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NeMLA 2024 Panel: A Fungus Among Us: Becoming Fungal (Northeast Modern Language Association)

Boston, MA
Organization: Northeast Modern Language Association
Event: Northeast Modern Language Association
Categories: Comparative, Interdisciplinary, Popular Culture, Gender & Sexuality, 20th & 21st Century, 20th & 21st Century, Aesthetics, Anthropology/Sociology, Classical Studies, Cultural Studies, Environmental Studies, Film, TV, & Media, Food Studies, History, Philosophy, Science
Event Date: 2024-03-07 to 2024-03-10 Abstract Due: 2023-09-30

Fungus is everywhere. From the parasitical infection at the core of HBO’s The Last of Us, which has sprung a viral interest in cordyceps and other killer fungi, to Jeff VanderMeer’s Ambergris and Southern Reach trilogies, and even Michael Sarnoski’s 2021 truffle-centered drama Pig, mushrooms, spores, superbugs populate discourse, real and fictional. While fungus has often been associated with themes of contamination and infection, followed by a loss of control of one’s personhood typical of zombie narratives, recent fiction conceptualizes the fungus as more-than an irrational and all-consuming entity, but rather as a form of agentive matter deeply woven with human life that echoes our own current entanglement with the environment. In 2023, we live with the effects of viral and bacterial infection as facts of life; the boundary between human and fungal bodies has become porous, translucent, practically non-existent. These texts reveal a process of becoming-fungal – a living force that is neither plant, nor animal, and which is both micro- and macroscopic.

Becoming-fungal, akin to Rosi Braidotti’s “becoming world,” opens up a space for a radical redefinition of the hierarchical distinctions of life, blurring the lines between the human and the nonhuman, the singular spore and the massive, mycological complex of entire forests. How have we come to depict the crossing of lines over not just species or genus, but kingdom and phylum? The fungus’s tangled underground networks allow us to move beyond anthropocentric notions of life and to imagine an existence that accommodates a surplus, a patchwork or “mosaic of open-ended assemblages of entangled ways of life, with each further opening into a mosaic of temporal rhythms and spatial arcs” (Tsing 4).

This panel is interested in exploring narratives that consider the vibrancy and agency of this rhizomatic form of life. We hope to cultivate a conversation that celebrates the joy of a positive affirmation of nonhuman agency, even as we contemplate the negative solidarity that contagion and contamination often implies. Abstracts should be 200-300 words and submitted through the NeMLA portal: https://cfplist.com/nemla/Home/S/20341.



Sara Santos