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In his 2020 MLA theme description, Simon Gikandi asks for a reflection on the role of the humanities in “defining the nature of the human in the face of what appears to be its diminishment.” This roundtable, cosponsored by the MLA Africa Since 1990 forum and the Ecocriticism and Environmental Humanities forum, reframes Gikandi’s provocation in ecological terms: how do we define the limits of what Sylvia Wynter terms the “genre of the human” in the face of ecological decline and climate change? Successive reports issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) spell out an increasingly alarming rate of global warming with catastrophic implications for the planet and the various life forms inhabiting it. The scientific community has attributed the climate crisis to the impacts of human activities or the Anthropocene, a term that captures human emergence as a geological force that has significantly reshaped the ecosystem. Consequently, scholars such as Chakrabarty Dipesh have argued that human history has become inextricable from natural history and demanded a reappraisal of the category of the human. At the same time, as Chakrabarty also points out, a different kind of reappraisal has long been a crucial component of decolonial praxis.
We invite proposals for presentations that analyze the role of postcolonial literature and media, as well as post/decolonial theory, in understanding the human and the limits of the term in the current epoch. Possible questions include but are not limited to: How is the human to be defined in the era of climate change? What are the limits of the human? Can the concept be productively reimagined for the project of decolonizing knowledge and being in a time of ecological crisis? What are the possible points of connection and of tension between postcolonial studies and the environmental humanities on the limits of the human? How might tensions be addressed or reframed?