ABSTRACT

The theoretical obsession with writing (or écriture) in poststructuralist and deconstructionist thought marks one of the sites where the shift from a (crypto-modernist) epistemological to a (properly postmodern) ontological dominant (McHale) was negotiated. If the problematic of writing seems to point to epistemological challenges (how can language represent reality? to what extent can meaning be controlled?), it also brings into play ontological issue of temporality, force (de Man), and godlessness (Hägglund). If, as this special issue argues, ontological concerns have taken on an intensified urgency in twenty-first-century fiction, this essay shows that this is reflected in the contemporary novel's intensified concern with the issue of writing as a way of engaging the imaginative challenges of the Anthropocene. A focus on writing not only allows literature to interrogate the affordances of the literary in relation to other fields of knowledge production (an epistemological concern), it also positions writing as a figure for human action and responsibility in a human-designed world more generally: writing, in this context, becomes a figure for actions that leave an indelible trace; that consists of the more-or-less violent displacement of matter; that leaves an imprint whose long-term consequences are impossible to control. I discuss Jeff VanderMeer's Annihilation, Tom McCarthy's Satin Island, and William Gibson's The Peripheral as novels that do what I call “ontographic” work not because of an environmental thematics (only Annihilation is explicitly about the environment) but through an intense exploration of the topic of writing as a form of more-than-human agency.

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