British Association for American Studies


CFP: Plant Horror/ The Monstrous Vegetal

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CFP: Plant Horror/ The Monstrous Vegetal

January 2, 2015

The recent critical “nonhuman” turn asks, as Elizabeth Grosz has eloquently put it, about all those “animal, plant, and material forces that surround and overtake the human.” Of all those “forces,” it is perhaps the plant that has been most neglected, although that neglect is being redressed in such recent publications as Matthew Hall’s Plants as Persons: A Philosophical Botany (2011), Michael Marder’s Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life (2013), and Randy Laist’s Plants and Literature: Essays in Critical Plant Studies (2013). Theorists are recognizing the inherent importance of grappling with the ontological strangeness of plants, which inhabit what Michael Marder calls the “zone of absolute obscurity.” Vegetal life also, however, plays a vital role in the project of re-thinking the past, present, and future of the human—human subjectivity and human survival.

Perhaps because of their irreducible difference from us, their intractable unfamiliarity, plants have often entered popular narratives as terrifying and terrorizing forces. They seem monstrous in their implacability and impersonality, their rooted unfreedom, their unintentionality, and their prolific and non-teleological “wild” growth.  They also, as Marder has pointed out, take aim at our metaphysics, deconstructing structuring binaries such as body-soul, self-other, depth-surface, life-death, and the one and the many.

With the goal of exploring how and why plants have figured as terrifying in so many of our cultural narratives, proposals are invited for the first collection of essays on “plant horror”—that is, on how plants and all forms of vegetal life have figured as the monstrous in literature, film, television, and other media (video games, comics).

Three broad questions will guide the collection:

–What are the properties of plants that make them “monstrous”? How and why have they been represented as threatening both human populations and the boundaries of the “human”?

–How has the plant been conceived in relation to the human?  Is vegetal life utterly “other”? Or does vegetal life become monstrous because we have disavowed its connection to us? Are there other ways (than irreducible difference) to think about the plant in relation to the human? Are the “monstrous” ways of plants able to be re-thought as possible futures for the human?

–How has “plant horror” served to critique human environmental abuses? What “real life” horror stories are there surrounding such recent human endeavors as the patenting of plants and genetically modified crops?

The editors are interested in essays that address what might be called the “canon” of plant horror: John Wyndham’s groundbreaking The Day of the Triffids (1951), as well as its numerous film and TV incarnations, The Thing from Another World (1951), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978), Swamp Thing (1982), “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill,” in Creepshow (1982), The Ruins (2008), and The Happening (2008). Almost all of these texts have appeared in more than one medium and have generated sometimes multiple re-makes, suggesting that they exert a persistent fascination. Essays that help expand this “canon” are also very welcome.

The editors are also eager, though, to receive abstracts that address how vegetal life features in unexpected ways and on the margins of narratives not explicitly about the depredations of plants—e.g., Doctor Who: The Seeds of Doom (1976), Batman and Robin (1997), Minority Report (2002), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), and AMC’s The Walking Dead (2010-present). Essays that discuss how plants feature in narratives from outside the US and UK are also welcome.

The editors of the collection are Dawn Keetley and Rita Kurtz. Dawn Keetley teaches in the English Department at Lehigh University and has recently published on horror TV and film in Gothic Studies and Americana, as well as editing “We’re All Infected”: Essays on AMC’s The Walking Dead and The Fate of the Human (McFarland, 2014). Rita Kurtz . . . .

Please send abstracts of between 500 – 1,000 words to Dawn Keetley (dek7@lehigh.edu) and Rita Kurtz (rjk8@lehigh.edu ) by January 2, 2015. Questions before the deadline are welcome.

The editors have several publishers in mind for this collection and will be sending inquiries shortly, getting ready to send off a complete proposal soon after the January 2 deadline. It is anticipated that full essays will need to be completed by the summer of 2015.



January 2, 2015
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Unnamed Organizer
dek7@lehigh.edu; rjk8@lehigh.edu