Presentation Title

Argument For An Alien Sublime: How The Radically Dehumanized Fictional Other Can Put Us (Back) In Our Place

Authors' Names

Anna Wilson

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Abstract

For fourteen years, Us magazine’s “Stars—They’re Just Like Us” has captured celebrities buying lettuce or charging an iPhone, conflating their lives with those of “everybody else,” and manifesting a microcosm of a pervasive, more general attitude: “Everything—It’s Just Like Us.” Even fictional “aliens,” however repulsive or ethereal the embodiment, mirror human traits. The alien-as-self perpetuates the status quo, maintaining division along existing lines in the global human population. The conspicuous absence of the genuinely unknown—in fictions purporting to imagine just that—parallels ongoing failure to tackle ecological problems on a global scale. Polish author Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris (1961), The Invincible (1964), and Fiasco (1986), and Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 Southern Reach trilogy, are linked as rare exceptions, in which alien presence is so unfamiliar that the degree to which it may be labeled a “lifeform” remains in question. In 2006, Lee Rozelle coined an “ecosublime,” arguing for ecocritiques generated from “the awe and terror of a heightened awareness of the ecological home.” Here, a reading of Lem and VanderMeer calls for a return to the Kantian sublime: the turn to reason renovated to demand mastery over self rather than other. The humanizing of the nonhuman, as in the fictive “alien,” represents a form of colonization in which human psychology expands to inhabit the entire environment. If this norm is the path to the “cozy catastrophe,” a thriving sub-genre of post-apocalyptic fiction in which the “end of the world as we know it” looks a lot like mythic places in narrative history, the robustly alien in Lem and VanderMeer revises the story of ecological agency that puts everything in human hands, for better or worse.

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Apr 27th, 1:45 PM Apr 27th, 2:00 PM

Argument For An Alien Sublime: How The Radically Dehumanized Fictional Other Can Put Us (Back) In Our Place

UC Ballroom, Pod #2

For fourteen years, Us magazine’s “Stars—They’re Just Like Us” has captured celebrities buying lettuce or charging an iPhone, conflating their lives with those of “everybody else,” and manifesting a microcosm of a pervasive, more general attitude: “Everything—It’s Just Like Us.” Even fictional “aliens,” however repulsive or ethereal the embodiment, mirror human traits. The alien-as-self perpetuates the status quo, maintaining division along existing lines in the global human population. The conspicuous absence of the genuinely unknown—in fictions purporting to imagine just that—parallels ongoing failure to tackle ecological problems on a global scale. Polish author Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris (1961), The Invincible (1964), and Fiasco (1986), and Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 Southern Reach trilogy, are linked as rare exceptions, in which alien presence is so unfamiliar that the degree to which it may be labeled a “lifeform” remains in question. In 2006, Lee Rozelle coined an “ecosublime,” arguing for ecocritiques generated from “the awe and terror of a heightened awareness of the ecological home.” Here, a reading of Lem and VanderMeer calls for a return to the Kantian sublime: the turn to reason renovated to demand mastery over self rather than other. The humanizing of the nonhuman, as in the fictive “alien,” represents a form of colonization in which human psychology expands to inhabit the entire environment. If this norm is the path to the “cozy catastrophe,” a thriving sub-genre of post-apocalyptic fiction in which the “end of the world as we know it” looks a lot like mythic places in narrative history, the robustly alien in Lem and VanderMeer revises the story of ecological agency that puts everything in human hands, for better or worse.