Webinar Programme

BioCriticism – 2024 – “Through the microscope”

  • 2d of February 2024, 2 pm CET: “Microbiology in the Twentieth-Century Novel”

Speaker:  Dr. Patrick Armstrong (Cambridge University)

Respondent: Dr. Sarah Bouttier (Ecole Polytechnique)


Meeting ID: 817 8187 8092
Passcode: 244068

Abstract: This presentation will focus on the assimilation of microbiological language into the twentieth-century novel. In particular, I will explore the prominent inclusion of microscopic seeing and the dislocating language of microbiology in D. H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow (1915). Through Ursula Brangwen’s encounter with a unicellular organism, Lawrence generates his own microbiological sublime, finding new and more unusual ways of articulating intense experiences in prose fiction. This paper will also consider parallel attempts to incorporate microbiological materials into the novel. Sinclair Lewis’s Arrowsmith (1925), for example, offers a striking example of the integration of bacteriology into the modern American novel. Paul de Kruif, an American microbiologist who published Microbe Hunters a year later in 1926, assisted Lewis with the composition of the novel, providing up-to-date scientific knowledge to help create accurate depictions of a laboratory. This paper argues that the incorporation of microbiological language into the novel creates suggestive and dislocating clashes of scale that challenge the cognitive processes required from the reader. Reformulating Roland Barthes’ effect of reality, we can start to identify the hyper-reality effect produced by technical or scientific descriptions of microbiological phenomena in prose fiction.

  • 8th of March 2024, 2 pm CET:  “Tiny New World : French Visual Culture and the Microbial Imaginary since the Early Twentieth Century”

Speaker: Dr. Fleur Hopkins-Loféron (CNRS and THALIM laboratory, Sorbonne Nouvelle University)

Respondent: Prof. Kirsten Shepherd-Barr (University of Oxford)


Meeting ID: 840 5671 1478
Passcode: 529273

Abstract: From the beginning of the 20th century, the French media imagination was struck by what was called the “microbial fury”, in the wake of Louis Pasteur. Microbes were everywhere, in the form of “love microbes” or “jealousy microbes” in vaudeville plays, as the main character in novels of scientific imagination or as a decorative element in Art Nouveau wallpapers. By presenting the rich multiform imaginary of the microbe in the twentieth century, in the visual and intellectual culture of the time (invader, tiny beauty, miniature world, chimera, monster, etc.), this talk intends to question the metamorphosis that this mysterious being has undergone over time (ally, individual, source of life, etc.). Particular emphasis will be placed on the visual cultures of the sublime, miniaturisation and the infinitely small.

  • 26th of April 2024, 2 pm CET: “The Biomolecularisation of the Archive”

Speaker: Prof. Jerome de Groot (University of Manchester)

Respondent: Prof. François-Joseph Lapointe (Université de Montréal)


Meeting ID: 836 8539 6506
Passcode: 602541

Abstract: New genetic approaches to the material of the archive have wide implications for our conception of the past, our understanding of memory, and our broader sense of what historical information even is. Whilst historical data has regularly been developed and challenged, and historians use a breadth of information, my contention is that the accelerated development of huge datasets that are beyond the reach of ‘historians’ has the potential to transform the discipline. Set within (whilst also driving) a wider biomolecular turn in society, as cultural understanding of the past becomes genetically-informed, this change in the historical approach suggests a shift towards what I call ‘double helix history’. 

  • 24th of May 2024, 2 pm CET: “Books of Life in the Age of the Genome”

Speaker: Dr. Paul Hamann-Rose (University of Passau)

Respondent: Dr. Rūta Šlapkauskaitė (Vilnius University)


Meeting ID: 827 4727 7584
Passcode: 329900

Abstract: Over the course of the second half of the twentieth century, the novel increasingly enters into dialogue with genetic discourses of life, examining their foundational assumptions as well as potential consequences for individuals and socio-political communities. The novel does not simply embrace the new genetic propositions but appropriates and critically examines them. Central concerns that have shaped the novel’s traditional representation of life expand to include a newly genetic perspective. In the age of the genome, I argue, the novel emerges as a genetic ‘book of life’. To demonstrate the theoretical, aesthetic and political consequences of this development, I turn to Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy. The trilogy’s ambitious imaginative treatment of genetic discourses and technologies exemplifies an important ecological exploration of genetic science today, which underlines the critical potential of the novel to contribute to cultural and socio-political debates about future life on the planet.


BioCriticism – 2023 – “Through the microscope”

  • February 24th, 2 pm Central European Time, in person and online

Communication scholar Professor Lisa B. Keränen (Colorado University) will discuss “Biocriticism as inventional practice: The case of global health security”. Her respondent will be Literature scholar Professor Catherine Bernard (Université Paris Cité)

  • March 10th, 2 pm CET, online

Theatre director Frédérique Aït-Touati (CNRS) will discuss La Trilogie Terrestre (created with Bruno Latour). Her respondent will be Dr Anna Street (Le Mans University).

  • April 21st, 2 pm CET, online

Professor François-Joseph Lapointe (Université de Montréal) will discuss microbiology in his artistic practice

His respondent will be Dr Eric Bapteste (CNRS, Université Pierre et Marie Curie).

  • May 12th, 2 pm CET, cancelled


  • June 9th, 2 pm CET, online

Literature scholar Dr Lara Choksey (University College London) will discuss “Epigenetics’ vague poetics”. Her respondent will be Professor Susan Squier (Pennsylvania State University).

Please contact Liliane Campos for information and links: liliane.campos@sorbonne-nouvelle.fr

BioCriticism is organised with the support of PRISMES EA4398 and the Institut Universitaire de France

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