29 Nov 2023 – 01 Dec 2023

Always Near. Nahe Zukunft in der Literatur der Gegenwart

Venue: Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung, Pariser Str. 1, Eingang Meierottostr. 8, 10719 Berlin
Organized by Christina Ernst, Moritz Gansen, Hanna Hamel, Alexandra Heimes (all ZfL), Natalie Moser (University of Potsdam), Eva Stubenrauch (HU Berlin)

Every present has its own future. If one is to believe the relevant diagnoses of our contemporary times, it seems as if the future of the 21st century is “being bent back towards the present” (Gumbrecht). This change in literary imaginaries and ways of shaping the future is particularly apparent in the genre of science fiction. Whereas traditional science fiction stories preferred far-away worlds and times to speculatively explore the unknown future (and the status quo of its own present), there have been significant shifts in recent times: In contemporary literature, there is an increased interest in fictions that do not confront their readers with the radical strangeness of distant worlds, but with futures close to our own reality—and with their programs for the future  which also come from the sciences and politics. But what exactly do the futures look like that contemporary literature speculates on today? In what spaces of possibility does this literature operate? What potentials of the present does it identify or contradict, and how are they developed literarily into the future? What forms of depiction and styles of writing does it employ, and how does it model events, turning points, and temporal structures? And to what extent does it put established differentiations—between utopia and dystopia, between realism and speculation, among others—to the test, or does it even subvert them?

Drawing on contemporary literature, but also with regard to other arts and academic futurology, the conference will explore the formats, models, and narratives by which the near future is referred to today. We are especially interested in those imaginaries of the near future that deal with ecological questions and the Anthropocene as well as with digitality and artificial intelligence. Not only do both areas contribute significantly to today’s fantasies of catastrophe and salvation, but both the climatic transformations as well as the further development of digitality and artificial intelligence also bear a great potential to alter narrative forms themselves by strongly relativizing a perspective focused on the human and their expectations of the future (i.e., with regard to the longue durée of natural developments or literarily productive large language models such as GPT3 or 4). Before the background of these debates and advancements, we should also ask what specific use literature has with regard to cataclysmic or revolutionary developments such as climate catastrophes, the ever-proceeding digitalization, or pandemics, and how it situates itself in relation to other discourses such as the modelling or prognostic sciences.

The conference takes place in cooperation with the University of Potsdam and the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. It is the last event organized by the project Neighborhood in Contemporary Berlin Literature at the ZfL and closes the series “Always near,” which has been taking place in cooperation with different partners in Berlin since the fall of 2022. The different readings and talks explore the question of what kind of future the most recent works of contemporary literature present us with.


Wednesday, 29 Nov 2023

7.00 pm


Thursday, 30 Nov 2023

10.00 am
Moderation: Moritz Gansen (ZfL)

  • Hanna Hamel, Alexandra Heimes (both ZfL), Eva Stubenrauch (HU Berlin): Opening
  • Julia Grillmayr (University of Arts Linz): Realismen unserer Zeit

11.30 am

  • Jürgen Wertheimer (University of Tübingen): Cassandra oder: der Fluch als Chance
  • Anders Engberg-Pedersen (Syddansk Universitet, Odense): The National Security Novel

3.00 pm
Moderation: Alexandra Heimes (ZfL)

  • Moritz Ingwersen (Dresden University of Technology): New Futurisms: Critical Worldmaking from Indigenous Futurism to Solarpunk
  • Due to illness, Karin Krauthausen’s presentation has been canceled.

4.30 pm
Moderation: Hanna Hamel (ZfL)

  • Ann Cotten (Berlin): Warum Gott fern bleiben muss: Intuitive Prognostik der Abweichung und genommene Freiheit in “Nicht-was-du-denkst”-Originalitätspoesie

7.00 pm

  • Choose Your Future
    Readings, installation “Die drei Jahreszeiten” and podium discussion with Ann Cotten, Tim Holland, and Anja Kümmel


Friday, 1 Dec 2023

9.30 am
Moderation: Eva Stubenrauch (HU Berlin)

  • Stefan Willer (HU Berlin): Fortschritt, Freiheit, Outer Space. Mit Dietmar Dath hinaus über die Nahzukunft
  • Georg Dickmann (UdK Berlin): “Near pharmacological Futures?”—Zu seltsamen und prekären Stoffen der Science-Fiction

11.15 am
Moderation: Christina Ernst (ZfL)

  • Philipp Schönthaler (Berlin): Die nahe Zukunft als literarischer Imperativ
  • Jiré Emine Gözen (University of Europe for Applied Sciences, Berlin): Von “Data Made Flesh in the Mazes” zu “A Vessel that Accepts Nature as It Is”: Über eine Metamorphose des Denkens über Zukunft in experimentellen Gefügen

2.00 pm
Moderation: Natalie Moser (University of Potsdam)

  • Hania Siebenpfeiffer (Philipps-Universität Marburg): Zwischen Utopie und Anarchie: (Weibliche) Zukunftsentwürfe in Enzensbergers Auf See
  • Eva Axer (ZfL): Sprechende Hyperobjekte? Skalare Inkongruenz in Kim Stanley Robinsons The Ministry for the Future

4.15 pm

  • Closing discussion