The “Origins” of the CoFutures project

The “Origins” of the CoFutures project

CoFutures originates in the different strands of engagement with future fictions and science fiction that have emerged in the last couple of decades. These new future fictions are a response to the predominantly Anglophone, predominantly ethnic white, imaginaries of the future that have been common in future oriented fictions and science fiction. This limitation in the availability of possible futures can be seen in the works that are available internationally, in the more prominently highlighted non-fiction narratives about the future (including scenario, policy, and strategy documents), the theorizations of the future, and theories and criticism of future fictions more broadly. If postcolonial studies eroded the general sense of certainty about the qualities of canonical Euro-American literature, then it failed to go past its implicit valorizations of alternate canons based on the works produced in these formerly colonized locations. Genres such as science fiction, or fantasy, broadly, had to fight out their own battle on a pop cultural battlefield, on separate terms from the postcolonial battlefield. The postcolonial struggle was the academe reasserting its rights to determine what was to be studied and what qualified as high literature; the pop-cultural struggle was about the everyday, the fandoms, the communities: it was about the people who had grown up reading other people’s visions of the future over and again and wanted to see themselves in the futures they read.

 

One such battle was the Racefail ’091 which among other things highlighted the poor representation of POC voices in fandom communities, including producers, consumers, and critics. For me, sitting in India far from these debates, trying to write up a PhD proposal on studying Bangla science fiction or kalpavigyan written in the colonial period, postcolonial theory was one of the key entry points in the discussion, as it is for most Indians studying EngLit. While I had been planning my PhD project since 2006 on the same subject, it was really John Rieder’s already classic study Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction2 that gave me the perspective I was looking for. Rieder’s fantastic work did not include the colonized parts of the world, certainly not India, but it did make me wonder why that was so, given that the Indian history of future histories begins in the colonial period as well, and for much of the same reasons as highlighted by Rieder, only sometimes in the reverse. I learnt about Racefail in 2010, after I moved to Norway for my PhD, but I spent the next few years buried in archives and lit-crit. But fandom environments, including in Norway. were rapidly transforming in those years. By 2013-14, there were full blown crises, with Gamergate3 and Puppygate4 in the gaming industry and the SFF fandom communities respectively. What I call my first CoFutures essay (“Recentering Science Fiction And The Fantastic: What Would a Non-Anglocentric Understanding of Science Fiction and Fantasy Look Like?”, published in Strange Horizons in September 2013)5 came at the end of my PhD, just when these crises were completely taking over fandom discussions.

 

With the crises we have clarity, new assertions, and strength. Cixin Liu’s Hugo for The Three Body Problem in 2015, and N. K. Jemisin’s consecutive victories are the most easily visible signs of this strength. The process of naming that marks the edges of a new aesthetic formation has also already begun. New histories and new excavations of the past show the global origins of future fictions, while new strategies are being carved for the future from the crises of the present. This trend began with Afrofuturism to a large extent, but the work of a whole generation of scholars has highlighted the scope of the phenomena from one corner of the globe to the other, but especially in the context of the global South from South America to South East Asia. Creators have brought forth new strategies and coined new terms to represent different experiences of the future, such as in the Middle East with Fatima Al Qadiri and Sophia Al-Maria’s chrome-pastiche Gulf-futurism,6 or the possibilities for the future offered in Grace Dillon’s Indigenous futurism.7 There are other labels floating about in the recent years. Some of these are geographically inflected while others thematically oriented, such as Lawrence Lek’s Sinofuturism8 and Yudhanjaya Wijeratne’s Ricepunk.9 These changes also highlighted the strong Anglocentric (and to a certain extent Francocentric) biases of the producers and consumers when it came to recognizing future fictions in other languages and other geographical regions, for instance even within Europe, such as Eastern and Northern Europe. Rachel S. Cordasco’s brilliant project Speculative Fiction in Translation has done much to raise general awareness of these fictions from everywhere around the world, in many different languages.10

 

Not all developments have been positive, and I plan to discuss some of these in more detail at a later time.

 

CoFutures is the result of all these discussions. It is as much about the personal journey as an Indian working on things far away from home and about the different experiences that have shaped my own work, as it is about global fandom and academic debates on gender, ethnicity, Anglocentrism, translation, and other related topics. In the next few years, the project hopes to bring in numerous academics and creators, from writers to artists to games designers, to discuss better ways for envisioning the future. CoFutures is not a solo project. It is a community project: community is where it comes from, to which it contributes, to which it seeks to give back. This was the reason I wore my shiny Star Trek TNG combadge even to the ERC interview in Brussels, taking the risk that they wouldn’t fund me because of my refusal to dress “properly” for the interview. But perhaps they saw it for what it is: that CoFutures is about the community, the fandom, many possible futures, and more than anything else, hope. LLAP! 🖖


http://annsomerville.net/a-themed-summary-of-racefail-09-in-large-friendly-letters-for-those-who-think-race-discussions-are-hard/
2 Rieder, John. Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction. Wesleyan UP, 2008.
https://www.vox.com/2014/9/6/6111065/gamergate-explained-everybody-fighting
https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/04/the-culture-wars-come-to-sci-fi/390012/
http://strangehorizons.com/non-fiction/articles/recentering-science-fiction-and-the-fantastic-what-would-a-non-anglocentric-understanding-of-science-fiction-and-fantasy-look-like/
https://www.dazeddigital.com/music/article/15037/1/al-qadiri-al-maria-on-gulf-futurism
7 Dillon, Grace. Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction.  Arizona UP, 2012
https://vimeo.com/179509486
http://yudhanjaya.com/2019/05/the-ricepunk-manifesto/
10 https://www.sfintranslation.com/
Global Future Fictions and the CoFutures Project

Global Future Fictions and the CoFutures Project

I’m giving a talk at the University of Bergen on 24th October, which is the first post-ERC talk on the CoFutures idea. I have presented on the general theme of CoFutures several times before already, including in January at the Center for Advanced Study Oslo, and in Paris in February this year (CoFutures Comment #3). The difference here is that I am focusing on a part of the project I haven’t presented on before (WP2 Subproject 5).

“In this talk, Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay will present his ERC Starting Grant project “CoFutures: Pathways to Possible Presents” and its core ideas related to global future fictions, and how these fictions offer us ways of speculating, imagining, and in some cases even anticipating multiple possible futures by opening up the multiplicity of presents. He presents some of the broader discussions within the field of global future fictions and how these are distributed in the different parts of the CoFutures project, and how some of the fundamental steps of the CoFutures project invoke and combine ideas from different digital storytelling technologies and speculative design practices.”

More details here at the UiB website

Johannes H Berg Memorial Prize lecture (21 September 2019)

Johannes H Berg Memorial Prize lecture (21 September 2019)

I am thankful to the board of the Johannes H. Berg Foundation Memorial Fund for this award, and to the Norwegian SF fandom communities for having been a home for me for several years now. This award comes at a particularly happy yet difficult time for me, personally, and for the kind of work that is represented by Johannes H. Berg as I understand it. On the one hand, there has perhaps not been a better time for science fiction and fantasy as genres, which have gone mainstream, no longer the domain of the nerdy few but of fans from across ages and times. On the other the divisions between what communities seek have never been more stark, with fans split into many different fandoms of their own, and what is worse, divisions on an international scale on gendered, ethnic, and other kinds of lines personal and political. Just this last month, years after Gamergate, Racefail, and Puppygate, yet another one of these situations has erupted, which is being called the Gaming Industry’s #MeToo moment, with numerous accusations, multiple concrete proofs of abuse, general acrimony, and which has even led to a suicide. 

As perhaps the first Alien to receive this prize, I must acknowledge that I have always seen my work on SF as a double-outsider inside the field. Working on the one hand on Indian SF at a time when there were hardly any people working on Indian SF, and working in Norway, which does not have an active academic SF community and which is outside the Anglo-American world, I have represented this double-outsider position consistently to the international communities of SF wherever I have been, trying to answer the questions “Why Norway?” and “Why Indian SF” one after the other to many. This double outsider-ness allowed me to navigate multiple domains of belonging and non-belonging in all the places in the world my work has taken me.

Luckily, this double-outsider status has never made me an outsider here at home in the Norwegian SF community, whether it is among the Aniara community, or among other friends and family who are part of that community. Indeed, this double-outsider status has been critical to my work here in Oslo and the University of Oslo, where I have always felt welcome and been able to work with peace and joy, even though I insist on walking the hallways of the University and the streets of Oslo wearing a Star Trek Next Gen combadge as a symbol of both fandom and of perpetual hope. It is being the double-outsider everywhere else but belonging to the SF fandom and community here that makes me care about the future of SF here in Norway, which leads me to work obsessively on everything from organizational revivals to fandom digitization projects, and deal with materials in a language that I can read yet speak but haltingly. 

And to a certain extent, perhaps that should be the true spirit of fandom, a perpetual belonging wherever one travels in space or time, a choice of home, rather than a place one is born to and in. And the spirit of this prize, a fandom contribution prize in the memory of a tireless community organizer of fandom here in Norway, Johannes H. Berg, is one of ever expansive belonging. In that expansive belonging, the alien and foreign may also find a place to belong, a fandom they can call home. So once again, thanks to SF fandom and the SF community. For many homes, shared futures, cofutures, skål!

The Johannes H. Berg Minnepris 2018 prize plaque
Science Fictionality and Speculative Futures / Workshop

Science Fictionality and Speculative Futures / Workshop

Title: Science Fictionality and Speculative Futures / CoF Workshop

Instructor Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay

Location MMAG Art Foundation / Amman

Date 19-26 August 2019.

Objective The objective of the workshop is to discuss ways of working with the speculative imaginary and speculative futures with artist residents. A secondary objective is to introduce some thematic concerns related to The Kalpana collective’s ongoing project Speculation: Desert / Maps and Prototypes of Science Fictional Presences and discuss the desert imaginary in speculative fiction.

Structure The workshop unfolds as five half day (3 hours each; total 15 hours) thematically structured sessions. On the final day (3 hours) participants will be developing extended new speculations. On all days, participants will also be invited to play specially selected boardgames in the evenings that will push them to think with speculative futures.

The sessions are arranged as follows:

Day 0 / Introduction / General introduction to the course, participant backgrounds, and workshop expectations.

Day 1 / Speculating / The first introduces the theme of speculation, and what role speculation can play in imagining alternative and more egalitarian futures. Through a series of readings and viewings of classic and contemporary speculative texts, our goal will be to explore, identify and find reasons for why we might wish to think with a genre such as speculative/science fiction for our creative practices.

Day 2 / Prototyping / The second shows different contemporary strategies of prototyping futures, and building a toolkit to work with the speculative for arts and research.

Day 3 / Imagining / The third takes us through several works and manifestos that can serve as cues for our creative practices.

Day 4 / Building / To make is to know, so the fourth session will be used to develop and critique several starting speculative scripts, or incorporate speculative themes in existing projects.

***

Workshop participants are expected to have gone through the assigned materials before the workshop starts. During the workshop, participants are invited to comment on one or more of these materials, discuss the themes, what worked for them and what did not, and how these ideas connect to other things they have read or worked with.

Syllabus

Day 1 / Speculating; or why to do what is to be done

Margaret Atwood. 2009. “Time Capsule Found on the Dead Planet.” The Guardian. 26 September 2009. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/sep/26/margaret-atwood-mini-science-fiction

Ursula LeGuin. 1973 (1991). “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas (Variations on a theme by William James).” Utopian Studies 2 (1/2):1-5. https://www.jstor.org/stable/20719019

N. K. Jemisin. 2018. “The Ones Who Stay and Fight.” How Long Till Black Future Month? Orbit.

J. G. Ballard. 1962. “Which Way to Inner Space?” New Worlds Science Fiction 118 (5/1962): 2-3 & 116-118.

Vandana Singh. 2008. “A Speculative Manifesto.” The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet and Other Stories. Zubaan Books.

Stanislaw Lem. 1981. “Metafantasia: The Possibilities of Science Fiction (Metafantasia: Les possibilités de la science-fiction)”. Translated by Etelka de Laczay and Istvan Csicsery-Ronay. Science Fiction Studies 8(1): 54-71. https://www.jstor.org/stable/4239383

Historical Turns // Ken Liu. 2011 (2016). “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary.” The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. Head of Zeus. https://kenliu.name/binary/liu_the_man_who_ended_history.pdf

Historical Turns // Larissa Sansour and Søren Lind. 2015. In the Future They Ate From the Finest Porcelain. Film.

Historical Turns // Vandana Singh. 2015 (2018). “Ambiguity Machines: An Examination.” Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories. Small Beer Press.

Day 2 / Prototyping; or how to think up what to do

Bruce Sterling. 2009. “Design Fiction.” Interactions May-June 2009: 21-24. http://interactions.acm.org/archive/view/may-june-2009/cover-storydesign-fiction1

Brian David Johnson. 2011. Science Fiction Prototyping. Morgan & Claypool Publishers. Extract.

Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby. 2013. Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming. The MIT Press. Extract.

Stuart Candy & Kelly Kornet. 2017. “A Field Guide to Ethnographic Experiential Futures.” https://www.researchgate.net/publication/317837102_A_Field_Guide_to_Ethnographic_Experiential_Futures

Stuart Candy & Kelly Kornet. 2019. “Turning Foresight Inside Out: An Introduction to Ethnographic Experiential Futures” Journal of Futures Studies 23(3): 3–22. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/331857932_Turning_Foresight_Inside_Out_An_Introduction_to_Ethnographic_Experiential_Futures

Rebecca Onion. 2008. “Reclaiming the Machine: An Introductory Look at Steampunk in Everyday Practice.” Neo-Victorian Studies 1(1): 138-163. http://www.rebeccaonion.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/OnionSteampunk.pdf

Desert Discussions // Anonymous. 2011. Desert. Armin Press. Extract. http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/anonymous-desert

Desert Discussions // Corey S. Pressman. 2018. “Divided Light.” The Weight of Light: A Collection of Solar Futures. Edited by Joey Eschrich and Clark A. Miller. 141-155. https://csi.asu.edu/books/weight/

Desert Discussions // Paolo Soleri. 1969 (2006). Arcology: The City in the Image of Man. Cosanti Press. Extract. https://www.organism.earth/library/document/76

Day 3 / Imagining; or how to do what is to be done

Samuel Delany. 1978 (2009). “About 5750 Words.” The Jewel Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction. Wesleyan University Press. 1-15.

Geoff Ryman. 2004 (2006). “The Mundane Manifesto.” New York Review of Science Fiction 226 (June 2006): 4–5. https://sfgenics.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/geoff-ryman-et-al-the-mundane-manifesto/

Martine Syms. 2013. “The Mundane Afrofuturist Manifesto.” Rhizome 17 December 2013. https://rhizome.org/editorial/2013/dec/17/mundane-afrofuturist-manifesto/

Ursula LeGuin. 1977 (1982). “Do-it-yourself Cosmology.” The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction. Berkeley Books. 118-122.

Futures and Futuring // John Akomfrah. 1996. The Last Angel of History. Film.

Futures and Futuring // Wanuri Kahiu. 2009. Pumzi. Film.

Futures and Futuring // Biju Vishwanath. 2014. Shadow Tree. Film. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1WOWbgi-wU

Futures and Futuring // Jason Wishnow. 2014. The Sandstorm. Film. https://vimeo.com/104436803

Day 4 / Building; or verum ipsum factum

Participants will be introduced to the primary elements of story and plot development, and then encouraged to produce a new work of flash fiction.

Theme: Overlay by Kaira Extra Text
Cape Town, South Africa