Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Negative Valences II: Speculation

Speculative fiction is poetic.  It is infused with technological surrealism, and it produces cognitive estrangement.  For all these reasons, and more, SF is therefore negative.  It is negatively capable, poetically speaking; it negates what came before in a hypothetical flurry of planned obsolescence; it estranges us from our everyday lives, negating them (for the better).

Dialectically (and with Adorno) the negative plays out in the particular, in the granularity of the vision being put forward by the author; this is universally true, from Gibson's postmodern cyber-shards of action in Neuromancer, Spook Country, and The Peripheral; to Drew Hayden Taylor's postcolonial SF; to Philip Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and other works.

These reflective shards of technological-poetic capability perform the negative function in literature; in some new SF, and in Adorno (and this is one reason I think he might have been ahead of his time) the granularity, and therefore the quality of the dispersal and the overall pattern produced from that dispersal, is becoming much finer.

I won't limit myself to writing here; when I watch Altered Carbon on Netflix I see specific resonances with both Blade Runner and The Matrix, both of which are unavoidable foundations in work purporting (or otherwise) to be of the cyberpunk genre.  But I also see refinement of the poetic and material sensibilities at play in the visual-textual narrative both in-depth and at-surface.

Because the surface matters, and the extent to which one can retain the surface level of the techno-surreal, at the same time as maintaining both depth and its fine-grained fracturing beyond simple mirroring, is the measure of where both the genre (cyberpunk) and the movement (SF) both need to go.  The particularity is here in the shadows, of necessity, because our future is opaque.

Futures always are, after all.  SF contains much adumbration, but it is to a large extent false consciousness, based upon a truncated (almost) bourgeois sense of the taken-for-grantedness of the world.  The best SF will introduce, perhaps, an equally truncated but crucially different proletarian ambi-tagonist into the picture.  Look at Madeline Ashby's Company Town for an excellent example.

With Adorno, the darkness of the bourgeois and the proletarian futures meet in a churning visual mashup.  Ontologies and typologies of new creatures, machines, and ideal-essential weirdnesses must spawn along cladistical-nomothetic lines of flight/escape, becoming path dependent in due course.  This is the critical move, one that zooms out to take in the ever-expanding big speculative picture.

We do this again with Adorno, introducing the relentless class analysis from within an always-already upset and moving aesthesis-prosthesis of the posthuman.  As examples proliferated the prosthetic limb of genre builds like a space-arm into bizarre shapes that over time can no longer grasp.  They are abandoned in whole-planet rubbish tips like the one we saw on Blade Runner 2049.

Not far enough ahead in the future in my opinion, as the actors wither and disappear in puffs of dust.  Far far in the future is where we need to go, like Wells' time-machine protagonist.  Only that far will break the line, will disassemble the useless space-arms SF can so quickly and tendentiously become.  Its being is a facade, like all maps, but where is the ground truth?

(The Ground Truth is 'out there', far away, with Olaf Stapledon.  SF authors/writers should always choose to shoot just this high)

This set of blog posts will explore nodes that connect Adorno, SF, and the idea of ground truth (aka The Thing Itself) into a new counter-map.

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