COLLEGE LITERATURE

a journal of critical literary studies

Call for Proposals - Special Issue

Toward a New Futurism: On the Futurist Turn
Edited by Will Bridges, University of Rochester

"The time is drawing nearer," H. G. Wells proposed in his 1902 The Discovery of the Future, "when it will be possible to suggest a systematic exploration of the future." The trajectory of contemporary scholarship suggests that the time has come for such "systematic" literary studies of futurity—not standalone explorations by an eco-critical scholar here or a groundbreaking work by Fredric Jameson there, but a broader, field-wide conversation on the futuristic possibilities and dependencies of any work of literature as well as the literary fluency required to imagine possible futures.

This issue calls for essays interested in working toward a New Futurism. New Futurism will be a branch of literary studies that invites exploration of the place of futurity in the reading and writing of literature and the place of the literary in the reading and writing of possible futures. New Futurism might be described as the flip side of New Historicism's temporal coin. Just as New Historicism encourages open-ended explorations of how the literary and cultural phenomena we read in the present are both shaped by and shape the past, New Futurism encourages generative exploration of how literary and cultural phenomena are shaped by and shape notions of futurity. New Futurism, in a word, aspires to make the questioning of futurity and possible futures commonplace in literary studies. The mission-statement desires of literary studies—critical and creative thinking, imaginative empathy, hermeneutic honesty, and so on—are just as dependent on futuristic inquiry as they are on its historical counterpart. If a literary study can be, to its grave detriment, "ahistorical," perhaps it is also possible for it to be detrimentally, gravely, "afuturistic." New Futurism, then, simply extends the diachronic reach of historicist studies through the present and into the future.

Amir Eshel's 2012 Futurity, the future-oriented entries in Joel Burges and Amy Elias's 2016 call for time studies, and Michaela Brownstein's 2019 "Taking the Future into Account" all gesture toward the possibilities of futuristic literary studies. These prototypes of futuristic literary studies, however, might already be too late. For the sciences, Wells's foresight of systematic futures studies came to fruition in the post-World War II period. The belatedness of literary New Futurism, then, raises a critical question: should literary studies cede the study of futurity to corporations and think tanks, or does literary studies have something to teach us about what it means to posit possible futures? Perhaps, as Mikhail Epstein writes, "literary … theories … project new futuristic forms of [thinking], living, [or] writing … in the way that the sciences project and instigate the emergence of new technologies."

In 2009, Sharon Marcus and Stephen Best's introduction to surface reading proposed that "eight years of the Bush regime … inspired us to imagine that … there might be better ways of thinking and being simply there for the taking, in both the past and the present." In 2019, we might ask this: what kind of imaginaries have the Trump years inspired? With its rhetorical roots in visions of a retro-futuristic return to American greatness, Trumpism turns the imagination toward the future: the story of 2016 engenders visions of 2018, and, when 2018 finally arrives, the imagination turns immediately to 2020. In literary studies, there are any number of examples of the presence and acceleration of a futurist turn: eco-critics write in anticipation of futures both with and without a robust Paris Agreement; first responders to the crisis in the humanities imagine the extirpation of literary studies as a public good in the near future; investigations of political collusion inevitably inform the contemporary reassessment of Paul Ricoeur's hermeneutics, in which critics ask how best to balance Ricoeur's hermeneutics of suspicion with his desire for us to read possible futures in front of the text, and so on.

This issue argues that making sense of the futurist turn calls for a New Futurism. In other words, rather than having this futurist turn turn insular—with eco-critics in one corner, for example, and responders to the crisis in the humanities in another—New Futurism assumes that the study of futurity requires transdisciplinary effort. Literary scholars should work in concert with thinkers from like-minded disciplines toward a common methodological and theoretical language for the study of the relationship between futurity and literature.

This issue calls for explorations and clear theoretical articulations of the processes of a hermeneutics of futurity. The emphasis here is on both "hermeneutics" and "futurity." Futurity/futurism as it is understood here follows Amir Eshel's Futurity: Contemporary Literature and the Quest for the Past, in which futurity "marks the potential of literature to widen the language and to expand the pool of idioms we employ in making sense of what has occurred while imagining whom we may become," or what may come. The emphasis on hermeneutics encourages contributors to consider not just how literature represents futures, but how it co-creates them with readers. In other words, it encourages consideration of how literary studies might be singularly equipped to answer some of the perennially perplexing questions of futures studies: how, for example, can we interpret the possibility, probability, and preferability of futures which do not yet exist? Or what is the epistemological proof and voucher of the legibility of futures in our readings of the past and the present? In what way is the act of reading literature itself dependent upon an understanding of futurity? And how, for that matter, do interpretations of literature themselves shape possible futures?

This call for papers anticipates that contributors will engage with some combination of questions that fall under three broad themes:

  1. The Future in the Work of Literature (or, how the writing and reading of literature is composed of and informed by futurity)
    • Analysis of future-dependent literary themes/tropes (rapture, pregnancy, promise, apocalypse, terminal illness, revolution, terrorism, seeds, and so on).
    • The futurist underpinnings of contemporary literary theories (horizon of expectation, l'avenir, Marxist "poetry out of the future")
    • Representations of the future
    • Futuristic literary techniques (foreshadowing, sideshadowing, prolepsis, peripeteia)
    • Future-dependent literary genres (murder mystery, utopia/dystopia)
    • Hermeneutics of futurity
  2. The Future and the Work of Literature (or, how reading and writing literature works on and with notions of futurity)
    • Ways of knowing and feeling the future better articulated by literary rather than scientific analysis (hope, intuition)
    • Writing for future readers
    • Interpretations of/interpreting the future
    • Metaphors/narratives of the future (political, religious, economic, cultural)
    • Genre studies and futurity
    • Comparative/cross-cultural conceptualizations of time
  3. The Future of the Work of Literature (or, what has become, becomes, or will become of reading and writing literature)
    • Machine learning/reading, automation, and the future of literature/literary studies
    • Case studies in futurisms (e.g., Afrofuturism)
    • Possible futures for literature
    • The end/ends of literature
    • Literature and extinction

Please submit a CV and 500 word abstract for essays between 8000-10,000 words to Will Bridges at wbridges@rochester.edu by June 1, 2019. When submitting, also copy College Literature (collit@wcupa.edu). Article drafts will be due by January 2020, and they will be sent out for anonymous peer review. The special issue is scheduled to be published in 2021.