Session 3

Thursday, June 3

13:30–14:30 (Helsinki, EEST, UTC +3), Congress Room 1

Chair: Jukka Mikkonen

Dror Pimentel (Bezalel Academy of Art and Design Jerusalem, Israel):

Aestheticizing Catastrophe: The Survivalist’s Case

In the desolate post-catastrophic world, wherein civilization is shattered and resources are scarce—as portrayed in the film The Survivalist (Dir. Stephen Fingleton, 2015)—man is thrusted back to a pre-technological existence, in which the most valuable asset are seeds, the sole substance ensuring nourishment, and hence survival. Into the enclosed and autarchic world of the Survivalist, an Other bursts in, assuming the form of a mother and her teenaged daughter. The post-catastrophic situation thrusts human relations back to hostility and animosity, arising anew the question of the possibility of hospitality. Hostile hospitality, or hos(t)pitality, to adduce a Derridian term, is what characterizes the relations between the Survivalist and his guests, constantly oscillating between suspicion and admission, desire for murder and for intimacy. The main issue raised by the film is therefore the possibility to cross over the barrier of primordial hostility in order to reenact the impossible possibility of love, and hence of reproduction, in a world where the social bond has long been breached. As we shall see in the presentation—exploiting excerpts of the film—the answer to this question is not entirely negative. Despite encompassing hostility, which eventually leads to the death of the Survivalist and to the utter destruction of his enclosed world, manifestations of care and acts of solidarity are still shown between him and his guests. The Survivalist saves the daughter from rape, and she and her mother attend to his wound, thus attesting to the reestablishment of the social bond. With the reenactment of the social bond, the film also features the consecutive reenactment of the bond of man to earth and to the living creatures inhabiting it. The presentation will examine the film as a test case of an aesthetic portrayal of the possibility of social bondage in the midst of a post-catastrophic hostile world, with all the violence it entails.

Marta Benenti & Lisa Giombini (University Vita-Salute San Raffaele/ Roma Tre University, Italy):

What if it’s for Real? Fictional Narratives and Climate Change

In the last two decades, climate change has emerged as a dominant theme in literature and, correspondingly, in scholarly studies (Glass 2013). Such novels as Margaret Atwood’s popular trilogy MaddAddam (2013), Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife (2015), Ian McEwan’s Solar (2010), Tom Boyle’s A Friend of the Earth (2000) and such movies as The Day After Tomorrow (2004), Interstellar (2014), Snowpiercer (2013) have been labelled Climate Fictions or, patterning after the more established “Sci- fi, “Cli-fi”. Vindicated in 2012 by the reporter and activist Dan Bloom, the label has attracted growing attention from scholars in ecocriticism and environmental humanities (Trexler 2015; Johns-Putra 2016). While this interest partly depends on the relevance gained by climate change in public debates, an additional reason is the hope that these novels, short stories, plays and movies might deepen people’s environmental awareness and thereby contribute to more sustainable policies (Holmes 2014, Ullrich 2015, Hofstetter 2019).

It is therefore surprising that only relatively limited attempts have been made to systematically investigate the potential impact of Cli-Fi on environmental beliefs and resulting behaviors (Schneider- Mayerson 2018). Although few would be willing to state that a literary genre can save the environment, since Plato’s time philosophers have always shared the strong intuition that narrative works can affect recipients’ moral sensitivity. What is more, such capacity of literature has been understood by some as impacting on our decisions as citizens (Nussbaum 1985; 1990; 1997; Booth 1988; Keen 2007). Relevantly, recent empirical research in psychology has confirmed this intuition by showing the power of fiction to alter readers’ perceptions, beliefs and attitude as regards social problems in the real-world (Johnson et al. 2013; Mazzocco et al. 2010; Hinyard & Kreuter 2007; Hormes et al. 2013).

In light of recent philosophical debates concerning the nature of fictional narratives and exploring the available psychological evidence about immersion in narrative worlds, in this paper we consider Cli- Fi’s potential to influence audiences’ behaviours towards climate crisis. After assessing the status of Cli-Fi as a specific sub-genre characterized by a fundamental tension between scientific prediction and fictional vicissitudes (Trexler 2015; Milner & Burgmann 2018), we will discuss some of the key notions through which psychologists and philosophers explain fiction’s purported ability to persuade readers: transportation (e.g. Gerrig 1993; Strange & Leung, 1999; Green & Brock 2000; Green et al. 2002, 2005) and make-believe (Walton 1990; Friend 2012; Matravers 2014; Stock 2017; Ichino & Currie 2017; Ichino 2019). Based on this discussion we will contend that the persuasive power of Cli-fi narratives resides not much in the accuracy of the reported scientific information on environmental threats, but in their capacity to convey this information through imaginatively engaging scenarios.