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Speculative Fiction and Futurism in the Middle East and North Africa

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Organizer: Hoda El Shakry

Co-Organizer: Oded Nir

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In a 2015 multimedia manifesto titled “Towards Arabfuturism/s” the Jordanian artist Sulaïman Majali writes that “Arabfuturism/s, like most creative provocations, is born of counter-culture” in which “notions of belonging are constantly challenged by the strangers, the marginalised, the outsiders: workers, rebels, immigrants, artists who see from the margins– looking in – that there is no homogenous culture or identity.” For Majali, like many contemporary artists interrogating the possibilities and limits of futurity amidst ecological, territorial, existential, and ideological states of crisis, -futurism “signifies a defiant cultural break, a projection forward into what is, beyond ongoing eurocentric, hegemonic narratives” that is part of “a growing counterculture of thought and action that through time will be found and used in the construction of alternative states of becoming” (Majali, 2015).

Arabfuturism, Gulf Futurism, and Muslim Futurism—like their sister projects of Afrofuturism, Sinofuturism, and Indigenous Futurism—speak to how speculative cultures turn to sites of historical or present rupture to envision alternate, possible, or impossible worlds. These projects can be understood as a critical mode of reading assemblages of gender, race, class, bio-politics, colonialism, capitalism, and environmental collapse that theorize other ways of being and knowing.

This panel explores the diverse range of speculative cultures across literature, film, art, and philosophy in the Middle East and North Africa alongside those in their diasporic communities. We invite proposals that explore literary topoi, themes, and imageries of apocalypse, eschatology, science fiction, (non)futurity, or fantasy in MENA cultures. This panel is not limited to modern writings and welcomes papers that expand the periodization and taxonomical stability of these genres from contemporary perspectives. Select presenters will be invited to submit papers for an upcoming special issue of the journal Postmodern Culture.

Suggested topics include:

- How do MENA futurisms imagine “being subjects and not objects of history” (Majali)?
- How do MENA futurisms build upon and dialogue with Afrofuturism and Indigenous Futurism?
- What unique cultural histories or spatio-temporal logics are displaced, invoked, or projected through MENA speculative cultures?
- How do MENA futurisms upend (neo)colonial narratives about the importance of scientific and techno-modernity to the capacity to imagine futures?
- How do MENA futurisms challenge the secular investments of Euro-American speculative imaginaries?
- How do certain genre labels, such as science fiction, flatten cosmological and spiritual lifeworlds to be legible within world literary systems?
- “Pre-modern” forms of speculation from the MENA region
- Eschatology and theological futurism (prophecy, mysticism, cosmogony)
- MENA horror, abjection, and the gothic
- MENA fantasy and science fiction

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