CFP: (GSA Panel) Writing the Nonhuman, Washington, D.C. (07.02.2020)

Elizabeth McNeill's picture

Writing the Nonhuman

Call for Proposals for 2020 German Studies Association Panel


German Studies Association Annual Conference

Washington, D.C.

October 1-4, 2020


In his essay “Verstäubung, Verdunstung, Vertropfung,” Goethe describes the process of cutting the stem of a white mushroom and laying it on a piece of paper, whereupon the mushroom pollinates the surface of the paper. As the mushroom decays, distributing its pollen on the white page, it leaves visible markings of its inner and outer folds. For Amanda Jo Goldstein in Sweet Science: Romantic Materialism and the New Logics of Life, this is a moment in which Goethe attributes to a nonhuman the capacity to self-represent. Rather than produce progeny, she asserts, Goethe’s mushroom produces signs on the white page. If writing has been historically considered the sole property of the human, what might Goethe’s mushroom reveal about the relationship between the nonhuman and writing?


This panel considers how “writing the nonhuman” and a play on its components—nonhuman writing, writing as nonhuman, the nonhuman as writing—may challenge or clarify the very nature of representation. Taking the historical difficulty of thinking “writing” and “nonhuman” together as its point of departure, this panel is interested in how the concepts of writing, reading, and (self-)representation may change, if not entirely come undone, when a nonhuman enters the text. Texts are defined here as notes, films, images, fossils and other artifacts, music and musical scores, etc.; that is, any object preoccupied with representing a nonhuman.


With the aim of unraveling the properties of nonhuman writing as they extend beyond one set of disciplinary and medial boundaries, this panel explores the following questions: How has writing aboutas, or with nonhumans challenged representational paradigms within the German-language world? What is the specifically German-language history of (non)anthropomorphic writing practices, both within and beyond the literary domain? What is at stake when a human writer asserts (or denies) that a nonhuman can write for and represent itself?


Possible topics include but are not limited to:

  • Literary nonhumans writing their own and humans’ stories
  • Protocols and notes from experiments on nonhuman animals and plants
  • Writing and communicating with artificial intelligence
  • Biographical accounts of human-nonhuman relations
  • Musical notation and nonhuman sound
  • Visual culture and representation of nonhumans in film, photography, painting, maps, graphs, etc.
  • Material and environmental conditions of writing nonhumans
  • Nonhuman agency and subjectivity
  • Imitating (non)humans

This panel welcomes proposals with materials from all German-language contexts and all time periods. For consideration, please submit an abstract of up to 300 words with a title and a short biography to Elizabeth McNeill ( by February 7, 2020.

Redaktion: Constanze Baum – Lukas Büsse – Mark-Georg Dehrmann – Nils Gelker – Markus Malo – Alexander Nebrig – Johannes Schmidt

Diese Ankündigung wurde von H-GERMANISTIK [Nils Gelker] betreut –