Theory Fiction

Theory Fiction

Kodwo Eshun

Start : 21 September 2020, 10 am

In Learning from the Virus, which was published in Artforum May/ June 2020, Paul B Preciado writes “Epidemics, through the declaration of a state of exception, are great laboratories of social innovation, the occasion for the large-scale reconfiguration of body procedures and technologies of power.”’ The implications of such a reconfiguration, argues Preciado, suggests that in order “to stay alive, to maintain life as a planet, in the face of the virus, but also in the face of the effects of centuries of ecological and cultural destruction, means implementing new structural forms of global cooperation.”

It is this imperative to implement “new structural forms of global cooperation”’ that informs the Theory-Fiction Seminar of 2020 to 2021. The relation between theory-fiction is not a question of the opposition between theory and fiction. Nor is it a matter of the common-sense distinction between the reason of theory and the imagination of fiction. Nor can it be formulated as the antagonism of the actuality of the object of theory that situates itself against the method of fiction as a project of the imaginary. It is more a matter of the excitation of the hyphen or the dash between theory-fiction. A question of the intensification of the copula between theory-fiction. It is located in the passage or the bridge or the movement of the hyphen that is barely perceptible when it is spoken or when it is typed.

This year’s Theory-Fiction Seminar continues its engagement with the writings of the African American science fiction novelist Octavia Estelle Butler. Last year’s Project Earthseed Seminar departed from a reading of Octavia Butler’s 1993 novel Parable of the Sower. This year’s Seminar––which we will call The Earthseed Project rather than Project Earthseed––engages with Parable of the Talents, Octavia Butler’s 1998 sequel to Parable of the Sower. The ambition of the Seminar is to approach Parable of the Talent as a method and an object for analysing the balance of forces between the start of this Seminar in September of 2020 and the end of this Seminar in June 2021. Think of the Seminar as an “interscalar vehicle” (Gabrielle Hecht) for measuring the volatile, complex, perilous, instability of what Langston Hughes called “our native fascisms”. The seminar will mobilize the novel as a fabric to think with: In the novel on 2nd November 2032, the Texan senator Andrew Steele Jarrett wins the US election. On 20 January 2033, he is inaugurated as President. The actual US election will be on 3rd November 2020. The actual inauguration will be 20 January 2021. It is not only a matter of Butler’s prescience in anatomising of “accidentally coinciding climactic, economic and sociological crises”. The aim of the Seminar is not to diagnose the prophetic dimension of Parable of The Sower. Butler’s vision of electric collar slavery and Christian American Crusades is painful and distressing and pitiless. And any person that does not wish to expose themselves to its pitiless wisdom should seriously reflect on whether the Seminar is for them. In all seriousness, Butler’s text will confront each of its readers with a thought experiment whose unsparing will to pursue its process towards its conclusion will appear excessive and exorbitant and pitiless in ways that leaves the majority of science fiction appearing to be merely fictional.

Each participant of the Seminar will keep a fictional diary that is set in the year 2032 that will be used to analyse the year 2020. The aim is to assemble a documentation of the present from the perspective of the future that exists in the form of a fiction. Each diary will act as a documentary of the actuality of reading the text of Parable of the Talent which in turn will provide the vantage point from which to analyse the actual horrors of 2021. Each candidate’s diary can be maintained online in any medium or in a notebook or in a digital file of any kind.