EVENT May 26
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Nature: Animal, Moral, Technological

Fairmont Springs, Banff National Park, Canada
Organization: Association for Philosophy and Literature and MacEwan University
Categories: Popular Culture, Gender & Sexuality, Literary Theory, Aesthetics, Cultural Studies, Environmental Studies, Film, TV, & Media, Philosophy
Event Date: 2022-05-26 to 2022-05-29 Abstract Due: 2021-11-30

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When, in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1802), William Wordsworth insisted that an “overbalance of pleasure” entails the “circumstance of meter,” he confirmed a philosophical assumption far older than Kant’s theory of the sublime. The pervasive assumption—which, today, can be tracked in an on-going “affective turn” (necessarily entangled in matters of form and style)—is that the artificial makes possible an understanding of the natural. 

But Wordsworth was writing in the twilight of the Industrial Revolution—or what is arguably the dawn of the Anthropocene. For this reason alone, we might be justified in dismissing his romantic conception of poetry as mere “correlationism”—what Ian Bogost caustically defines as the “the tradition of human access that seeps from the rot of Kant.” Faced with the impending consequences of climate change, withering biodiversity, proliferating microplastics, etc.—is it not finally time (as various “new materialists” have asserted) to undo Kant’s “Copernican revolution” and, thus, the primacy of human perception within the nature of things? But what are the alternatives? To approach Quentin Meillassoux’s “great outdoors” we must employ very human tools, such as carbon dating and mathematics. To know and describe Bogost’s various non-human “things” we must resort—à la romanticism—to “metaphorism.” As in Aristotle, phúsis remains inextricable from tékhn?: from art, from technology. Or, to follow Derrida, the latter persists as an inescapable supplement.   

In our efforts to surmount the problem of “human access,” do we therefore risk repeating (even more blindly) the violence and immorality of anthropocentrism? If so, is our only option to re-approach nature paradoxically via its antithesis: solar panels and wind turbines that can save us from green-house gases; virtual simulations that can measure distance better than any animal eye; digital photography and narrative structures that might preserve the nature of indigenous life; genetic engineering that can dissolve the distinction between nature and its others? Should we then re-consider the moral roadblocks embodied in our narrative and philosophical efforts to imagine the posthuman—from Mary Shelley’s monster and Philip K. Dick’s androids to Donna Haraway’s cyborgs and Octavia Butler’s aliens?


Surrounded by the sublime weight and majesty of the Rocky Mountains in Banff, Canada, these are the questions we hope to address—as we attempt to “think” (yet again) Nature: Animal, Moral, Technological.


Potential topics might include, but are not limited to:

The Meaning of nature and the natural
Conceptions of the beautiful and the sublime
Humanity’s domination and subordination of nature
The role of philosophy and/or literature in an ongoing environmental crisis 
Literature and/or philosophy as forms of environmental activism 
The possibility of defining the very “nature” we seek to protect 
Biodiversity and/as the polyphonic or heteroglot text 
The rise and efficacy of so-called new materialisms (including thing theory, object-oriented ontology/philosophy, speculative realism/materialism, actor-network theory, etc.) 
The rise and efficacy of eco-criticism in literary and cultural criticism, including ecofeminism 
The link between new materialism and postcritique, or “surface reading” 
Literary depictions and/or philosophical considerations of cybernetics, genetics, and/or conceptions of post- and/or transhumanism 
Affect and its relation to narrative/mimetic form 
Animal-human-machine relations; speciesism 
The nature of race and racism 
Sex and gender, biology and interpellation
Psychoanalytic conceptions of the unconscious, drives (vs. instincts), polymorphous perversity, etc. 
Biopsychology and essentialism
Indigenous cultures and approaches to nature 
The role of technology in studies of the natural (from the natural sciences to anthropology and ethnography)
Writing or filming “nature” 
The post-postmodern nostalgia for authenticity; efforts to surmount “the precession of simulacra” 
The nature of morality; the moral obligation to nature 
Ontology today 
Phúsis and/as tékhn? 
Implications, dating, and meaning of the Anthropocene 

Proposals for individual papers, panels (of 3-4 participants), or roundtables of (5-6 participants) can be sent to info@philosophyliterature.com. 

Proposals (for individual papers, panels, or roundtables) should be no more than 300 words; they should be sent via email as a WORD attachment. Proposals should also include a title and a short biographical description of each participant. Bios should be no more than 75 words. 

The deadline for submissions is Nov 30, 2021.



Alain Beauclair and Josh Toth