In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Movements across Scales
  • Sarah Hopfinger (bio)
BOOK REVIEWED: Life, Re-Scaled: The Biological Imagination in Twenty-First-Century Literature and Performance, edited by Liliane Campos and Pierre-Louis Patoine. Cambridge, UK: Open Book Publishers, 2022.

Life, Re-Scaled is a fascinating and wide-ranging collection of perspectives on how literature and performance encounter and construct the emergent and multifaceted biological imagination of the twenty-first century. The chapters variously interrogate the possibilities (and limitations) of how a range of artforms—such as science fiction, comics, poetry, theatre—not only explore, but also critically contribute to scientific fields including epidemiology, ecosystem modeling, and Earth Systems science. Life, Re-Scaled provides much-needed rigorous analyses of the affective and aesthetic potentials of literature and performance to engage with, and attend to, the heterogenous scales of life across microbiological and planetary scales. It interrogates how artistic works can usefully engage with some of the most pertinent issues of our time: what it means to live in, and respond to, ecological catastrophe, global emergencies like the Covid-19 pandemic, and the biopolitical consequences of our biological imagination. This book is not only concerned with whether literature and performance can effectively communicate different scales of life, it also explores how the particularities of specific artistic genres can engage with the complex relations and movements between scales. Since human life depends on the vast spectrum of scalar life from the microbiological to the macroecological, it is our ability to imagine and move between scales that the editors convincingly argue is “the crucial question from our contemporary biological imagination.” By its unique focus on multi-scalar life, the essays offer timely and much-needed critical contributions to art and science.

A key strength of this collection is that many of the chapters demonstrate a complex treatment of art-science relationships, where artistic forms are treated not merely as mediums through which to communicate scientific knowledge but are understood as themselves critical contributors to that knowledge. Jason Tougaw’s [End Page 118] analysis of Epileptic (1996) by David B. and Neurocomic (2013) by Matteo Farinella and Hana Ros shows how these two graphic novels engage in neurobiological debates: the “interplay of image and text” become an analogue to unraveling the “binary between physiology and subjectivity” and offer alternatives to “you are your brain”/“you are not your brain” debates. Similarly, Pascale Antolin discusses how the writer Joshua Ferris treats the novel as a literary laboratory of experiment and investigation of the relations between brains, minds, bodies, and world. Artworks are seen to respond to, and critically develop, scientific debates.

What is particularly salient about Life, Re-Scaled is that it includes methodologies in which science and art are not domains that merely influence each other: the contributors explore the “cross-currents” and “cross fertilizing of imaginaries” across contemporary artistic work, cultural representational popularizations of the life sciences, and philosophy. Some of the strongest contributors move beyond analogous relationships between art and science, to examine what could be thought of as the homological relationships across art and science epistemologies. Derek Woods explores how fungi is not simply a theme in Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 novel Annihilation—fungi “(de)compose the narrative itself.” Accordingly, Woods invokes “how literary and aesthetic theory should write with the life forms we find in texts.” This echoes Donna J. Haraway’s call to “think-with other beings, human or not.”1 Sophie Laniel-Musitelli explores how Gillian Clarke’s poetry uses shifts in scale to explore the vitality of matter. Clarke’s poetic approach is homologous to the sedimentation of layers of rock in geology. She uses layers of experience, story, snapshot, hearsay, and imagination: her poetry as process of sedimentation. The vitality of matter is presented through Clarke’s poetic content: living and non-living beings like stones, sea, and trees, as well as more ambiguous beings like fossils and soil, figure across her poetry. Vibrant matter is also enacted in the poetic form; language becomes material and entangled in organic processes. Poetry is treated as a geological formation, enacting geological process in its content and form. Clarke’s work is also an example of how the specific genre of poetry is...