Introduction to the Special Thematic Block: Human Boundaries / Boundaries of the Human
Reading William Faulkner’s “The Bear” with a literary ecologist perspective could shift readers from abstraction to ethical responsibility. Deep ecology, ecopsychology, and constructionist views of human development align with ethical criticism and ecocriticism to establish the basis for what Freya Mathews refers to as the “Ecological S...elf.” Mathews joins others in noting that human development must become ecologically self-aware—a state engendering emotional, ethical responses, confirming wholeness and sustainability rather than mere intellectual, theoretical acknowledgment, or worse, pathological denial. Literary ecology joins textual analysis and meta-textual information to affirm the story’s implied stewardship, despite Faulkner’s sometimes unclear, tragic view of his landscape. An optimistic ecocritical reading affirms, or surpasses, various critical approaches often used with the story—in particular, the paradise myth. Reading ecocritically affirms individual health and sustainability with human culture and nonhuman nature. (KH)
Body art performances experiment in provocative, transgressive ways with the human body that becomes, simultaneously, an instrument, a medium, an agent, and an end product of artistic creation. They invite calculated corporeal reactions from audiences in a multitude of affectively, perceptually, and politically engaging ways. A brief overview i...s given of the evolution of body art from its roots in avant-garde performance arts to current trends of carnal art to shed light on the changing cultural-historical interpretation of human embodiment. It reveals how body art’s growing dissatisfaction with anthropocentrism entails an inevitable move toward humanimal poetics and politics. The shift of focal point from humanoid embodiment to interspecies relationalities and posthuman enworldedness marks a major paradigm shift of body art. Mapping the aesthetic manifestations, ethical stakes, and corporeal experience of this shift—that extends the notion of subjectivity beyond the human species—is the main aim of the essay. (AK)
Two contrary concepts dominate our understanding about human imagination—this all-but-undefinable human faculty. While one tradition contrasts the creativity of the imagination, on the one hand, and the perception of reality, on the other—often suggesting that fact (reality) and fiction (imagination) are mutually exclusive—the counter-tra...dition defines imagination as integral to the creation/perception of reality, what Edith Cobb calls the “preconfigurative imagination.” Drawing on these theoretical-philosophical considerations, the essay takes an interdisciplinary approach to probe the inherently adverse nature and the destructive potential of the human imagination in action. With examples from literature, cultural history, politics, and diplomacy the analysis offers the case in point and demonstrates the ways destructive imagination, impervious to rational argument, may render our ability void; as Henry James put it in “The Art of Fiction,” “to guess the unseen from the seen, to trace the implication of things, to judge the piece by the pattern.” (ÉM)
Affected by a shocking concatenation of ecological, economic, and political disasters, black, white, and multiracial characters in Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower (1993) and Parable of the Talents (1998) seek to cope with apparently insurmountable difficulties. These Afrofuturist Parable novels render a disint...egrating US society in the 2020s-2090s, which is torn by internal and external chaos: it shows visible signs of pandemonium involving the crisis of individual, communal, and ecological survival. This ecocritical reading seeks to explore how Butler’s novels make up the fictional tapestry of an evolving human risk narrative whose anthropogenic effects on the planet might threaten an “ecological holocaust” (Charles Brown) unless fundamental green changes spur radically alternative modes of thinking and living. Throughout this paper, I am interested in how Butler’s texts address and construct the interaction of the human and the non-human world to create a storyworld in which distinct characters operate not only according to the logic of the narrative in their local places and (semi)private/communal spaces, but also as distinct configurations of the Anthropocene, that is, as agents of a larger story of humans. (EF)
Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? explores the notions of the schizoid and the android as prototypes for the posthuman. Dick created androids to represent people physiologically and psychologically behaving in a non-human way, which is the same as Dick’s literal interpretation of a human without empathy—the sch...izoid. Hence, androids are metaphors for schizoid humans, or posthumans. Furthermore, there is a metaphysical worldview underlying Dick’s notion of empathy which differentiates the posthuman from the human, and this worldview conflicts with the materialistic worldview of the posthumans. Dick supports the metaphysical worldview over the materialistic ideology of the posthuman. The analysis draws primarily on Dick’s novel and three of his later essays to conclude that Dick wrote about the notions of the schizoid and android as prototypes for the posthuman long before anyone had an idea to embark on a full-length study of the posthuman, and Dick’s vision was an insightful warning about the coming implications of the schizoid posthuman for the twenty-first century. (GM)
The essay focuses on the “Mission Street Station” episode in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968). The episode revolves around two central problems: the human/android divide and fake realities. The first part of the paper concentrates on theories of classification and analyses the problems of the Voigt-Kam...pff test understood as a classificatory apparatus. The second part focuses on the Mission Scene as a fake reality and identifies a potentially problematic race-focused reading. Dick, a prolific essayist and public speaker, expressed his preoccupation with questions that constitute the conceptual core of the scene on several occasions. Therefore, the essay also relies on the author’s nonfiction to discover and establish the importance of the oft-neglected Mission Scene in the novel’s critical reception. (DP)
Ng, Andrew Hock Soon. Women and Domestic Space in Contemporary Gothic Narratives: The House as Subject. Basingstroke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. xiii + 246 pages. ISBN 978-1-137-53681-5. Hb. $90.
McHugh, Susan, et al., eds. The Palgrave Handbook of Animals and Literature. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021. 636 pages. ISBN 978-3-030-39772-2. E-book. €117.69.
A prolific author, Orson Scott Card has written works that encompass a range of genres including a large body of commentary, Mormon drama, science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and often melds elements of one into another. In particular, as John Clute notes, “a ‘feel’ of fantasy pervades much of his s[cience] f[iction] work.” In fiction...s such as Enders Game, Treason, and Wyrms, and stories like “The Originist,” his tribute to Asimov’s Second Foundation, he employs traditional elements of fantasy: its language in references to wizards, dragons, magic, and such characters as dwelfs, a portmanteau of “elf” and “dwarf”; the episodic quest narrative of escalating perils undertaken by the protagonist, who moves from isolation to community; and the conventional, often medieval, fantasyscape of fabulous forests, rivers, and mountains. Through such a strategy Card establishes a heightened significance to human experiences that both genres address, and opens another portal to the sense of wonder that informs each. (WAS)
Deterritorialization and reterritorialization are transgressive techniques in literature that characterize subversive literature. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari suggest that questions about marginal literature or other forms of peripheral literatures must all be covered within the designation and definition of minor literature, not only if...they are written in the language of the mainstream. Kurt Vonnegut’s Slapstick, or Lonesome no More (1976) is a set of deterritorializations and reterritorializations made possible through creative assemblage, a technique that allows a continuous flow of meaning, that is, meaning is not fixed, as language moves from one territory to another, constructing new assemblages and acquiring new meanings. Meaning changes each time a new assemblage is composed. Through the re-construction of family, love, and human relationships, the novel defies the alienating practices of the American society as presented in Vonnegut’s novel. (MM and WHRM)
Beebe, Kathryne, and Angela Davis, eds. Space, Place and Gendered Identities: Feminist History and the Spatial Turn. London: Routledge, 2015. x + 158 pages. ISBN 978-1-138-83049-3. Hb. £110.
Kay Redfield Jamison has spent her career as a clinical psychologist studying and writing about those afflicted with manic depression, especially artists and writers. She has been especially attentive to poets and now has completed Setting the River on Fire, her extensive study of Robert Lowell, in whose life and poetry madness went ha...nd in hand with creativity, invention and artistic genius. The result is a fascinating text at the crossroads of clinical writing, biography and literary criticism, illuminating both Lowell’s poetry and his life-long struggle with mental disorder. The most important question of the book is this: does manic depression help or hinder writing poetry? His illness was no doubt one of the most important subject matters in Lowell’s life work. The parallel demonstrated between Lowell and other “mad” poets extends the subject matter of this book so that it becomes not only Lowell’s illness, but also the relationship between mental disorder and writing poetry in general. Mania, like all mental disorders, is a synecdoche of the human psyche in general; its representation in poetry raises the problem of the mask as well as that of confession. A confessional poem, in Lowell’s view, is a text which contains (“confesses”) the subject’s psyche in its complexity and ambiguity. Mania is both a part of this psyche and a target of confession. As his poetry testifies, paradoxically, Lowell managed to be confessional while wearing the mask of the other. His illness partly explains why his life work is particularly open to readings that view it as an organic whole.
The West Indian poet Mervyn Morris (1937-) is renowned for espousing the importance of a national language in creating national literature as well as for integrating European poetic heritage with Caribbean literary traditions. Through an exploration of Morris’s selected poems, the paper discusses the role language plays in shaping the themes...of diasporic writing and of postcolonial identity, and argues that his works show a deep awareness of the fundamental aspects of West Indian and British culture. Since Morris “refuses to be trapped in the excesses of post-modern Romanticism or political propaganda parading as nationalism” (Thompson), the paper also looks at the presentation of eternal values like love and humanity celebrated in his poems. By foregrounding the frequent use of epiphanies in his poetry, Morris conveys human affection in the frame of colonial and postcolonial history. (PF)
The essay focuses on two representative examples of Anne Sexton’s poems about reproduction, “In Celebration of My Uterus” and “The Abortion.” Contrary to most previous analyses which have foregrounded Sexton’s concern with personal identity, the paper claims that Sexton positions personal experience in the wider framework of cultura...l and social discourses. “In Celebration of My Uterus” explores the experience of the vitality of the speaker’s reproductive organ in the context of kinship with women in other geopolitical locations, also addressing how childbearing is implicated in processes of national economic production. “The Abortion” situates the termination of a pregnancy in the context of the Pennsylvanian landscape, raising questions regarding the embeddedness of the natural landscape in processes of human economic production, as well as the financial implications of the termination of a pregnancy. While questions of self-identity, personal boundaries, and physical experiences are undoubtedly central to “The Abortion” and “In Celebration of My Uterus,” they also attest to Sexton’s concern with the experience of the individual in their wider social context. (BK)
Seamus Heaney’s poetry was engaged with violence for decades. His artistic exploration of land and fossils revolved around the same questions: to what extent can a human being move himself away from an inherent “tribalism”? To what extent is identity inherited through history and what rights, responsibilities come with it? These questions... arose in the author's oeuvre when the horrors of civil war reached their peak in Northern Ireland. The issues of shared community not only played a significant role in the development of self-identification, they also meant the survival of the sectarian conflict. Starting with the first bog-poems, Heaney was keen on producing a mythology to serve identity, and sometimes allowed his political opinion to filter through the images of Stone Age remains from the bog. For scientists, the investigation of archeological finds means relying on methods such as the necessary carbon analysis and careful identification of evidence, as to who these bodies were, when they lived, what characterized their daily routines, and the times they lived in. The same findings, however, had a different impact on Heaney. He used the metaphor of the land of these ancient bodies, and of history, to engage with the question of identity, but criticism made him reconsider what position he should take on the morality of the given past society. At the same time the poet, who voluntarily shared common roots with these long-forgotten forbears, was the one who started deconstructing their moral heritage in the works written towards the end of his poetic oeuvre. In contrast to earlier poems on bog-bodies, “Tollund” from the 1996 collection, The Spirit Level, and “Tollund Man in Springtime” from 2006, reflect a forward-looking attitude in which Heaney left behind an apologist viewpoint for sectarian violence. (JP)
Bringing the act of artistic creation to the stage involves a multiplicity of strategies and interrogations that are not easily contained within the boundaries of the “drama of the artist” as understood in its quasi-biographical sense. This is especially true of visual art which cannot be represented by words only but requires a different k...ind of presence on stage. In many Künstlerdramas the biographical presence tends to impose recognizable limits to the fictionalization exercise, which frequently turns to the individual creator as the center of an inquiry into the problematics of artistry. This paper discusses how two contemporary Künstlerdramas, John Logan’s Red (2009) and John Murrell’s The Far Away Nearby (1996), attempt to reinvent the trope by weaving the biographical record with the performative presence of acts of staged visuality that re-center the act of artistic creation. (TB)
To understand the cultural predecessors to the dehumanizing metaphors found in current populist rhetoric, it is beneficial to revisit some of the literary uses of such metaphors in the context of migration, xenophobia, and the notion of sanctuary. By rereading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of N...otre Dame (1830), and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) in light of these paradigms, the article explores the links between the monster and the city as sanctuary: while Mary Shelley’s novel shows us the classical scenario of the undesirable being banned from human community, Stoker’s vampire breaks into the sanctuary of both city and nation state, reflecting time-worn fears of invasion and contamination by the racial Other. Hugo demonstrates a third common form of undesirability within the sanctuary, calling into mind Foucault’s concept of inclusion within the city/nation state while also being excluded from it. This article bridges between these texts and prominent scenarios in the treatment of migrants today. (PA)