It was Aliens: The Plurality of Worlds and Extraterrestrials in Eighteenth-Century Narrative (ASECS 2022, Baltimore)
American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (ASECS 2022)
This panel will explore the rich, albeit problematic tradition of the plurality of worlds and intelligent life narratives, from Voltaire’s satirical conte Micromégas (1752) to Marie-Anne Robert de Roumier’s Voyages de Milord Céton dans les sept planètes (1765-66). As Michael J. Crowe and Frédérique Aït-Touati have noted, early-modern plurality of worlds narratives generally served two purposes. On one hand, they were used to explain difficult scientific theories for a curious and often skeptical Republic of Letters. On the other hand, they were a subversive tool to criticize political, religious, and philosophical institutions. This dichotomy of institutionalizing scientific theories while subverting the traditional order is singularly expressed through the ultimate other within the plurality of worlds narrative: extraterrestrial, often humanoid creatures who frequently present the skeptical or opposing viewpoint. During the long Enlightenment in particular, extraterrestrials are depicted as either superior in their wisdom and intellect or the running punchline in a satirical joke. At the same time, writers and philosophers ran the risk of becoming “lunatics” in the eyes of the public for endorsing ‘fantasy’ and blasphemy with respect to serious science and scientific narrative, thus giving plurality of worlds a certain notoriety within the Republic of Letters and religious institutions. We welcome papers examining the dichotomous nature of extraterrestrial life during the Enlightenment as well as those which trace the evolution of the plurality of worlds narrative throughout the period.
Please send abstracts of no more than 250 words to Ari Margolin at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. In order to respect the deadlines imposed by the ASECS Committee, all abstracts must be received by Please address all questions about the panel to Ari Margolin.