Derek Woods

Published On


Page Range

pp. 93–120


  • English

4. Mycoaesthetics

Weird Fungi and Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation

  • Derek Woods (author)
This chapter seeks to answer an important question: why are fungi weird? A very wide range of representations establish that this kingdom of life is associated quite strongly, especially in Anglo-American culture, with aesthetic categories like the eerie, strange, uncanny, trippy, queer, horrible, and disgusting. From the vantage of literary studies, the first line of inquiry to pursue is the ‘weird fiction’ often exemplified by the work of H. P. Lovecraft. In this genre of fantasy and horror, some interest in fungi spans both the ‘old weird’ and the new, for example in John Lloyd Urri’s novel Etidorpha; or, The End of the Earth (1895), and Jeff VanderMeer in City of Saints and Madmen (2001). Given the significant attention received by VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy (2014) (including the adaptation of the trilogy’s first novel Annihilation as a film of the same title), the center piece of my study will be VanderMeer’s recent novels, which I read in the context of 1) scientific work in mycology and 2) the “nonhuman turn” in the field of literature and science. The nonhuman turn rarely turns to fungi, so exploring the specificity of its scales and images can open some new paths for a field that, despite its critique of Aristotelian metaphysics, tends to focus its research on humans, animals, plants, and non-living matter, leaving the fungal kingdom to haunt the outer edges of our discourse.


Derek Woods