Parallel panels, session 5

Saturday, May 15, 11:20 am (UTC+2)

Setup phase for presenters starts at 11:00 am.

5.1 – Science and Postcolonial Environments II

Virginia Richter, University of Berne:
A Theatre of Decay: The Aesthetics of Zoology in Jim Crace’s Being Dead

In Jim Crace’s novel Being Dead (1999), two middle-aged zoologists are killed on the first page. End of story. Or rather, the beginning of a different story, the story of the bodies’ process of decomposition. By adopting the zoological gaze which the murdered scientists themselves used to direct at the littoral fauna of Baritone Bay, the site of crime, Crace’s narrator reverses the novel’s scale and perspective from the anthropocentric to the entomological, and finally microbiological. Beetles, flies, and crabs are the agents of the discovery and colonisation of the rotting corpses. While this zoological stance allows the display of an extremely naturalistic aesthetics, a parallel narrative strand reconstructs the zoologists’ lives, their love story which began and ended on the same beach, and thus symbolically reverses the process of their material decomposition. Being Dead is both an autopsy and a wake: it undermines the idea of human exceptionalism by treating the bodies as just nature, and simultaneously celebrates the uniqueness of the departed. In my paper, I will analyse the function of the zoological aesthetics in relation to the other aesthetic modes, such as the elegiac and the romantic, to which it is juxtaposed in the novel. By employing these different modes, I argue, Being Dead explores the cultural role of science as thanatology, the study of death, and at the same time questions the limits of scientific representation, to celebrate literature as the art of resurrection.


Virginia Richter is Full Professor of Modern English Literature at the University of Bern. She holds a doctoral degree in English Literature from the University of Munich, where she also completed her habilitation on literary representations of Darwinism. She was a Visiting Fellow at the University of Kent at Canterbury and at the University of Leeds, a Visiting Professor at the University of Göttingen, and a Visiting Research Fellow at the IASH, University of Edinburgh. Her most recent publications include The Beach in Anglophone Literatures and Cultures: Reading Littoral Space , ed. with Ursula Kluwick (Ashgate 2015) and Post-Empire Imaginaries? Anglophone Literature, History, and the Demise of Empires, ed. with Barbara Buchenau and Marijke Denger (Brill Rodopi, 2015). Currently, she is the Principal Investigator of the SNSF-funded research project The Beach in the Long Twentieth Century.

Kanak Yadav, JNU, New Dehli:
Writing the Space of Postcolonial Environment: Latitudes of Longing (2018) and the Quest for the Non-Human

The academic shift towards what is termed as the “Anthropocene” has been fundamentally about recognizing the impact and interference that humans have made on their environment. Although the term continues to be debated in terms of its origins and its continued centrality over humankind, the “Anthropocene turn” in humanities has enabled the recognition of the “non-human” in literature not merely as extensions of humanized entities but in themselves. Science-fiction has for long preoccupied itself with searching for the “non-human” but it continued to rely upon human-centric language and form. For instance, the non-human Android “Other” in American science-fiction movies like Blade Runner (1982) and A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) questioned humanity by blurring the difference between the “man” and the “android.” However, they continued to validate humanity, and its significance, even as they critiqued it. Contemporary postcolonial narratives however, do not just write the “non-human” but they also create a different language and form to incorporate it textually. One such novel is Shubhangi Swarup’s debut novel Latitudes of Longing (2018) which writes the natural environment not just as a setting to fletch out characters but as a living entity that remains beyond the grasp of rational and scientific minds. Divided into four parts, each telling interconnected stories, the novel incorporates the “unreal” or “magic realist” elements to write the space of unruly Andaman Islands. This paper seeks to assess how the novel not only makes way for “indigenous” knowledge structures by using magic realist narration but also subverts “man vs science” dichotomy in imagining their relationship. By romanticizing and even sexualizing human’s relationship with the natural environment, Swarup’s novel writes the space of the untamed natural world in experimental ways.


Kanak Yadav is a Ph.D. candidate at Centre for English Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. In her doctoral research, she studies the representation of Indian metropolitan cities in contemporary Indian English Nonfiction. Her articles and reviews have appeared in The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Contemporary Voice of Dalit, Akademos, The New Leam and World Literature Today.


5.2 – Postcolonial Narratives of/and Space Exploration

Hedley Twidle, University of Cape Town:
From the Edge of Representation: Radio Astronomy, Postcolonial Memory and South Africa’s Square Kilometre Array (SKA)

In South Africa’s arid central Karoo, astronomers and engineers are slowly building the biggest scientific instrument in the world. The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will one day link radio telescopes across the southern hemisphere, turning much of the planet into a vast ear for picking up the faintest echoes from the early universe. My paper explores the conceptual and representational challenges posed by radio astronomy in general and the SKA in particular. What kinds of cultural artefacts and images are likely to be produced by the SKA, and what kind of relationship will a non-specialist audience have with them? How can the Array’s unprecedented power to look (or listen) back in time be related to the deep human past that has left traces all through the Karoo – a landscape that has often been figured as ‘empty’ but now seems full of noise, data and politics. Working through a series of images, the enquiry moves from optical astronomy in Cape Town and Sutherland to the radio dishes near Carnarvon, tracing a history of picturing the cosmos and the southern skies that stretches from the pre-colonial to the post-apartheid.


Hedley Twidle (rhymes with ‘idle’) is a writer, teacher and researcher based at the University of Cape Town. He specialises in twentieth-century, southern African and world literatures, as well as creative non-fiction and the environmental humanities. His essay collection, Firepool: Experiences in an Abnormal World, was published by Kwela Books in 2017. Experiments with Truth, a study of narrative non-fiction and the South African transition, appeared in the African Articulation series from James Currey in 2019.

Jens Temmen, Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf:
“My Battery is Low and It’s Getting Dark”: Posthuman Imaginaries of Life on Mars and the NASA Rover Missions

My proposed paper offers an analysis of the NASA rover missions on Mars through a posthumanist and a postcolonial lens, and will look at the ways in which these missions are received in and circulated within current ecocritical debates on a multiplanetary future of humanity. Taking its cue from the recent successful conclusion of the NASA “Opportunity” rover missions, my paper looks at how different life writing practices and texts, which frame the “life” of the rovers as grievable (cf. Butler), do not only humanize the rovers themselves but also serve to illustrate the alleged queering of human life through technology in interplanetary contexts (cf. Anatasoski and Vora). By relating this analysis to narratives of a liberatory and progressive interstellar colonization prevalent within the planetary sciences, my analysis reveals how this utopian imaginary that the rovers underwrite, has become a central tenet for a number of influential techbillionaires— Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos among them—who frame their technoliberal fantasies of space colonization as an allegedly viable solution for battling climate change on Earth (cf. Temmen; cf. Wallace Wells). My paper proposes that the rising prevalence of these fantasies of space colonization in the context of our planetary climate crisis urges us to consider how the notion of an interplanetary humanity relates to the conception of a fragile, yet fundamentally connected terrestrial ecosystem at the heart of the debates on planetarity (cf. Braidotti 5-6; cf. Chakrabarty 221-22; cf. Ganser; cf. Heise 25;).


Jens Temmen is a postdoctoral research assistant at the American Studies department at Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf (Germany). He received his PhD in American Studies as part of his PhD fellowship with the Research Training Group Minor Cosmopolitanisms at the University of Potsdam. His first monograph is titled The Territorialities of US Imperialism(s): Conflicting Discourses of Sovereignty, Jurisdiction and Territory in Nineteenth-Century US Legal Texts and Indigenous Life Writing (Universitätsverlag Winter) and was published in 2020. In 2016, he was a DAAD-funded visiting scholar at the Center for Biographical Research at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (USA). He is co-editor of an anthology titled Across Currents: Connections between Atlantic and (Trans)Pacific Studies (Routledge, 2018) and co-editor of a Special Forum of the Journal for Transnational American Studies (JTAS) on “American Territorialities”. His postdoctoral research project employs an ecocritical and posthuman studies lens to analyze representations of Mars colonization in contemporary US literature and culture.


5.3 – Under Construction V

Mahtab Dadkhah, University of Erfurt:
Power of Media in Forming Cultural Identities of Immigrants from India and Africa to Germany

Migration from the Commonwealth to Germany, as opposed to the more common topic of migration from the Commonwealth to the UK, is a research gap, despite the internationalization of the English language and the globalization of Anglophone culture with a direct impact on Germany. From my point of view, migration, as a rapidly expanding phenomena of the modern world, is highly interconnected with media, which penetrates virtually all aspects of everyday life followed by multiple consequences. One of the main consequences of the prevalence of media (both online and offline) is that people can take on various identities. One of these forms of identity, which has a close interaction with migration and its interaction with media, is cultural identity as a significant way in which a person is known or knows oneself in relation to a community’s shared values [synonym for ‘culture’]. Apart from ‘native’ cultural identity, immigrants will build an acquired cultural identity for themselves in the country they have migrated to. They encounter a new culture which may question their perceptions and impact on how they perceive their former identities. In sum, due to the importance of media and its modern effects, I am interested to explore what role media, as a vehicle for conveying cultural messages all through the world, may play in relation to identity formation and new experiences of immigrants from India and Africa to Germany. Special attention will be paid to awareness of anglophone culture and the specific knowledge of the English language in these migrant groups (as opposed to many Germans). Knowledge of English language and anglophone culture opens up a perspective on cultural globalization beyond the dichotomy of supposedly ‘native’ and ‘new’ (German) culture. The project is going to be conducted based on qualitative research methods and the data are acquired from in-depth interviews and focus group discussions.


I am Mahtab Dadkhah a doctoral candidate at the University of Erfurt. I got my BA and MA in English Language and Literature in Iran and migrated to Germany for PhD in 2019. Currently, I am doing a research on the role of narratives in identity formation of Commonwealth migrants which connects two fields of British Literary Studies and Communication and Media studies. I was a professional English-Persian translator and also a professional English teacher. I have published one book, a chapter in a book, and two papers all connected somehow to Foucauldian power relations. My presentation in GAPS 2021 is an overview article of my PhD dissertation.

Vahid Aghaei, University of Münster:
Moral Indeterminacies and Discernments pertaining to Colonialism in Africa: From Joseph Conrad to J. G. Ballard

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1902) has been scrutinised in multiple ways. Some consider it as a text that lambastes the horrid effects of colonialism, while others see it as nothing more than a racist narrative that recycles pejorative views towards the colonised. I disagree with the latter, but I do believe that Conrad should have been more straightforward in presenting his own views. Overall, his novella is an ambiguous open-ended narrative. Many of J. G. Ballard’s works may be seen in the same light. Two of his novels, The Crystal World (1966) and The Day of Creation (1987) are set in Africa and both depict ongoing states of turmoil as an aftermath of Western colonialism in the heart of Africa. Nevertheless, Ballard’s often solitary protagonists are very different from Conrad’s. They are there to provide medical care instead of looting ivory. Ballard as a master of dystopian writing does a far better job in portraying the severe inequalities of colonialism. However, similar to Conrad, he can be criticised for his lack of lucidity. The Crystal World and The Day of Creation are at times thematically similar to Heart of Darkness, but the works of Ballard more adequately display the lingering effects of colonialism. Scientific advancement in the West always fascinated Ballard. His works show the stark imbalance of power between those equipped with scientific advancement and those without it. He highlights this not only in post/colonial Africa, but in every human society. He was also acutely aware of the untamed scientific advancements of his time. It is for that reason that my primary focus will be on Ballard as I attempt to present a reading of his works that explores the deeply entrenched inequalities that are still prevalent today.

Vahid Aghaei has an MA in National and Transnational Studies: Literature, Culture, Language from Münster University. He also has a BA and MA in English Language and Literature. His first MA thesis, “An Existentialist Reading of the Selected Short Stories by J. G. Ballard”, was completed in 2017. His recent thesis, “The Ethics of Life Writing and the Ethics of Immigration: Narratives of the Undocumented in America” was successfully defended in September 2020. Aghaei was also accepted to participate in the annual GAPS conference (2020) at Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main.