Ruins of past futures

Fantastic archaeologies and disruptive imaginations

@ SFRA 2023: Disruptive Imaginations – Joint Annual Conference of SFRA and GfF – TU Dresden, Germany, August 15-19, 2023

 Ruins of an eighteenth-century retrofuturistic city, AI generated image

Ruins of an eighteenth-century retrofuturistic city, AI generated image, under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

This paper examines the ruin as a device of cognitive estrangement used in speculative fiction to thematise and problematise given conceptualisations of historical time and temporal linearity. Since the modern age, the ruin as a fragment of the past has engender new imaginary colonisations of a secularised future. Drawing on the hypothesis that the fantastic ruin and archaeological methods applied to past futures matured in the European imagination during the modern age, this research connects twentieth-century archaeological and clipeological science fiction to the long-standing history of the ruin within a fantastic imagination.

Materialising heliotropic conceptions of civilisation, especially since the 18th century the ruin has aroused the interest of writers, historians and painters in connection to notions such as those of development and decadence, modernity and crisis applied to human societies as well as to imaginary alien civilisations. The idea of a history magistra vitae and of a cyclical course of civilisations became premises for the application to the future of history as a method and for the aesthetic appreciation and poetics of ruin, discussed by Denis Diderot and Edmund Burke, and epitomised in the ruined Louvre painted by Hubert Robert and in Joseph Michael Gandy’s pictorial work portraying the Bank of England in ruins. The temporal estrangement of the ruin took on futuristic connotations inspiring some of the earliest speculations about the time to come. The contemplation of the remains of the past synecdochically fostered the idea of a future observer contemplating the ruins of the present in writers such as Thomas Lyttelton and Volney. Towards the end of the 18th and throughout the 19th century, the idea of radical changes foreseen in the future increasingly incorporated the possibility of disasters, catastrophes and extinctions (e.g., the Earth in ruin and the last men imagined by Bodin, Grainville, Shelley).

This paper outlines the connection between these precedents and twentieth-century pseudo-archaeology that hypothesised the existence of hyper-evolved terrestrial or alien civilisations located in a distant past.

https://disruptiveimaginations.com/PROGRAM

Ruin Lust, American Futures

@ Antiquity and the Shaping of the Future in the Age of Enlightenment. / L’Antiquité et la construction de l’avenir à l’âge des Lumières, ISECS 2023 congress, 3-7 July 2023, Rome

Gustave Doré’s version of Macaulay’s New Zealander, visiting London in the far future, surveying the ruins of the city from the remains of London Bridge
Doré’s London: A Pilgrimage (London; Grant & Co, 1872), Bibliothèque nationale de France via Gallica, ark:/12148/bpt6k10470488

In 1780, a poetry collection printed in London claimed to contain the letter of an American traveller from the year 2199, who wrote from the ruins of St. Paul’s porch to a friend in Boston, metropolis of the Western Empire. Poems, By a Young Nobleman, of Distinguished Abilities, lately deceased included poetic compositions about the once prosperous city of London. The ruins of an England whose greatness once illuminated Europe were observed from the west, where the sun of British power went to set.

The title page attributed authorship to a young man who had died at the time of publication. Thomas Lyttelton, libertine and politician, who has been later credited with authorship of the work, had in fact died at the age of only thirty-four in 1779, an untimely death lamented in the panegyric of the editor. This paper draws on the case study of Poems to highlight how, in the eighteenth century, the futuristic projection of a distant state of affairs derived from the present was informed by a look back to the past.

Poems exemplifies how American space and time provided a backdrop for revitalisations of translatio imperii topoi. Ancient history was exploited a reservoir of useful models to conceptualise and understand cultural diversity, to articulate an imperial discourse in its entanglements with ideas of monarchical power, colonial expansion, civilisation, and, not least, to anticipate what was yet to come.

Conference programme: https://www.isecs-roma2023.net/en/contents/programme/118

Anticipations, celebrations, satires

A new post in the Anticipations and aerostatic warfare series – 2/3

Imaginary wars, projected onto the future of Europe as ominous warnings and political arguments, were part of the emergence of a conception of history pliable by human action. This colonisation of the future within fictional narratives at the end of the eighteenth century already had some significant precedents. One such precedent, The Reign of George VI,[1] was a curious novel – or rather a fictional treatise on the history of the future – published in London in 1763, which offered a fascinating proto-fantascientific remake of the Seven Years’ War. The anonymous author, dissatisfied with the terms of the Treaty of Paris, imagined that the dispute between France and Britain might end very differently in the future, leading to British supremacy over all of continental Europe and global maritime trade. The pamphlet was written in the form of a historical reconstruction of events that took place in the twentieth century, testifying to a mixture of genres between typical modes of historical-political reflection and propaganda and an emerging narrative invention.[2] Continue reading “Anticipations, celebrations, satires”

Anticipation and Satire in 1778 London

The Future Tense of War

@ ISECS International Seminars for early career scholars / SOG18
War Times in the 18th century: Perceptions and Memories, September 25-30, 2022, Schloss Seggau/Leibnitz (Austria)

A view of the House of Peers, the King sitting on the throne, the Commons attending him
J. Lodge, in The gentleman’s magazine, 1769. Yale, Horace Walpole Library.

On 23 November 1778 an account of a heated parliamentary debate on recent developments in the American War of Independence was printed in London, discussing the turning point that had transformed the conflict between the colonies and the mother country into a Euro-Atlantic confrontation with the signing of the Franco-American treaties.

The pamphlet followed the editorial custom, common in the British capital notwithstanding the restrictions in place, of committing to paper the sessions of Parliament. This report, however, had one peculiarity: it reported a session that had yet to take place.

Continue reading “Anticipation and Satire in 1778 London”

Second sights across northern waters

An early-18th century supernatural philosopher between Scotland and Lapland

Duncan Campbell @ the third PiMO annual conference European sea spaces and histories of knowledge, Helsinki and Tallinn, 22-23 June 2022

This paper investigates the North and Baltic Seas as cultural and emotional connective spaces in a hitherto understudied work from the early 18th century, The Supernatural Philosopher, or the Mysteries of Magick. First published anonymously in 1720, then expanded in 1728, this text focuses on the figure of Duncan Campbell (c. 1680-1730), a deaf and mute soothsayer who was a popular attraction in London during the 1720s.

Campbell’s extraordinary faculties were – The Supernatural Philosopher claimed – innate gifts, the result of a birth that combined two mystical cotés: the Scottish one – inherited from his father – and the Sami one – from his mother’s side. Continue reading “Second sights across northern waters”

A futuristic anti-Jesuit satire

The Memoirs of the Twentieth Century @ Eighteenth-Century Ireland Society/An Cumann Éire San Ochtú Céad Déag 2022 Annual Conference University College Cork, 17-18 June 2022

Designed as a hypothetical laboratory to test the author’s political and philanthropic ideas, and to satirize a number of coeval cultural and political trends, The Memoirs of the Twentieth Century is one of the first futuristic fictions known in European literature. Published anonymously in 1733, it was written by Samuel Madden, an Irish Anglican clergyman and philanthropist with Hanoverian and Whig sympathies. It consists of a collection of diplomatic letters written in the 1990s, sent to the Lord High Treasurer in London from British ambassadors from a number of countries, which the narrator claims to have received from the future. Through these correspondences, twentieth-century world scenarios spread out before the reader, in which British naval power rules the waves and international commerce, while the transnational scheming of the Jesuits threatens the independence of weaker European courts.

Continue reading “A futuristic anti-Jesuit satire”

Second sight, seduction, and superstition

Fortune-telling, female curiosity and the story of Duncan Campbell in early 18th-century England

My current research on the future as an epistemological arena in the Age of Reason @ Convegno annuale della Società Italiana di Studi sul Secolo XVIII Trieste, 26-28 maggio 2022, Settecento oggi: studi e ricerche in corso

A fortune-teller who could predict the future, a deaf-mute skilled in mundane conversation, a seller of talismans and miraculous medicines, Duncan Campbell (c. 1680-1730) was a popular attraction in early 18th-century London. Placed at the centre of various biographical and autobiographical narratives, his figure took on a particular literary quality. A reputation built on a proclaimed ‘second sight’ that enabled him to see the future, and a specialisation on sentimental and matrimonial matters, make his case an excellent observatory on the negotiation of what, in the age of reason, constituted authority and credibility, credulity and superstition, and how gender was thematised within this negotiation.
This paper focuses on The History of the Life and Adventures of Mr Duncan Campbell, a fictional biography published by Edmund Curll in 1720 and long spuriously attributed to Daniel Defoe. The text offers an unusual glimpse into the contemporary discourse on the relationship between gender and the problem of credulity. Continue reading “Second sight, seduction, and superstition”

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