ENGL758D - Literary Criticism and Theory; The Speculative Turn

The Speculative Turn
For more than a generation now literary and cultural studies has operated amid the horizon of its “historical turn”—a sweeping and far-reaching deference to the situated specificity of an assured past governing projects across genres and periods. Increasingly, however, we see signs of a speculative turn. The phrase originates in the title of a 2009 volume of speculative realist philosophy, inaugurating a challenging and controversial body of work that contests much of what we think we understand about the world around us. Yet a turn toward the speculative also calls attention to other modes of knowledge, for example the data-driven forecasting whose scenarios of what-might-be have come to inform our daily experience of everything from our national elections to next week’s snowstorm. “Speculation” is widely (if nebulously) understood as the root cause of the turmoil in the global financial markets of 2008. In literature, meanwhile, speculative fiction has emerged to name an increasingly prominent form of writing that encompasses aspects of science fiction, environmentalism, and political and social critique.  
To constitute the speculative turn for ourselves we will therefore read deeply into speculative realist thought and accompanying—sometimes antagonizing—discourses such as the New Materialism, vitalism, feminist science studies, and object-oriented ontology. We will also read a sampling of speculative fiction, including Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 and Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower, as well as popular non-fiction works like The World Without Us. We will look at examples of speculative design and architecture. And we will revisit the financial speculation of a decade ago and survey the street-level critical responses occupying its aftermath. Additional writers sure to be included are Karen Barad, Jane Bennett, Ian Bogost, Levi Bryant, Mark Fisher, Richard Grusin, Donna Haraway, Graham Harman, Shannon Mattern, Quentin Meillassoux, Timothy Morton, Jedediah Purdy, Rebekah Sheldon, McKenzie Wark, and the anonymous collective known as Uncertain Commons.
Throughout, the course seeks to foster awareness of the non-inevitability of the historical turn in literary studies, while also asking what is at stake in the massive current cultural project of the speculative. The course should therefore be of interest to those working in any historical period, and to all citizens of a world that is still—however tenuously—with us. Presentation, response papers, seminar paper or project.