Sublime Cognition

Sublime Cognition: Science Fiction & Metaphysics

Friday 14th – Saturday 15th September 2018

School of Arts, 43 Gordon Square

The Centre for Contemporary Literature is glad to be supporting the London Science Fiction Research Community’s Sublime Cognition conference, taking place 14–15 September at 43 Gordon Square, London. The conference will explore science fiction’s lost history of engagement with the mythical, magical and mystical, via papers and discussion panels featuring nearly 40 speakers. There will be keynote addresses from Roger Luckhurst and Helen De Cruz, and a roundtable discussion featuring SF authors Jeff Noon, Justina Robson and Fiona Moore.

The programme is now available for viewing here.

Please go here to register.

What follows is a fuller description of the conference theme and programme.


Many SF critics have understood science fiction to be specifically guided by a rational empiricist epistemology, and have thus disregarded the important presence of magical, religious, spiritual and metaphysical phenomena in science fiction. Deploying the broad catch-all of ‘metaphysics’, this conference will explore SF’s lost history of engagement with the mythical and mystical. Central areas of focus will include an assessment of what role (if any) metaphysical phenomena have played in science fiction, and to what degree SF can be distanced from the spiritual, supernatural and numinous concerns of other literatures of the fantastic. Assessing SF’s complex relationship with the metaphysical opens into many other productive areas of inquiry as well: How can science fictional texts help us understand broader cultural processes of knowledge formation and paradigm shift? To what degree does SF act as a protected space for ideas that have been proposed within empiricist frameworks, but disproved and/or rejected by established scientific networks? In what way have references to religious cultures and institutions been used to reinforce or undermine normative gender roles in SF texts? How do treatments of metaphysical phenomena in Western SF differ from those which originate in other areas of the globe? How important are the symbols, tropes and imagery of an array of global religious traditions to the quality of enchantment that is as vital to SF as any other fantastic genre?

The conference will feature keynote addresses by Roger Luckhurst (Birkbeck) and Helen de Cruz (Oxford Brookes), as well as a roundtable with authors Justina Robson, Jeff Noon and Fiona Moore (Royal Holloway), moderated by Jim Clarke (Coventry)

Conference Organisers: Rhodri Davies (PhD, Birkbeck), Aren Roukema (PhD, Birkbeck), Francis Gene-Rowe (PhD, Royal Holloway)


Friday 14th September
9.30 – 10.00 Registration
10.00 – 10.15 Conference Introduction
10.15 – 11.15 Keynote 1 (Roger Luckhurst)
11.15 – 11.30 Break
11.30 – 12.30 Parallel Panels 1
12.30 – 13.30 Lunch
13.30 – 14.30 Parallel Panels 2
14.30 – 15.30 Parallel Panels 3
15.30 – 15.45 Break
15.45 – 16.45 Parallel Panels 4
16.45 – 17.00 Break
17.00 – 18.00 Discussion: ‘Cognition’ and the Sublime

Saturday 15th September
9.30 – 10.00 Registration
10.00 – 11.00 Keynote 2 (Helen de Cruz)
11.00 – 11.15 Break
11.15 – 12.45 Parallel Panels 5
12.45 – 13.45 Lunch
13.45 – 15.15 Parallel Panels 6
15.15 – 15.30 Break
15.30 – 16.30 Parallel Panels 7
16.30 – 16.45 Break
16.45 – 18.00 Conference Roundtable (Justina Robson, Jeff Noon, Fiona Moore)

Panel Compositions:

A: James Burton (Goldsmiths, University of London), “Magical Rationality: Science Fiction as Gnostic Myth” & Serena Volpi (Lorenzo de Medici Institute), “Wild Seeds and the Phoenix: Octavia Butler, Nnedi Okorafor, and Myths of Africa in Twentieth-Century Western Anthropology”
B: Sasha Myerson (Birkbeck, University of London), “The Sublime in non-Cartesian Space” & Gwilym Eades (Royal Holloway, University of London), “Cyberpunctum: Metaphysics of Cyberpunk”

A: Kerry Dodd (Lancaster University), “‘A Singularity without an Event Horizon’: The Cosmic Sublime and Deconstruction of Empirical Boundaries” & Evert Jan van Leeuwen (Leiden University), “Transcendental Ecstasy in Clifford Simak’s Time and Again and Wim Gijsen’s ‘Soul Call'”
B: Jo Lindsay Walton (University of Edinburgh), “Satanic Socialism in Science Fiction” & Tetsuro Tanojiri (University of Tokyo & Tokyo University of Foreign Studies), “Fighting against the Gods: ‘PSYCHO-PASS’ and the social/psychological governance of 2010s Japan”

A: Mattia Petricola (University of Bologna & University of Paris-Sorbonne), “The re-enchantment of SF: towards a theory of sublime cognition” & Farzad Mahootian (New York University) “Going Medieval on AI: Neoplatonic Overtones in Lem’s GOLEM XIV”
B: Andrew Rowcroft (University of Lincoln), “Kim Stanley Robinson: Facts, Values, Philosophy” & Jan Sigle (Leiden University), “As the Machine Stops, A Metropolis Begins”

A: Jim Clarke (Coventry University), “Is Buddhism the religion it’s okay for Science Fiction to like?” & Chris Hussey (University of Cambridge), “‘Only the truly divine deny their divinity’: the problem of ‘religion’ within the Black Library’s Horus Heresy series”
B: Katie Stone (Birkbeck, University of London), “Intelligent Design: Creation and Reproduction in Feminist Science Fiction” & Luke Jones (London Metropolitan University), “Glass Mysticism in Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We“

A: Glyn Morgan (University of Liverpool), “‘For God’s sake, where is God?’ Evil, The Holocaust, and Fantastic Fiction”, Rob Mayo (Independent), “‘Landscapes of the Mind’: anti-psychiatry and New Wave SF” & Amanda Pavani (Federal University of Minas Gerais), “The image as blindness and as message in Connie Willis’ The Passage”
B: Joseph Brooker (Birkbeck, University of London), “Experiences of Alterity in Jonathan Lethem’s Girl in Landscape“, Thore Bjørnvig (Independent), “The Star Maker and the Extraterrestrial Mysticism of John C. Lilly” & Brian Stableford (Independent), “Evolutionary Metaphysics in Eighteenth-Century roman scientifique“

A: Ethan Doyle White (University College London, University of London), “‘My People Call it the Dweller on the Threshold’: Theosophy, Esotericism, and Occulture in David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks“, Dan Byrne-Smith (Chelsea College of Arts, University of the Arts London), “Technologies of enchantment in Saga” & Hallvard Haug (Birkbeck, University of London), “Artificial Spirit: Magic, Technology, and the Alchemical Singularity”
B: Imogen Woodberry (Royal College of Art), “Aldous Huxley: Mysticism, Cosmic Consciousness and Group Fellowship”, Llew Watkins (Independent), “The unreality of reality: Looking for a metaphysical basis for fantastical SF in the Buddhist canon” & Yen Ooi (Royal Holloway, University of London), “Death Isn’t Final: Science Fiction tropes from Imperialist China”

A: Christos Callow Jr. (University of Chichester), “Performing the Nonhuman: Performance, Transcendence and Science Fiction Theatre” & Thomas Kewin (University of Liverpool), “‘Techno-Narco-Mysticism’: Mystical Stretcher-Bearers, Gnostic Consultancies, and Cosmologies of the Algorithmic in Matthew de Abaitua’s The Red Men and If Then”
B: Carrie Gooding (Independent) + Terence Sawyers (Queen Margaret University), “Philip K. Dick: Fictionalising/Defictionalising Philosopher”

Venue:   School of Arts, Birkbeck, University of London

Venue Phone: +44 (0) 20 7631 6000

Venue Website:


43 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0PD


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