Our world today is not just characterised by the Covid-19 pandemic and the climate disaster, it is also increasingly dominated and driven by financialised capitalism, as manifest e.g., in trading in derivatives and the rise of the cryptocurrency known as “bitcoin.” In other words, contemporary financialisation is entirely speculative – albeit always with material consequences on subjectivity, action and notions of community. As speculative capital has already permeated the social through mortgages, health insurance, student loans, and credit card debt, this results in the movement from stability to risk as the basic condition of everyday life. In this manner, speculative finance serves to hide or normalise various forms of abstract violence: on a personal and intimate level, such violence is inflicted by processes of real subsumption, in which “everyday life” becomes saturated by the technologies, processes, ideological norms associated with finance and debt. Speculative finance is thus a consistent and structural part of contemporary capitalism, whereby continuous crises of accumulation are concealed and delayed.
Meanwhile, calls to rethink the future have proliferated in recent years. Images of potential (most often dystopian or apocalyptic) futures dominate popular culture. If our present course (economic, environmental, geopolitical) is indeed unsustainable, then there is no sense in which we can avoid “genuinely open and new futures”, the need to reclaim the power to imagine the future outside of financial capitalism. At this point, we would emphasize the role of speculative fiction in contesting the teleology of financial capitalism and thus imagining alternative futures.
Indeed, the genres of speculative fiction offer unique and extraordinary critical perspectives concerning our contemporary financialised existence. As Steven Shaviro suggests, speculative finance works to shut down alternative futures, while speculative fiction seeks to multiply and open up alternative possibilities. Speculative fiction therefore does what speculative finance seeks to avoid: it reveals the contradictions of financial speculation and the possibilities that lie hidden in the present. In this way, speculative fiction becomes not only a way of probing the limits and central contradictions of speculative finance today, but also as the starting point for exploring the possibilities within it.
Speculative fiction relies on imagination and projection, and its plots and settings resemble empirically observable, social and technological trends. Thus, it is arguably an ideal vehicle for critiquing the features of capitalism, mainly because, capitalism is itself a speculative fiction. In terms of shaping society’s capacity to imagine potential futures, we are always and unavoidably dealing with matters of culture. In part, this means taking seriously popular culture as a rich repository of imaginative possibilities. As Fredric Jameson pointed out in his ground-breaking essay “Culture and Finance Capital”, any “comprehensive new theory of finance capitalism will need to reach out into the expanded realm of cultural production to map its effects”.
Speculative fiction is an act of the human imagination which is formative upon material reality. In this sense, it has the power not only to foretell potential doom, but to propose utopian and real political alternatives. Thus, it has the capacity to de-familiarise the unsatisfying realities by re-inscribing them into the capitalist imaginary in a way that converts this imaginary from utopia into dystopia. What’s more, it makes the reader aware of the capitalist dynamics that remain to be realised, and is capable of doing so precisely because of its self-conscious rootedness in the lived experience of capitalism, where such dynamics or the main features of the capitalist imaginary have been partly realised. Speculative fiction challenges capitalism as an imagined ideal by reading it against current tendencies which capitalist futurity cannot admit into its ideological frame. In this way, it also provides insights into political contestation and alternative futures in contemporary political life. After all, the tools of speculative fiction, no matter if it is science fiction, fantasy, the gothic, horror, or any other variation of the fantastic, has always been contestational in that they make it possible to imagine alternatives to the lives we live. By using speculative fiction, we can contribute constructively to vigorous and imaginative public debate about the democratisation of the future, as well as to strengthen our capacity to imagine alternative futures while trapped in the disastrous present. Hence the power of speculative fiction: it creates reality as well as deepens imaginations. It is a sign of a coming society as it haunts the imaginations of people who can build a consciousness toward radical social change.
However, nothing guarantees in advance that a speculative fiction narrative will counter the logic of financial capitalism, and indeed some simply reiterate this ideology. After all, capitalism has colonised not only our present and imagined futures, but also, literally, has consumed the future in the form of a corporate futures industry. We should therefore champion a specific kind of speculative fiction imaginary that can function as a corrective to the narratives celebrated by the global financial market, and its advertising culture. We need to cultivate the kind of speculative fiction that does so.
Thus, there is an urgent need for new future narratives with a collective goal, which provoke us to think about how we might build new futures and new social relationships that are outside of corporate, financialised capitalism. The more reality starts to resemble the dystopias on our screens, the more we need another kind of story. There are enough dystopian and capitalist futures out there, we must imagine and reach out the emancipatory futures we want.
The production of post-capitalist futures would constitute a form of indirect action without which a struggle for freedom cannot hope to be successful. But it’s not a single narrative or vision that is required but many alternative futures, each potentially opening up the gates for a post-capitalist world. Hence the importance of speculative fiction as the stories it tells, cultural visions it creates can have an impact on the reality we live. Speculative fiction can counter financial capitalism by rendering post-capitalist futures thinkable. If we’re after post-capitalist futures, then we must think what kind of stories we tell that can empower the readers and political communities. The practice of speculative fiction at its best, then, can work to compel belief in different kinds of possible futures, ones that begin from the experiences and points of view of those whose lives are made invisible by the expulsions of financial capitalism.