3Q with Prof Sandy Alexandre: On the literary roots of many technological innovations

Published on: May 27, 2020

Sandy Alexandre, Associate Professor of Literature at MIT; photo by Jon Sachs

“The World Wide Web is famously said to have been inspired by Arthur C. Clarke’s short story ‘Dial F For Frankenstein’ (1964). Whatever the truth is, I’m not surprised about the strong probability that a writer’s process of meticulously crafting creative ways of communicating with readers would inevitably lead to the creation of imaginary inventions that foresee entirely new ways of communicating with people.”

  Associate Professor of Literature Sandy Alexandre’s research spans the late nineteenth-century to present-day black American literature and culture. In 2019, Alexandre was awarded a prestigious Bose Research Grant, which supports her study of the under-explored phenomenon of ideas that first appear in speculative fiction becoming technological and social reality. SHASS Communications spoke to Alexandre about her project to illuminate the literary, humanistic sources of technological innovations and advancements.   • • • Q:  Literature as a source for technological innovation is under-explored territory. What directions are you most excited about in your current research? Alexandre: In asking participants in my study to read specifically for a work of speculative fiction’s imaginary inventions, I am effectively asking them to read with a one-track mind. Needless to say, this approach to teaching literature is not characteristic of my usual or preferred modus operandi. So, besides a very extensive list of imaginary inventions, I’m curious to know what else that very particular way of reading might yield. Could it help us understand how to factor imaginary inventions into a work of fiction’s overall design, meaning, and significance, for example? Why is a particular category of imaginary invention, rather than another one, necessary to the particular story a work of speculative fiction wants to tell? Read more here…