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Karen Pinkus, "Down There: Thinking the Subsurface in the Time of Climate Change"

Join us for the first lecture of the Innovative Interdisciplinary Directions in Francophone, French, and Italian Studies series!

For more than a decade Karen Pinkus has been writing and teaching about climate change and the humanities. As she was working on Fuel. A Speculative Dictionary (2016), she became more and more interested in the subsurface, an instrumentalized space for the extraction of fossil fuels and for the burial of waste, including carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere.

We have developed elaborate, masterful fantasies about the subsurface. It would seem that the subsurface imaginary is actually crucial for a broader discussion of scientific-technological governance and so in her workshop she will begin with a brief introduction to the subsurface as geological space ‘today.’ She will then ask a very broad question of the status of national literatures (and languages) in the university today since these are productions of the surface (whereas the subsurface respects different sort of boundaries, logics, temporalities).

Next, she will ask the audience to think about two literary test cases: Dante's Inferno, and Jules Verne's ‘center of the earth,’ as we negotiate between the surface and subsurface. Finally, she will ask about the relation of literary readings — close, deep, profoundly tied to the specificity of language — to something like ‘field work,’ more common the humanistic social sciences. Can we zoom in and out, so to speak? And if so, what is to be lost or gained?

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