Hopeful Monsters

Very excited to announce that last week I signed a contract with the MIT Press for my book-in-progress, Hopeful Monsters. I’ll be saying a lot more about this in coming weeks and months, but for now thought I’d post a brief formal description of the project:

Hopeful Monsters: Computing, Counterfactuals, and the Long Now of Things is an examination of the role of conjectural methods, counterfactual reasoning, and speculative design in the humanistic disciplines. It is a contribution to the rapidly emerging literature on the “digital humanities” that takes seriously the idea that the future (as well as the past) is a viable domain for humanistic inquiry and—crucially—that it is also computationally (and materially) accessible. More than half a century ago, C. P. Snow asserted that scientists have “the future in their bones,” while humanists act as if “the future did not exist.”[1] Although few today would frame the differences in terms as stark as these, the idea that the disciplines are divided along predictive-historical lines persists.   Hopeful Monsters reexamines this duality by arguing that the number and diversity of humanistic genres and fields of study prefiguring or otherwise deeply engaged with the future have, over the course of the last decade, reached critical mass. These would include, among others, possible worlds theory; imaginary media; tangible futures and design fiction; culturomics; constructed languages; environmental and sustainability studies; digital curation and preservation; and massively multiplayer forecasting games, such as World Without Oil, Urgent Evoke, and Find the Future.  (The Long Now of my title is taken from the non-profit foundation of the same name, which seeks to furnish tools and methods for reckoning with “deep time,” time measured in intervals of not only decades, but also hundreds or even thousands of years.)[2]  Individual chapters develop the critical and theoretical tools necessary for developing practical heuristics for conjectural thinking by ranging in scope from digital preservation techniques and the culture of game modding and emulation to the design of weird computer architectures and counterfactual machines to the creation of “artifacts-from-the-future” for transmedia storytelling and Alternate Reality Games.  Simultaneously seeking to both broaden our conception of digital humanities (in particular by counterbalancing its current emphasis on “big data” with the DIY cultures of making, modding, and tinkering) and reorient the humanities toward a more hopeful, less crisis-ridden future, Hopeful Monsters is about the strange loops and hybrid products of what-if thinking in the service of art, design, preservation, and communication.


[1] Snow, The Two Cultures (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1959) 11.