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Strange Strangers in the Mesh: Maureen F. McHugh's Uncanny Utopia
Studies in American Fiction Pub Date : 2021-06-10
Marta Komsta

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  • Strange Strangers in the Mesh: Maureen F. McHugh’s Uncanny Utopia
  • Marta Komsta (bio)


The focus of traditional spatial studies tended to be anthropocentric, but contemporary research on space and place extends beyond what Yi-Fu Tuan once termed “human environmental experience” into the realm of the nonhuman.1 Accordingly, the spatial paradigm in such diverse fields as post- and transhumanism and biosemiotics and the philosophical discourse of object-oriented ontology, to name but a few, both transcends and complements the limited perspective of the human subject by allowing us to redefine our relationship with the so-called natural world.2 In the context of ecological studies, the nonhuman dimension of spatiality is closely connected with the concept of the mesh, defined by Timothy Morton as a “flowing, shifting, entangled mess of ambiguous entities” that extends beyond the species boundary.3 Denoting the intrinsic interconnectedness of all forms of existence, the mesh is a “radically open form without center or edge” that makes possible the coexistence of humans and nonhumans as “strange strangers,” whose mutual otherness reminds us of the limitations of our perspective vis-à-vis the natural environment.4 In semiotic terms, the mesh is, then, a generator of meanings that include but are not limited to the domain of anthropocentric semiotics; by acknowledging the existence of the nonhuman, we enter the interrelated reality of the mesh, a biosemiosphere where we need new modes of expression and translation in order to facilitate interspecies communication.5

At the same time, nonhuman spatiality has become a particularly pronounced issue in the era of the Anthropocene, whose impact on the environment (and, by extension, the mesh), it has often been suggested, will inevitably give rise to an apocalypse of [End Page 233] human provenance; for Morton, one of the main prophets of the Anthropocene eschaton, “the end of the world is correlated with the Anthropocene, its global warming and subsequent drastic climate change, whose precise scope remains uncertain while its reality is verified beyond question.”6 By irrevocably transforming the mesh, the Anthropocene “collapses the difference between the human realm and so-called nature,” leading to what Morton identifies as “the collapse of a meaningful and stable background” that validated our sense of superiority over the environment.7

Having unseated us from our privileged position within the global ecosystem, the Anthropocene simultaneously abolishes another anthropocentric concept: the distinction between space and place. “From the standpoint of the genuinely post-modern ecological era,” Morton asserts, “what has collapsed is (the fantasy of empty, smooth) space. . . . Space in this sense has collapsed, and place has emerged in its truly monstrous uncanny dimension, which is to say its nonhuman dimension.”8 What Morton sees as “the revenge of place” is tantamount to the inevitable failure of human efforts to dominate the environment, revealing in the process the inherent uncanniness of what we have come to term “nature.”9 Instead of quasi-utopian representations of spatial dominance, pointedly described by Morton as “your grandfather’s place,” “some organic village,” or “a city-state surrounded by fields,” we face thus the reality of the mesh in its apocalyptic form, effected by the anthropocentric politics of consumption and exploitation.10 Following the disintegration of the anthropocentric construct of nature, the mesh functions here as a signifier of a holistic model of spatiality that transcends the anthropocentric distinction between space and place and, in a semiotic context, between the anthropocentric center and nonhuman periphery, as elaborated by Yuri M. Lotman, the latter having become increasingly significant in the Anthropocene crisis.11

The debacle of the anthropocentric hold upon the biosphere resonates with the acclaimed genre of ecodystopias (or, in a broader context, climate fiction) in which ecological catastrophe is often correlated with all-encompassing social collapse, as in J. G. Ballard’s The Drowned World (1962), Kim Stanley Robinson’s Science in the Capital series (2004–7) or Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood (2009). A similar thematic strand appears in After the Apocalypse, a 2011 short story collection by Maureen F. McHugh, which, true to its title, attempts to delineate the spatial and semiotic implications of a certain end effected by a series of...




  • 网中奇怪的陌生人:莫琳·F·麦克休的不可思议的乌托邦
  • 玛尔塔·科姆斯塔(生物)


Ť他重点往往是人类中心主义的传统空间的研究,但在空间和场所的当代研究超出什么段义孚曾经被称为“人类环境体验”变成非人的境界。1因此,后人类主义和超人类主义、生物符号学以及面向对象本体论的哲学话语等不同领域的空间范式,仅举几例,都超越并补充了人类主体的有限视角,使我们能够重新定义我们的与所谓的自然世界的关系。2在生态研究的背景下,空间的非人类维度与网格的概念密切相关,由 Timothy Morton 定义为“流动的、移动的、纠缠不清的模糊实体”,它延伸到物种边界之外。3表示所有存在形式的内在相互联系,网格是一种“没有中心或边缘的完全开放的形式”,它使人类和非人类作为“陌生的陌生人”共存成为可能,它们的相互差异提醒我们视角的局限性相对于自然环境。4在符号学术语中,网格是意义的生成器,包括但不限于人类中心主义符号学领域;通过承认非人类的存在,我们进入了网格的相互关联的现实,一个生物化学圈,在那里我们需要新的表达和翻译模式,以促进种间交流。5

与此同时,在人类世时代,非人类空间性已成为一个特别突出的问题,人类世对环境(以及延伸的网格)的影响,经常被认为,将不可避免地引发[ [第233页]人类出处;对于人类世末世的主要预言家之一莫顿来说,“世界末日与人类世、其全球变暖和随后的剧烈气候变化有关,其确切范围仍然不确定,但其真实性已毋庸置疑。” 6通过不可逆转地改变网格,人类世“消除了人类领域与所谓自然之间的差异”,导致莫顿称之为“有意义和稳定背景的瓦解”,这证实了我们对环境的优越感。7

人类世将我们从我们在全球生态系统中的特权地位赶下台,同时废除了另一个以人类为中心的概念:空间和地方之间的区别。“从真正的后现代生态时代的角度来看,”莫顿断言,“已经崩溃的是(空旷、光滑的)空间的幻想。. . . 从这个意义上说,空间已经坍塌,地方已经出现在它真正可怕的不可思议的维度中,也就是说,它的非人类维度。” 8莫顿眼中的“地方复仇”等同于人类主宰环境的努力不可避免的失败,在这个过程中揭示了我们称之为“自然”的内在神秘。9与莫顿有针对性地描述为“你祖父的地方”、“某个有机村庄”或“被田野包围的城邦”的空间支配地位的准乌托邦式表述不同,我们因此面对的是世界末日形式的网格的现实,受到以人类为中心的消费和剥削政治的影响。10随着以人类为中心的自然结构解体,网格在这里作为空间性整体模型的能指发挥作用,它超越了空间和地方之间的人类中心主义区别,在符号学背景下,也超越了人类中心主义中心和非人类边缘之间的区别,正如所阐述的作者 Yuri M. Lotman,后者在人类世危机中变得越来越重要。11

人类中心主义对生物圈的破坏与广受赞誉的生态乌托邦类型(或者,在更广泛的背景下,气候小说)产生共鸣,其中生态灾难通常与包罗万象的社会崩溃相关,如 JG Ballard 的The Drowned World (1962) )、Kim Stanley Robinson 的《资本系列科学》(2004-7) 或 Margaret Atwood 的《洪水之年》 (2009)。类似的主题出现在启示录之后,这是莫琳 F.麦克休 2011 年的短篇小说集,正如其标题,它试图描绘由一系列……