Old and New Science Fiction Imaginaries in English-Speaking Cinema and Television
Careof, La Fabbrica del Vapore, Milano
September 2-4, 2024
Pawel Frelik (University of Warsaw)
Naomi Mandel (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
German A. Duarte
In an interview about the end of the last millennium, James Ballard argued that Science Fiction (SF) had created the greatest popular literature of the 20th century. The imagery that we saw in the cinema, television, advertising and other media was the most powerful imagery produced in the last hundred years. By the end of the century, the genre had done its job and it was dead. This hypothetical death has aroused a widespread interest in the many ways in which it generated a collective social imaginary through popular images and stories that, in Ballard’s words again, had “created the psychology of the last decades of the 20th century.” This debate positioned the genre at the centre of academic discussions. The result was that SF, previously seen as a minor genre, became an important lens to understand not only the 20th century but the new millennium as well. Throughout the 20th century, SF territorialised the future and, by extension, familiarised people with a large number of technologies and phenomena that have now become standard in our current mediascape and social context. In other words, by territorialising the future, the genre had built the present.
Ballard’s statement implied that the genre was now no longer able to continue to produce the imagery of the future or, as Vivian Sobchack argued, it had lost its ability “to reconcile man with the unknown.” And yet, over the course of the first quarter of the 21st century, we have witnessed a huge increase in the general interest in SF stories. This increase also encouraged the reformulation of some foundational SF stories: the adaptation of literary texts to the screen – Minority Report (2002), The Handmaid’s Tale (2017-), Altered Carbon (2018-20), Dune (2021, 2024) – or from the big screen to TV – Westworld (2016-22) –, as well as remakes and sequels of earlier films and series – Battlestar Gallactica (2003, 2009, 2012), Total Recall (2012), Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), Blade Runner 2049 (2017) and The Matrix Resurrections (2021). At the same time, the first quarter of the 21st century has also been a rich and fertile period for the production of new SF stories, some of them originating in literature, like Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life”, adapted as Arrival (2016), others directly conceived for the big screen, like Children of Men (2006), Moon (2009), Interstellar (2014), Avatar (2009) and its sequel (2022) and High Life (2018), and successful global TV series like Utopia (2013-14), Black Mirror (2011-) and Stranger Things (2016-), among many others.
The 29th SERCIA Annual Conference intends to celebrate SF, both in its manifold 21st-century manifestations and by commemorating the old and long relationship between the genre and the cinematic image, from George Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon (1902) to current ergodic and interactive narratives such as Bandersnatch (2018). We, therefore, welcome not only studies of contemporary audiovisual manifestations of the genre but also critical re-evaluations of 20th-century landmarks. We would also like to extend the debate to the analysis of different forms of speculative audiovisual fiction in order to better understand the ways in which the two main instruments for the production of the social imaginary of the last century (film and SF) have familiarised us with technological devices, dystopian social scenarios, high-tech posthuman realities, extraterrestrial presences and non-material digital universes. In other words, we propose to explore the ways in which SF and the filmic image imagined the future during the last century and, in so doing, generated our present time and sparked our own future-directed imaginations.
We encourage proposals dealing with the following issues from a variety of perspectives (aesthetic, cultural, economic, historical, etc.) in English-speaking films and series of the new millennium:
The history of SF, exploring and celebrating the enduring relationship between SF and film, the inscription of contemporary films and series in the aesthetic andbideological traditions of the genre, notably through comparative studies between literature and film, or between new and canonic works, as well as new perspectives on the classics of the genre.
Mapping the present time, imagining the future: we encourage proposals that deal with the ways in which the future is imagined (and imaged) through SF. This is to say how, in the course of the last century, SF territorialized our present time and, by extension, populated our daily lives with themes and devices that build our present reality. We would like to discuss the ways cinema depicted the future in the past.
Reformulating the genre: new media technologies generate transmedia and adaptative phenomena that naturally modify genres. From this perspective, proposals could analyze diverse forms of speculative fiction and/or attempt to identify new narrative forms and to map, in the genre’s universe, new topoi that could be identified as new declensions of SF.
Adaptation, analyzing the ways in which the complex narrative structure of SF is adapted to the screen. Proposals that enquire into the transition of certain technological devices from a textual dimension to the image are also welcome.
Cyberpunk: we would like to open a space for the discussion of social problems and phenomena related to technological developments. We encourage scholars to deal with the main topics of cyberpunk, and to identify them in our current audiovisual production. We welcome analyses of the ways that the main cyberpunk topoi (e.g., dystopia, A.I. societal collapse, among others) have been reformulated after the Digital Revolution.
Theoretical formulations and re-formulations of the genre, its limits and its intersections with other genres are also welcome.
SEND PROPOSALS to German A. Duarte (GDuarte@unibz.it) and Celestino Deleyto (email@example.com).
DEADLINE: May 3, 2024.
Prospective participants are advised that, in order to participate in the conference, they must previously become members of SERCIA. Go to http://www.sercia.net/index.php/how-to-join-sercia or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.