Interrogating Boundaries of the Nonhuman: Literature, Climate Change, and Environmental Crises asks whether literary works that interrogate and alter the terms of human-nonhuman relations can point to new, more sustainable ways forward. Bringing insights from the field of literary animal studies, a diverse and international group of scholars examine literary contributions to the ecological framing of human-nonhuman relationships. Collectively, the contributors to this edited collection contemplate the role of literature in the setting of environmental agendas and in determining humanity’s path forward in the company of nonhuman others.
Matthias Stephan is associate professor at Aarhus University, coordinator at the Centre for Studies in Otherness, author of Defining Literary Postmodernism for the Twenty-First Century, and editor of Otherness: Essays and Studies.
Sune Borkfelt is lecturer at Aarhus University and author of Reading Slaughter: Abattoir Fictions, Space, and Empathy in Late Modernity.
Part I: Past Narratives of Environmental Crisis
Chapter 1: The Peculiar Associations of Melville’s “Encantadas”: Nature and National Allegory
Kristen R. Egan
Chapter 2: Making a Difference? Richard Jefferies’ After London, E. M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops,” and Climate Change Fiction
Chapter 3: Stories of “Being-with” Other Animals: A Case of Humans and Horses
Part II: Witnessing
Chapter 4: Animal Texts: How Coyote America and American Wolf Embody the Literary Animal Through A Cross-Disciplinary Approach
Lauren E. Perry
Chapter 5: Beautiful and Sublime: Embracing Otherness in Mary Oliver’s Ecopoetry
Chapter 6: The Sea’s Witness: Narration, Texturisation and Reader Responsibility in Rachel Carson’s Oceanalia
Part 3: Nonhuman Agency/Representation of the Nonhuman
Chapter 7: The Posthuman Return: Transformation through Stillness in Richard Powers’s The Overstory
Chapter 8: Classifying Monsters
Chapter 9: “‘There isn’t Anything that isn’t Political.’ It’s an Expression that Sounds Human, but Everything in Her Voice Indicates that She is Not’: The Nonhuman Subject as Decolonising Trope in Ellen Van Neervan’s ‘Water’” (2014)
Part IV: Mutation and Post-Apocalypse
Chapter 10: “We’ve Made Meat for Everyone!:” The Ideology of Distinction and Becoming Flesh in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Joseph D’Lacey’s Meat
Chapter 11: “There would be monsters, some hopeful”: Viral Agencies and Mutational Posthuman Politics in Post-Millennial Science Fiction
Chapter 12: “A Reign of Community and Harmony”: Envisioning a Multispecies Society in a Post-Nuclear World
“Ranging from the nineteenth century to contemporary climate change fiction and embracing a variety of literary genres and geographical contexts, the essays in this collection offer a wide gamut of perspectives on how literature may probe nonhuman ways of being in the world and question anthropocentric assumptions. The collection positions debates on literature and climate change within a longer history of Western thinking on the nonhuman—a provocative and valuable move in today's scholarly landscape. Engaging with themes including animal experience, nuclear anxieties, and environmental activism, the authors convincingly show that literature is no mere illustration of posthumanist ideas but that its very form can perform philosophical tensions and positions in transformative ways.”
"Matthias Stephan and Sune Borkfelt have compiled a significant contribution to emerging critical discourses on the nonhuman, which offers striking new perceptions across the zones of the living—from animals and plants to viruses and speculative hybrids. By way of compelling re-readings of canonical authors and advance reports on new cultural voices, this book reminds us of the destructive force of anthropocentric boundary logics in the long, ongoing history of climate crises—and the generative, even transformative, force of literary practice in bringing this truth to mind."
Despite the title’s focus on climate change and environmental crisis, and the several chapters on dystopic or post-apocalytic fiction, this is not a dark or pessimistic collection of essays. The lasting impression of the volume is in fact one of hope: hope in the transformational power of literature, its ability to alert readers to the threats of anthropocentrism and thereby point to a more sustainable way forward.