The Temporality of Speculation

Monday, January 20th, 2014 by angelarovak

What strikes me most about our introduction to Media Archaeology is the materiality, the physical and tangible existence of objects that become the basis of such studies. I cannot say I am surprised, the methodology of archaeology focuses on the investigation of material history preserved over time, but this perspective feels contradictory to my usual mode of thought. Through the study of science fiction I dwell on the intangible and the speculative. For me the most pertinent section of reading this week, then, was Parikka’s third chapter “Imaginary Media: Mapping Weird Objects.” If part of Parrika’s efforts is to establish a non-linear understanding of technological history then I find we equally need to be critical of our present position in time.

We find ourselves placed in a particular moment, past behind and future ahead, but due to human perception of the linear progression of time some media move from imaginary to actualized. Parikka concedes to this possibility that “what was once imaginary might have become part of reality later” (44) and that with “hindsight, imagination does not always seem that imaginary or impossible” (45). While science fiction is referenced occasionally in this chapter, it appears to me that speculative fiction can be a great source for imagining alternative constructions of the often linearly defined technological history. If “media-archaeological work puts the spectator/user/viewer into a new relation with the imaginary, and hence forces us to engage creatively with the presence of media – new and old, imagined and real” (Parikka 43), then the fiction and speculation of science fiction can help imagine new possibilities, conceptualize social constructions and reactions to imagined media, and provide insight into which technological avenues to explore in our exponentially modernizing society.

Parikka modifies Zizek’s thought experiment to remove elements of horror from horror films to reveal social relations to apply to imaginary media: “remove the imaginary, remove the supposedly fantastic or otherworldly, and see what is revealed” (58), a methodology routinely applied to science fiction studies. Looking beneath the confines of “real,” “actual,” or even “thinkable,” fluid constraints that appear to be particular to the historical moment we are caught in, science fiction and imagined media represents contemporary human concerns and ambitions.  We are able to read more into the social, cultural, and economic meditations expressed through the speculative imagination engaged to create such fantastical objects. In doing so we can see the divergent paths available to humanities future. What is listed as imaginary or fictional today may be the reality of tomorrow. 

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4 comments on “The Temporality of Speculation

  1. willminor2 says:

    First off, I promise I did not consciously crib your blog post for my own.

    On Zizek: I think his statement (viz. if we take away the fantastic, what is left?) is problematic when applied to horror or sci-fi. While I agree with your point that through this operation we can see the ‘present’ of sci-fi clearly revealed, doesn’t this removal take away the very medium that shapes the message? SF is of course about the present, but it’s also an exaggeration (or idealization) of the present. If we eliminate the exaggeration, as Zizek would have us do, are we left with the same themes? In the case of horror, if we eliminate the supernatural, we eliminate the very instigator of those social relations Zizek wants to analyze.

    • angelarovak says:

      My agreement with your comment, Will, is conditional. What I think largely gets left out of direct theoretical, academic, and analytical readings of fantastical work is, well, almost everything that makes the genres engaging. There is value to these elements, to time-travel, aliens, and hovercraft, through a different perspective. I am a big advocate of acknowledging the pleasures of such genres, the pure entertainment as a measure of value and the whimsy they instill in readers, but that may be beyond the questions raised in this instance. If we are looking mainly at communication, and specifically at rendering imagination to be comprehensible to other people, then I believe a stripping down of the fantastic elements to more recognizable pieces is an adequate thought experiment. While it clearly cannot be the only approach, I do think it provides a base upon which to build a cultural critique through scifi and even horror (although I plead ignorance on the topic of horror in general).

  2. willminor2 says:

    Adequate thought experiment indeed, especially when confronted with someone who is dismissive of the genre. I guess that – along with my skepticism of Zizek as a not-crazy person – I not only think the fantastic serves an entertainment purpose, but also as a quasi-allegory for the human element in the story. William James noted that religious cults were interesting because they were like a superpowerful microscope shone on neural traits that all humanity possesses, albeit in a more restrained fashion. The fantastic is a similar microscope through which we can view present technological concerns in an exaggerated light that may reveal what the naked eye (non-speculative fiction) cannot. Anyway, I feel like I’m nitpicking here. I thought your blogpost was quite interesting, and a worthwhile take on Parikka’s argument.

    • angelarovak says:

      Nitpicking often leads to interesting discussion! So my (hopefully) final, equally nitpicky comments are: what do we emphasize in an extended metaphor? The item alluded to which is ultimately the subject or the imagery rendering it? And, finally, that a microscopic look on an exaggerated representation of human behavior or thought is ultimately leading to the same conclusion as Zizek’s thought experiment: seeing the common feature applicable to humanity at large beneath it. Ultimately I think these two notions are geared more toward the concrete items undulating underneath the surface than to the poetics of fancy which conceals them. Thanks for the comments – it is always productive, in my opinion, to consider the fine balance between the real and fiction and how often it is indistinguishable.

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