Mahlu Mertens (Ghent University, Belgium): "Negating the Human, Narrating a World Without Us"

Tuesday, January 25, 2022, 12:15-01:45 p.m., online lecture
Zoom-Call ID: 966 1037 6359 (opens at 12 p.m. sharp)

The Anthropocene constitutes dramatic challenges to customary literary and artistic forms of expression. One such challenge is how to narrate humanity as a geological agent that is inscribing its existence on the Earth, leaving traces that will outlive the human species. In this context, writers often use the trope of the future reader: a narrative enabling device that provides a perspective from beyond the death of our species, with the benefit of hypothetical hindsight. Such a narrator, however, also contradicts the idea of total destruction, because the imaginary future vantage point implies that “consciousness goes on” (Morton 2010: 254). Most of these Anthropocene stories thus provide a consolation in the form of an imagined future “vision or referring eye” that will be there to interpret the traces that remain (Colebrook 2014: 28). In this talk, Mahlu Mertens will do a close reading of the Flemish theatre play World Without Us by Ontroerend Goed to show how theatre as a mode can circumvent this problem, because of its boundedness to the here and now.

Mahlu Mertens is a theatre director, writer, and literary scholar. Currently she is working as a PhD candidate at Ghent University on a project that explores how climate change literature that resists the typical form of the post-apocalyptic climate dystopia may provide alternative ways of narrating anthropogenic climate change that are more apt to represent this multi-faceted and far-reaching phenomenon. Her research interests are contemporary fiction and the environmental humanities in general, and climate change fiction and eco-theatre in particular. (Homepage)


  • Morton, Timothy. "The Dark Ecology of Elegy." The Oxford Handbook of the Elegy. Ed. Karen A. Weismann. OUP, 2010, pp. 251-271.
  • Colebrook, Claire. Death of the Posthuman: Essays on Extinction. Vol 1. Open Humanity Press, 2014.

Reviews of Ontroerend Goed's World Without Us in The Guardian and exeunt Magazine (2016)