Theory Fiction

Theory Fiction

Kodwo Eshun
Start: October 9, 2017, 10am

Reading Octavia E. Butler’s Xenogenesis Triology for diagramming the abstract machine

At its best, science fiction and speculative fiction operates as an act of speculation as rigorous as any philosophical hypothesis and as experimental as any scientific enquiry. The most powerful science fiction can work by creating fictional characters and fictional narratives capable of investigating, analysing and enacting the novum of futurity. The fictions of Octavia E. Butler, arguably the most important science fiction novelist of the 20th Century, exemplifies the thought of science fiction at its most conflictual and disputatious. Butler’s novels and short stories grapple with antimonies that are equally valid and antagonistically true even as they remain incompatible, intractable and irresolveable.

Butler’s trilogy, Dawn, 1987 Adulthood Rites, 1988, and Imago, 1989, initially titled The Xenogenesis Trilogy, later renamed Lilith’s Brood, develops the dialectically opposed perspectives of extinction, survival, evolution and reproductive futurism by way of a sustained exploration of the future of humanity after the end of Man. Butler’s aliens and the few survivors remaining after the ‘humanicide’ of nuclear war confront each other at levels of compromise, collusion and complicity that neither resolves its planetary dilemmas nor restores the global status quo.

The Theory-Fiction Seminar 2017-2018 begins with the collective close reading of Dawn, Adulthood Rites and Imago. The Seminar then moves into the collective construction of a vocabulary of a future notation. This notation will diagram the antinomies that play out between aliens, humans, extinction and evolution within and across each book in the Xenogenesis Trilogy. These diagrams will experiment in the mobilization of the abstract machine that is operative throughout the textual systems and the fictional landscapes of Octavia E. Butler.