Immolations: Queer Theory and Environmental Destruction
ASLE: Association for the Study of Literature and Environment
June 26-30, 2019
We’re seeking abstracts for an accepted ASLE panel on queer theory and environmental humanities, to be presented at the annual conference in Davis, CA. We’re excited to see work from any field or discipline on topics including queer theory, ecology, fossil capital, LGBTQ activism, film, literature, performance. Please submit your abstracts to: https://asle.submittable.com/submit/126655/immolations-queer-theory-and-environmental-destruction. Deadline for submission: 12/15.
On April 14, 2018, a lawyer and gay rights activist, David S. Bucknel, was found dead, his body burnt, in Prospect Park. In a note, Bucknel draws a parallel between his death and the disastrous impact of fossil fuel dependency. “Pollution,” he writes, “ravages our planet, oozing [un]inhabitability via air, soil, water, and weather. Most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result—my early death by fossil fuels reflects what we are doing to ourselves.”
Bucknel’s self-immolation accelerates, in an explicitly queer register, the impossibility of life in toxifying atmospheres. Not only does he extinguish life and breath, but also he interrupts the flow of life with “last things” (Khalip 2018)—cinder and ash. These deoxygenated remains confront us today with the ongoing destruction of our planet, what Bucknel likens to a collective suicide. Moreover, within the space of this interruption, or this interval of and without breath, the life that was mixes with nonlife, like “air made unhealthy by fossil fuels,” and so makes space for the kind of queer politics that, for example, Elizabeth Povinelli describes under the heading of “geontopolitics,” in which “life becomes extinction.”
Although typically framed as an environmental act, Bucknel’s self-immolation does not just leave queerness in the antechamber of ecological politics; rather, his sacrifice by fire translates ecological politics into a queer act of self-annihilation, literalized by flames. Bucknel’s self-immolation makes tangible what Michael Marder, in Energy Dreams (2017), describes as another “will to energy” antithetical to the war over resources under carbon capitalism. Instead of seeing energy as a “finite resource,” an object “to be seized in a mad race with others,” self-immolation—as act, as theoretical concept—sets fire to a thinking that is queer. Not by returning to Life, Nature, or Progress, but by insisting on an ethics of the unlivable, where life and nonlife intermingle.
This panel invites scholars to reflect critically on the politics and aesthetics of self-immolation with respect to queer theory and environmentalism. There is a tradition in queer theory, attached to one version of the antisocial thesis, which maps out a politics of negativity through the refusal of reproduction. There is also a queer tradition of performing annihilation or combustion as direct action (in ACT UP, for instance). These traditions gain a particular significance under environmental destruction, where living and thus producing waste get recast as lethal—as adding up to planetary degradation. Immolation, in this sense, appears as a spectacularization of extinction: a way to subtract oneself, in the long term, from the waste-producing mass while dramatizing this mass’ fate.
Although we welcome papers from all disciplines, we are particularly keen to include papers that dynamize the combustibility of these two discourses, environmentalism and queer theory, and that foreground their potential frictions.
Please direct your questions to the panel organizers: Steven Swarbrick, Baruch College, CUNY (firstname.lastname@example.org), and Jean-Thomas Tremblay, New Mexico State University (email@example.com).