EAAS 2020-21 Presentations
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Like some other conferences early last year, the European Association for American Studies' biannual conference was postponed. Since the COVID situation hasn't gotten much better, the organizers in Warsaw decided last fall that they'd run it in a virtual format, with synchronous and asynchronous parts. I got two presentations accepted. Scroll down for the abstracts and videos.

Terraforming the Plastic Planet: Colonizing Human Waste, Entrepreneurial Thinking, and Petroculture in Great Pacific

The comic series Great Pacific tells the story of Chas Worthington, heir to "the throne" of Worthington Corp., a US energy provider. Under Chas' watchful eyes, a team of scientists devise the Hydrocarbon Remediation Operation, short HERO, a device which "breaks down hydrocarbons into oily compounds" and transforms the oily substance into water. The tool provides the basis for the young billionaire’s entrepreneurial idea: "Rockefeller, Carnegie, J. P. Morgan. Hell, my grandfather would see the business play in this. We've spent so much and made so much more making the planet filthy with oil and garbage and plastic debris. Think about how much we could make cleaning it." As part of his plan, Chas colonizes the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and proclaims it a sovereign nation called New Texas.
Great Pacific repeatedly stresses that we are trapped in "oil culture"—oil-based products define life in the Global North. Systemic changes are needed, but "[n]obody risks their neck without a profit motive," Chas muses early on. Indeed, "growth" is the cancer cell at the heart of the capitalist endeavor. Chas seeks to dissociate himself and his actions from the past by turning human waste into the basis of a new empire. However, his settlement of the Garbage Patch and staking his claim to the believed-to-be uninhabited place in combination with naming the place "New Texas," in fact, repeats the frontier spirit. As I will thus demonstrate, despite the at-times overt environmentalism, the techno-utopian imagination Great Pacific embraces fails to envision an alternative to petromodernity.

Gators in the Home: Anthropocene Gothic and the Re-Definition of (Non)Human Space

The crocodilian horror film Crawl (2019) tells a simple and straightforward story: A category-five hurricane approaches Florida. A young woman, Haley, cannot reach her father, which is why she decides to drive to her family home, where she finds him injured in the crawl space beneath the house. In the remaining seventy-five minutes, the movie depicts the incremental rise of water as father and daughter (and some unfortunate bystanders) try not to get eaten by alligators who consider the flooded house their hunting grounds.
Crawl draws on a tried-and-true Gothic formula by exposing the family home as an uncanny and unhomely place. Yet beyond operating within the confines of the Gothic mode, Crawl taps into Anthropocene anxieties. Director Alexandre Aja has repeatedly emphasized the significance of climate change and extreme weather events to the narrative, remarking that "[t]here is something about the world we live in, the disasters coming more and more often […]. Sometimes the floodwater brings the 60 million-year-old neighbors back into our place." And only when the hyperobject of climate change materializes (e.g., in the form of a giant, anthropophagic alligator) does one begin to grasp its significance and understand its large-scale implications. Indeed, Aja's phrase "back into our place" exposes a typical anthropocentric conceit—the separation of human from nonhuman space. However, when Nature strikes back and avenges human ignorance, the walls separating ourselves from the natural world come crumbling down—quickly. Accordingly, in my presentation, I will suggest that Crawl is a veritable piece of Anthropocene Gothic in which past, present, and potentially continuing human mistakes come to define an increasingly hostile future on an inhabitable planet.

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