The Word for World is Forest symposium

The Word for World is Forest symposium image of woman holding space helment in the forest
Photo Credit: Maksim Isotomin, Unsplash

This morning brought news I have had a proposal accepted to present at an online symposium dedicated to Ursula K. Le Guin’s novella The Word for World is Forest.

The symposium is being organised by The Anarres Project for Alternative Futures on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the publication of Forest.

Their intention is that, rather than being strictly academic, discussions should foreground “how the tale might help us develop strategies for mutual aid and community organizing against injustice today”.

I certainly have thoughts on that so of course I stuck in a proposal. Now it’s been accepted it’s the usual ‘wtf did past me do, what did I promise?’ moment of realising I have a presentation to write.

Last time I wrote a paper I trialled a ‘devised theatre’ style approach that I’m thinking of employing again. This involves quite a lot of talking to myself: improvising to start off with then refining it down to what I really want to say. This was no easier than sitting down with pen and paper/laptop but I enjoyed how when it came to presenting I was able to do so without notes.

As for what I’m going to talk about, this, incidentally, is what past me promised:

My presentation will consider the lessons The Word for World is Forest offers for environmental and social justice movements as both an ecofeminist text and a utopian one. I suggest it is utopian to the extent it presents a critique of contemporary society while also suggesting the possibility of other ways of being that would be more perfect than our own.

The ecofeminist themes of the novel are evident in the characterisation of the Terran leader Captain Davidson who in his sexism, racism, colonialism, speciesism and general disregard for nature single-handedly demonstrates how various types of exploitation can be connected and how the masculinist, master figure can be the architect of ecological destruction.

But while the text highlights the dangers of such a dualistic worldview, which separates man/woman, self/other, man/nature and considers the former of each pair superior, it does not escape dualistic logic within its own structure. It is impossible to escape the binary form of the text, which opposes the ‘good’ Athsheans and the ‘bad’ Terrans.

I will discuss the necessity of escaping binary thought (which incidentally I believe Le Guin achieves in later works) in order to:

– Avoid essentialism, where we attempt to flip the hierarchy instead of flattening it and continue to assume that women and ‘others’ (effectively anyone not a white male) are intrinsically connected to ‘nature’

– Avoid eco-authoritarianism, where we perpetuate the logic of mastery over others by attempting to wrest control in order to impose environmental ways of being

– Avoid colonial logic, where we fantasise about colonising either a place or time (i.e. the future) according to our own ideals, no matter how well-meant

The symposium will be held online on 14 October 2022.

Brighton build up – two weeks til the Utopian Studies conference!

Brighton build up: fan art from the Broken Earth trilogy showing a hovering obelisk

The Brighton build up has begun! It should have begun a bit earlier if I’m honest… Two weeks to go and my paper is definitely in progress but not exactly ready as yet…

The final schedule is appearing on the conference website. This is the time when I get my virtual pencil out to circle the papers I don’t want to miss. And realise that half of them clash with each other. Or if not with each other, then with my panel. I also sneak a look at who I’m up against and assess whether anyone will come and see me… Basically, it’s like a music festival but nerdier (and wordier).

I’m trying out a new approach to writing my paper this time. It’s kind of a devised theatre-style method. Instead of sitting down with pen and paper, I’m standing up with a stopwatch and talking to myself. Starting off with a bit of improv, then refining it from waffle into hopefully a series of concise, connected points. My aim is to end up with a presentation I can stand up and give from cue cards rather than having to write the whole thing out. While keeping to twenty minutes and not losing the thread or drying up completely. Wish me luck!

My Brighton paper on ‘New Forms of Hope’

My Brighton paper is entitled ‘New Forms of Hope: Environmental Literary Utopias in the 21st Century’. This is what I promised to talk about when I wrote my abstract… (I think we’re on track for this, but probably via the Plantationocene rather than Val Plumwood):

The ecological crises of the twenty-first century arguably originated in the sixteenth century, around the time that Thomas More wrote his genre-founding Utopia. More’s Utopia of 1516 in many ways typifies the Western European worldview of its time, which saw other lands and peoples as raw materials from which to shape the perfect civilisation.

Imbued within this worldview is a series of dualisms, to use Val Plumwood’s term: human/nature, culture/nature, master/slave and so on. These pairings have a hierarchical relationship, whereby the first-named is considered superior to the second. The ideological separation of (white, male) humans from the rest of nature has for centuries allowed Western culture to ignore ecological limits to devastating effect for human and non-human others globally.

It is becoming ever clearer even in the Western world that we need to think differently in order to tackle the climate crisis and climate injustice, where those historically ‘othered’ continue to suffer the most. As utopian studies scholars, we might hope the practice of utopia can help us imagine alternative and better ways of being. But how can utopia contribute to promoting climate justice when it is founded on a system of thought that is antithetical to this goal?

In this paper I will look at how contemporary writers N.K. Jemisin, Nisi Shawl and Rivers Solomon are innovating within the genre of utopia and how their formal adaptations are evolving the literary utopia towards addressing issues of climate justice.

I’m also working on the visuals for my presentation. As a final sneak peak at my paper check out the gallery below. (It looks a bit like the picture round in a pub quiz, but I’ve given away the answers in the captions.)

Black Utopias, Forecast and New Suns

Hello, how are you doing? Spring is coming where I am and it’s all taking off. Here’s a round up of the utopian books and events on my radar this week.

Black Utopias, Jayna Brown

I was excited to receive my copy of new release Black Utopias by Jayna Brown this weekend. I pre-ordered after spotting a tweet from the author and I have a copy in my hands now too! I’ve come for the interpretation of Octavia E. Butler and Samuel R. Delany’s speculative fiction but I’ll stay for the Black women mystics and Sun Ra.

Arrived here too!

Forecast by Invisible Dust

Coming up this week (3rd – 7th March 2021), Invisible Dust are presenting Forecast, a series of online events, performances and screenings. Invisible Dust is an organisation bringing artists and scientists together for creative projects and discussion on environment and climate change.

I’ve tried to pick out a few events to highlight but honestly it all looks amazing. I love the questions being posed for the panel discussions: What is shaping how you think about the planet’s future? How can we use the past to understand the future? What will our view of nature bring to the future? Who chooses our future and how? Then there are all the fascinating artist projects being showcased too.

Contributors hail from all over the world, which is brilliant to see. This is as it should be for a programme of events on climate change and the future but often isn’t the case.

I’m hoping to catch a couple of lunchtime events live but the early evening events are at an awkward time for me (dinner time and bedtime for our 4yo, not a time when I can get away with watching stuff on my computer when we’re all in the flat together). Luckily, there’s a weekend pass giving access to all the recordings from 9pm on Fri 5th March to 11pm Sun 7th March (GMT). Even so, I know I won’t get enough time over one weekend to catch as much of it as I want to.

New Suns: A Feminist Literary Festival

I just found out about the New Suns festival happening virtually at the Barbican this weekend, 5-7 March 2021. The whole weekend is dedicated to exploring the legacy of Octavia E. Butler’s science fiction, in particular the Earthseed series. It’s a clash with Forecast of course but the New Suns pass gives access to recordings until the end of the day on Tuesday 9th so I’m hoping to find enough hours to squeeze in both.

Events I definitely do not want to miss are: the screening of Donna Haraway: Story Telling for Earthly Survival, which I’ve wanted to watch for ages; the keynote talk ‘The Parables of Octavia Butler: adrienne maree brown in conversation with Ama Josephine Budge’ (adrienne maree brown’s book Pleasure Activism is on my want-to-read list); and the workshop on journaling/diary writing with London Review of Books.