28th February 2014
Global Catastrophe and Applied Fiction
Asteroid impact, pandemic, earthquake, resource depletion, nuclear war, global warming, toxic waste, bioterrorism: the list of potential global catastrophic threats is long and the scale of such menaces immense. Practical engagement with anticipated global threats is hampered, not only by the pressing demands of problems much closer-to-hand, but by the withering task of facing such a monstrous challenge. There are, however, many projects engaged in dealing with the (almost) inconceivable: from asteroid tracking facilities, geo-engineering proposals, space colonization projects and repositories for genetic information and long-term nuclear waste sequestration. If there is an element of the fantastic in such projects, is this because such scenarios can only be comfortably entertained (and contained) within the condition of suspended disbelief made possible by the conventions of fiction? Or is it that the fictional itself is, counter-intuitively, the most practical means of addressing the threat of catastrophe? Does the global future depend upon applied fiction?
John Beck is Professor of Modern Literature at the University of Westminster. Much of his work is on the politics of place and he has published on various aspects of photography, art, film, urbanism, and literature concerned with landscape, environment, surveillance and militarisation. He is the author of Dirty Wars: Landscape, Power, and Waste in Western American Literature (Nebraska, 2009); Writing the Radical Center: William Carlos Williams, John Dewey, and American Cultural Politics (SUNY, 2001), and co-editor of American Visual Cultures (Continuum, 2005).