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“Why not pitch the whole enterprise at the highest level possible?”: Speculative Radicalism and the Planetary Topics

Stefanski, Nicholas L. (2020) “Why not pitch the whole enterprise at the highest level possible?”: Speculative Radicalism and the Planetary Topics. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation problematizes the hegemony of “critique” within the humanities in general and communication studies in particular. I argue that critique in the current mode, a reading and engagement practice that valorizes suspicion and purports to unmask allegedly concealed ideologies, does not equip scholars or students with the imaginative capacity necessary to confront the problems of the Anthropocene. Drawing upon the resources of speculative realism and speculative fiction, I propose speculative radicalism as an alternative practice. Speculative radicalism is an affirmative mode of reading, engagement, and theorizing that encourages the imagining of alternative future ways of living and modes of production, proceeding stepwise from a posited point of difference, or “novum.” Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy is offered as a model of invention in the speculative radicalist mode.

With the goal of elaborating how speculative radicalism operates in this context, I repurpose the rhetorical topics of invention, or topoi. I argue that to fully appreciate the Mars Trilogy, one must understand that its applicable topics are, in fact, the planetary features of Mars itself: its gravity, landforms, and more. I develop and analyze this list of the planetary topics in the context of the Trilogy. In addition, I use the planetary topics to reevaluate established critical readings of the strategy video game series Sid Meier’s Civilization, as well as Robert Zubrin’s nonfiction space advocacy monograph The Case for Mars. I conclude that a reading of these artifacts informed by the planetary topics can yield more nuanced judgements than those produced by the prevailing style of academic critique; furthermore, this conclusion points the way toward the development of a speculative radicalist mode of engagement and imagination that is capable of meeting the challenges of the Anthropocene.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Stefanski, Nicholas L.nls53@pitt.edunls53
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairMalin, Brenton
Committee MemberMarshall, David
Committee MemberVee,
Committee MemberMatheson,
Date: 16 September 2020
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 24 April 2020
Approval Date: 16 September 2020
Submission Date: 26 July 2020
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 266
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Communication: Rhetoric and Communication
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: rhetoric of critique, speculative fiction, science fiction, speculative realism, Kim Stanley Robinson, Mars Trilogy, Sid Meier's Civilization, rhetoric of worldbuilding
Date Deposited: 16 Sep 2020 15:05
Last Modified: 16 Sep 2020 15:05


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