116th Annual Conference - Bellingham, Washington
Friday, November 9 - Sunday, November 11, 2018

Choose Your Own Anthropocene

Dylan Bateman, University of British Columbia (Canada)

This paper shows how Sherwin Tija’s choose-your-own-adventure book You are a Cat in the Zombie Apocalypse plays out concerns of the Anthropocene and its alternate terms. I argue the choose-your- own-adventure form is conductive to thinking through Anthropocene scholarship with literature, as the form mirrors Anthropocene scholarship.

Proposal: 

It’s clear – especially in the Humanities and Social Sciences, where I, an English scholar, am entrenched – that the Anthropocene as term is not an unquestioned, homogenous entity. Instead, many scholars (including Jason Moore, Donna Haraway, and Jill Schneiderman, among others) have suggested alternative terms for the epoch, ranging from the Capitalocene, Androcene, Necrocene, Eurocene, Androcene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene, Elachistocene, and more. These terms arise from a desire to push back against Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer’s original explanation for coining the Anthropocene. For Crutzen and Stoermer, the Anthropocene represented a way of placing a label upon human impacts on earth (hence the “anthropos”) so that humans would change the patterns and institutions that have led to climate crisis. Yet for those proposing alternative terms, the two men’s suggestion that blame should be placed on all of humanity is misguided: each term either casts a different kind of blame for climate crisis (such as capitalism, European colonialism, patriarchy, or slavery) or suggests a different way of thinking about the present (as a time of death or as a time of making kin with other-than-human life). While scholars are debating over these proposed terms and thinking through their implications, I want to propose a paper that thinks of Anthropocene scholarship as part of an interconnected yet disparate collection of ideas. More specifically, I want to use Sherwin Tija’s choose-you-own-adventure book You Are a Cat in the Zombie Apocalypse to suggest that thinking the Anthropocene represents its own choose-you-own-adventure story, with disparate presents and futures all existing together and with no single one yet determined. I choose Tija’s book because it asks questions about multiple aspects of an ecological catastrophe. These questions include: how can one be best prepared to survival? How does such survival change ways of life and of thinking? And what happens if you (are bit and) succumb to the plague encompassing the earth? Alongside thinking through these questions that are just as relevant for the Anthropocene as for a zombie book, Tija’s text makes readers think alongside other-than-human kin, as human readers become the eponymous cat and must learn to think and act like an other-than- human being. Close reading Tija’s book alongside scholarship that proposes different names, routes, and futures in the face of climate crisis, my paper will suggest that choose-your-own-adventure narratives are an important form of reading the Anthropocene. By looking to choose-you-own- adventure narratives, English scholars can analyze and teach literature that better suits the current climate of Anthropocene thought: that is, the idea that a single story cannot define this epoch. Instead, these narratives suggests that a variety of names, causes, and futures are perhaps all just as plausible and that these paths, depending on how we choose, lead us to different endings and new beginnings.