Professor Heather Vermeulen
The genre of black speculative fiction–in the form of literature, art, music, and theory–provides a generative framework through which to (re)think understandings of race, gender, sexuality, class, the body, disability, citizenship, and the human. Often couched as taking place in the “future,” black speculative fictions also engage the past and critique the present. This makes the genre a critical resource for addressing the Anthropocene. The term “Anthropocene” first emerged from the discipline of geology in 2000. Scientists proposed that Earth had entered a new epoch (following the Holocene) in which “humans” had become geological forces, impacting the planet itself. However, the term Anthropocene raises numerous questions. What does it mean to think about the human at the level of a “species”? What constitutes evidence of the Anthropocene and when did it begin? Who is responsible for the Anthropocene’s attendant catastrophes, which include earthquakes, altered ocean waters, and massive storms? Does the Anthropocene overemphasize the human and thus downplay other interspecies and human-nonhuman, animate-inanimate relations? Or does it demand a (potentially fruitful) reconceptualization of the human? Further, how does artificial intelligence complicate definitions of the human and, by extension, of the Anthropocene? Centering the work of black speculative thinkers and placing it in conversation with scientific studies ranging from marine biology and geology to cybernetics, this course takes an interdisciplinary approach to the Anthropocene that endeavors to (re)conceptualize the human, ecological relations, and Earth itself. Texts engaged will include: novels, art, music, theory, and scientific studies.
Select primary sources: Octavia Butler, DAWN; N. K. Jemisin, THE FIFTH SEASON; Samuel Delany, STARS IN MY POCKET LIKE GRAINS OF SAND; Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy, and Halley Wegryn Gross, WESTWORLD; Sun Ra, SPACE IS THE PLACE; Bina48; Wangechi Mutu; Ellen
Select secondary sources: Joni Adamson et al., eds., KEYWORDS FOR ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES Alexander Weheliye, HABEAS VISCUS: RACIALIZING ASSEMBLAGES, BIOPOLITICS, AND BLACK FEMINIST THEORIES OF THE HUMAN Alexis Pauline Gumbs, M ARCHIVE: AFTER THE END OF THE WORLD Anna Tsing et al., eds., ARTS OF LIVING ON A DAMAGED PLANET