‘Against Nature,’ from the decadent to the post-human: Dorian Gray’s media ecologies

Camille Martin-Payre, Université de Tours, laboratoire ICD

Monday, March 18th, 5-7 pm CET, Lecture hall E002 + Zoom session

Zoom link: https://u-picardie-fr.zoom.us/j/93988777343?pwd=UXc0L2wrSVNuUkVuVU44YW9FbUp3UT09

Oscar Wilde’s aesthetic program, decadent affiliations, and fin-de-siècle ethos give pride of place to the artificiality of art, the saturation of intermedial references and the promotion of the “unnatural” in life and art alike. His work would thus seemingly appear to lend itself poorly to an ecocritical reading, if such an approach is solely equated with the exploration and promotion of literary (re)constructions of “natural” environments. Wilde’s only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), through its supernatural inversion of the organic and synthetic properties of the main character’s body and its pictorial representation, translates, on the other hand, Wilde’s decadent aesthetics and ethics into a metaphorical narrative which systematically undermines any attempt at finding a stable
ontological paradigm. The cultural posterity of Dorian Gray, whose story has been continually retold and remediated through film, television, comics and other forms, showcases the evolution and subversion of the body/medium divide in ever-changing contexts of production and reception. In so doing, these adaptations coagulate Dorian Gray’s original polysemy into one enduring metaphor of the medium, a ubiquitous archetype uniquely placed to express contemporary anxieties about the technological annexation of bodies and their environments. From decadence to post-humanism, Dorian Gray thus comes to crystallize an unescapable “media ecology” (N. Postman) that necessarily grounds bodies and experience in discourse, and which might perhaps, ultimately, pave the way for a resolutely anti-nostalgic “ecology without nature” (T. Morton).

Why Litter? Paper Re-use in the Long Eighteenth Century

Dr Amélie Junqua (Université de Picardie Jules Verne, Amiens)

Monday February 26th, 5-7pm CET, Lecture hall E002 + Zoom session

Zoom link: https://u-picardie-fr.zoom.us/j/94171429708

Thoughtlessly discarding whatever is considered as refuse comes as second nature nowadays, as attested by the materials dumped on streets, or washed ashore on the world’s beaches. The impulse to litter seems to be analogous to the way some animals leave by-products of their food consumption in the wild. Perhaps this might the reason why human campaigns promoting recycling and a more responsible behaviour never succeed, whether on the individual or collective scale – there will always be a lazy idiot to litter a pristine nature reserve, a city council to turn a blind eye to an unauthorized dumping ground, and an oil company to hire an unseaworthy tanker.
Looking towards the past may provide some further explanations for this failure. Studying the generation, re-use and circulation of one material which was considered “waste” in eighteenth-century England, i.e. paper, offers an insight into far more potent motivations to recycle. Scarcity, want and thrift motivated a now unimaginable creativity. C18 paper users — servants, housewives, surgeons, scientists, street-sweepers and thieves, as well as men of letters – will be contrasted with mid-nineteenth-century consumers of cheaper, and abundant machine-made paper.

Dr Amélie Junqua is a Senior Lecturer in English Literature and Language at the Université de Picardie Jules Verne. Her research interests lie in British literary, material and cultural history of eighteenth century. Her work includes edited essays collections, book chapters and journal articles on topics including the career and writings of Joseph Addison, eighteenth-century periodicals and the history of re-use and recycling. Her upcoming book, co-authored with Geoffrey Day (December 2024, Bodleian Library Press), is entitled Too Good to Waste — Paper in Eighteenth-century England.

Ecofeminist Science Fiction and the Politics of Climate Denialism: Claire North’s The Burning Age

 Pr. Sherryl Vint (University of California, Riverside)

Monday February 19th, 5-7pm CET, Lecture hall E002 + Zoom session

Zoom link: https://u-picardie-fr.zoom.us/j/91858499421

For her second visit to our seminar series, Pr. Vint will consider Claire North’s novel as an innovative contribution to recent climate change SF in its focus not only on the more ecologically sustainable future in which the novel is set, but also on the political threats that emerge from within that society that threaten to displace its politics and return to economics premised on extractivism. The novel thus both embodies elements of a long-established ecofeminist tradition based on reverence for the living world and functions as a critique of other recent traditions of geo-engineering which imagine we can solve problems of climate change through technology alone. In its focus on the political desire for economic hierarchies as one of the motivations for certain characters to advocate for a return to “burning age” industries, the novel additionally offers some insights into the politics of modes of climate denialism that exist today.

Sherryl Vint is Professor of Media and Cultural Studies, and a Professor and the Chair of English, at the University of California, Riverside, where she directs the Speculative Fictions and Cultures of Science program. She was a founding editor of Science Fiction Film and Television and is currently an editor for the journal Science Fiction Studies and the book series Science and Popular Culture. She is the author of Bodies of Tomorrow (2007), Animal Alterity (2010), The Wire (2013), Science Fiction: A Guide to the Perplexed(2014); Science Fiction: The Essential Knowledge (2020), and Biopolitical Futures in Twenty-First Century Speculative Fiction (2021), as well as the co-author of The Routledge Concise History of Science Fiction (2011). Her co-authored book Programming the Future: Speculative Television and the End of Democracywill appear in 2022 from Columbia UP. She has edited multiple books, including most recently Technologies of Feminist Speculative Fiction: Gender, Artificial Life and the Politics of Reproduction (2022), After the Human: Culture, Theory & Criticism in the 21st Century (2020), and Science Fiction and Culture Theory: A Reader (2015). A recipient of the Science Fiction Research Association’s Innovative Research and its Lifetime Achievement awards, and she is currently working on a research project on speculative finance and speculative fiction.

La figure de l’accoucheuse à la croisée du care et de l’écoféminisme dans The Birth House d’Ami McKay

Elise Lepage (Université de Waterloo, Ontario, Canada)

Monday 22 January, 5-7 pm, E002 Room  and Zoom

Zoom link: https://u-picardie-fr.zoom.us/j/92762248258

Cette présentation propose une réflexion sur les convergences entre les approches écoféministes et les théories du care dans les études littéraires. Ces approches privilégient les liens, les relations et soulignent l’interdépendance des êtres. Elles s’efforcent de montrer que certains individus – souvent les plus vulnérables –, certaines situations tombent dans les angles morts des approches universalistes et insistent au contraire sur l’importance de circonstances et facteurs particuliers. Ce faisant, elles entendent déplacer certains enjeux épistémologiques en valorisant notamment des démarches pragmatiques, aptes à répondre à des situations concrètes. C’est ainsi à la croisée des apports des écoféminismes et des théories du care qu’on propose une lecture de la figure de l’accoucheuse dans le roman The Birth House (2006) de l’autrice canadienne Ami McKay. Tout en contextualisant le propos du roman dans la région des Maritimes au début du XXe siècle, l’analyse mettra en exergue comment McKay a recours à certaines stratégies stylistiques pour aborder plusieurs problématiques liées à l’écoféminisme et au care, telles que la sororité, la santé et le bien-être des femmes et des nourrissons, ainsi que la confrontation de différents paradigmes épistémologiques.

Élise Lepage est professeure agrégée à l’Université de Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Ses travaux portent sur l’imaginaire géographique et le paysage dans la littérature québécoise et de la francophonie canadienne, notamment en poésie. Elle a entre autres publié une monographie, Géographie des confins (2016), co-dirigé deux collectifs et plusieurs dossiers de revues savantes. Depuis 2015, elle tient la chronique annuelle de poésie de la revue University of Toronto Quarterly. Elle dirige la collection « Voix savantes » aux Éditions David et est membre du comité éditorial des revues @nalyses et Québec Studies.

“What’s in this plot?” Cultivating and Eating Otherwise with Jamaica Kincaid

Jamie Herd (UMR LEGS et Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin)

Monday 27 November, 5-7 pm, D101 Room (Signal Tower, Citadel)

Zoom link: https://u-picardie-fr.zoom.us/j/98004145815

In her 1971 article “Novel and History, Plot and Plantation,” Sylvia Wynter
examined the historical ties between colonialism, plantation agriculture
and contemporary literary forms, writing, “The novel form and our societies are the twin children of the same parents.” Following her cue, this
presentation will explore some of the connections between literature and
agriculture. Both these forms of culture feed humans and are vital to human
survival. Yet they do not necessarily create conditions in which humans,
earth systems and fellow earth creatures can thrive and are often forms of
destructive monoculture (the production of limited bodily, spiritual, and
intellectual products). As a legacy of colonial plantation systems, the
emergence of monocultures was tied to invention of race and advent of
racial terror as well as the rise of patriarchy and feminicides that forged
early modern Europe. These human injustices were and remain bound up with forms of earth domination and ecological destruction that still prevail. If, according to the adage, we are what we eat, we are also incarnations of
these intersecting and intersectional forms of violence.

image source

Dependency and Helplessness: Wolf Children and Oysters

Pr Karl Steel, Brooklin College, New York.

Monday 11 September, 5-7 pm, E002 Room

Zoom link: https://u-picardie-fr.zoom.us/j/93949638504

Link to the text of the talk



To contribute to the seminar theme of Animals and the environment, I will be drawing on material from my last book to offer two models for thinking of environmental relations. The first comes from the long history of stories of children raised by wolves. I will be focusing on a case from fourteenth-century German. Often taken as representing the bestial independence of male warrior bands, I suggest instead that the stories are just as much about foundational dependence. Wolves, like humans, might be fearsome, but, as the stories demonstrate, they also die without care. My talk’s second half pivots to oysters, which, from Plato at least through to the French encyclopedists, the “minimal animal,” at the very border between plants and animals. A typical animal studies response to these creatures would be to recognize their “agency,” but their utterly helpless, indifferent way of life instead should challenge the habit of trying to put “agency” at the center of environmental thinking.

Karl Steel is Professor of English literature at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York. He has published primarily on cultural ideas of the animal and human in the Middle Ages, with two books on the subject: How to Make a Human: Animals and Violence in the Middle Ages (Ohio State University Press, 2011) and How Not to Make a Human: Pets, Feral Children, Worms, Sky Burial, Oysters. His current book project is The Irrational Animal, on the limits of the concept of “reason,” which he shared last Spring with the AHLoMA group at EHESS.



From information overload to climate anxiety: mountain feelings and figures of excess in early eco-poetics

Dr Katarina Stenke, University of Greenwich

Monday, September 12th, 5-7 pm, E002 room

Zoom link: https://u-picardie-fr.zoom.us/j/85868994862?pwd=TS9MYUtxeEs4bGFOdmE2b0d1Y1dQUT09

Information overload is everywhere; who nowadays can say they have never felt overwhelmed by facts, images, opinions, information of all kinds, coming at us relentlessly on our various devices, as digital media continue to expand? In the same period, however, another kind of “overwhelm” has also beset us: climate anxiety, an increased awareness of and concern for the damage to the world’s ecological systems.

These two phenomena – information overload and climate anxiety – are not unconnected; the rise in digital information technology contributes significantly to global warming and environmental damage, while the increased accessibility of information means that more of us than ever are aware of the severe threats to our climate and environment. In both cases, furthermore, we find the idea of excessive stimulus – information that is either quantitively or qualitatively excessive – which by its sheer scale or force induces a sense of being unable to respond or move on: there is too much to cope with.

This nexus of excess is not just a phenomenon of our current era, however.  What we can learn from the feeling of “overwhelm” that people in the past have felt in response both to large environmental phenomena and to human-generated cognitive excess? Late-seventeenth-century written accounts of mountain tourism and travel allow us to elucidate the practices, experiences and contexts of historical “mountain feelings” in order to offer fresh perspectives on our current feelings about nature, knowledge and excess.


Dr Katarina Stenke is a Senior Lecturer in Eighteenth-Century Literature at the University of Greenwich. Her research lies in the field of eighteenth-century British literature and seeks to elucidate intersections between abstract, cultural concepts and eighteenth-century manuscript and print. She has published peer-reviewed articles and chapters in the Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, Studies in the Literary Imagination and elsewhere on topics such as: politics of mourning in women’s writing; being subversive in eighteenth-century religious verse; connections between orientalism and parochialism; and representations of mazes and statues in eighteenth-century poetry. She is currently preparing a monograph on eighteenth-century long poems; co-editing a collection of essays on ‘impolite periodicals’; and researching representations of mass mortality in eighteenth-century verse by women.

“All the world’s a stage”: An ecocritical exploration of Shakespeare’s imagined worlds

Sarah Waters, University of Buckingham, UK

Monday October 17th, 5-7 pm CET (E002 Lecture Hall + Zoom session) https://u-picardie-fr.zoom.us/j/83983941589?pwd=dFJSZDl0bDdycVQ2WVZCQk4yWkpKQT09

Ben Jonson famously declared Shakespeare’s works as ‘not of an age, but for all time!’ (1623), but are the worlds he imagines even possible in a world which appears to be shrinking not growing? And has their function altered as our world has contracted? As the universe continues to expand and we push earth into ever more claustrophobic self-destruction, this paper will explore the oxymoronic nature of Shakespeare’s imagined worlds. It will consider the ecological potential we find with the forests of Shakespeare’s comedies and the ecological realities or dystopias of his tragedies before breaking down the linearity of that dichotomy. Blending the ecocritical with the postcolonial, it will also explore the way Shakespeare depicts diversity under threat, the commodification of land, and the fine line between exploration and destruction. Ultimately, in its exploration of Shakespeare’s worlds, the fluidity of their bounds, and their differing degrees of fictionality, this talk with explore how far Shakespeare’s plays are (dis)connected with ecoconscious ideas, and consider the extent to which we can see his plays as texts which ‘practice restorationism by calling places into being’ (Buell, 2008).

Sarah Waters is a Lecturer in English Literature and Honorary Junior Research Fellow at the University of Buckingham. With a PhD in English Literature and Medical Humanities, she is interested in interdisciplinary research and the emergences when literature and psychosocial research and psychiatric practice are brought into dialogue with one another, as well as the way Shakespearean drama responds to its two contemporaries: then and now. Her research lies primarily in the fields of early modern affect studies, Shakespeare studies and Inklings studies (with a particular emphasis on CS Lewis). Her recent publications indicate the way her research explores these fields both as distinct and interlinked areas. Recent articles, for instance, include Disrupted dialogues: exploring misgendered diagnoses and experiences of melancholia and depression through the lens of Pericles and contemporary psychiatric practice (2021) and ‘CS Lewis’ Science Fiction and Shakespeare: A Romance Made in the Heavens (2020).

Jane Austen et l’agriculture

Pr. Jean-Jacques Lecercle, Université de Paris Ouest Nanterre

lundi 7 novembre, 17-19h, salle E002

lien zoom: https://u-picardie-fr.zoom.us/j/86039691281?pwd=SUk4WkRnT3dMUXk2d3RjRC9nNFEwZz09

D’agriculture il n’est jamais question dans les romans de Jane Austen. On interprétera cette absence comme un déni. Deux indices. (i) Les romans sont obsédés par l’argent et la source de ces revenus est parfois indiquée (prises de guerre des officiers de marine, commerce), mais jamais quand il s’agit de revenus agricoles, qui pourtant fournissent l’essentiel desdits revenus. (ii) Le monde de Jane Austen (une petite région du sud de l’Angleterre au tournant du 18ème siècle) est littérairement fort peuplé : White of Selborne, Cobbett et Miss Mitford ont décrit les mêmes paysages et dans leurs textes d’agriculture il est question. Si cette absence est un déni, on cherchera quels sont ses substituts, un rapport à la nature qui ne passe pas par les travaux de la terre, et on analysera la structure de sentiments que cela implique, dans ses deux aspects contradictoires, un aspect dominant, l’artialisation de la nature, et un aspect dominé, une vision plus « réaliste », et qui fonctionne comme le retour d’un refoulé, de la campagne.


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