Decades before a U.S. national imaginary fixated on the “new frontier” of space colonization, L.A. civil engineer William Mulholland suggested that world-building here on Earth was California’s particular manifest destiny. In retrospect, his bravado about a growing city’s land-and-water grab from the Paiute Shoshone and agricultural communities of the Owens Valley offers a prescient touchstone for subsequent dreams about moon landings and Martian colonies that have emanated, in no small measure, from California’s ever-expanding tech industries. Meanwhile, contemporary writers and artists probe the ecological and ethical hazards — as well as the quasi-magical promises — of these various world-building fantasies and the real-world simulations and speculations they fuel. In developing this idea, the talk puts the futurism of engineers and sci-fi writers in conversation with other cultural fields and imaginative forms, from astrobiology to lyric poetry to performance art.
Allison Carruth is an associate professor at UCLA, where she currently holds the Waldo W. Neikirk Chair for undergraduate education innovation (2018-21). She is a faculty member of the Department of English and Institute for Society and Genetics and is affiliated with the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and The Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center program. She serves as director of the Laboratory for Environmental Narrative Strategies (LENS). A co-founder of the public engagement project Play the LA River, she is involved in ongoing collaborations with artists, scientists and media makers.
At Princeton, she is teaching “Creative Ecologies: American Environmental Narrative and Art, 1980-2020.”
Her interests include contemporary environmental narrative, media and art; American food culture; art-science experimentation; and collaboration between the humanities and life sciences. She also writes about the historical avant-garde as well as contemporary art movements in relationship to American environmental thought. The author of Global Appetites: American Power and the Literature of Food (Cambridge University Press 2013) and co-author with Amy L. Tigner of Literature and Food Studies (Routledge 2018), she is currently completing a book titled Novel Ecologies.
Publications have appeared in American Literary History, ASAP/Journal, KCET, Modern Fiction Studies, Modernism/modernity, Parallax, Public Culture, Public Books, PMLA and Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities, and in collections including Postcolonial Ecologies and The Routledge Companion to the Environmental Humanities.