The first talk of the new ISC Speaker Series
12:15 - 13:30
Professor Sylvia Mayer
Lectures, talks and seminars
Interdisciplinary Studies Centre
Ecocriticism, Risk Theory, and (Fictional) Narratives of Environmental Risk
This talk will briefly introduce the field of ecocriticism – environmentally oriented literary and cultural studies – and then move on to discuss an innovative field within Ecocriticism: the study of environmental risk fiction.
Over the last few decades, the accumulation of risks – ecological, financial, biomedical, or informational – has become a shaping force that permeates contemporary societies and cultures on a global scale and challenges them to deal with a present and a future increasingly marked by uncertainty, contingency, and insecurity. This talk argues that it is the shaping power of narrative that has strongly contributed to forming (environmental) risk discourses, that it needs risk narratives to constitute a risk in the first place. It will also draw attention to a formerly neglected type of texts in risk discourses: fictional texts. Fictional texts, for instance novels that explore the current global risk of climate change, contribute very specifically to risk discourses. Their essentially unlimited imaginative and formal range allows them to explore the complexity, and diversity, of individual and collective risk experiences in ways that work with and at the same time transcend, and thus complement, factual, scientific representation. Fictional risk narratives, moreover, have an intellectual and affective appeal that may make the experience of risk more easily perceptible, intelligible, and concrete than factual, scientific narratives could.
Sylvia Mayer is chair of American Studies and Anglophone Literatures and Cultures at the University of Bayreuth, Germany. Her major research areas are Ecocriticism, environmentally oriented literary and cultural studies, and African American Studies. Her publications include monographs on Toni Morrison’s novels and on the environmental ethical dimension of New England Regionalist Writing, 1865 –1918. She has edited and co-edited several volumes, among them The Anticipation of Catastrophe. Environmental Risk in North American Literature and Culture (2014), American Environments: Climate - Cultures – Catastrophe (2012), and Restoring the Connection to the Natural World: Essays on the African American Environmental Imagination (2003). More recently, her work has emerged from a larger project, “Contemporary North American Risk Fiction”, funded by the German Research Foundation. It has focused on the study of environmental risk narratives, climate change fiction and petrofiction.
Open to all, and especially recommended for ISC students (essential for ISC Undergraduates)
Available in person (LTB 5) or via Zoom