Prognostics and Literature
The future today is topical in many ways. Scientists and politicians are discussing the possible effects of climate change for nature and society; security experts are trying to anticipate criminal and terroristic behavior and to develop strategies of prevention; technology assessment as well as the study of future developments on the financial market are becoming more and more important for political decisions.
Given these current types of envisioning things-to-be, it becomes all the more evident that the future has not always been what it is today. Therefore the project Prognostics and Literature examines central stages in the history of prognostics from the early modern period to the present, in order to find out about the various ways in which knowledge of the future—i.e., of something which is absent by definition—has been constructed. Moreover, the expression ›knowledge of the future‹ can also be understood as knowledge to come, or knowledge in the making—the future as subject matter being tightly related to the future as grammatical-rhetorical mode or temporality. Thus, the projects aims at analyzing the epistemology of future knowledge by considering the specific style of prognostic enunciations.
This kind of reflection on the linguistic, narrative, and also medial aspects of thinking and talking about the future is generally forgotten in public discussions. Here literature has its specific appearance: Literary texts like utopias or dystopias are important actors for the imagination of future societies, but especially they reflect the making of the future and the social and political impacts of future knowledge in developping scenarios foreseeing the future in form of complex narrative constructions. For example, Daniel Defoe’s report A Journal of the Plague Year (1722) confronts superstitious prophecies with the the bills of mortality confronting prophets and policemen, Friedrich Schiller’s drama Wallenstein (1798/99) discusses the role of astrological future knowledge for political decisions, and Franz Kafka’s story Der Bau (1923/24) shows how prevention becomes a paranoia. In this vein, textual analyses of literary ›futurologies‹ provide a model for the project’s historical and philological investigations of future knowledge production in general