Alison Sperling is currently an International Postdoctoral Initiative Fellow (IPODI Fellow) at the Technische Universität Berlin in the Zentrum für Interdisziplinäre Frauen und Geschlechterforschung (Center for Interdisciplinary Women’s and Gender Studies).

She works on weird and science fictions, speculation, feminist and queer theory, contemporary art, and the Anthropocene.

Towards Weird Theory
Affiliated Project 2020-21

Weirdness, or ‘The Weird’ as a literary genre is often reduced to its roots in pulp magazines like Weird Tales (1923-1954) and its most famous but troubling writer, H. P. Lovecraft. Yet at the same time, the weird, like the queer, has become famously slippery, impossible to reduce to definition or categorization. Is weirdness a mode, an aesthetic, or a genre? What is the weird encounter with that which is by definition impossible to describe or which forces a confrontation with the limits of description or representation?

This project, the foundation of Sperling’s first book manuscript Weird Modernisms, attempts to think the relation between historicizing weirdness through Lovecraft’s contempt and fear of gender, sexual, and racial difference by reading weird fiction through feminist and queer theory, disability studies, and black studies.

Locating the weird, a dreadful, temporally-obsessed, and fleshy mode that can be found not only in the supernatural tentacularity of Lovecraft, but in its pervasiveness into more ordinary places, may allow one to liberate the weird from its loathsome politics toward more emancipatory readings and possibilities. As a mode of confronting otherness, weirdness grapples with experiences and affects that cannot be reduced to the linguistic or otherwise representational modes. Herein lies an element of terror central to weirdness in a Lovecraftian mode, a confrontation with that which is never-knowable in full. Through queer and weird readings of modernist queer and women writers and writers of color, the project hopes to contribute to theories of weirdness by reckoning with the ways in which difference and otherness is formulated through the irreducible.

'Nuclear Afterlives'

ICI Project 2018-20

This research project, tentatively titled ‘Nuclear Afterlives’, examines the complex and conflicting residues of nuclear contamination, and some of nonhuman harborers of these residues. Following Sperling’s first book project on weird embodiment in modernism, this new project seeks to chart what (may be called) the weird across more contemporary  texts and landscapes. Currently this research is focused on radioactive boar, which have, according to popular journalism coverage world-wide, run rampant and free in areas that are now too toxic for human life to thrive. Through scientific and cultural studies of post-nuclear catastrophe sites like Fukushima and Chernobyl, including contemporary cultural texts about these disasters, as well as 21st century weird fiction exemplified by Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, this project seeks to examine the contours of contaminated life in the Anthropocene.

Against popular framings of resilience and adaptability, Sperling hopes to challenge the ways we think about toxic bodies and environments in an age when toxicity is not the exception but the rule. What do these (relatively) new forms of radioactive bodies (human and nonhuman, alive and not) enable us to understand about embodiment in the Anthropocene? How does the temporality of nuclear contamination reframe ecological time and potentially refuse the teleology of reproductive futurity?

Selected Publications

  • ‘In Manifold: Nuclearity, HydroFeminism, and the Video Artist Emilija Škarnulytė,’, in Sirenomelia, ed. by Andrew Berardini (Berlin: Sternberg, forthcoming 2021)
  • ‘Ecocritical Approaches to Climate Change and the Body’, in The Cambridge Companion to American Literature and the Body, ed. by Travis M. Forter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2021)
  • ‘Climate Fictions’, Paradoxa: Studies in World Literary Genres, 31 (2019-2020), pp. 1–17
  • ‘Weird Temporalities’, co-authored with Jordan Smith-Carroll, Studies in the Fantastic, 9 (Summer/Fall 2020), pp. 1–22
  • ‘Radiating Exposures’, in Weathering: Ecologies of Exposure, ed. by Christoph Holzhey and Arnd Wedemeyer, (Berlin: ICI Berlin Press, 2020), pp. 41-62
  • ‘Love in the Time of the Anthropocene: A Conversation Between Alison Sperling and Jeff VanderMeer’, in Surreal Entanglements: Essays on Jeff VanderMeer’s Fiction, ed. by Laura Shackelford and Louise Economides, (Abingdon: Routledge, 2020)
  • ‘Queer Ingestions: Weird and Vegetative Bodies in Jeff VanderMeer’s Fiction’, in Plants in Science Fiction: Speculative Vegetation, ed. by Katherine E. Bishop, David Higgins, and Jerry Määtä, (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2020)
  • ‘Anthropocene’, in Bloomsbury Handbook of 21st-Century Feminist Theory, ed. by Robin Truth Goodman (London: Bloomsbury, 2019), pp 311–324
  • ‘H.P. Lovecraft’s Weird Body’, Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge,  31 (2017)
  • ‘Second Skins: A Body Ecology of Sickness in The Southern Reach Trilogy’, Paradoxa, 28 (December 2016), pp. 231­–255
  • ‘Freak Temporality: Female Adolescence in the Novels of Carson McCullers’, Girlhood Studies, 9.1 (March 2016): special issue Disability and Girlhood: Transnational Perspectives, pp. 88–103