This talk explores the profound imaginative, methodological, and existential possibilities that Arab science fiction offers people throughout the region as they navigate multiple crises: popular uprisings, authoritarianism, and social and economic injustice, to name just a few. It explores the genre's deep regional historical roots while also considering what the explosion in contemporary sci fi output from the region indicates about current political needs and desires, and the centrality of gender, race, and class dynamics to re-envisioning futurity. Referencing literature, film, and scholarship, this talk inquires whether science fiction, in its simultaneous utopian and dystopian refractions, can in fact open up spaces for hope and action. Finally, it examines the parallel world-making possibilities of science fiction and revolution, and the tools they offer us for re-imagining the past and reframing the present.
Nadya Sbaiti is Assistant Professor at the Center for Arab and Middle Eastern Studies (CAMES) at the American University Beirut (AUB). She is a co-founder and co-editor of Jadaliyya.
The talk is part of the Worldbuilding in the Wake monthly series curated by Kareem Estefan within the context of the Postcolonial Ecologies exhibition project.
As climate change accelerates, a sixth mass extinction event looms over the horizon. Apocalyptic scenes proliferate across our screens, almost blocking out fugitive glimpses of other possible worlds. But for those most vulnerable to the slow violence of extractive capitalism and settler colonialism, the end of the world is nothing new. To paraphrase the late scholar Patrick Wolfe, apocalypse is a structure, not an event; the catastrophe is ongoing. Or, as June Tyson sings in Sun Ra’s Space Is the Place, “It’s after the end of the world—don’t you know that yet?” The worldbuilding of Afrofuturism, Arabfuturism, indigenous futurism, and other subaltern futurisms is animated by collective memories of the many worlds that did not survive the “new world” of colonial modernity. Futurisms divested from capitalist futurity, these speculative activities reorient the imagination to the poetics and politics of worldbuilding in the wake of catastrophe, so that visions of the yet-to-come are always also returns to the practices, epistemologies, and dreams of those whose worlds were expropriated or destroyed. They suggest an ecological consciousness that understands the present annihilation of biodiverse ecosystems as continuous with histories of colonization, enslavement, and genocide. Positioning the speculative practice of worldbuilding as a poetic act of repairing present and future ecologies in the wake of imperial violence, this series will feature artists, writers, and scholars who think beyond “green futures'' to imagine a world transformed by decolonization and de-growth, a world that cultivates structures of care and kinship beyond the figure of the human.
Kareem Estefan is a writer, editor, art critic, teacher, and PhD candidate in Modern Culture and Media at Brown University, researching the poetics of witnessing and worldbuilding in Palestinian visual culture. Estefan is currently a fellow at Darat al Funun.