Roundtable: Beyond the Anthropocene: Post-Anthropocentric Approaches Across Literature and Theory (Katarzyna Więckowska, Tomasz Dobrogoszcz & Tymon Adamczewski)
Title: More-than-Human Entanglements: Literary Expressions of the Tree World
Abstract: The present environmental crisis has necessitated a rethinking of the relations between human- and non-human worlds and led to a re-examination of the possibilities and means of representing the complex ways they are entangled. New materialists thinkers, in particular, have stressed the vitality of non-human bodies (Jane Bennett), their ongoing intra-activity (Karen Barad) and porousness (Stacy Alaimo) while at the same time drawing attention to the ethical responsibility for the non-human world, phrased by Donna Haraway as response-ability. This essay refers to new materialism and Critical Plant Studies to explore the changing ways writers and artists engage with the plant world. I analyze the relations between humans and trees in Urszula Zajączkowska’s book of essays Sticks and Stalks (Patyki i badyle, 2019), Richard Powers’s novel The Overstory (2018) and the public artwork Future Library (2014-2114), conceived and curated by Katie Paterson and involving writers from various parts of the world, including Canada, the UK, Iceland, South Korea, Norway, and Zimbabwe. I approach these works as illustrating the major transformations in both artistic practices and ways of thinking about the plant world that radically deconstruct the old oppositions between literature and science, activity and passivity, subject and object, material and abstract, human and non-human, and that share an engagement with ethics of care. Following the suggestion of Michael Marder, I use the word “expression” rather than “representation” to describe these aesthetic engagements with trees to avoid approaching the latter as mere objects and to highlight the new understanding of the function of art in depicting the more-than-human world.
Bio: Katarzyna Więckowska is Associate Professor at the Department of Anglophone Literature, Culture and Comparative Studies of Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, Poland, and a member of the Lab for Exclusion and Alienation Research (LEAR). Her research interests include environmental criticism, feminist criticism, discourses and practices of exclusion, and contemporary Anglophone literature; her most recent work focuses on hauntology, post-anthropocentric ethics of care, and solarpunk. She is the author of Spectres of Men: Masculinity, Crisis and British Literature (2014), On Alterity: A Study of Monstrosity and Otherness (2008), and articles and chapters on gender, corporeality, the Gothic, spectrality, and authorship. In 2022, she won the Corbridge Trust scholarship for a research stay at the University of Cambridge, UK, to explore the representation of climate change in contemporary British fiction.