FIGURING FUTURITY: THE BODY AS SPECULATIVE FRONTIER
Edited by Rhya Moffitt Brooke and Iana Robitaille
Speculative: that which pertains to imagination, to theorization, to conjecture, to the contingent. But the word also brings to mind calculated risk, material consequence, and the valuation of space through time. What power do we have to chart the future when the body is compass?
The reviews in this special section take up decolonial works that explore the positionality of the body at the interstice of past, present, and future. Such texts speculate on (re)imagined states of being, the potential for bodies to dictate the future, the effects of colonization on future bodies, and the body as a site of resistance to(ward) futurity. These works are invested in both theory and praxis, blurring the boundaries between scholarly intervention and speculative art, and pose timely questions: What does resistance look like through and within the body? How can decolonized and depoliticized bodies reclaim their agency? In what ways do speculative contemporary genres–fiction, film, the visual arts–address questions of the body and autonomy? How do we figure the gap between the politicized body and body politic?
Opening the section, Naminata Diabate and Achille Mbembe’s latest books expand a Foucauldian theory of biopolitics to consider the place of the body within scenes of contemporary globalization. Iana Robitaille interviews Diabate about Naked Agency: Genital Cursing and Biopolitics in Africa (2020), uncovering African women’s collective naked protest as a complicated and ever-shifting exchange of resistance and power. Lauren Nelson takes up the latest version of Mbembe’s seminal text, Necropolitics (2019). She argues that the gap between the original iteration in his 2003 Public Culture article and the publication of this book is not a limitation but an opportunity for Mbembe to more deeply apply his theory of necropolitics to other global situations and current discussions within the field.
Next, Bryanna Barrera and Kiara Davis read two scholars who propose new critical and creative methodologies for representing the past and reimagining community. Barrera reviews Marissa K. Lopez’s Racial Immanence: Chicanx Bodies beyond Representation (2019), contending that Lopez’s ‘choratic’ reading of Chicanx texts reconceives race as a source of agency rather than merely an embodiment of ethnic representation. And in Saidiya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, Davis discovers the potential of critical fabulation for recovering a chorus of experimental, intimate, and rebellious Black women and for imagining the future.
The following pieces explore the body as a literal frontier for speculation. These two primary texts, Carmen Maria Machado’s 2017 short story collection Her Body and Other Parties, and Jordan Peele’s 2017 film, Get Out are creative works that take up the question of how decolonized and depoliticized bodies grapple with reclaiming their agency. Bianca Quintanilla explores how Machado literalizes the effects that systems of oppression have on women’s bodies, foregrounding Machado’s interrogation of the multitude of experiences and inequalities different women’s bodies undergo as a result. Emma Hetrick situates Get Out as a neo-slave narrative that takes up W. E. B. DuBois’s theory of double consciousness as a way to push back on the notion of a post-racial cultural moment. She explores the film’s treatment of the separation of mind and body to analyze the plight of Black people in the US. To push this theorization into praxis, Morgan Hamill, Shukri Bana, Rhya Moffitt Brooke, and Hannah Robbins Hopkins read authors who make practical suggestions for the ways in which speculation figures into daily life. Therí Alyce Pickens’s Black Madness :: Mad Blackness (2019) and Kara Keeling’s Black Times, Queer Futures (2019)both use Black studies as ways to intervene in multiple fields for interdisciplinary approaches to speculative futures for mentally impaired Black subjects and Black queer subjects. Mark Rifkin’s Fictions of Land and Flesh (2019) and Ruha Benjamin’s Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code (2019) are both texts that speculate about liberatory practices. Hamill considers how Pickens positions Black speculative fiction as theoretical works that intervene in the lacunae of critical scholarship between Black studies and disability studies. She highlights the potentiality of such fiction to provide new ways of reading that disrupt white supremacist and ableist notions of linearity, time, and space. Bana analyzes how Keeling throws off the constraints of space and time to read queer Black representation and time through an Afrofuturist framework. Brooke then turns to Rifkin’s use of Black and Indigenous speculative texts in order to explore how contemporary movements can strengthen the work of Black and Indigenous solidarity groups. Finally, bringing analysis of race fully into the twenty-first century and considering futurity in its most literal iteration, Hopkins considers Benjamin’s approach to creating solidarity in the face of the structural inequalities Big Data perpetuates.
Proposing various methods of speculation and solidarity, all of these works figure the functions of futurity, gesturing at the body’s ability to usher in transcendent possibilities for the oppressed. In these works, we see speculation function in new ways of reading texts, new ways of reading the archive, and new ways of reading bodily performance. They demand that we expand our thinking outside of Western intellectual traditions and reorient ourselves to challenge dominant historiographies. While these readings begin at a point of speculation, they open up the possibility for imagined futures to become liberated realities.