Conspiracy theories, lies, and half-truths have become tried and tested staples in certain political practices in recent times. It’s not only populist Western election propaganda that relies on fabulating: the Russian regime under Putin goes one step further and reinvents the history of whole centuries to establish a background and foundation for the attempt to create military facts. Beyond such nationalistic and geopolitical fabulations and the proclaiming of falsehoods and myths, fantasizing and embellishing, asserting and story-telling are also part of our daily life and popular culture because such strategies, in their poetic and artistic form, provide opportunities to paint reality in a different light – and even to imagine new and different realities. In our thematic cluster on fabulating we primarily concentrate on such practices.
“Science fiction is not predictive; it’s descriptive,” writes Ursula K. Le Guin in the preface to her iconic novel The Left Hand of Darkness. According to Le Guin science fiction is often understood as extrapolative: the present is translated into a prognosis, which is stretched out into the future and dramatized. Writers who follow this logic, Le Guin maintains, usually end up somewhere between “the gradual extinction of human liberty and the total extinction of terrestrial life.” In contrast she describes her own way of writing, and by extension her own science fiction, as a thought experiment. Extrapolation is part of such an experiment, she concedes, but it’s not “the name of the game.” It’s too rationalistic, simplifying, and inspires neither authors nor readers. Le Guin emphasizes that the conception of a story – particularly in the field of (science) fiction – always means working on and with the present: a description of reality in which variables are exchanged, supplemented, or deleted.
Which leads us to the question, how much of the present survives in imagination? How do speculations inflect realpolitik? How do half-truths and autofictions shape and impact the rules of social life? Can fabulations also lead to exclusion? Which productive forces foster rumors and gossip – and which gender stereotypes are assigned to this type of fabulation? As the scholar and philosopher Silvia Federici writes about women and the negative connotations of gossip: “It is women who ‘gossip,’ presumably having nothing better to do and having less access to real knowledge and information and a structural inability to construct factually based, rational discourses. Thus, gossip is an integral part of the devaluation of women’s personality and work.”
Such thoughts on the ambivalence and potential of fabulation are the starting point for our new thematic cluster. The coming contributions to V/A will concentrate on different forms of the counterfactual, half-truths and speculations, and (alleged) inventions. After last week’s compilation by Spalarnia, we are looking forward to an interview by Philipp Hindahl with writer, art historian, and founder of Texte zur Kunst Isabelle Graw on her recently published, autofictional diary Vom Nutzen der Freundschaft (On the Benefits of Friendship [own translation, Ed. note]) in the following week.