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Speculative Realism and Science Fiction

Brian Willems 2017 book, Speculative Realism and Science Fiction, is an exploration into both areas through one another. It looks at how Science fiction has been a speculative tool and presents a collection of science fiction references that start to move into the realm of speculative realism, or can be taken there. Using objects, narrative and descriptive tools as metaphors/examples of ideas and mechanics within speculative realism, it takes it out of the dense academic world and gives it some air in the fictional imaginative space.  

Primarily I found this movement inspiring, as it makes speculative realism more relatable and consumable, something that I am very keen about. Moving complex and important ideas into a realm where they may be shared more openly and easily, providing interesting means to understand them and making them more relevant. It is one of the reasons why I am trying to make a simple and enjoyable game based on a complex framework of perceptions, translated/simulated through the game’s mechanics/interactions. 

The Zug

Willems explores the intangible nature of speculative realism through the ‘Zug effect’, an effect named after a great fictional beast, “described as a ‘mutated orthidian’, a 30-foot flesh-eating monster”, a zug moves with “an impossible reptilian motion, and looked at him with tiny red eyes’”. He emphasis’s the impossible and explains how a zug is described in a manor which dictates its nature or essence but not its characteristics. Creating a form that has a core but whose skin is in constant flux.  

He reflects this in more science fiction referencing them to different speculative realists, such as Harman and Meillasoux. One of my favorites discussing Delany’s break down of Frank Herbert’s Dune, and the description of the ornithopter’s mechanism. 

“what is significant about an ornithopter is not how it is like either a helicopter or a bird. What is significant about it is that, when we focus our mind’s eye at the joint of wing and fuselage, we can see the hydraulic pistons, when we open up the wing-casing, we can follow the cables and pulleys inside, we can hear the bearings in the bearing case around the connective shaft – which joints pistons, cables and bearings are foreign to both birds and helicopters but without which our ornithopter would not fly” 

Potential Ornithopter?

Through these he tries to compose a new perception of object and spectator, one where the object is always refracting the spectator’s conception of it over its core essence. In a way saying that we only ever see our version of the world in front of us, with speculative realism we are creating a new language to understand and interact with this process. Potentially one that can help us understand more about what is out there and counteract the biases we face from being human. This is where my project begins really.  

To start we can test and reform structures of interaction, understanding and perception, building tools that embody this through their function. For this project I am creating a new sort of instrument apparatus, that opposes the formations of traditional music in its physicality and understanding. It turns music making into an exploratory experience, where we play with a body beyond our comprehension (The Zug), every interaction is familiar but yet so distant. Where we sense something that we can never truly understand with every interaction morphing and changing it in noticeable and unnoticeable ways. Reforming the anthropocentric face of music and trying out new experimental ways of making to understand what it could be beyond what we see in it.  


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