The Natural Histories of German-language Science Fiction

German Studies Association, Louisville, KY September 22-25, 2011

Science fiction, because of its innate affinity to questions of political, historical, sociotechnical, and biological alterity, would seem to be a fertile field for considering the relationship between nature and history, as literary categories, social discourses, and sites of political struggle. Indeed, from its arguable generic inception in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) to the 2010 corecipient of the Hugo award, Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, science fiction has grappled with the shifting implications of this relationship like few other genres. In German science fiction, this tendency is likewise present, from Kurd Laßwitz’s imaginative use of Darwin, to Döblin’s epic natural history of the future, Berge Meere und Giganten (1924), to the Steinmüllers’ dynamic, terraforming utopia in Andymon (1982), coming at the tail end of GDR SF’s rich tradition.

Much English-language scholarly work on science fiction in recent decades, drawing on Marxian insights of German critical theory, has underscored the critical, utopian apects of the genre. Science fiction is characterized in this view as a genre or mode of ‘cognitive estrangement,’ centering on the presence of a Blochian novum (Suvin); rather than preparing the reader for the shocks of a coming modernity, it functions to estrange the present, “transforming our own present into the determinate past of something yet to come” (Jameson); indeed like critical theory itself, science fiction “insists upon historical mutability, material reducibility, and utopian possibility” (Freedman). On this view, science fiction is marked by an affiliation to the critical, Marxist gesture of historicization – even nature, in its narrative emplotment as a subject of interrogation, is historicized.

Yet the inverse tendency – to naturalize history – seems present in equal measure. Whether because of the interplay between scientific and humanist discourses, the superlative integration of science and technology into its characters and narrative modes, or its sweeping diachrony, science fiction offers countless examples of historical temporalities reabsorbed into biological, geological, or cosmic time.
In this panel we will consider what is to be won by measuring nature and history against one another in the context of science fiction. We invite submissions on science fiction, broadly conceived and from all epochs of German literature, that address the topic.

Possible topics include but are not limited to:

 *   SF and materialism – dialectical, historical, or otherwise
 *   biopower, biopolitics, and biotech
 *   world-creation and narrative theory
 *   historicization of nature/naturalization of history
 *   historical and natural temporalities
 *   East German science fiction, GDR cultural policy, socialist realism, and utopia
 *   futuristic fantasies, fascist or otherwise
 *   SF’s natural histories
 *   SF and critical theory
 *   Weimar-era SF, Neue Sachlichkeit, constructivism, and functionalism
 *   catastrophes, disasters, eschatologies, and other ends of history
 *   Neuanfang, Stunde Null, and historical rupture
 *   utopias: negative, critical, ambiguous, or otherwise
 *   machines, bodies, technology, and the organic
 *   historical and biological others
 *   realms of necessity, realms of freedom
 *   the Zukunftsroman and the historische Roman
 *   SF subjectivities, agency, and collectivity
 *   SF as a transnational meditation on history
 *   SF and race

Please send a 250-300 word abstract by February 1 to panel organizers Paul Buchholz and Carl Gelderloos at [log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]>

The German Studies Call for Papers List
Editor: Stefani Engelstein
Assistant Editor:  Olaf Schmidt
Sponsored by the University of Missouri
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