Saturday 4 May 2019
11:00 – 18:00
The New School
Klein Conference Room (Room 510)
66 West 12th Street, New York

In his book Discognition Steven Shaviro writes that sci-fi can be understood as a “thought experiment, a way of entertaining odd ideas, and of asking off-the-wall what if? questions” that embody its issues by telling stories. This, says Shaviro, makes sci-fi’s methods “emotional and situational, rather than rational and universalizing.” As such, sci-fi can be said to describe a manner of thinking whose assertions are fabulated rather than grounded or proved.

But what does it mean to say that assertions are fabulated? Proof and grounding are self-serving affairs that, in a sense, are question begging. Yet fabulation seems to have no concern about its status apart from its simply working, from its role as a condition of making things imaginable. There’s something pragmatic and speculative, then, to fabulation that at its most playful makes it approach the condition Harry Frankfurt calls “bullshit,” a highly effective activity utterly indifferent to how things really are, or are not. This suggests that perhaps the fabulated assertions of sci-fi’s “off the wall what if questions” are less about leading thought to entertain “new lines of inquiry that analytic reasoning and inductive generalization would never stumble upon,” than disabusing thinking of its identity as an agent of “truth” or executor of the real.

For this one-day symposium we’d like to follow Shaviro’s proposition that sci-fi is an embodied thought experiment but we’d like to linger a little on the possibility that what it achieves in addition to an alternative imaginary is a form of bullshit that approaches Jean Baudrillard’s position on the “radical uselessness of thought.” We’re interested in lingering on thought’s inutility for two reasons: One, while sensitive to the role of fabulation in its production, so-called “theory-fiction” as it has been practiced in recent years often puts thought to work in a way that continues to burden it with things like knowledge and information. As such we’d like to consider how a theory-fiction might actually realize its uselessness by treating its thought experiments in the way bullshit does truth. Second, if thought really can be absolved of its responsibility to know or to understand, then we need to ask not what it’s good for but for what’s good for it.

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