Title: Bonding with the nonhuman in Olga Tokarczuk’s recent prose
Abstract: The starting point for my discussion is the recognition of the need to redefine the relationship between humans and nonhumans. Many contemporary critics and philosophers stress this need, pointing to the underlying changes in an understanding of humans and nonhumans and their mutual relations, which result in a changing definition of the human and nonhuman animal. Carey Wolfe, for instance, argues that “Nothing really convincingly settles the separation of human and animal,” seeing a “clear-sighted recognition of connection across the discredited breach of nature and culture” (2). In my presentation, I would like to focus on literary representations of such human / nonhuman entanglement (using Karen Barad’s term). To do so, I turn to literary examples present in recent novels of Polish Nobel Prize winner Olga Tokarczuk, Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead (2019) and Empuzjon (2022). These novels, I argue, align themselves with “forest thinking” (the term of the anthropologist Eduardo Kohn), “plant thinking” (Matthew Hall and Michael Marder) and philosophy based on mushrooms (Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing). These radical turns in philosophy directed towards seeing plants and fungi as ethical entities and towards identifying human “plant blindness” as one of the major causes of the ecological catastrophe of the Anthropocene are the basis for my consideration of the critical implications of the shift towards plants, fungi, and nonhuman animals, and their portrayal in literary fiction; the consideration of nonhumans provides an opportunity to shift from boundaries towards bonds.
Bio: Katarzyna Nowak-McNeice is an Adjunct Professor of English at the University of Wroclaw. She is the author of Melancholic Travelers (Peter Lang, 2007) and California and the Melancholic American Identity in Joan Didion’s Novels: Exiled from Eden (Routledge, 2019, in paperback 2020), and co-editor of three volumes, Representations and Images of Frontiers and Borders: On the Edge (with Alejandra María Aventín Fontana, Cambridge Scholars, 2022), A Dark California: Essays on Dystopian Depictions in Popular Culture (with Agata Zarzycka, McFarland, 2017), Interiors: Interiority/Exteriority in Literary and Cultural Discourse (with Sonia Front, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010), as well as essays, reviews and translations. Her scholarly interests include critical posthumanism, vegan studies, and California literature.