The Parallax Present: Speculation, History, and the Contemporary
The Parallax Present: Speculation, History, and the Contemporary asks what happens to our ability to imagine pasts and futures under the cultural and political conditions of the postmodern, and with what consequences. Though historical narrative has been of significant concern for scholars of 20th century literature and theorists of postmodernism, it has not often been theorized in conjunction with the future-oriented imaginings through which contemporary fiction so often tries to think its way out of the ostensibly “realist” limitations of the present. By pairing speculatively reimagined pasts and science-fictional futures, I frame the cultural condition of the postwar present not as an endless “now” but as an endlessly unstable “now,” tangled up with history and futurity, fantasy and speculation, simultaneously haunted and constituted by its own porous chronology. I argue that attending to the fate of cultural production—and of critical reading—in the present requires us to account for the destabilization of that present, for its never being entirely itself, and for the ways it is contoured and rearticulated by the supposedly low-cultural drives of the speculative and the fantastic. My work brings together two vital strands of 20th and 21st century fiction and film, from the borderline magical-realist historical metafiction of Edward P. Jones and the time-traveling neo-slave narrative of Octavia Butler’s Kindred to the just-around-the-corner science fiction of William Gibson and the apocalyptic imaginings of Colson Whitehead, Margaret Atwood, Sesshu Foster, and Alfonso Cuarón, exploring how these spectral tendrils of past and future reconstitute the present and rewrite its realisms. By putting these narratives in conversation, I aim to provide a revealingly parallax view of our current moment—a moment in which rhetorics of both political and aesthetic realism threaten to foreclose the radical possibilities of the speculative and fantastic imagination.