Seminars

Whom the Trees Loved: Queer Ecologies

Dennis Denisoff, University of Tulsa

Queer ecology studies engages with the sexual, sensual, and affective relations among the organic and inorganic, while also problematizing distinctions between the natural and unnatural. Sexuality, gender, trans, and affect studies engage with, among other things, animality studies, Anthropocene studies, deep green religion, and notions of urban, frontier, and Indigenous ecologies. This seminar will explore and offer preliminary inquiries into new possibilities and problems arising from issues such as vegetal ontology, geoethics, trans-species affections, and queer and feminist eco-theory. How does an eco-focus alter our understanding of the queer? What new texts enter the queer Victorian canon when nonhuman desires are given consideration? Why did so many Victorians turn to “nature” to evoke inchoate or nonnormative feelings? And how has Victorians’ love of animals and the environment impacted our own environmentalisms?

Dennis is the Ida Barnard McFarlin Chair of English at the University of Tulsa, and a faculty member at the Middlebury College Bread Loaf summer program. In 2020, he was Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Queen Mary, University of London. Past president of NAVSA, he is the author of 6 books and (co-)editor of 9. Recent publications include the edition Arthur Machen: Decadent and Occult Works (2018), The Routledge Companion to Victorian Literature (2019, co-edited with Talia Schaffer), and Scales of Decadence (a special issue of Victorian Literature and Culture, forthcoming 2020/21). His forthcoming monograph, Decadent Ecology: Desire, Decay, and the Neo-Pagans, 1860-1920, combines queer ecology, eco-paganism, and the environmental humanities to engage Victorian and Edwardian disruptive ecological models. Specifically, he argues that such models conclude that the systems of integration, mutation, dissipation, and excessive proliferation of sentient beings, climate, and objects operate beyond human regulatory compulsions – a perversity that many found humbling and inspiring.

Forms of Religious Belief

Mark Knight, Lancaster University

Writing in Religion as a Chain of Memory (2000), Daniéle Hervieu-Léger urges us to “look for covert signs of religion in every sphere of human activity.” Her call has been embraced by several identifying with the “religious turn” in the humanities, and for good reason. But the danger of looking for religion everywhere is that it can lose its distinctiveness and end up being seen nowhere. Thinking about different forms of belief—creeds, practices, genres, sacred spaces, etc—can help make religion more visible, while also registering that expressions of faith are always in formation and can be found inside and outside religious institutions. And exploring different forms of religious belief introduces other issues, too: the way in which forms carry with them a disciplinary impulse, and the capacity of forms to unsettle existing modes of thought. Seminar participants may respond to the topic in any way they wish.

Mark Knight is Professor of Literature, Religion, and Victorian Studies in the Department of English Literature and Creative Writing at Lancaster University in the UK. He is the author of Chesterton and Evil (2004), Nineteenth-Century Religion and Literature: An Introduction (with Emma Mason, 2006), An Introduction to Religion and Literature (2009), and Good Words: Evangelicalism and the Victorian Novel (2019). Mark has edited several volumes, including The Routledge Companion to Literature and Religion (2016), and is the General Editor of the Oxford University Press journal Literature and Theology. In 2016 and 2019 he codirected National Endowment for the Humanities seminars on religion, secularism and the novel, and he also coedits the Bloomsbury book series, New Directions in Religion and Literature.

Empire and Environment

Elizabeth Carolyn Miller, University of California, Davis

The Victorian period marked a turning point in environmental history as in the history of empire, and this seminar will concern itself with the intersections of accelerating imperialism and accelerating ecological devastation in the Victorian world. We will conceptualize British imperialism in its formal and its informal registers, as it stretched to appropriate other natures in the Global South, the Arctic and Antarctic, and all corners of the British Isles, and as it shaped such domains as investment, infrastructure, resource exploitation, science, and culture. Participants might engage various topics and frameworks including ecological imperialism, Indigenous studies, environmental racism, the Anthropocene/Capitalocene and world ecology, animal studies, habitat loss and species extinction, or wilderness preservation and other settler environmentalisms. All disciplinary perspectives – literary studies, history, art history, history of science, cultural studies, ethnic studies – are warmly welcome.

Elizabeth Carolyn Miller is Professor of English at the University of California, Davis. She is the author of Slow Print: Literary Radicalism and Late Victorian Print Culture (Stanford University Press, 2013), which was named Best Book of the Year by the North American Victorian Studies Association and received Honorable Mention for the Modernist Studies Association Book Prize, and Framed: The New Woman Criminal in British Culture at the Fin de Siècle (University of Michigan Press, 2008). Recent editing projects include Teaching William Morris (co-edited with Jason Martinek; Fairleigh University Press, 2019) and Major Political Writings of George Bernard Shaw (Oxford World Classics, forthcoming in 2021). She also guest-edited a special issue of Victorian Studies on “Climate Change and Victorian Studies” (2018). Miller’s current book-in-progress is titled “Extraction Ecologies and the Literature of the Long Exhaustion, 1830s-1930s.” The project has been supported with fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Guggenheim Foundation.

Contrapuntal Reading

Nasser Mufti, University of Illinois at Chicago

What happened to contrapuntal reading? Edward Said introduced the term in Culture and Imperialism as an interpretive method that attends to imperialism, and resistance to it across geographic, national and historical delineations. Said’s models for contrapuntal reading are C.L.R. James, George Antonius, S.H. Atlas and Ranajit Guha, all leading anticolonial/postcolonial intellectuals of the twentieth century, whose audience spans the general and the specialized. Not only are all of these figures absent from scholarship on Victorian literature and culture, little reference is made to them in contemporary scholarship on Victorian literature and culture. Why does Victorian studies resist reading about the demise of Victorian society’s greatest political and cultural achievement, empire? What might it mean to recover contrapuntal reading, be it through these or other intellectuals? Finally, are there useful limits to contrapuntal reading? Is there value (political or intellectual) in highlighting the limits of comparison?

Nasser Mufti works in the Department of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the author of Civilizing War: Imperial Politics and the Poetics of National Rupture (Northwestern University Press, 2018). He is currently researching Pan-African theories of the nineteenth century. 

Nasser Mufti’s research and teaching focuses on nineteenth century British and postcolonial literature, as well as critical and political theory. He is especially interested in literary approaches to the study of nationalism. His first book, Civilizing War: Imperial Politics and the Poetics of National Rupture (Northwestern UP, 2018) argues that narratives of civil war energized and animated nineteenth-century British imperialism and decolonization in the twentieth century. The conceptual core of the book adapts a famous phrase of Benedict Anderson to asks what it means to “un-imagine” community, while its historical arc tracks the shifts in narratives of civil war from the Victorian period to the age of decolonization to the contemporary refugee crisis. Where once the narratives of civil war were directed internally at metropolitan society, today they are directed exclusively outwards at the Global South and provide the basis for liberal-humanitarian interventionism.

This project has led him down two research tracks. The first examines the relationship between New Imperialism and what Foucault calls “state racism” at the turn of the century. The second, tentatively titled “Bandung Brutalism,” looks at the meaning and contradictions of statist architecture in the age of Third World nationalism. He has published on Nadine Gordimer's late-apartheid fiction in The Journal of Narrative Theory (43.1), Dickens’s Bleak House in NOVEL (49.1), Rudyard Kipling’s Boer War stories in Nineteenth Century Literature (70.4), and on Bio-Politics and the idea of Greater Britain in b2o: An Online Journal.

Indigenous/Cross-cultural Collaborations

Deanna Reder and Sophie McCall, Simon Fraser University

This seminar addresses the role of collaboration on Indigenous literary archives, and explores collaboration as a method of literary engagement. As a case study, we introduce participants to our co-authored booked project, Indigenous Writing since 1867: Once Neglected Now Celebrated, which collects and studies one of the most neglected literary archives in English Canada. This archive has been neglected in part because settlers used literature to consolidate a narrative of Canada that prioritized settler writers, resulting in university curricula that featured British and American canonical works. Despite significant barriers, Indigenous people continued writing and circulating literary works through the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. As a result of their loud and persistent collective action against prejudices in the publishing world, their work has become increasingly recognized and valued in the university and beyond. Now, scholars and writers are systematically gathering the extraordinary archive of Indigenous writing of the past 150+ years.

Deanna Reder (Cree-Métis) is Associate Professor in the Departments of Indigenous Studies and English at Simon Fraser University, where she teaches courses on Indigenous literatures, especially autobiography. She is Principal Investigator of "The People and the Text: Indigenous Writing in Northern North America up to 1992" and co-editor of Learn, Teach, Challenge: Approaching Indigenous Literatures (2016); Read, Listen, Tell: Indigenous Stories from Turtle Island (2017); and Honouring the Strength of Indian Women: Plays, Stories, Poetry (2019). She is the current Chair of Indigenous Studies (2017-2022), and a founding member of the Indigenous Literary Studies Association (ILSA); currently she is co-chair of the Indigenous Voices Awards. She also is the Series Editor for the Indigenous Studies Series at Wilfred Laurier University Press. In 2018, she was elected to the Royal Society of Canada, College of New Scholars.

Sophie McCall is a settler scholar whose main areas of research and teaching are Indigenous literatures and studies in Canada and contemporary Canadian literature from the 20th and 21st centuries. She has published widely on topics such as textualizing oral history, the struggle for Indigenous rights, decolonization, resurgence, and reconciliation.

Victorian Studies and Settler Colonialism

Philip Steer, Massey University

*Philip Steer will lead this seminar virtually

This seminar will ask how Victorianists might respond to the acts of environmental devastation, exploitation, and transformation that were once celebrated as the central work of settler colonialism. The task of understanding the cultural origins of present-day environmental crisis is urgent, and the Victorian settler empire is an important site of inquiry that also presents significant methodological challenges. What kinds of literature and archives, colonial and metropolitan, best enable such work? How can we understand and articulate the intersections of literary representation with other domains of environmental knowledge and with the material facts of destruction and dispossession? Perhaps most pressing, in this regard, is the question of how to engage meaningfully with Indigenous voices and traditional ecological knowledge, without simply recapitulating colonial acts of silencing or appropriation. At a broader level, moreover, how attentive can Victorianist criticism be to colonial particularities—both literary and material—when the field remains thoroughly grounded in metropolitan thought and territory? This seminar invites papers exploring any aspect of the histories, texts, and methods that confront us when considering the environmental impacts of Victorian settler colonialism.

Philip Steer is Associate Professor of English at Massey University. His research focuses on the culture, economics, and environments of the Victorian settler empire. His current project approaches settler writing as a form of environmental knowledge and asks what this archive might tell us about the cultural dimensions of present-day environmental problems. He is author of Settler Colonialism in Victorian Literature: Economics and Political Identity in the Networks of Empire (Cambridge, 2020), and co-editor with Nathan K. Hensley of Ecological Form: System and Aesthetics in the Age of Empire (Fordham, 2019). His essays have also appeared in PMLA, Victorian Studies, and Victorian Literature and Culture.

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