New Directions in Ecohorror and the Ecogothic

Posted on: 21 November 2017

The dystopian images presented in sci-fi and horror films, books and video games such as Blade Runner: 2049 and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road can help society face up to the challenges of real-word climate catastrophe, according to the organisers of a two-day conference on ecogothic literature and film in Trinity College Dublin last week, Friday November 17 and Saturday, November 18.

Gothic and horror fictions have long functioned as vivid reflections of contemporary cultural fears. Now, more than ever, as we inch closer to a man-made ecological crisis, the portrayal of the dark side of nature in classic literature like Dracula and popular films and videogames like The Blair Witch Project and The Last of Us can help us better understand the increasingly fraught relationship between humanity and our rapidly deteriorating natural environment, according to Dr Bernice Murphy, Dr Elizabeth Parker, and Emily Bourke organisers of the conference Gothic Nature: New Directions in Ecohorror and the Ecogothic.

“We read daily about rising sea-levels, new temperature records, and melting permafrost, but for many of us this information can be paralysing rather than a call to action. Our collective failure to tackle climate change head-on can be seen, at least in part, as a failure of imagination. We don’t have the will to change society because we have trouble imagining the world any other way,” explains Emily Bourke, co-organiser of the conference and Government of Ireland Postgraduate Research Scholar at the School of English.

“Representations of environmental destruction and disaster are becoming more and more prominent in popular media. Just look to the new Blade Runner film where all of the landscapes are barren or smog-laden, and the sea is only held back from the city of Los Angeles by a manmade wall. As we edge closer and closer to such images becoming a reality, it’s important to look at what fiction can tell us about people’s perceptions of real-world climate catastrophe and how we are imagining our ecological future.”

Organised by the School of English and hosted in Trinity Long Room Hub, the conference showcased the most exciting and innovative research in the field of gothic and horror film, literature and popular culture. Keynote speakers include Dr William Hughes (Bath Spa University), editor of Ecogothic (2014); and Dr Jenny Bavidge (University of Cambridge), President of the Literary London Society and committee-member of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment.

Topics covered include ecofeminism in Ira Levin’s sci-fi satire The Stepford Wives; American eco-horror in Stephen King’s The Shining and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridan; representation of environmental apocalypse in Australian sci-fi writer George Turner’s The Sea and Summer. From an Irish perspective, the conference focused on contemporary film such as Lorcan Finnegan’s Without Name, as well as Irish folktales and medieval literature. Keynote addresses included William Hughes (Bath Spa University) on “’The Evil of Our Collective Soul’: Zombies, Ecoterrorism and Environmental Apocalypse”, and Jenny Bavidge (University of Cambridge) on “The Scared, The Sacred, and the Shared: The Ethics of the Ecogothic”

Dr Bernice Murphy, Assistant Professor, School of English, and co-organiser of the conference, added: “Given the increasingly fraught relationship between humanity and our rapidly deteriorating natural environment, the study of films, literature and aspects of popular culture which explore, assess, and explicitly dramatise these tensions represents one of the most fascinating and important areas of research within the humanities at the present time. The natural world has never faced a more insidious threat than that posed by man-made climate change, pollution and mass-urbanisation. Our conference will explore works of fiction and film, which dare to ask the question, ‘What if nature fought back?'”