« Preconference : Seminar

Material Ecocriticism and Changing Natures

Serpil Oppermann
Professor, Department of English
Hacettepe University, Ankara, Turkey

Serenella Iovino
Professor, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures
University of Turin, Turin, Italy

Inspired by recent research in physical and social sciences, the new materialist paradigm proposes to see matter in terms of its agentic capacity and meanings. Matter, as Karen Barad says, is not a blank slate but a process in which discursive practices and material formations are mutually implicated. Situated in this conceptual horizon, material ecocriticism asks us to rethink the questions of agency, text, narrativity, and communication. This approach proposes to rework the human-nonhuman relations in ways that take into account matter's "inherent creativity" (Bennett), nature's agentic expressions and performative enactments.

The main conceptual tenet of material ecocriticism, the agency of matter, has vast implications on the ideas of narrativity and text. If matter is agentic and endowed with meanings, every material formation is "telling," and therefore can be the object of a critical analysis aimed at discovering its stories and its place in a "choreography of becoming" (Coole and Frost). In other words, taking matter as a text, material ecocriticism investigates the narrative potentialities of reality as they are visible in bodies, landscapes, bacteria, electric grids, atoms, cells, waste, nuclear sites, oceanic plastic, etc.

This seminar will explore 1) the agency of matter, 2) the emergent interplays between the human and the nonhuman, also considered in posthumanist terms, 3) and the material-discursive dynamics that influence deeply the ideas of narrativity and text. These issues are important in discussing the changing concepts of nature and the environment.

Seminar papers and informed discussions will focus and build on the following questions:

  1. What is "narrative agency," and how does agentic matter disclose its narratives?
  2. How do we read the stories that emerge from the myriad expressions of natural and material formations, such as bodies, species, toxic elements, landscapes, weather patterns, atoms, cells, bacteria, etc.?
  3. Does biosemiotics offer a legitimate account of these stories?
  4. What new ethical insights can material ecocriticism hope to offer?
  5. How does a reconfiguration of matter's dynamics combine with issues of posthumanism?

In this seminar we will use short videos as examples and ask the participants to respond in light of the recommended readings below:

  • Abram, David. Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology. New York: Vintage, 2010.
  • Alaimo, Stacy. Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and the Material Self. Bloomington: Indiana U P, 2010.
  • Alaimo, Stacy and Susan Hekman, eds. Material Feminisms. Bloomington: Indiana U P, 2008.
  • Barad, Karen. "Posthumanist Performativity: Toward and Understanding of how Matter Comes to Matter." Material Feminisms. Eds. Stacy Alaimo and Susan Hekman. Bloomington: Indiana U P, 2008. 120-54.
  • Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham: Duke U P, 2010. Print.
  • Coole, Diana and Samantha Frost. "Introducing the New Materialisms." New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics. Eds. Diana Coole and Samantha Frost. Durham: Duke U P, 2010. 1-43.
  • Iovino, Serenella. "Material Ecocriticism: Matter, Text, and Posthuman Ethics." Literature, Ecology, Ethics. Eds. Timo Müller and Michael Sauter. Heidelberg: Winter Verlag, 2012.
  • ---. "Steps to a Material Ecocriticism: The Recent Literature About the 'New Materialisms' and Its Implications for Ecocritical Theory." Ecozon@ 3.1 (2012): 134-145.
  • Iovino, Serenella and Serpil Oppermann. "Material Ecocriticism: Materiality, Agency, and Models of Narrativity." Ecozon@. 3.1 (2012): 75-91.
  • Iovino, Serenella and Serpil Oppermann. "Theorizing Material Ecocriticism: A Diptych." ISLE (Special Cluster on "Dirt, Waste, Bodies, Food, and Other Matter"). Eds. Heather Sullivan and Dana Phillips. 2012
  • Oppermann, Serpil. "Rethinking Ecocriticism in an Ecological Postmodern Framework." Literature, Ecology, Ethics. Eds. Timo Müller and Michael Sauter. Heidelberg: Winter Verlag. 2012.

Seminar leaders Serpil Oppermann and Serenella Iovino are co-editing Material Ecocriticism (Indiana University Press, forthcoming), and have co-authored "Material Ecocriticism: Materiality, Agency, and Models of Narrativity" (Ecozon@ 3.1 (2012): 75-91, as well as "Theorizing Material Ecocriticism: A Diptych" ISLE: Special Cluster, 2012). For more information, please visit their pages at academia.edu: http://hacettepe.academia.edu/SerpilOppermann and http://www.unito.academia.edu/serenellaiovino