CONFERENCE TALK: The Real Invisible Hand: Historical Haunting, Porous Chronologies, and the Grasp of What Came Before
At the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900, I presented on the simultaneously science-fictional and scrupulously realist narrative mode of Octavia Butler’s Kindred, and the theory of historical inheritance embodied therein. Here’s an excerpt:
The most formidable viruses, analog or digital, are not those that add or destroy content but those that reformulate the workings of their host, turning it against itself to turn it into something else. As such, what is virally postmodern or postmodernly viral about Kindred is not just the physical and ideological content of slavery it so ruthlessly and vividly uncovers, but the novel’s disruption and reconfiguration of the mainframe of contemporary historical consciousness. The novel functions simultaneously as a diagnosis of the historical overdetermination symptomatic of the contemporary and a warning about the unevenness with which the inheritance of long-ago violence and oppression chooses its victims. Realist science fiction or fantastical documentary, Dana’s narrative puts the most necessary of bugs in the historical machine, and although we may miss the perception of a smoothly functioning historical imaginary, the Kindred virus is increasingly indispensable to understanding the fraughtness of a present that seems anything but simply here and now.