Stef Craps
Memory after Humanism. Ed. Susanne C. Knittel and Kári Driscoll. Spec. issue of Parallax 23.4 (2017): 479-92.
Publication year: 2017

This essay explores a narrative device familiar from sci-fi and dystopian fiction that is commonly used in literary and cultural responses to climate change, and which is particularly suggestive for thinking through the implications of the Anthropocene for memory and the field of memory studies. Works as generically diverse as Franny Armstrong’s film The Age of Stupid (2009), Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway’s fictional future history The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future (2014), George Turner’s novel The Sea and Summer (1987), and Jan Zalasiewicz’s popular science book The Earth after Us (2008) all feature a historian, archivist, or geologist who looks back on our present moment from a distant vantage point in a dystopian, (almost) post-human future irrevocably marked by climate change. These works can thus be seen to respond to the challenge of the Anthropocene—an era that requires the future anterior tense for its very conceptualization— to consider human and inhuman scales in relation to one another. The preoccupation with anticipated memory and preliminary or proleptic mourning evident in fictional future histories of climate change, which subvert the customary parameters of memory in terms of both scale and directionality, resonates with recent calls for memory studies to become more future-oriented instead of merely backward-looking. Scholars typically seek to make memory studies relevant to the present and the future by forging more robust links between memory and transitional justice or human rights discourses. Climate fiction of the future-history variety—which mourns future losses proleptically in order for these losses not to come to pass in the first place—presents another promising avenue for further research in the same spirit.