[Msa-discuss] CFP for MSA Columbus: Modernist Plant Aesthetics (abstracts due April 7)

Caitlin Mcintyre camcinty at buffalo.edu
Wed Apr 4 16:34:43 EDT 2018

Please see below Call for Papers for a "Modernist Plant Aesthetics" panel I
am organizing and proposing for the upcoming MSA conference in Columbus, OH
(November 8-11, 2018). Please send a 250-word (max.) abstract to me
(Caitlin McIntyre; camcinty at buffalo.edu) as well as a brief bio, by
Saturday, April 7, 2018. Please feel free to circulate.

CFP: Modernist Plant Aesthetics (for Energy and Ecology Stream)

The pages of modernist literary works abound with leaves, plants, and
flowers. These plants are more than mere appearances; indeed, their
presence often facilitates connections between characters and their
ecosystems, prompt questions of human agency, and anticipate questions of
ecological sustainability in an era of industrial development. This plant
life is sensuous, for example, in Felix’s first glimpse of Robin Vote in
Djuna Barnes’s *Nightwood *(1936), Robin is “surrounded by a confusion of
potted plants, exotic palms and cut flowers.” The “jungle” that surrounds
her creeps onto her body, as “her flesh was the texture of plant life.”
Modernism’s plant life also invokes questions of ethics and shared
earthliness: “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower” in
Dylan Thomas’s eponymous poem (1934) famously connects the (human) speaker
to a shared mortality. Septimus Smith, in Virginia Woolf’s *Mrs Dalloway*
(1925) imagines a web-like connection to the ecosystems of London: “leaves
were alive, trees were alive. And the leaves being connected by millions of
fibers with his own body,” a connection which prompts him to realize that
“men must not cut down trees.” In a similar vein, Patrick Kavanagh
considers the violence done to wild, weedy plant life through farming when
he writes in *The Great Hunger* (1942) that “Nobody will ever know how much
tortured poetry the/ pulled weeds on the ridge wrote/ Before they withered
in the July sun.” Taking this ecological imposition to its full conclusion,
the central crisis in Samuel Beckett’s play *Endgame *(1957) is that plant
seeds have failed to sprout.

The questions and possibilities raised by plant life and death in literary
modernism compellingly anticipate the stakes of contemporary critical plant
studies. Here, scholars including Michael Marder, Jeffrey Nealon, Catriona
Sandilands, Timothy Morton, and Luce Irigaray (among others) have turned to
plants in order to critique Enlightenment tenets of the “great chain of
being” as well as the exploitation and instrumentalization of biota; to
explore the difficulty of language in expressing or translating nonhuman
communication, especially through symbolism and metaphor; and question
passivity as a form of activity or agency. Most important in these
discussions is the exhortation to move beyond the focus on individual
plants (and their genetic makeup) in laboratory settings, and to consider
plants in their ecosystems. Moreover, critical plant studies attempts to
foreground “plantness:” what do plants say about themselves? This panel
aims to bring together modernist literature (as well as visual, musical or
performative works) and plant studies to highlight the ways in which this
movement is in step with contemporary environmental humanities and science,
but also its proleptic concern with anthropogenic climate change, and
nonhuman modes of affiliation and expression.

This panel will explore (but is not limited to) these questions or
concerns: different modes of nonhuman animacy/agency; vegetation as form;
plant symbolism; botany, biochemistry and taxonomy; plant-based
folk-knowledge, medicine, and spirituality; depictions of agricultural
space and/or labor; biosemiotics and plant communication; the aesthetic and
sensorial worlds of plants.
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