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Posthuman(ist), Affective and Global Turns in Ecofiction and Ecocriticism: Philip Armstrong’s “Litter”

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American Studies after Postmodernism

Part of the book series: Renewing the American Narrative ((RAN))

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The essay provides a posthumanist reading of Philip Armstrong’s short story “Litter,” published in the volume, Among Animals: The Lives of Animals and Humans in Contemporary Short Fiction in 2014. A prologue to the main argumentation presents the whole collection as a sample of world literature, and the perspectives of world literature and posthumanism as the most relevant and promising in current literary studies. The interpretation of the short story tries to answer the question of how literature may contribute to the urgent needs of the ongoing crisis of the Anthropocene by emphasizing the efficacy of Armstrong’s use of the techniques of narrative empathy in staging a posthumanist approach to the animal question.

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  1. 1.

    I am here using Christopher K. Coffman and Theophilus Savvas’s expression for what has been otherwise called the “transnational” or “planetary” turn in American writing (2021, 12).

  2. 2.

    When I use the label “world literature” to define one of the two main perspectives I am using in this essay, I mean the revitalization of an old approach to the writing and the evaluation of literature that was initiated in the beginning of the twenty-first century and has been carried on by David Damrosch and the Harvard Institute of World Literature. As it is well known, the idea of a global approach to literature was already being consciously formulated by Goethe in his idea of a Weltliteratur, and has by now, happily, been developed in manifold directions, ranging from the overcoming of a postcolonial theoretical frame to the methodology of digital humanities.

  3. 3.

    The link to their “Books” lists the following sections: All Books, Literary Fiction, Ecofiction, Books about Animals, VegLit, Young Adult, Short Stories, Oregon, Books for Writers.

  4. 4.

    A “third edition of the pioneering book series” has now been issued (Ashland Creek Press website).

  5. 5.

    For a rapid outline of the development of affective criticism, see Weik von Mossner 2020, 133.

  6. 6.

    Pilar Martinez Benedì, in her useful reflection on the intersection of cognitive sciences with literary studies that has resulted in cognitive literary criticism, reminds us that the inextricability of perception, cognition, and action was already posited by the ecological approach to human perceptual systems of James Jerome Gibson (1979; see also Raymond W. Gibbs Jr’s survey of the ensuing theories aligning perception with action). Moreover, the current theories of embodiment are strongly influenced by American pragmatism: see, for example, John Dewey’s frequent use of the expression “body-mind” to counter the Cartesian binary of mind and body (Martinez Benedì 2018, 55).

  7. 7.

    Projection is the “ability to put oneself in the position of some other person, animal, or object, and imagine that sensation of being in that situation”; perspective-taking is the “visualizing [of] what the world looks like from another’s vantage point”; “empathic accuracy” is “the ability to figure out what someone is thinking or feeling from their expressions, behavior, or circumstances” (Pinker 2011, 860–61).

  8. 8.

    This is how Diane Coole prefers to indicate Latour’s actants (derived from A. J. Greimas’s narratology) in order to temper the emphasis on the humanistic connotation of the term. “Agentic capacity” accommodates better anything that has the ability “to make a difference, produce effects and affects, alter the course of events by their actions” (2013, 459).


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Correspondence to Paola Loreto .

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Loreto, P. (2024). Posthuman(ist), Affective and Global Turns in Ecofiction and Ecocriticism: Philip Armstrong’s “Litter”. In: Tsimpouki, T., Blatanis, K., Tseti, A. (eds) American Studies after Postmodernism. Renewing the American Narrative. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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