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14 - More-than-Human Collectives in Richard Powers’ The Overstory and Vandana Singh’s ‘Entanglement’

from Collective Climate Action

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 March 2022

Adeline Johns-Putra
Affiliation:
Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, China
Kelly Sultzbach
Affiliation:
University of Wisconsin, La Crosse
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Summary

From questions posed by Wilfred Owen at a Craiglockhart War Hospital talk ‘Do Plants Think?’ and Alan Turing’s rhetorical echo ‘Can Machines Think?’ to Dipesh Chakrabarty’s query ‘Who is the we?’ in a postcolonial Anthropocene, times of crisis goad us into recognising wider sentience and reimagining collective agency. This essay considers how a collective comprised of humans, intelligent botanical or zoological life, and AI might respond to climate crisis using two literary case studies. Richard Powers’ The Overstory and Vandana Singh’s ‘Entanglement’ use contemporary tree science and quantum entanglement, respectively, as innovative, interdisciplinary narrative models. These models also dictate the resolutions of their stories – eventualities of collectivity that may still be evolving, but gesture toward potential climate-changed futures. As this essay argues, these two works offer contrasting visions based on how they deploy AI design potentials, the emotional responses of hope and despair, and the spectre of uncertainty as either a creative space for solutions or a reminder of impossible choices. These stories also pose important questions about corporate power, empathy, and social justice, reminding us that reckoning with human cultural diversity is still the soil from which any more-than-human climate collective must grow.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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