Geert Lovink: Where in your biography would you trace the origins of speculative thought?
Kodwo Eshun: One of the key inputs is McLuhan. There is an interview he gave in 1968 called “Hot and Cool”. Here I realized that McLuhan had anticipated my project. He was saying that the extraction of concepts from any field demands that these concepts be used as probes in order to get into a possibility space. Not to contextualize and historisize, tracing the archeology of concepts, where they come from, which is what academics are trained to do. Often it helps if the concept is quite empty. McLuhan was really fascinated by this.
It works well with science fiction, specifically J.G. Ballard. Science fiction as theory on fast forward. In Ballard’s theory fiction, especially his “Atrocity Exhibition” in 1970, and “Myths of the Near Future”, his trilogy “Crash”, “Concrete Islands” and “High Rise” and in lots of his essays you have a particular obsessive figure who is trying to work out and stage a particular project: WW III, or the assassination of JFK and Malcolm X all over again. In order to do that they are forced to go out and construct a theory kit. Take for example a painting of Max Ernst, which will then have an aggressively speculative meaning and function, which will then lead you into a new space time. On the other side you have the scientist, who using speculative analysis to understand the anti-hero’s speculative projects. Here we have two levels of speculation, embedded inside fiction. The other thing is that Ballard is doing a science fiction of the next minutes. He drops away the Star Wars space opera, with its galactic and robotic elements. What you are left with is a science fiction of nine minutes from now, the technology of plastics, the pill. He is drawing a zodiac of the present.
We have the following: speculative theory embedded in science fiction, science fiction re-interpreted as an analysis of the ongoing present. Add that to McLuhan’s idea of extracting concepts and using them as probes to get to somewhere new. Once I had found these aspects I became more conscious in applying them to sonic concepts which composers and musicians would adopt. Often they would not make programmatic statements. The concepts would rather be buried in track titles or within an album cover. You would be able to see it, but they would be compressed, abbreviated, and I wanted to unstuff them.
(hat tip to notational )
July 30, 2015