War and Peace with Elephants: From World Literature to Planetary Storytelling

01 Mar 2024 10.00 AM - 11.15 AM Alumni, Current Students, Industry/Academic Partners, Prospective Students, Public

This is a hybrid seminar.

Register for in-person attendance at SHHK Seminar Room 4 - click here

Register for virtual attendance on Zoom - click here

English Seminar Series: 

How to Read Well 

This talk asks how we might read multispecies narratives without assuming that resolution—the achievement of order or justice, the realization of a moral or meaning—amounts to a consolidation of the human. I’ll discuss a global corpus of stories concerned with conflict between humans and elephants, including Anglophone novels of the ivory trade, Buddhist Jataka fables, North American and African oral histories, and new narratives of conservation in the Anthropocene. These narratives, I’ll argue, negotiate a geopolitical domain that exceeds the human. By this, I mean, first, that what is at stake, unmade and remade through violence, are the identities of those recognized within political categories such as sovereignty and freedom, and, second, that the relations of peoples and states are inexorably shaped by ecological factors, including the environment-making agency of proboscideans. I’ll ask, in short, what these stories illuminate about human-elephant relations as a matter of war and peace.

In navigating the linguistic and disciplinary translations involved in this comparatist reading, I’ll propose a category of planetary storytelling more capacious than world literature, concerned with how multispecies narratives circulate across history, cultures, and media forms.

Tobias Menely, Professor of English at UC Davis

Tobias Menely is an ecocritic and environmental humanist, with a primary focus on British literature from Milton to the Romantics. His first book, The Animal Claim (Chicago, 2015), connects Enlightenment political theory, humanitarian advocacy, and animal welfare legislation, and was a finalist for the Kenshur Prize. His second book, Climate and the Making of Worlds (Chicago, 2021) was awarded the Warren-Brooks Award for Literary Scholarship and Criticism, by the Robert Penn Warren Center; the Michelle Kendrick Memorial Book Prize, by the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts; and was a finalist for the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment Ecocriticism Book Award. He is currently working on a book about the deep history and future prospects of megafauna.