The Case for a Co(n)temporary English Fiction: Ian McEwan’s Machines Like Me and Jeanette Winterson’s Frankissstein
The future is the only form of temporal experience which requires us to use our speculative and imaginative capacities. However, due to the concurrent global challenges of the twenty-first century (COVID-19, populism and nationalism, climate crisis), imagining viable future scenarios for the human has become increasingly difficult. As a result, our Enlightenment conception of temporality as linear has become futile and requires an alternative approach e. This article explores how two examples of contemporary English fiction, Ian McEwan’s Machines Like Me and Jeanette Winterson’s Frankissstein, experiment with temporally marked forms to construct narratives in which the separation into past, present, and future becomes indistinguishable. The technological imagination of these narratives, in the shape of accelerated scientific progress in artificial intelligence and transcendent consciousness, produces alternative histories in the hopes of modeling a new sense of futurity. In doing so, McEwan’s and Winterson’s novels assimilate binaries such as antiquitas and modernitas, human and post-human, and ultimately past, present, and future to showcase the productive potential of speculative formalism (Eyers). I argue that such a modeling of ‘co-temporality’ (Ruffel) places the contemporary novel’s capacity for cultural inquiry on the same epistemological level as that for scientific inquiry, enabling a conception of futurity detached from temporal linearity and the logic of progress.
Coping with the Unpredictable Present Future in Lombard Southern Italian Narratives (9th–10th Centuries)
Ninth- and tenth-century Southern Italy was a crossroads where the Franks, the Byzantines, the Roman Popes, and the emirs of Sicily sought to increase their influence. The rivaling Lombard princes in Benevento, Capua, and Salerno had to cope with each other and these external pressures. That combination created unease and tension for the immediate future of the present of the ninth-century Lombard monk Erchempert and the chronicle of Salerno’s anonymous tenth-century author. Although a century apart, they lived through a very uncertain present. Islamic raiders destroyed Erchempert’s abbey of Montecassino in 883, and the Salernitan text abruptly ended amidst a revolt against the reigning prince Gisulf I in the 970s. The chaotic nature of their present influenced both authors’ attempts to instruct future readers through a narrative focusing on the exemplary military conduct of specific Lombard princes. This contribution will consist of close readings of such martial scenes featuring exemplary Lombard princes from both texts. It will be argued that the Lombard lords in these scenes served as idealized examples evoking a strong sense of Lombard independent-mindedness in the face of an unpredictable present. While their strong sense of independence has been noted in previous scholarship, comparing its manifestation in the two narrative texts has yet to receive a dedicated study. The article will reveal and compare how these texts, in an uncertain present, clung to an exemplary past, attempting to steer their unpredictable present’s future.
The Case of the Project Meinwanderungsland
Using parts of the praxeographic and network-based approach of a knowledge regime analysis, this article looks at future-making practices in exhibition projects about migration in Germany. Using the example of the outreach project Meinwanderungsland (my immigration country) (2018–2020) and its critical practice of imagination and anticipation, the article argues that future-making practices in exhibition projects transform the knowledge production of migration. The article not only examines the project’s critical practice, it also looks at the after-effects of critique within the exhibitionary complex of migration. Critique is not understood here as a total withdrawal from museum spaces and institutions, but as an intervention. It can be shown that Meinwanderungsland used para-institutional practices, narratives, and networks for a different musealization of migration.
Constructing a Realistic Future
The Future Reader and the Pivotal Present in Louise Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God
This article proposes epistolarity as a productive critical framework for exploring the concept of ‘present futures.’ The analysis focuses on Louise Erdrich’s novel Future Home of the Living God with the aim to demonstrate how letter writing can help us conceptualize the complex interrelations between the present moment and the future. Cedar, the Ojibwe narrator, writes a letter to her unborn child during unprecedented evolutionary and climate crises. The present moment is fraught with uncertainty, and the future is difficult to imagine. Through her epistolary efforts, Cedar writes against apocalyptic future narratives. Her letter creates a space for present and future encounters between the writer and her addressee even if the world as we know it has ceased to exist. In the novel, I argue, key elements of epistolarity such as the central role of the reader, the significance of the present moment of writing, and temporal polyvalence disrupt the conventional notion of time as a linear progression. Whereas linear time moves from past to present to future, the act of letter writing in Erdrich’s novel directs our attention to the future as a vital and vivid presence in the present moment. In the novel, the ‘you’ being addressed is also already a part of ‘me,’ the narrator. This epistolary bond between a mother and her unborn child in the novel extends the biological connection between them into the realms of culture and history.
Rethinking the Eternal Return and Time Lapses between Now and Then from Vico to Arendt
This paper sketches a tour de force of philosophical as well as poetic concepts of time from G. Vico (ricorsi), F. Nietzsche (Wiederkunft), V. Woolf (Orlando), W. Benjamin (Ur/Sprung), E. Auerbach (figura) and Hannah Arendt (“in-between”). It maps the returns and lapses of time from cycles to spirals, theoretical models, and visualizations which are brought forth to solve the problem of how not to fall back into earlier already overcome stages of development, and to realize the network of strings between now and then in order to make a difference in the future. I will underline the statement that we have no access to the archives of history as long as we are not traveling back to the future. For history is not enclosed in the past, it is reassembled by future tasks: from Vico’s chronological monsters as illegitimate descendants to Zarathustra’s pregnancies as preparation for the return of the unbearable, from the queer feeling of time vibrations in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando to Benjamin’s jumping sessions from origin to origin, from Auerbach’s vertical lift to Arendt’s “in-between.”
A Student Loan Retrospective
The email came five days before my 54th birthday. It informed me that my student loan debt had been forgiven. With that, I lost the last tie to the social identity that I valued most: my identity as a student. By the time the debt was forgiven, it was almost $265k. I hadn’t imagined a future without it.
This is an autotheoretical exploration of what it meant to me to take on student loan debt in my quest to become a student/intellectual and emancipate myself from the limitations of my background. When I borrowed to excess, I renounced any vision of a future beyond the prolonged present of that identity as a student. However, rather than experience landing a tenure-track job or even tenure itself as a continuation of my identity as a student, I have instead struggled to foster the conditions that make such a quest possible for students who have come after me.
Loan forgiveness means that my identity as a student is at a definite end, so now I participate in the reproduction of the exploitative mythologies of higher education by choice. At a time when academic journals report that faculty members, particularly faculty of color, are choosing to leave institutions of higher education, I am unexpectedly free to examine my relationship to this profession and reconsider my future in it.
Frederick Douglass’ 1852 address “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July” poignantly called attention to the Black people who were still unfree slaves when the Republic joyfully celebrated freedom and independence on its 76th anniversary. Echoing Douglass, this paper searches for the meaning of the 250th anniversary in a deeply fractured and divided America by focusing on the historical and current ‘color scheme.’ An in-depth examination of America’s history and cultural history, represented by the paradigms White, Black, Brown, Yellow, and Browner opens space for analysis and arguments on the formation of national character, the cultivation of cultural identity, and the definition of Americanism. This essay tackles the core of Whiteness in relation to Blackness (African Americans), Brownness (Native Americans), and Yellowness (Chinese/Asian Americans) to unpack a heated and culturally charged topic of race relations and capture the significance of the ‘Browner’ in ‘Browner America’ in anticipation of the 250th anniversary.
A Critical Method for Discovery
The location and presentation of an object establish layered narratives about the object, which habit and familiarity protect. This shield obscures an object’s effects on people and places that originate in that object’s materials and manufacturing. Recontextualizing objects and investigating their physical forms within novel frameworks can counteract these narratives.
This project replaces an object’s expected context with an imagined future full of confusion and curiosity. Through a photo essay and a fictitious research journal, it describes a likely environmental scenario in 2200 and imagines a researcher discovering a bag of objects in the wilderness. The bag includes an artificial plant, a toilet brush, a bottle opener, a clothespin, a clothes hanger, and a stuffed animal. But the researcher is only familiar with two of these objects, and so tries to deduce the function of the remaining objects via their materials and by consulting oral histories from their era of origin. Through naïve misunderstanding, the researcher reveals often overlooked cultural norms and histories of extraction, manufacturing, and use.
The whimsy of this method is intentional; the researcher offers readers the shared experiences of feeling overwhelmed and making mistakes while creating an approachable entrance to thinking more critically about the world humans are currently building.