WP6: Lifetimes in Future Histories

WP6 Leader: Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay

Future histories are a prime fictional container of lifetimes, channeling the three time scales, the bio, the geo, and the cosmo, selectively based on historical exigencies of prognostication (Ghosh 2016). As a subset of science fiction, future history stitches together narrative temporalities of fiction with the possible future temporalities unfolded by means of scientific data and associated thought style (cf. Jameson 2005; Freedman 2000; Csicsery-Ronay Jr., 2008). In Lifetimes, we will explore the branchings of three aspects of future history as they are related to the three time scales. The WP will be structured in two intersecting parts.

1) The first part of WP6 will investigate the genre that is now being termed “cli-fi” (short for climate fiction) but which has had a fertile future historical presence since the 19th century, surviving through conceptual iterations such as disaster fiction, eco-fiction (Dwyer 2010), and recently, “anthropocene fictions” (Trexler 2015). Cli-fi is a prominent genre especially in recent fiction by women (for instance Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, 2003, 2009, 2013). The project will investigate how climate change as a discourse with its inherent futuristic bent constructs the link between human/bio futures and planetary/geo futures, and how these are given shape in cultural representations of possible futures.

2) The second part of this WP will follow two lines of enquiry. The first is how human bodies/body parts and their lifetimes are subsumed in different kinds of extrapolations in the rhythms of social lifetimes such as the nation state or biological management, from early narratives that play with eugenics and social Darwinist themes (for instance Ignatius Donnelly’s Caesar’s Column, 1890, and Gabriel Tarde’s The Underground Man, 1896) to more contemporary works by women authors (such as Manjula Padmanabhan’s Harvest, 1997 and Rimi B. Chatterjee’s Signal Red, 2005). The second line of enquiry is how the human non-human/alien contact and interaction reframes different kinds of time-scales but also itself moves within time, from being a metaphor for European colonial contact with other cultures in the past (cf. Rieder 2008) to the other of technology (represented most directly in androids and robots, but also in the lifetimes of technology itself; cf. Stiegler 1998; Warrick 1980; Haney 2006) and the more sophisticated understandings of cohabitation with other lifeforms in the present day (Vint 2010; Haraway 2015; Bastian 2017). All three aspects in this WP are linked to the three temporalities: the first emphasizes the geological, the second the biological, and the third, through the Janus figure of the alien, the interlink between the biological and the cosmological.