By Liliane Campos and Pierre-Louis Patoine
What kind of character is a microbe? How can an ecosystem take to the stage? Do springtails make good protagonists for detective novels? And how does a pandemic turn into a cosy catastrophe?
Life, Re-Scaled explores how contemporary literature and performance engage with our century’s shifting views of life. The volume argues that recent creative work reframes the human within unfamiliar scales, from the macro-scales of the planetary and the geological, to the micro-scales of microbial and molecular domains. Experiencing themselves as a meso-scale, an in-between, humans try to make sense of these interlinked levels of life by gathering data, making experiments, and building scientific models… but also by telling stories and writing poems, staging performances, and drawing graphic novels.
Each of the book’s four sections will introduce you to a key biological theme inspiring artists in the twenty-first century: the invisible scales of cells, microbes and mycelium; the terms and images of neuroscience; the narratives constructed around infection and pandemics; and the challenging scales of climate upheaval and ecological degradation.
Follow our authors into the mysterious realms of the molecular sublime and the molecular grotesque, in Simon Mawer’s novel Mendel’s Dwarf, Ed Yong’s popular science book I Contain Multitudes, and Adam Dickinson’s poetry collection Anatomic. Muse on stone formation and embryogenesis in Gillian Clarke’s poem, and on the affinities between weird fungi and weird fiction in Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation. Go beyond the neurological reduction of self to brain, and the deceptive transparency of PET scans and fMRI scans, thanks to Joshua Ferris’ neuronovel The Unnamed and to the graphic novels of David B. (Epileptic), Matteo Farinella and Hana Roš (Neurocomic). With Ling Ma’s dystopian novel Severance, dissect the spatial and racial politics of the pandemic city. With Jeff Lemire’s comic Sweet Tooth, contemplate the geontopower exercised by oil-based colonial powers against the indigenous ontologies of North America. Question the scale of utopia and the ‘population unconscious’ in Emily St. John Mandel’s ‘cosy’ post-catastrophe fiction Station Eleven. Discover how Jon McGregor’s post-pastoral novel Reservoir 13 achieves a form of ecosystem modelling, by integrating the nonhuman narratives and seasonal migrations of an English rural mesocosm. Visualize how comics like Squarzoni’s Climate Changed, or Mary M. Talbot and Brian Talbot’s Rain, represent the hyperobject of climate change by switching between scales, combining the intimate close-up with the scientific overview. Explore the challenges of ecological performance, as it attempts to break free from anthropocentrism and to stage more-than-human scales, in Steve Waters’ The Contingency Plan, Ella Hickson’s Oil, Earth Ensemble’s guerrilla theatre, or Deke Weaver’s The Unreliable Bestiary. End your journey by reflecting on the ‘diplomatic’ role of environmental art, through the immersive approaches to living systems proposed by Tobias Rausch’s ‘Planttheater’, Kris Verdonck’s Exote 1, EdgarundAllan’s Beaming Sahara, or Pierre Huyghe’s After ALife Ahead.
As they tease out the key images and ideas informing representations of human and other-than-human life, our authors demonstrate a contemporary fascination for the life sciences, and for adjacent fields such as demographics, climate science and geology. They ask how recent European and North American fiction, poetry, graphic novels and performance engage with biological and biopolitical questions; how they integrate new knowledge about neurons, microbes or fungi; how they echo new perspectives brought by epidemiology, ecosystem modelling, or Earth System science; and how they contribute to critical thought concerned with those fields. Life, Re-Scaled seeks out new aesthetic forms born of cross-currents between literature, performance and popular science. Are ‘mycoaesthetics’, ‘Anthropocene noir’, ‘climate change art’, ‘syndrome novels’, or ‘pandemic fiction’ here to stay? Whatever the future holds, they are already shaping our biological imagination in the early twenty-first century.
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