Solarpunk: Theory, Fiction, and Radical Futures
Encompassing art, theory, and speculative fiction, solarpunk is a vision of futurity that asks: What sort of world can result from the alignment of nature and technology? Gesturing, on the one hand, to the sun—a resource, by its very nature, inhospitable to private property logic—and, on the other, to counterculture, solarpunk sees decommodified energy, sustainably harnessed, as core to human liberation. In contrast to the pessimism that, in the age of climate change, increasingly marks our cultural and political sensibilities (as well as certain strands of critical theorizing), solarpunk embraces a so-called radical optimism: Its speculative fictions describe utopias; its aesthetics and architecture orient themselves to communalism; and its theory postulates a harmony of technology, nature, and human life (and the ability to achieve it)—even in the midst of climate catastrophe. But what would it mean—culturally, economically, politically—to “align” technology and nature? What, exactly, counts as nature? Why, pace the solarpunk imaginary, is “free” energy crucial to human emancipation? And what, more generally, is the value of speculative thinking and literature? Are solarpunk optimists, to borrow from Ursula K. Le Guin, “realists of a larger reality?”
This course will focus on the philosophical and imaginary turn towards radical optimism in the face of climate change. We will delve into the art, theory, and fiction associated with solarpunk, in order to think about problems of technology, nature, and productive human society—and how nature and material life can be integrated beyond systems of exploitation and oppression. We’ll consider the uses of utopia, the attractions of science fiction for non-capitalist thinking, the meaning of sustainability, debates over growth and degrowth, and the philosophical and cultural significance of affects of optimism and pessimism. Is contemporary pessimism a form of realism, or a lack of imagination? Readings will include works and excerpts from Ursula K. Le Guin, Kyle Powys Whyte, Andreas Malm, Rebecca Solnit, Becky Chambers’s Monk and Robot duology, and emerging literature within the solarpunk movement—both theoretical and literary.
Course ScheduleSunday, 2:00-5:00pm ET
April 14 — May 05, 2024