I slipped over to Manhattan yesterday for a panel discussion about artificial intelligence that was held – wouldn’t you know? at the New York Yacht Club, an honorable establishment with old money written all over it, not to mention a handsome stash of full and half-hull ship models – and was delighted with the Times Square area at night. It’s like something from the future, all bright and slithering lights. Next time I’ll take my camera.
Would the New York of Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2140 be like that? Time Square itself, of course, would be under water, but many of the tall buildings would still be sticking around, their middle and upper floors rising above the water. And that’s where a lot of the electronic signage was. That would be quite a sight, to see all those animated lights reflecting in the water.
So, I ask you: Does New York 2140 exhibit a distinctive mode of fictional being? That’s perhaps not the best way to put the question, but there’s no really good way. What I have in mind is the way Robinson combines rich array of details about New York’s past – something Adam Roberts reminded me of on Facebook – with a richly imagined future. We’ve got the real and the imaginary combined into one seamless extended novelistic present. I could almost have said “the real past–as Robinson imagines it–and the future–as Robinson imagines it”, for the imagination is a faculty we use for everything, not just fantasy and fiction. It’s all imaginable, and some is real, some not so real.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s there was something called “the new journalism”, in which writers like Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer, and Hunter Thompson wrote about real events using literary techniques. They gave up the conventions of journalistic objectivity and entered into the events they chronicled. At the same time E. L. Doctorow was earning praise for his “fictionalized history”. What about alternate history, for example, P. K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, set in a world where Japan and Germany won World War II? How does New York 2140 fit into that, whatever that is?
This, it seems to me, is something for Latour’s world of modes of existence, where each mode has its own truth conditions. What is the mode for New York 2140, versus, say, The Tale of Genji, The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, The Interpretation of Dreams, or On the Origin of Species, and what are the respective truth conditions for each?
For extra credit: What about Donald Trump’s Twitter stream?