A Blog about Literature, Culture and the Environment

Summary of the 18th EASLCE Webinar: Realism(s) in the Anthropocene, Representational and Ethical Challenges

Webinar Summaries

Host: Prof Adeline Johns-Putra, Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, China & University of Hong Kong

Lena Pfeifer, University of Würzburg, Germany (co-ordinator)
Julia Ditter, Northumbria University, UK (co-ordinator)
Xianmin Shen, Shanghai University, China
Lucy Oulton, University of Chichester, UK
Klara Machata, University of Freiburg, Germany
Hannah Klaubert, Stockholm University, Sweden & GCSC Gießen, Germany
Kristy Henderson, Rachel Carson Center, Germany
Isil Sahin Gülter, Firat University, Turkey

On 16 April, a group of early career scholars interested in the Environmental Humanities joined Prof Adeline Johns-Putra for a discussion about the capacity of literary realism to address the challenges of the Anthropocene. The provided readings offered a multifaceted introduction to the debate of whether realism – as a mode of narrative that has dominated our storytelling, but which is also often anthropocentric – can retain its relevance in the Anthropocene.

Adeline Johns-Putra offered a summary of the most central tenets of the critical readings. She invited us to think through the dialectic between roman and récit which, according to Fredric Jameson, characterises realist modes of writing, and asked us to consider how new perspectives on history that attend to nonhuman time scales might help us rethink realist conventions.

Rather than discussing these topics in the abstract, Adeline Johns-Putra offered excerpts of contemporary examples of realist writing and invited us to identify literary strategies that might allow a simultaneously centring and decentring of the Anthropos. The discussion of whether such strategies are effective in highlighting both inter- and intra-species connections at once led us to reflect not only on the ethics of the literary text itself, but also on our own reading practices.

There were a range of inspiring questions and ideas that we took with us after the webinar and that will help us rethink how we approach realist writing, and literature more broadly, in the future:

  • When the Anthropocene is challenging us in ever new ways, can the emancipatory potential of the novel be harnessed to address these challenges?
  • Do we need a “new” realist novel or has the realist novel always already allowed for multispecies perspectives to shine through, for example in accommodating pockets of descriptions of the environment?
  • Does the anthropocentrism lie on the side of realism, or are we the ones reading realism anthropocentrically?
  • How can literary texts invite multispecies readings while also remaining within the human perspective characterising realism?
  • Should we do away with the human perspective? Why (not)? Why can it be important to recentre the human (as much as we also need to decentre the human)?
  • How can we adopt multiscalar reading practices that change how we read novels and allow us to embrace the ambivalences and tensions that come with a simultaneous decentring and recentring of the human?
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