I’m starting a new research project. It’s tentatively entitled “The Elusive Aesthetics of the Present.” As I work on it, I want to post random comments related to what I’m trying to do here. I’m not sure what kind of material I’ll share. It’s an experiment, to see what it’s like to speak publicly about developing research.
The project itself is about how difficult it’s become to imagine the present. This is partly because we’re living through a time of great strides in technology, troubling changes to our environment, and economic turmoil caused by something that is generally known as neoliberalism. All of these factors are putting an enormous strain on the ways in which we understand our reality, making everything seem virtual, weird, immaterial. Add to this the fact that the US is going to be majority nonwhite in a few decades, women are now firmly entrenched members of the work force (even if pay equity remains out of reach for most), gays and lesbians are now visible in a way they have never been before, and so on and so forth, and it’s not hard to see that the present may seem to many as momentously like a break with the past and as in transition toward a future of uncertain shape.
I’ve been led to this subject by my two earlier works, which focused on the ways in which race affects our imagination of the present and the future both. The first of these looked at the ways in which creative artists of the 1990s kept turning again and again to the 1992 Los Angeles riots as a source of tropes for giving form to their fears about the near future. The second examined contemporary literature by Asian Americans, who had to make sense of their fraught relation to a history of political activism that kept on insisting the future could be different from the status quo and a race thinking that views Asians and Asian Americans alike as figures of futurity.
The current project is at an early stage of development, although I’ve been thinking about it for some time. I’ve written a very rough draft of a chapter on the way science journalists seek to popularize the science of climate change. It’s something that needs a lot of work! I’m also working on a chapter about how to look at art photographs of Detroit’s ruins. This is showing more promise.
In addition to these inchoate efforts to compose my thoughts into something cogent, I’m also preparing a PhD seminar I’ve entitled “American Literature and the New Materialism.” More about this course soon.
© 2013 Min Hyoung Song