Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Futuristic Epistemologies in Early Modern Literary and Scientific Thought (RSA 2012/ Abstract Deadline 5/15/2011)

Sixteenth and seventeenth-century works, from Utopia to Paradise Lost, construct fictional worlds through the appeals to the epistemic and ontological status of the future. In the Defence of Poesy, Philip Sidney elucidates how futures govern both poetic production and dissemination. The poet is a "vates" who can prophesize the future, or the "maker" who creates imitable models for the reader. The act of imitation is transferred to the reader of poetry, whose "well-doing" in the real world uniquely fulfills the poet’s work. Early modern “scientific” theories and practices, too, were often predicted on notions of futurity: In The Advancement of Learning, Francis Bacon elaborates on temporality of knowing, and suggests that “all knowledge is but remembrance.” Writing in the 1660s, Thomas Sprat draws on Bacon’s methods explicated in Advancement and Novum Organum, and discourages premature theorizing. Experimental philosophers, as proper practitioners of a new practical epistemology, must suspend judgment, and let the experimental action determine facts.
This panel will explore the intersections between these various disciplinary vectors by asking how futurity in particular, and temporality, more generally, governed early modern epistemic modes and shaped literary, philosophical, and scientific thought. We will ask: how did early modern thinkers appeal to the future in order to know the past? How were memory and remembrance predicated on strategic forgetting? How do predictive epistemic modes, such as prophecy, promise to make the future fully knowable? How do specific genres, such as romance and utopia, generate epistemologies of uncertainty through narrative deferral? How did early modern writers mediate relations between chronological understandings of time – often long durations of time – with their concerns about the present? How do probabilistic scientific methods borrow from literary works, and reshape early modern “science” as implicitly or explicitly futuristic? How did writers use the “uncertainty” of futures to comment on or examine contemporary ethical, political, and social issues? How do futuristic epistemologies enable us to understand the ontology of early modern fiction? Finally, how does the idea of “futurity,” through appeals to counterfactuals and theories of possibility, shape our own disciplinary practices?
Please send a brief abstract (150 words or less); keywords; a one-page curriculum vitae; and any A/V requirements by 15 May 2011 to Debapriya Sarkar at This panel will be sponsored by the Medieval-Renaissance Colloquium at Rutgers University. The Colloquium has affiliate status with RSA.