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"This is You Beyond You": Representing the Present through Speculative Futures

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Organizer: Adena Rivera-Dundas

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"This is you beyond you. After and with the consequences of fracking past peak oil. After and with the defunding of the humanities. ... After the end of the world. After the ways we have been knowing the world" -- Pauline Gumbs, M Archive

“Tell me,” he says, “have you ever heard of something called a moon?” -- NK Jemisin, The Fifth Season

In her Broken Earth trilogy, NK Jemisin adorns her far-flung future with nearly unrecognizable traces of our present. On musing at the absence of something called "the moon," for example, Jemisin's characters ponder how our time could have conceived of space travel as a potential site of resource extraction. Similarly, in Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis series, humans resettle the planet thousands of years from now, on an Earth that has endured and recovered from a nuclear apocalypse. The characters in these texts are, in the words of Alexis Pauline Gumbs, "the far-into-the-future witnesses to the realities we are making possible or impossible with our present apocalypse." In these texts, the contemporary moment and our near-future appear as an abandoned, forgotten past, discovered through archival material, ruined buildings, found artifacts, and oral traditions. At the same time, scholars and writers are using speculative fiction to re-conceptualize the past. Saidiya Hartman's recent work Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments employs her concept of "critical fabulation" to imagine the lives of women whose stories are barely found in the archives of the 1920s. Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad similarly re-examines the antebellum South to literalize the underground railroad.

This seminar invites papers interested in speculative fiction and time. How does speculative fiction give us new ways to imagine and understand our past, present, and near future through stories of an Earth hundreds of years off? How do these speculative texts incorporate imagined archives and histories to make sense of our present? How do narratives of our near-present reveal oppressive structures and how do the imagined futures or pasts ameliorate or worsen them? Why was Octavia Butler so prescient and what does it mean to recognize the once-speculative, post-apocalyptic future as our currently-unfolding present?

Possible topics may include (but are not limited to):

Afrofuturism, Afropessimism, and contemporary speculative fiction
Environmental narratives and geological timescales
Depictions of structures of oppression across/within/outside of time
Examples of speculative futures that have come to pass
Incorporations of archives and archival material in speculative fiction
Posthuman and transhuman critiques of speculative fiction
Critical fabulation and the relationship between speculative fiction and archival research
Indigenous futurity and narratives of history

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