A Subtle Oscillation

“Power now deploys a mode the critic Mark Fisher calls SF (science fiction) capital. SF capital is the synergy, the positive feedback between future-oriented media and capital. The alliance between cybernetic futurism and “New Economy” theories argues that information is a direct generator
of economic value. Information about the future therefore circulates as an increasingly important commodity.

“It exists in mathematical formalizations such as computer simulations, economic projections, weather reports, futures trading, think-tank reports, consultancy papers—and through informal descriptions such as science fiction cinema, science-fiction novels, sonic fictions, religious prophecy, and venture capital. Bridging the two are formal-informal hybrids, such as the global scenarios of the professional market futurist.

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“Looking back at the media generated by the computer boom of the 1990s,it is clear that the effect of the futures industry—defined here as the intersecting industries of technoscience, fictional media, technological projection,and market prediction—has been to fuel the desire for a technology boom. Given this context, it would be naïve to understand science fiction, located within the expanded field of the futures industry, as merely prediction into the far future, or as a utopian project for imagining alternative social realities.

“Science fiction might better be understood, in Samuel R. Delany’s statement, as offering “a significant distortion of the present” (Last Angel of History 1995). To be more precise, science fiction is neither forward-looking nor utopian. Rather, in William Gibson’s phrase, science fiction is a means
through which to preprogram the present. Looking back at the genre, it becomes apparent that science fiction was never concerned with the future, but rather with engineering feedback between its
preferred future and its becoming present.

“Hollywood’s 1990s love for sci-tech fictions, from The Truman Show to The Matrix, from Men in Black to Minority Report, can therefore be seen as product-placed visions of the reality-producing power of computer networks, which in turn contribute to an explosion in the technologies they hymn. As New Economy ideas take hold, virtual futures generate capital. A subtle oscillation between prediction and control is being engineered in which successful or powerful descriptions of the future have an increasing ability to draw us towards them, to command us to make them flesh.

“Science fiction is now a research and development department within a futures industry that dreams of the prediction and control of tomorrow. Corporate business seeks to manage the unknown through decisions based on scenarios, while civil society responds to future shock through habits formatted by science fiction. Science fiction operates through the power of falsification, the drive to rewrite reality, and the will to deny plausibility, while the scenario operates through the control and prediction of plausible alternative tomorrows.”

Text: Kodwo Eshun, Further Considerations of Afrofuturism, The New Centennial Review, Volume 3, Number 2, Summer 2003, pp. 287-302.

Pic: Simone Leigh, “Herero Dress 1904,” 2011 (porcelain, graphite and epoxy), via Art Recognition Culture

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