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10:00 AM, Thursday 16 Aug 2018 (1 hour)

The burden of the writer is the burden of shaping the world. As James Baldwin reminds us, “The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even but a millimeter the way people look at reality, then you can change it.” But what about the future? How can e-lit writers and artists define the ways we in which we perceive and know the future and what effect does this act of definition have on the future itself? Digital media is uniquely positioned to aid writers and artists in imagining alternative futures. Augmented and virtual reality, for example, give us a means of not simply describing the future, but building inhabitable imagined future spaces to give our present selves a sense of what kinds of futures we might want to work toward.

This paper examines two digital storytelling projects that imagine futures that depart dramatically from our present reality. In the scalar-based hypertext Redshift & Portalmetal, artist and scholar Micha Cárdenas uses narratives of space exploration and images from our own planet to help the reader envision a new kind of colonization that departs from the violent colonization practiced in our world. This speculative future world is populated by trans, femme, and nonbinary travelers of color. Redshift and Portalmetal’s hypertext storytelling transforms our relationship with images of our own world, urging us to imagine a future free from the harsher constraints our present reality places on marginalized bodies.

NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism, a virtual reality project created by four women, similarly compels us to know the future in a more inclusive way. This VR experience takes place in a black hair salon wherein a new mythology of blackness is established. As one of the project’s creators, Ashley Baccus-Clark says, “I think the future of virtual reality is that it’s going to give us another plane or dimension to explore and to tell stories in. It’s going to give us a tool to question what we consider to be reality. And if we don’t start to put our stories into this emerging medium now, it will be like film, where we have to wait 70 or 80 years before we start seeing nuanced stories of our experiences.” This VR project’s approach to knowing the future is to create a present experience that already accounts for the narratives historically excluded from artistic representation.

E-lit has always provided a more democratized space for representation and participation due to the absence of artistic gatekeeping so prevalent in print literature and cinema. This accessibility allows writers and artists of all kinds to explore different ways of knowing and encountering the future, which will perhaps allow us to shape that future more equitably and in a way the artists of these two projects imagine possible.

University of Southern California
PhD candidate