Skip to Content

Inhuman Voices: Writing and the Non-Human

«Back To Seminars

Organizer: Katharina Simon

Contact the Seminar Organizers

Time and again, literature has reflected on its non-human origins in scenes of writing and invocation. In “Autobiography as De-facement,” de Man conceptualizes prosopopeia as the mechanism in which the effect of a living, human voice is created through a rhetorical operation between and within inanimate agents (de Man 1979: 926). Writing in itself does not have a human voice, this is why a reflection on the origin of poetic speech or on narrative perspective is the perfect way to explore the non-human in human speech as well, its relation to the animal, the vegetal, the anorganic, but also the divine ‒ and the metamorphoses between them. Stretching from the Muses of ancient and modern epic (as in Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex) to animal narrators like Kafka’s Rotpeter to contemporary works employing hybrid voices between the human, the vegetal and the divine as in Louise Glück’s The Wild Iris (cf. Sastri 2014), the reflection on the voice imagined to speak literary texts, for a long time anthropomorphized as the author or a human narrator sitting at their respective desks in some virtual study, allows to reflect on the relationship between language, speech, story-telling and humanity. Works as Wajdi Mouawad’s Anima, with its comprehensive menagerie of non-human narrators (cf. e.g. Patron 2016), telling a story of unspeakable, inhuman violence, make it clear that what is at stake is also the nature of interhuman relations, the possibility to relate and relate to the experiences of others within or across the boundaries of the fictional realm of literary texts. At issue are the (human) nature of perception, consciousness, reflection, emotions, communication and empathy (and their uneasy relations).

Contributions might focus on textual works that reflect on or employ types of in-/non-human voice or narration, dealing with structures and mechanisms of perception, understanding or empathy in relation to the in-/non-human within specific cultural and historical contexts. They might reflect on the construction of anthropomorphic voice in literary texts, exploring normative and anthropocentric definitions of language and speech or generalizing concepts of the human (through perspectives from postcolonial, gender, queer and dis/ability studies). They might devote attention to the temporalities of these processes (e.g. relating to age or mortality). Or they could seek to explore what happens when actual spoken voices come into play in mixed media works or through (computerized) translation processes.

de Man, Paul (1979). “Autobiography as De-facement,” MLN 94(5): 919-930.
Patron, Sylvie (2016). “Narrations d’Anima. Un récit non naturel ?,” in Claire Badiou-Monferran and Laurence Denooz (eds.): Langues d’Anima. Écriture et histoire contemporaine dans l’œuvre de Wajdi Mouawad (Paris: Garnier), 41-61.
Sastri, Reena (2014). “Louise Glück’s Twenty-First-Century Lyric,” PMLA 129(2): 188-203.

«Back To Seminars