Call for papers : “Microscopic Imaginaries in 20th- and 21st-Century Literature” (Paris, 24/11/23)

When Ronald Ross discovered the protozoan responsible for malaria in 1897, he wrote a poem addressing “million-murdering Death” whose “cunning seeds” he had found. Ross’s poem remains famous, but how has his hope that art and science would walk “hand in hand” fared in the following centuries? Over the 20th century, microscopy was revolutionised by UV, phase contrast, and electron technology. The circulation of microscopic images increased exponentially with the arrival of television, internet and digital photography. While visualisations of atomic physics were influential for modernist writers, genetic engineering and microbial agency have become key ingredients of 21st-century crime fiction and science fiction, as well as inspirations for ecopoetry, molecular poetics and experiments in living poetry. This symposium aims to identify the microscopic imaginaries that appeared over this period, and the turning points that structured literature’s engagement with microscopy. We welcome proposals for 20-minute papers in English, on any written literary genre, particularly around the following topics:

– the epistemic dimensions of literary form

– the aesthetics of scale

– the role of literature in changing scopic regimes

– ethical and political dimensions of microscopic imaginaries

– conceptual shifts provoked by microscopic perspectives, around notions such as community, agency, subject, or environment

– relations between microscopic imaginaries and movements such as modernism, naturalism or new materialism

– authorial postures and reader expectations created by microscopic perspectives

– relations between scientific imagination, popular science imagination and literary imagination

 – how scientific and literary discourses have shaped each other over this period 

Proposals should be sent in Word or PDF documents by the 31st of May 2023 to the organisers: and

Answers will be sent out by the 9th of June. The symposium will be held at the Sorbonne Nouvelle, Maison de la Recherche, 4 rue des Irlandais, in Paris. A second symposium will be organized in 2024 on microscopicimaginaries in theatre and performance: a separate call for papers will be issued for that event. 

Performing Microbiomes – April 21st

Please join our next webinar to discuss microbiology in performance and installation art. Professor François-Joseph Lapointe will present his artistic work inspired by microbiome research. His respondent will be Doctor Eric Bapteste.

BioCriticism – 21st April 2023 – 2 pm CET

Meeting ID: 846 3663 3099

Passcode: 192264

François-Joseph Lapointe: “Me, myself and my microbiome”

Abstract: My current scientific research focuses on the microbiome of endangered animal species, the transmission of the microbiome from mother to her newborn during a cesarean delivery, or even on the necrobiome of decomposing corpses for forensic purposes. Quite naturally, my practice of bioart has followed this trend by integrating bacteria into my artworks and performances. If the discovery of the human microbiome has revolutionized the way philosophers define our species, it has also upset the concept of identity. If it is true that the majority of our cells are not human cells, how are we still human? What remains of Homo sapiens? As an artist, my approach questions the limits of our own flesh in constant interaction with the bacterial world that surrounds us. Is my microbiome affected by my behaviors? Does my microbiome change based on the people I meet? How does this microbiome transform my relationship to the outside world? Who am I without my microbiome? As part of experimental performances or performative experimentation, I collect microbiome samples in order to show all the diversity attesting to the perpetual transformation of my bacterial identity. In more recent projects, I produce installation pieces using microbiome samples collected on others.

François-Joseph Lapointe is a bio-artist and professor of biological sciences at the Université de Montréal. He holds a PhD in evolutionary biology and a PhD in danse and performance. For his scientific research, he is interested in phylogenetics, systematics, metagenomics and population genetics. His artistic work uses biotechnology for creative purposes, and has been exhibited at the Musée de la civilisation (Québec), the Transmediale festival (Berlin), the SciArt Center (New York), the Ars Electronica Center (Linz), the Medical Museion (Copenhagen), the Science Gallery (London) and the Centre Pompidou (Paris).

Dr. Eric Bapteste is a CNRS Research Director at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie. He holds a PhD in evolutionary biology and a PhD in the philosophy of biology. He co-directs the AIRE team, which develops new methods and new concepts, in particular related to networks, in order to study evolution and ageing. His publications include Les gènes voyageurs : l’odyssée de l’évolution (Belin), Conflits intérieurs : fable scientifique (Editions Matériologiques), Tous entrelacés ! Des gènes aux super-organismes, les réseaux de l’évolution (Belin), and two books for young readers: Tout se transforme ! Comment marche l’évolution (Circonflexe) and Le monde surprenant des microbes (Circonflexe).

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