Lanlan Du is a tenured Professor at Institute of Global Humanities, Nanjing University. In spring 2024 she spent some time at CRASSH as a Visiting Fellow.

Q: Lanlan, you recently joined CRASSH as a Visiting Fellow. Could you tell us a little bit about what you were working on during your fellowship?

I’m Lanlan Du, a tenured professor from the Institute of Global Humanities, Nanjing University. I feel most fortunate to be chosen by the Global Humanities Network Mobility Scheme as a visiting fellow of CRASSH in May 2024. Currently, I’m working on a research project entitled ‘World-building and Its Ethical Messages in Twenty-First Century English Speculative Fiction’, which is granted by China National Social Science Fund. One part of this project includes ‘Intermediality Studies on Climate Change Speculative Fiction’, a topic I worked on while I was in CRASSH. It attempts to explore the cultural phenomenon of intermediality in some twenty-first-century climate fiction novels, emphasising the interconnectedness of human and nonhuman actants, and pondering on the issue of the transformative power of the intertwined relationships among individuals, artefacts, and hybrid cultural forms to highlight the importance of the arts and humanities for the future.

Q: Are you working on any articles currently?

I would like to share two articles that I’m currently working on. The first one will be published in Chinese and is entitled ‘Post-Apocalyptic Speculative Fiction from the Lens of New Materialisms’. Post-apocalyptic speculative fiction, as a literary response to Climate Change in the Anthropocene, reflects on the dire impacts of Anthropocentrism on humans, non-humans, nature, society and the Earth, emphasising increasingly the entangled relationship between humans and non-humans in the globalised risk society. Taking global climate change and the issue of unequal distribution of resources into consideration, twenty-first-century English novelists use the dystopian narrative as a caution to the readers and to emphasise the importance of interdependence among humans and non-humans. This article first discusses the three turns of New Materialisms and then interprets Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven from the lens of New Materialisms to explore the ethical messages conveyed in their envisioning of the future world.

The second article I’m working on is ‘Techno-Orientalism in the Age of Capitalocene: Representations of Chinese Migrants in Three Cli-Fi Novels’. There have been abundant discussions of such issues as migration, displacement and identification in ethnic and diasporic literature, but how are the similar topics presented by writers of climate change fiction that often involve the global movement of people due to environmental pollution and natural catastrophes? As there is a tendency of stereotypical representations of Asians in American science fiction and scholarly neglect of techo-orientalism, which is a mixture of politics, racism and technology, my article intends to interpret three cli-fi novels to highlight how the movement of climate change refugees is often connected with the ‘Capitalocene’, an eco-Marxist term coined by Jason W. Moore to question the historical dependence of industrial capitalism on the transnational flow of labour. By focusing in particular on the representations of Chinese migrants in three cli-fi novels, namely, On Such a Full Sea (2014) by Korean American writer Chang-Rae Lee, The Windup Girl (2009) by American science fiction and fantasy writer Paolo Bacigalupi, and The Waste Tide (2013) by Chinese science fiction writer Chen Qiufan, this article compares the complicated depictions of Chinese migrants to stress the connections of techo-Orientalism with political and environmental injustice and a call for an alternative living mode that transcends the thinking logic of global capitalism.

Q: Can you tell us more about your most recent publications?

One of my recent publications is the article ‘Love and Hope: Affective Labor and Posthuman Relations in Klara and The Sun‘ published in Neohelicon in 2022. The interest in affect is a recent development in artificial intelligence, but few scholars have addressed the issue in the context of Kazuo Ishiguro’s most recent novel Klara and the Sun. Anchored to Michael Hardt’s concept of affective labour, this essay ponders on human and non-human relationships by making a contrastive reading of the fictional AI figure Klara’s affective labour with that of Mother on Josie, highlighting Klara’s altruistic love for her owner Josie. It argues that Klara’s commodified caring labour is the new changing mode of labour in capitalist society and that as a sentient and empathetic companion robot with strong learning ability, Klara gradually builds her artificial life with faith, love and hope by acting in a self-willed way. With Klara as an example of a saintly figure with faith, love and hope, Ishiguro explores what it means to love and how to coexist with non-humans by emphasising altruistic love and hope as the transformative and healing power.

Q: What did you think of life at CRASSH and in Cambridge?

CRASSH offered me a precious opportunity to have various academic exchanges. Arranged by Professor Joanna Page, the director of CRASSH, and moderated by Dr Lisa Mullan from the Faculty of English, I was able to give a lecture on ‘Intermedial Performativity in Contemporary Climate Change Speculative Fiction‘, sharing my research with some Cambridge scholars and students. I also attended the seminars held at CRASSH and a panel discussion entitled ‘AI and Human Rights’ organised by the Centre of Governance and Human Rights, which enabled me to get acquainted with some cutting-edge topics such as the ethical implications, challenges and opportunities in the field of artificial intelligence, the use of creative tools in the process of cultural production and reflections on climate change. One of the most insightful events I attended was the lecture ‘Sophia’s Game in Art’ delivered by Turkish writer Burham Sonmez, as part of the Trinity College Global Lecture Series. He talked about the meaning of art and explained its place in human civilization, focusing on the category of play and its relationship to what it means to be human. After the lecture, I was quite honoured to be invited by Professor Chris Young, Head of the School of Arts and Humanities, to have dinner with Burham, together with some distinguished scholars at the University of Cambridge. We had a very pleasant talk that evening.

Group photo with the Global Humanities Network and writer Burham Sonmez.

Photo by the Global Humanities Network, who invited the Turkish Writer Burham Sonmez in the Trinity College Lecture Series.

Besides attending a series of academic activities, I enjoyed a museum visit and a stage performance. My visit to the Fitzwilliam Museum was eye-opening and delightful. The wonderful exhibition of William Blake’s intermedial works of painting and poems, ‘William Blake’s Universe’, enabled me to explore Blake’s boundless imagination in his art. Thunder Storm, a play by famous Chinese playwright CAO Yu, was performed by some Cambridge Chinese students at the ADC theatre. These are but two examples for me to experience the cultural vibrancy at Cambridge. My short stay at CRASSH was intense academically but at ease in my leisure time. I had a wonderful learning time at CRASSH and enjoyed the vibrant cultural life at Cambridge, a city best known for academic achievements, as well as leisurely activities such as cycling, punting, and boat racing.

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