American Literature Research Seminar: Weird Tales of the Twenty-First Century

In the first decades of the twenty-first century, theory and fiction got a little weird, especially when they came together. These were decades in which not just nonhuman narrators but the desire for nonhuman narration enjoyed a minor flourishing. While some novels wanted, with varying degrees of success, to be narrated from strange vantage points ranging from sentient landscapes to orbiting aliens, other academic and cultural conversations strove to make such nonhuman entities their protagonists. The result was a set of stories that took on properties of genre without being fully transformed by it – a set of weird tales. Marshall tours this landscape by identifying three key generic hybrids which mobilized nonhuman longing to do conceptual work: The Old Weird, an alternative genealogy in naturalism and modernism for the twenty-first century’s cowboys and aliens; Cosmic Realism, the scalar reach for words legible from space in otherwise terrestrial narratives; and Pseudoscience Fiction, engagements with images of the future of science, including speculative futures beyond human life on earth. Revealing the hybrid traces of contemporary crises, this paper outlines the surprising story of how genre became mood in the twenty-first century.