Speculative Subjects Surviving Somehow: Speculative Survival Narrative and Neoliberal Intelligence Politics in the 21st Century
Dissertation in Culture
First supervisor: Prof. Frank Kelleter
Second supervisor: Prof. Martin Lüthe
Third supervisor: Prof. Philipp Schweighauser
This dissertation analyses the interrelation of speculative fiction, which focuses on issues of human survival in dark storyworlds, and neoliberal subjectivities marked by discourses of multiple intelligences. My analysis reads Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy (2008-2010) and AMC’s television series The Walking Dead (2010-present) as defining examples of this interrelation. Drawing on Pierre Bourdieu’s field theory methodologically and theoretically, on Jane Tompkins’ analysis of the cultural work of fiction, on Richard Grusin’s concept of ‘premediation,’ as well as on Rachel Greenwald Smith’s observations about affect theory, neoliberalism, and literature, I advance four crucial terms in order to describe and account for the complex and multidirectional interrelation between these fictional narratives and real-life subjectivities. Speculative survival describes both the specific genre conventions and their desired affective engagement of the audience. The term speculative subjectivities denotes neoliberal subjects that are constantly engaged in orienting their skills and behavioral modes towards optimizing themselves in hopes of success. I further describe the discursive, symbolic, and cultural construction of human intelligences as a cultural politics of intelligences, and by extension employ neoliberal intelligence politics to describe neoliberalism’s cognitive demands. Combining my terminologies in the analysis of my primary texts, I conclude that these fictive negotiations of speculative survival cannot escape the confines of neoliberal intelligence politics that tether their speculative subjects in constant cognitive conditioning and the pursuit of success and survival.