Asteroid impact, pandemic, earthquake, resource depletion, nuclear war, toxic waste, bioterrorism: the list of potential global catastrophes is long and seemingly unlimited. The scale of such threats is so immense that the possibility of grasping their implications is often beyond everyday comprehension. Yet there are experts and organisations around the world grappling with plausible catastrophic scenarios, from asteroid tracking facilities and geo-engineering enterprises to space colonisation projects and repositories for genetic information and long-term nuclear waste sequestration. Each of these projects requires the extraordinary task of linking the quotidian to the unimaginable, of moving from fact to fiction. How are these links made? How is the fantastic grounded in the material world of real places and people? How does the kind of thinking more commonly found in the arts and humanities contribute to projects involved in catastrophe prediction and management? Writers, artists, and architects are often an integral part of projects dealing with long-term solutions to catastrophic threats. This involvement goes beyond the functional role of illustrating or articulating scientific and engineering proposals, and is intrinsic to the epistemological challenges faced when attempting to imagine and shape notionally unthinkable scenarios.
This lecture will consider a range of ‘applied fictions’ in order to explore how arts and humanities methodologies are embedded in any critical engagement with the prospect and prevention of future catastrophe.