World unmaking in the fiction of Delany, VanderMeer, and Jemisin




Linnitt, Carol

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This dissertation examines end-of-world and posthumanist themes in speculative fiction and theory through the concept of “world unmaking.” Reading for world unmaking in three popular U.S. works of speculative fiction — Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren (1974), Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation (2014), and N. K. Jemisin’s the Broken Earth Trilogy (2015-17) — it explores how varying representations of “the end” are deployed to destabilize normative ideals of the human and the world that undergird conventional notions of the subject under late liberal humanism. While much attention has been paid to world building and how inherent logics cohere within fictional worlds, world unmaking asks how representations of world disorder, instability, and breakdown might hold important insights for narrating and navigating disordered worlds. Contemporary posthumanist critical theorists increasingly vie for speculative practices that disrupt the inherited onto-epistemologies of liberal humanisms and settler colonialisms. In particular, new materialists and speculative realists argue urgent work must be done to expand thought beyond naturalized and neutralized discourses that subtend conventional versions of reality, especially as the pressures of multiple ecological and geopolitical crises bear down unequally upon the lives of both humans and nonhumans on a shared planet Earth. The rise in popularity of post-apocalyptic, eco-catastrophe, and survival narratives in recent decades suggests a growing appetite for speculative imaginings of the end. While some representations of the end of the world serve as an escape from the intersecting crises of the environment, the resurgence of right-wing politics and white supremacy, and the ongoing violence of settler colonialism, this dissertation illustrates the importance of attending to speculative imaginings that use the end-of-the-world conceit to destabilize dominant culture and pose more expansive questions about what it means to be human.



20th Century American Fiction, new materialism, Anthropocene, posthumanism, speculative fiction