At the beginning of the twenty-first century, anxieties and expectations seem to arise about the ability of literature to reaffirm its value, by responding to the ethical and political challenges posed by society and the environment. Conflicts, terrorism, ecological and humanitarian crises, along with the new prestige gained by evolutionary biology and the neurosciences, have conspired to produce the return to the concept of a universal human nature defined by the sense of commonality and the relationship with the non-human. The collection will explore the fragility of this new consciousness in highly uncertain times, when, on the one hand, primordial instincts and aggressive, identitarian urges return from the past, and, on the other, new threats, such as the replacement of the human by algorithmic forms of decision making, seem to reach us from the future. Vast systems and alienating processes, such as climate change and mass migration, make it increasingly difficult for individuals or ordinary citizens to find a place of agency, fulfilment or voice.
One of the ways in which recent fiction redefines the human is through its intimate relationship with the nonhuman (especially the animal world and the environment). According to Jane Bennett, ‘vital materiality better captures an “alien” quality of our own flesh and in so doing reminds humans of the very radical character of the (fractious) kinship between the human and the nonhuman’ (Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things). In ontological terms, the subject appears as either traumatically undone by matter (a gap that remains after the demise of interiority) or re-substantiated through the acceptance of its kinship with the nonhuman. Yet, the wider scenarios and global crises that threaten our survival can also inspire and nurture empathy and hope.
The collection will explore how the human is increasingly presented from the external vantage point of posthuman and nonhuman beings through techniques that estrange the subject by the decentering and/or sharing of its experience (you- and we-narratives; nested and multiple narrators; non-human narrators). Finally, we will also consider the value of humanistic education and how literature teaches us to be human.
Editors: Laura Colombino (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Peter Childs (P.Childs@staff.newman.ac.uk)
Deadline for the abstract: 10 December 2018
Deadline for the essay: 15 September 2019
The essay should be in MLA style and clearly refer to and engage with the notion of the human, which means that the notion should be addressed explicitly in the introduction and conclusion, and at each relevant stage of your argument, as we need to grant unity and consistency to the collection. The expected length of papers is 7000-8500 words.