematographic fiction in ecocriticism?
–        Is it possible to articulate the representation of animals as animals, divested of any symbolical or allegorical meaning? Can the representation of animal agency go beyond the logocentrism and anthropocentrism of many literary artifacts and films (fables, children’s literature, tales, cartoons)? How can the other be represented without speaking on its behalf?  How can it have a voice without imposing a language not its own (Anne Simon)?
–        The cinematographic representation of environmental catastrophes and their parodies: redefinition of science fiction as a genre, transformation of nature as a victim to nature retaliating against people.
–        The questioning of the Cartesian mastery of nature in many contemporary narratives (growing number of narratives about decolonization, “anti-Robinsonades” forms calling into question the ideology of white male domination, master and possessor of nature and the other).
–        The role of literature in the rise of environmental awareness: can literature provoke a reaction in the reader, such as compassion, empathy, and guilt?
–        Green art, architecture and vegetalization, digital arts and the idea of nature.
The conference events will take place on 22 and 23 March 2018, and will be in English and French. Please send a 300-400 word abstract along with a short biography to both Jean-Daniel Collomb ( and Pierre-Antoine Pellerin ( before October 30, 2017.

Scientific Committee:
J. Baird Callicott (University of North Texas), Augustin Berque (EHESS), Elsa Devienne (Université Paris-Ouest Nanterre La Défense), François Duban (Université de La Réunion), Yves Figueiredo (Université Paris-Sorbonne), Wendy Harding (Université de Toulouse), Bénédicte Meillon (Université de Perpignan), Thomas Pughe (Université d’Orléans), Anne Simon (CNRS / EHESS), François Specq (ENS).

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