Monsters, myth and media: Nordic stories of belonging and otherness (Network Funding from Nordic Culture Point 2018-2019)

Dr. Ingvil Hellstrand from the Monster Network gives us her thoughts on our workshop series funded by the Nordic Culture Point.

 

With the generous support of the Nordic Culture point, the Monster Network has recently completed a workshop series dealing with what we might call a resurgence of the figure of the monster in the Nordic counties. The political climate is changing, and in all the Nordic countries there is a harsher political rhetoric linked to what is considered normal and what is considered deviant. Simultaneously, right-wing politics demanding a ban on immigration and better integration are on the rise, and the past few years we have seen neo-nazi marches in Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway. These very real and acute situations is a reminder of the histories of monster-making: how certain bodies, voices and identities are rendered monstrous, or as not-belonging, as a result of ideology, social agendas, cultural norms and popular culture and the media.

 

Haunted Humanity

Our first workshop took place in Stavanger, Norway on 29 and 30 November 2018. This workshop, entitled Haunted Humanity, invited artists, writers and researchers to discuss how the very idea of being human is haunted, not only by monstrous Others, but also by the traditional hegemony of the (white, able-bodied, male, middle-class) human.  The (in)stability of the human is defined by its relation to its others, and we wanted to grapple with the idea of various hauntings, be it bodily, technologically, historically, territorially, fictionally and ideologically, to mention a few.

Coming from a feminist tradition, the workshop was organized around the principle of diffraction. This means that we gathered people from different fields and perspectives in order to bring out various approaches and multiplicities in terms of hauntings. One example of how we managed to do just that was a session where we discussed the Tasmanian tiger and the story of its extinction alongside a videowork by Swedish artist Tove Kjellmark that focuses on the female body. After an engaging talk about the preservation and presentation of the now-extinct animal by

Professor of environmental history at the University of Stavanger, Dolly Jørgensen, an initial  discussion about cataloguing and classifying brought about a debate about the impossibility of representation without haunting, exemplified by the female body as a spectacle. In other words, invoking the very idea of a body, be it female or a Tasmanian tiger, demands a reflection on how it can be displayed, represented, historizised, told, portrayed and reproduced. And further, an attention to who is doing the storying, and when and how it is being told, and what is silenced or lost along the way.

One of the major haunting figures to this day is Frankenstein and his monster-creature, and so we felt a tribute to Mary Shelley’s work as well as to the legacies of Frankenstein was in order. How can we deal with acknowledging the legacies on the one hand, but also challenge and subvert them on the other? Central here is of course the question of knowledge production, and the production of a literary canon. This theme of knowledge regimes, canonization, tradition and legacy did actually become an overarching theme for the entire workshop: whose knowledges are deemed monstrous, unfitting, problematic, and what are the consequences of being rendered illegitimate or improper by the state apparatus, religion or majority culture. For example, many of our invited speakers talked about Sámi knowledges as an example of something that has been silenced or hidden, and how this making-invisible continues to haunt history and culture, as well as families, identities and everyday lives.

 

Weird ecologies and storytelling practices

Our second workshop took place in Tampere, Finland on 4 and 5 April 2019, with the theme of Weird Ecologies and Storytelling Practices. Here, we continued the thread about knowledge production, but situated in critical story-telling practices. Having invited writers of speculative fiction, such as Laura Gustafsson and Johanna Sinisalo as keynote speakers, this workshop engaged in questions of why stories are important, and for who. How can weird and speculative stories contribute to change how we perceive the world that we live in and surround ourselves by? By exploring themes of imagining, (re)telling and envisioning the world otherwise, the very question of human superiority and the necessity of alternative perspectives and positionalities set the tone and artistic-theoretical framework for this workshop.

The workshop also featured a writing workshop with Professor Emerita Nina Lykke, in which she invited us to “write the posthuman”. In order to do this, she argued, the exercise is to draw on a range of senses and attempt to de-centre and and posthumanise the “I” position. By shifting perspectives and agency for the storyteller, Lykke advocated writing and thinking practices where a traditional, representational mode of writing was challenged: the point is not to represent, but to acknowledge the posthuman as a “you”. In turn, this “you”, is something or someone that we, the humans, must relate to. Throughout the workshop, Lykke’s point seemed to reiterate in several of the talks: in artist Henna Laininen’s dialogue with a glacier; art-researcher Shreyasi’s intimate photo assemblages of cities and technologies, and in researcher Marietta Radomska’s deliberations about the materialities of life and death.

Storying the monster is a way of making visible the boundaries for established knowledge regimes, and potentially challenge them. The monster is a figure that haunts, and it is thus in a position to raise questions about presences and absences, as well as about its own ontology. Similarly, the monster allows unexpected and unrecognized perspectives and stories to show themselves, and – perhaps – shift the boundaries for what is considered reality for a moment. For the whole of our workshop series, the monster served us well as a thinking tool about hauntings, weirdness, humanity and ecology.

Remember to listen to our podcast from these workshops!

 

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Keynote at ‘Monstrous Ontologies: Politics, Ethics, Materiality’

Monstrous ontologies

The Monster Network will be keynoting at the ‘Monstrous Ontologies: Politics, Ethics, Materiality’ conference at the University of Roehampton on July 1st. We’ll be presenting on the topic of ‘Collective Voices and the Materialization of Ideas: The Monster as Method’, while experimenting with how ideas might take shape through multiple voices, present absences and poetry.

The can find the programme and more information on the conference’s Facebook page. Register here.

Monster Talks 2: Weird ecologies and storytelling practices

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Why are stories important? And how can weird and speculative stories contribute to change how we perceive the world that we live in and surround ourselves by? This monster talk addresses storytelling practices as creative processes, but also as political, ecological and ethical passions. Listen to Finnish writers of speculative fiction, Johanna Sinisalo and Laura Gustafsson in conversation with Ingvil Hellstrand from The Monster Network and the Network for Gender Studies at UiS. The talk is a recording from a public event in Telakka Bar, Tampere, Finland, as part of The Monster Network workshop series Monsters, Myth and Media: Nordic stories of belonging and Otherness (Funded by Nordic Culture Point).

Monster Talks is a podcast series that explores the figure of the monster and the monstrous as an important thinking tool for addressing dynamics of power, inclusion and exclusion, discrimination and violence. The podcast is produced by The Monster Network in collaboration with Network for Gender Studies at UiS. All episodes are available from the podcast’s website at UiS.

 

 

 

 

 

Creative writing workshop with Nina Lykke: ‘Writing the Posthuman …’

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Friday 5 April you can join Nina Lykke’s creative writing workshop ‘Writing the Posthuman …’ at the Weird Ecologies and Storytelling Practices seminar in Tampere!

The workshop will introduce you to ways of writing the posthuman other – in terms

SEA_ALGAE_ON_ESTUARY_OF_ROGUE_RIVER_-_NARA_-_545115.tif
Sea Algae on Estuary Rogue River. Creative Commons Licence.

of writing from embodied subject positions which might seem unfamiliar, ”alien” to the traditional outlook of the human ”I”. What does it for example mean to write from the position of an algae? a bush of heather? a cat? a stone? Or???? Against the background of some of my own poetic texts, and reflections on posthuman phenomenology, I will pose questions around modes, meanings and eco-ethics of writing from posthuman subject positions and from an ontology of vibrant and spirited matter (Bennett 2010, Anzaldua 2015). Moreover, I will invite you to do some writing exercizes prompting you to experiment with poetic explorations of transcorporeal touching, and to share and discuss your texts with each other.

Nina Lykke, Dr. Phil., Professor Emerita, Gender Studies, Linköping University, Sweden. Has for over four decades contributed to the building of Feminist Studies in Europe, Denmark and Sweden, in particular. Co-founder of Queer Death Studies Network, and Network for Ecocritical-Decolonial Research. Current research: queering of cancer, death, and mourning in queerfeminist materialist, posthuman, decolonial and eco-critical perspectives; autophenomenographic and poetic writing. Some recent publications, related to creative and autophenomengraphic writing: Writing Academic Texts Differently (Routledge, New York 2014); Queer Widowhood, Lambda Nordica 2015: 4; When death cuts apart, in: Juvonen & Kohlemainen: Affective Inequalities in Intimate Relationships. Routledge, New York 2018

Register for the workshop and the rest of the Weird Ecologies and Storytelling Practices seminar here.

Find the complete Weird Ecologies and Storytelling Practices programme here

Weird Ecologies: new website for the upcoming event!

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The seminar explores the ethics and politics of storytelling, especially in regards to telling stories about nature and ‘the Other’. Issues addressed are, for example, how we may think critically about shifting biotechnological landscapes, environmental change and the very notion of “nature” as specific, but also potentially changing, storytelling practices.

Contributors to the seminar are scholars and artists working with questions of embodiment, vulnerability, human–non-human relations, eco-criticism, activism, and embodied storytelling practices. We invite participants to engage directly with academic and artistic practices in order to explore ways in which to imagine livable presents/futures in the midst of cultural anxieties concerning human extinction and the end of the world.

Confirmed speakers: The Monster Network, author Johanna Sinisalo, Dr. Toni Lahtinen (University of Tampere), and author Laura Gustafsson.
Writing workshop with Professor Emerita Nina Lykke.

The seminar is free of charge (dinner, lunches and coffees are free for registered participants and invited guests). The language of the event is English.

Organised by the Monster Network and the project ‘Environmental Risks, Dystopias and Myths in Contemporary Literature’. In collaboration with The Ecocritical Network for Scandinavian Studies (ENSCAN). Funded by Nordic Culture Point.

Find the preliminary programme and register on the event’s website.

Monster Talks 1: Why the monster and why now?

In 2018, we have seen worldwide celebrations Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, where the monster in many ways has become a symbol for the monstrous, the unwanted and the not-quite human. However, Christian Beyer from Tromsø, the Arctic University of Norway, Dr. Line Henriksen from the University of Copenhagen and Dr. Siv Frøydis Berg from the Norwegian National Library have all embraced the monster as an important and highly relevant figure to keep thinking with. What is it about the monster that continues to draw our attention?

Monster Talks is a podcast series that explores the figure of the monster and the monstrous as an important thinking tool for addressing dynamics of power, inclusion and exclusion, discrimination and violence. The podcast is produced by The Monster Network in collaboration with Network for Gender Studies at UiS.

Recorded by NettOp, UiS.