20 maggio: Carmelina Concilio: Anthropocene: Trees in Anglophone Postcolonial Literature

  • h. 17:00 su zoom – codice 085291

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Carmelina Concilio (Università di Torino), Anthropocene: Trees in Anglophone Postcolonial Literature

Carmen Concilio is full professor of English and Postcolonial literature at the University of Torino, Italy. She is former president of AISCLI (www.aiscli.it), has recently co-edited Trees in Literature and the Arts. HumanAroboreal Perspectives in the Anthropocene (Lexington 2021), she published Imaging Ageing Representations of Age and Ageing in Anglophone Literature (Transcript 2018) and New Critical Patterns in Postcolonial Discourse. Historical Traumas and Environmental Issues (Trauben 2012). Her research fields are postcolonial studies, migration and diaspora studies, digital humanities, precarity studies, environmental humanities, ecoliterature and ecocriticism. She is involved in academic journals, such as Il Tolomeode-genere, and editorial series, such as AngloSophia: Studi di Letteratura e Cultura Inglese (Mimesis). She is part of national and international research networks in the field of postcolonial culture, ageing studies and environmental studies. 

The Anthropocene is not only “a potential geological unit of time” (Zalasievicz et. al. 2019, 1), or the idea of ‘man’ as a geographical and geological agent that would leave a future fossil record (2019, 5), but also, I would say, the era of awareness. Among the various environmental challenges we have become conscious of, there is also a ‘plant turn’ (Coccia 2018, 14). This means that plants and trees stopped being considered as occupying the bottom of a hierarchical natural pyramid, but acquired visibility and agency, while scientific discoveries on vegetal neurobiology also became more widely known, particularly through the works of scientists such as Stefano Mancuso (2017), as far as Italy is concerned, or Daniel Chamovitz (2012), to mention another example. 
One possibility to look at life on Earth as an interspecies continuum is to analyze contemporary literary works which stage humanarboreal entanglement, by rewriting Ovid-like narratives of men’ and women’s metamorphoses into trees. The literary works here selected for discussion come from the ex-colonies of the British Empire, where cultural constructions of “otherness” involved race, ethnicities, class and gender, but did not exclude nature. 
In particular, the relationship between ‘African’ fairy tales and folklore and contemporary novels will be object of analysis in relation to trees and humanarboreal metamorphoses in South African post-Apartheid literature. On the one hand, becoming-tree might be read in the same way in which philosophers Deleuze and Guattari (1986) read the becoming-animal in Kafka’s famous The Metamorphosis (1915) as ‘a line of flight’. On the other hand, the transformation of a human being into a tree might be read as a practice in radical “plant thinking”, as another way to dismantle metaphysical hierarchies (Marder, 2013).
Ovid’s fables are still extremely important for many scholars. For instance, Emanuele Coccia in his essay Métamorphoses writes that differently from Ovid’s idea of transubstantiation, plants’ metamorphosis is an unveiling, or pealing off of their parts: flowers are nothing but the ‘naked’ plant (Coccia 2022, 82). In her non-fiction prose How I became a Tree Sumana Roy also refers to Ovid, connecting women’s transformations into trees with stories of violence and rape, but also in relation to todays’ hybridizations into cyborgs: “I discovered a grandparent in Ovid. […] The fear of sexual violence had propelled poor Daphne’s desire to turn into a tree. […] That it wasn’t women alone who had turned into plants to escape violence did not make me feel any better of course […] What had changed so remarkably between Ovid and Lara Croft that the urge to become plant like had been replaced by the urge to look like machines? (Roy 2021, 20-21) J.M.Coetzee also refers to Ovid in a more inclusive and holistic vision: “My feeling is that Greek fables like the one about Apollo and Daphne are a later, and in a way more rational, overlay over a deep feeling in primitive religion that all of life is one, i.e., that the life-force is mutable and expresses itself almost at will, unpredictably. The body of a girl (or of a youth) and the trunk of a tree are just different manifestations (metamorphoses) of the same deep force” (Coetzee 2013, 47).
Keeping all this in mind, my presentation will analyze the rewritings of the South African fairy tale “Kamyio of the River” in the novel by André Brink Imaginings of Sand (1996) and of the Arabian tale “Leila and Majnoen” in the novel Kafka’s Curse by Achmat Dangor (1997). Finally, metamorphoses of women into trees will be analyzed through a dialogue between the South Corean novel The Vegetarian (2007) by Kang Han and Sumana Roy’s non-fiction How I became a Tree (2021).

  • André Brink [1996]. Imaginings of Sand. Orlando: Harvest 1999.
  • Silvia Boraso 2021. “Trees in Literatures and the Arts”. Il Tolomeo. Vol. 23 – Dicembre | December | Décembre 2021. pp. 347-352. file:///Users/carmenconcilio/Desktop/Trees%20in%20Literature%20and%20the%20Arts_Review.pdf.
  • Daniel Chamovitz (2012). What a Plant Knows. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  • Emanuele Coccia 2020. Métamorphoses. Paris: Éditions Payot & Rivages.
  • Emanuele Coccia [2016]. La Vie des plantes. Une Métaphysique du mélange. Paris: Bibliothèque Rivages.
  • J.M. Coetzee & Berlinde De Bruyckere 2013. Cripplewood. Kreupelhout. New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Carmen Concilio (a cura di) 2021. “Letteratura e alberi. Una tavola rotonda intorno e incontro agli alberi nelle letterature di lingua tedesca e di lingua inglese, InContri, RiCognizioni. Rivista di lingue, letterature e culture moderne, 14 • 2020 (VII), pp. 169-174.
  • Carmen Concilio and Daniela Fargione (eds) 2021. Trees in Literatures and the Art. Humanarboreal Perspectives in the Anthropocene. Lanham: Lexington Books.
  • Carmen Concilio 2021. “Le mani come radici. Per un’ecocritica che parte dagli alberi spingendo all’azione”. Il portale della ricerca di UniTo: Frida.
  • Achmat Dangor [1997]. Kafka’s Curse. New York: Vintage, 2000.
  • Erica Eller 2020. “Why You Should Read Kafka’s Curse, Achmat Dangor”. Bosphorus Review of Books, may 2020. https://bosphorusreview.com/why-you-should-read-achmat-dangor.
  • Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari [1975]. Kafka. Towards a Minor Literature. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1986.
  • Kang, Han [2007]. The Vegetarian. transl. By Deborah Smith. New York: Hogarth, 2015.
  • Stefano Mancuso [2017]. The Evolutionary Genius of Plants. New York: Simon & Shuster, 2018.
  • Nelson Mandela 2002. Favourite African Folktales. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
  • Michael Marder 2013. Plant thinking. A Philosophy of Vegetal Life. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Leonardo Nole 2022. Review of “Trees in Literatures and the Arts. Hunanarboreal Perspectives in the Anthropocene. Ecozon@, pp. 202-204. https://ecozona.eu/issue/view/235. DOI: https://doi.org/10.37536/ECOZONA.2022.13.1.
  • Sumana Roy [2017]. How I became a Tree. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2021.
  • Jan Zalasiewicz 2019. The Anthropocene as a Geological Time Unit. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

20 gennaio: Frédérique Aït-Touati, La terre : scène, cartes et narrations

  • h. 15:00, zoom – codice 356230
  • interpretazione simultanea
  • a cura di Elisa Bricco e Chiara Rolla
Frédérique Aït-Touati

Frédérique Aït-Touati (Écoles de Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales), La terre : scène, cartes et narrations

Frédérique Aït-Touati è una storica della scienza, ricercatrice presso il CNRS e regista teatrale. Dopo un PHD in letteratura comparata e una laurea all’Università di Cambridge, ha insegnato all’Università di Oxford dal 2007 al 2014 prima di diventare ricercatrice al Centre national de recherche scientifique (CNRS). Membro del Centre de recherches sur les arts et le langage all’École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, la sua ricerca si concentra sul rapporto tra letteratura e scienza nell’età classica. Il suo primo libro esplora gli usi scientifici della letteratura e il rapporto tra finzione e conoscenza (Fictions of the Cosmos. Science and Literature in the Seventeenth Century, The University of Chicago Press, 2011, MLA Prize). Questo studio è stato anche oggetto di un saggio in francese sul ruolo della fiction e della narrativa in astronomia (Contes de la Lune. Essai sur la fiction et la science modernes, Gallimard, 2011, Prix Gegner de l’Académie des sciences morales et politiques). Ha recentemente pubblicato un libro sulla rappresentazione nell’età classica (con Stephen Gaukroger, Le Monde en images. Voir, représenter, savoir, de Descartes à Leibniz, Classiques Garnier, 2015) e ha co-curato un libro su scienza e narrativa (con Anne Duprat, Histoires et savoirs, Peter Lang, 2012). La sua ricerca attuale si concentra sul pensiero del teatro, concepito come un dispositivo euristico ed epistemico, a cavallo tra il XVI e il XVII secolo. Partner di Bruno Latour in una serie di avventure teatrali (Moving Earth, conferenza performance presentata al Centre Pompidou e al Théâtre des Amandiers di Nanterre), nel 2019 ha pubblicato Terra Forma – Manuel de cartographies potentielles in collaborazione con Alexandra Arènes e Axelle Grégoire (éditions B42) e molto recentemente insieme a Emanuele Coccia, Le cri de Gaïa. Penser la Terre avec Bruno Latour (La Découverte, 2020).

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30 marzo: Adam Arvidsson, Living together in the Anthropocene

  • h. 15:00, in presenza (p.za S. Sabina 2, Dipartimento LCM, IV piano, aula Koch) e su zoom – codice 582736

Adam Arvidsson (Napoli Federico II), Living together in the Anthropocene

  • a cura di Roberto Francavilla

Adam Arvidsson è professore di Sociologia all’Università di Napoli Federico II. 

Di recente pubblicazione Changemakers. The Industrious Future of the Digital Economy(Polity Press, 2019; trad. it. Changemaker? Il futuro industrioso dell’economia digitale, Luca Sossella Editore, 2020). Altri volumi: Introduzione ai media digitali (con Alessandro Delfanti, Il Mulino), La marca nell’economia dell’informazione. Per una teoria dei brand (FrancoAngeli)

The Covid pandemic disrupted our ordinary lives and showcased three important ways in which we might live in a world marked by a new kind of radical insecurity. One such way is to attempt to isolate from uncertainty: this approach has marked the mainstream response to the pandemic. It has a long history, going back to the hygiene movements of the late 19th century, consolidating in the post-War years through the rise of discourses on ‘safety’ and as a response to the war on terror in the ’00s. It has the potential to become the hegemonic social form of digital capitalism. A second way is to attempt to deny insecurity. This approach has marked most of the resistance to mainstream pandemic measures. It is based on the ‘freedom’ to choose one’s personal or communitarian truth. This approach also has a history that mirrors the destabilization of the Fordist order in the 60s and 70s, marked by emergence of alternative ‘science’ and conspiracy theories. This approach has the potential to influence the ways in which people left behind by accelerating digital capitalism live with insecurity. A third one is to live with complexity and danger. This has marked the life of homeless, migrants and sex workers during the pandemic. The marginalized of this world were forced to face the danger of the virus without the protection either of a shut-in bubble or a reassuring community. In this approach also lies the potential of a possible politics of living with complexity. This paper wants to sketch out the main traits of these three ways in which we might live with insecurity in the Anthropocene: their genealogy, their sociology, and the forms of collective life they might promote in the future. 

20 aprile: Michael Cronin, Eco-Translation: Translation and Ecology in the Age of the Anthropocene

  • h. 15:00, zoom – codice 230072

Michael Cronin (Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin), Eco-Translation: Translation and Ecology in the Age of the Anthropocene

  • a cura di Laura Santini

Michael Cronin is 1776 Professor of French and Director of the Centre for Literary and Cultural Translation in Trinity College Dublin. Among his published titles are Translating Ireland: Translation, Languages and Identity(1996); Across the Lines: Travel, Language, Translation (2000); Translation and Globalization (2003); Time Tracks: Scenes from the Irish Everyday; Irish in the New Century/An Ghaeilge san Aois Nua (2005); Translation and Identity (2006); The Barrytown Trilogy (2007); Translation goes to the Movies (2009); The Expanding World: Towards a Politics of Microspection (2012), Translation in the Digital Age (2013); Eco-Translation: Translation and Ecology in the Age of the Anthropocene (2017), Irish and Ecology: An Ghaeilge agus an Éiceolaíocht (2019) and Eco-Travel: Journeying in the Age of the Anthropocene (2022). He is a Member of the Royal Irish Academy, the Academia Europaea, an Officier in the Ordre des Palmes Académiques and a Fellow of Trinity College Dublin. He is a former Irish Language Literature Advisor to the Arts Council of Ireland. 

In advocating for “more-than-human” histories, Emily O’Gorman and Andrea Gaynor claim that the more-than-human is “not a synonym for “nature” or the “nonhuman” but, rather, a term that highlights the primacy of relations over entities (including the “human”)” (O’Gorman and Gaynor 2020: 7). The basic principle here is “co-constitution – that organisms, elements and forces cannot be considered in isolation but must always be considered in relation” (717). There is no external “nature” or “environment” with which humans interact. They are always, already, involved in the “more-than-human.” It is not a question of demonstrating that “the “natural” is really “cultural” or to reassert a biophysical reality” (724) but to recognise the full range of participants in the more-than-human world of multispecies co-existence and non-human entanglements. In Rosi Braidotti’s interpretation of Spinoza’s monism the emphasis is not on the tyranny of oneness or the narcissism of separateness often associated with monism as on the freedom of relationality, ‘[monism] implies the open-ended, inter-relational, multi-sexed and trans-species flows of becoming through interactions with multiple others’ (Braidotti 2013: 89). Being ‘matter-realist’ to use her term is to take seriously our multiple connections to natural and material worlds. If we conceive of the notion of subjectivity to include the non-human then the task for critical thinking is, as Braidotti herself admits, ‘momentous’. This involves visualizing the subject as ‘a transversal entity encompassing the human, our genetic neighbours the animals and the earth as a whole, and to do so within an understandable language’ (82).  The emphasis on relationality begs the question as to how this relationality is to be established or understood. How is a notion of transversal subjectivity to function in a more-than-human world populated by radically different forms of ontological and epistemic expression?

Translation throughout its history has been preoccupied with the question of communication across difference, how to make the mutually unintelligible, intelligible. Traditionally confined to interlingual mediation between texts, a more ambitious understanding of translation process, drawing on Peircean semiotics (Marais 2019), can see translation as involving all forms of mediation between signifying systems. Is it possible to conceive of the more-than-human world as a ‘tradosphere’ (Cronin 2017: 70-72) by which we mean the sum of all translation systems on the planet, all the ways in which information circulates between living and non-living organisms and is translated into a language or a code that can be processed or understood by the receiving entity? 

A fundamental contention of more-than-human histories is the need to understand human/more-than-human connectedness. Does this connectedness imply, always and everywhere, a practice of translation? We claim to understand our world or to have access to it and to the beings that inhabit and constitute it through our ability to be able to translate the information they transmit into a language that we purport to understand, whether that be the language of mathematics, cosmic physics, molecular chemistry or marine biology. Does this mean that anthropocentrism is unavoidable? Can there be non-anthropocentric forms of translation in a more-than-human world? Or should we cherish the ‘untranslatable’ (Apter 2013) rather than the translatable, the ahumanist demand that we let animals, for example, be and not subject them to any form of communicative relationship with the human which is invariably reductive and exploitative (MacCormack 2020: 33)? If the tradosphere, like the biosphere, is in a constant state of evolution, is the climate emergency a sign of its imminent collapse? Are climate change, biotic impoverishment, biodiversity reduction and renewable resource depletion, evidence of the collapse of translation systems which allow humans to interact in a viable and sustainable way with other sentient and non-sentient beings on the planet? 

The formulation of a notion of ‘eco-translation’ in more-than-human contexts is to attempt to move beyond anthropomorphic projection and communicate in the full knowledge of radical difference. Is there a sense in which what are seen as indigenous forms of communicative practice across the globe that there is evidence of this eco-translation practice, a desire to establish a communicative footing for relationality? Eduardo Viveiros de Castro and Déborah Danowski have argued that for Amerinidian peoples, other animals and entities in the world are ‘political entities’ (entités politiques). What is commonly known in the West as the environment is for them, ‘a society of societies, an international arena, a cosmopoliteia’ (Danowski and de Castro 2014: 279).  In their view, the ecological crisis calls for ‘a broad openness to dialogue, a literally diplomatic conversation with human peoples and non-humans who anxiously observe the beginning of the consequences of the irresponsibility of the moderns’ (335 (emphasis added)).           

Translation has always shadowed the activity of diplomacy and the notion of an international or foreign policy in human affairs has implied the training, presence and activity of translators and interpreters. Implicit in Amerindian perspectivism – the notion that the world is inhabited by different sorts of subjects or persons, human and non-human, who apprehend reality from distinct points of view – is relationship as translation. Taking seriously the multiple perspectives of lived reality means that a relationship in such a context can only make sense in a translational frame. It is by recognising the defining difference of the other ‘political entities’, trying to understand their background, culture, forms of communication that we can begin to engage in the diplomatic dialogue on which the future of the planet rests. It is arguably the refusal of translation, the idea that there is one universal model of economic progress – extractivism – predicated on the Weltsprache of GNP and needing no negotiation with differing perspectives, which has precipitated the current crisis of the Anthropocene. Accepting that translation is like any diplomatic negotiation – open-ended, unpredictable, subject to change, never complete as circumstances alter and protagonists change in profile and importance – means acknowledging that otherness cannot be wished away in a fantasy of identity or assimilation. Anthropos as the Angel of Destiny could once again forget a necessary humility in face of a planet and more-than-human entities that remain resolutely other and which have their own perspectives on and investment in planetary survival. Do indigenous forms of diplomacy provide a translational template for engaging with these perspectives?           

In the era of mass species extinction is there a role for eco-translation in the development of interspecies communication? Julian Hoffman claims that unpicking the ‘meanings of communication between non-human animals can be remarkably difficult’ (Hoffman 2019: 163). This is another way of saying that translating into humanly intelligible terms what the non-human animals are communicating is remarkably difficult. The problem of the underdetermination of meaning has haunted translation throughout its history and is obviously acute in the case of texts from very different cultures, texts from the past and texts in dead languages. Does the history of translation theory and practice involving an extended reflection on dealing with the difficulties of underdetermination of meaning mean interspecies communication can be brought within the realm of translation and would such a practice favour or enable interspecies solidarity and transversal forms of identity?


  • Apter, Emily. 2013. Against World Literature: On the Politics of Untranslatability. London: Verso.
  • Braidotti, Rosi. 2013. The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity.
  • Cronin, Michael. 2017. Eco-Translation. Translation and Ecology in the Age of the Anthropocene. London: Routledge.
  • Danowski, Déborah and Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo. 2014. ‘L’Arrêt de monde’. In De l’univers clos au monde infini, edited by Émilie Hache, 221-339. Bellevaux: Éditions Dehors.
  • Marais, Kobus. 2019. A (Bio)Semiotic Theory of Translation: The Emergence of Socio-Cultural Reality. London: Routledge.
  • Hoffman, Julian. 2019. Irreplaceable: The Fight to Save our Wild Places. London: Penguin.
  • MacCormack, Patricia. 2020. The Ahuman Manifesto: Activism for the end of the anthropocene. London: Bloomsbury.
  • O’Gorman, Emily and Gaynor, Andrea. 2020. “More-Than-Human Histories.” Environmental History 25 (4): 711-735.