Roundtable title: Imagining Interspecies Kinship, Earth’s Aliveness, and an Ecological Civilization: On the Cultural Work of Fantasy in the Anthropocene
Participants: Marek Oziewicz, Andrea Casals, Tereza Dědinová & Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak
Title: Confronting Double Death and Extinction in Children’s Literature of the Anthropocene
Abstract: The Anthropocene confronts us with the radical uncertainty of the vanishing world (Häggström and Schmidt 2022) or the end of the world as we know it (Tsing 2015, Lo Presti 2022). As a children’s culture scholar from Wrocław, Poland, which just last summer witnessed a massive ecological disaster in the Odra River, the heart of the city and the region, I repeatedly wonder about the significance of cultural texts addressed to young audiences in times of “double death” and “the unmaking of life” (Rose 2012), that is, the untimely and irreparable obliteration of entire species and the negation of the capacity for ecosystemic regeneration, such that individual deaths are no longer recuperated in ongoing life (Jones et al. 2020). In this talk, I suggest that children’s literature of the Anthropocene should increasingly attend to ecological loss and to the diminishing (re-)generative possibilities for human and more-than-human life on Earth. Some such texts – mostly non-fiction – have already been available for a while (e.g. Will We Miss Them? (1992) by Alexandra Wright and Marshall H. Peck; Gone Forever (1998) by Felipe Dávalos, Sandra Markle and William Markle; Saving Species (2018) by Jess French and James’ Gilleard; A Wild Child’s Guide to Endangered Animals (2019) by Millie Marotta; Animals Lost and Found (2022) by Jason Bittel and Jonathan Woodward; The Sixth Extinction (Young Readers Adaptation): An Unnatural History (2023) by Elizabeth Kolbert). I substantiate my proposition by reading selected short stories from Shaun Tan’s Tales from the Inner City (2018). I show how their fantastic, if not surreal, quality contributes to the poignancy of Tan’s representations of extinction, including the demise of humankind. I argue that these stories draw readers’ attention both to current cases of double death and anticipate future mass loss of animal and plant species. Responding to Andrea Casal-Hill’s reading of Tales from the Inner City in this panel, I also propose that these stories may de-anthropocentrize readers’ perception of human-animal relations by centering on vulnerability, suffering, and finitude as ontological commonalities across species. In my conclusion, I refer to other examples of fantastic texts about extinction (Aviary Wonders Inc.: Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual (2014) by Kate Samworth, Beyond the Sixth Extinction: A Post-Apocalyptic Pop-Up (2018) by Shawn Sheehy and Jordi Solano, and The Council of Animals: A Novel (2021) by Nick McDonell) to reflect on the fantastic as catalyzing children’s literature’s potential to encourage an infra-generational ethics of care (Kraftl 2020), which rests on responsibility for the human-more-than-human connectedness extending to the distant past and distant futures.
Bio: Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak is an Associate Professor of Literature at the Institute of English Studies, University of Wrocław, Poland. She is the co-founder of the Center for Young People’s Literature and Culture and the Center for Research on Children’s and Young Adult Literature at the University of Wrocław. Her interests include child-led research, posthumanism, and new materialism. She is the co-editor (with Irena Barbara Kalla) of Rulers of Literary Playgrounds Politics of Intergenerational Play in Children’s Literature (2021), (with Zoe Jaques) Intergenerational Solidarity in Children’s Literature and Film (2021), (with Irena Barbara Kalla) Children’s Literature and Intergenerational Relationships: Encounters of the Playful Kind, and (with Macarena García-González) Children’s Cultures after Childhood (forthcoming in 2023). She is a Fulbright fellow (Rutgers University), Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow (Anglia Ruskin University), and a grantee of the Polish Foundation for Science and the Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange. In the years 2017-2021, she served on the board of the International Research Society for Children’s Literature. She is the University of Wrocław coordinator of the Erasmus Mundus International Master: Children’s Literature, Media, & Culture.