Possible Worlds and Accessibility

(Just to be clear “poetics” is used here as the study of literary forms and discourse. When referring to the “poetics of space” or “cultural poetics” the author is usually signaling that he will be looking at the form and formal vocabulary used to describe “x.” I would say that Malpass also employed poetics to distinguish between types of design. Cut-up, burlesque, parody, satire, and allegory are all literary forms and by referring to the forms I understood immediately the intended narrative form (or in the case of cut-ups, non-narrative) of the designed objects.)

In the “The Poetics of Design Fiction,” the authors settle on a recent poetics theory:

“so-called possible world theory (or possible world semantics) is based on the assumption that fictions can be properly understood as ‘possible worlds’, which can be either easy or difficult to access from our real world.”

I love the idea of accessibility as a lens through which to understand literature, and think it particularly relevant to design fiction. I had the opportunity to see author/activist Junot Diaz (author of Pulitzer Prize Winning book The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and a professor at MIT who teaches a pretty cool world-building class) speak on several occasions. He talked about genre fiction, such as sci-fi, and compared the experience of reading sci-fi to that of an immigrant living in the U.S–You might not understand all of the words being used. The cultures and traditions may look strange, but the more immersed you become in the world, the more you absorb, understand and take on as your own. The more sci-fi’s you read, the faster you pick up on the important clues of a new book, a new world. Your position within the culture of sci-fi, therefore, changes over time and the entire genre becomes more accessible. This metaphor reminds me that the distance you create between your reader and the world of your design fiction will vary not only according to how possible the world is compared to “reality,” but how possible it is compared to your reader’s “reality.” As an immigrant to a new world they bring not only their own cultures, but all of their experiences with them. Thus “accessibility” is a flexible and constantly changing metric.

…Which brings me to “The Ideology of the Future in Design Fictions” and the discussion of the failure of Dunne’s Placebo Project in Brazil. The students observed that the project was “too strange” and that “concerns over electro-magnetic fields was a Eurpoean thing.” In other words, the object was inaccessible because the possible world that the object implied was too far from the Brazilian student’s reality.

Pinto’s idea that both past and future are shaped by the present and that the present is constantly changing (“reality is a process”), allows for a different application of  the “accessibility” of “possible worlds.” Our actions and thoughts interfere with the world, make reality apparent and at the same time change it. Following Pinto’s ideology of liberation, our design fictions should not only offer a picture of the world where people are passively transformed—all of their problems eventually solved–by new technology, but where people can “construct the means of production to modify the present reality.” Imagining the future tools of liberation, brings into reality a possible world. It makes the future, liberated world more accessible.

One day when I haven’t written so much already, I’ll tell you about a project my partner and I conducted at a shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth, the “impossible” objects they invented, and the gallery where we exhibited.


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