The novel is a radically capacious and always evolving genre, open to the full range of world literature, across periods and locations. This seminar examines the novel and its various, overlapping functions as aesthetic object, cultural artifact, historical text, and conceptual resource. Through comparative and multidisciplinary inquiry, we approach the novel from a wide range of vantage points.

Upcoming Events

Wai Chee Dimock, Yale University
Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert, Vassar College
Susan Scott Parrish, University of Michigan
Min Hyoung Song, Boston College
Roundtable on Environment and the Novel
Monday, December 3, 2018 - 6:00pm
Room 133, Barker Center

Unevenly experienced across populations and territories, the climate crisis confounds conventional novelistic strategies for representing setting, time, space, and agency. For this reason, novelists such as Octavia Butler, David Mitchell, Barbara Kingslover, and J. G. Ballard have pioneered new literary forms and storytelling techniques in response to the demands of our moment in geological time and natural history. Building on a tradition that stretches back to include Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, and others, their work has helped to close the gap between “literary” and “genre” fiction. In this context, the novel itself not only thematizes environmental questions—the problem of scale; the imbrication of “nature” and “society”; the disaster of modernity; the status of the human, the nonhuman, and the unhuman—but also comes to function as an environment all its own: a kind of laboratory for the planetary imagination to test hypotheses and to develop ideas in a state of emergency. What new accounts of the novel’s history and form become available when we begin to theorize not just the environment in the novel but the novel as environment?

We invite our speakers at the “Environment and the Novel” roundtable to think about the intersection of the novel form, novel theory, and the environment, broadly construed. We have presented our speakers with the list of questions below. This list is by no means exhaustive, and we encourage them to think about the topic in their own terms.

  • How is the climate crisis, as a symptom of overproduction and overconsumption, transforming the collective experience of both space and time?
  • How has the novel addressed the exploitation of land and labor by capitalist development, colonization, militarization, and technology?
  • What affects do environmentalist narratives foreground and why?
  • How does narrative offer an ecological epistemology? How does it attempt to order and make sense of the world around us?
  • How does the novel narrate the interaction of bodies and the environment? For example, how does the environment function as the source of disease, therapy, or disequilibrium?
  • What genres lend themselves to narratives of the environment and why?
  • How has the novel or narrative prose fiction developed alongside environmental degradation and climate change?
  • How does the novel’s setting shape its narrative?
  • How does the novel metabolize the random and chance character of environmental contingencies?
  • How does the novel address the entanglements of the environment with humans?
  • How does the novel elucidate the temporality of the physical world? Of environmental change?
  • How do novels help us explore the limits and possibilities of human control over the natural world?
  • How have the ecological sciences adopted narrative methods and formal strategies from the novel?
  • Human impacts on the environment range from the molecular to the planetary. How does the novel negotiate these various scales? What are its capacities and limits?
  • How has the environment been evoked within existing debates about the future of the humanities?
Timothy Bewes, Brown University
Marilyn Reizbaum, Bowdoin College
Kelly Rich, Harvard University
James Wood, Harvard University
Muriel Spark @ 101: A Roundtable
Tuesday, April 23, 2019 - 6:00pm
Room 133, Barker Center

Past Events 2017 - 18

Adela Pinch, University of Michigan
The Story of O.: Margaret Oliphant and Anti-Metalepsis
David Alworth​, Harvard University
Paratextual Art​
Rachel Buurma, Swarthmore College
Petra McGillen, Dartmouth College
Simon Reader, City University of New York
The Novel and its Working Methods: A Workshop
Julia Prewitt Brown, Boston University
Mary Favret, Johns Hopkins University
Sonia Hofkosh, Tufts University
Claudia Johnson, Princeton University
Peter Sabor, McGill University
Jane Austen: 200 Years On
Michael Gorra, Smith College
Criticism as Narrative: Audience, Public Scholarship, and the Biography of a Book
The Novel and Media
Nicholas Watson, Harvard University
Novelty: Visionary Writing and the Reality Effect
Christina Lupton, University of Warwick
Stuart Sherman, Fordham University
Time, Media, the Eighteenth-Century Novel

Past Events 2016 - 17

Joseph Slaughter, Columbia University
State Secrets, Small Wars, Smaller Novels
Maya Jasanoff, Harvard University
“Fiction is History, Human History, Or It Is Nothing": A Historian Reads Joseph Conrad
“New Work in Novel Studies”: A Symposium for New Researchers
Wendy Anne Lee, New York University
Sense and Sensibility, Causation and Contiguity: Thinking through Relation in Austen and Hume
Homi Bhabha, Harvard University
Intimations of the Afterlife
Jennifer Fleissner, Indiana University
Vitalizing the Bildungsroman
Numbers in the Novel: A Roundtable

Past Events 2015 - 16

Bill Brown, University of Chicago
Re-Assemblage (Theory, Practice, Novel Form)
Elaine Freedgood, New York University
How the Victorian Novel Got Realistic (in a French Way), Reactionary and Great
Peter Mendelsund, Knopf Publishing Group
The Art of the Book Cover
New Work in Novel Studies Symposium
Thomas Pavel, University of Chicago
What Do Novels Speak About?
Description in the Novel