Sun Ra Arkestra, ‘Space is the Place’ (1974)

Designing ‘Other’ Worlds || Fall ‘19

Ahmed Ansari
Oct 18, 2018 · 13 min read

Course DM-GY 9103-E
Mondays, 2.30 PM — 5.20 PM
Room # 362, Brooklyn Campus

Taught by
Ahmed Ansari, aa7703@nyu.edu, 617 816 4167 (prefer email contact)
Office Hours
Tue & Thurs, 10:30am–12:00pm, 1:30pm-3:00pm or by appointment
370 Jay St., 3rd Floor, Room # 360
Course Prerequisites
None

“The surfaces of others, surfaces of suffering, that face me appeal to me and make demands on me. In them, an alien imperative weights on me.”
― Alphonse Lingis

Course Description

How can we not only better understand, but also represent, the lives of others very different from us? These ‘Others’ could be other human beings with bodies and\or minds very different from our own, or they could be other beings entirely. How do we design to communicate our (limited) understanding of the richness of their experiences?

This 15 week studio\seminar hybrid course will deal with speculative design focusing on three things: developing rich worlds, i.e. experiences and narratives, understanding how different genres in speculative fiction, art and design, and focusing on the phenomenon of interactivity and immersion by studying how mediums like interactive print, film and cinema, tangible board\tabletop games, and installation art can be employed in the service of creating rich experiences and narratives, all in the service of understanding and learning to create experiences that speak to the worlds of beings not like us, and the Eurocentric model of the human bequeathed to us moderns via the Enlightenment.

We will look at texts and other media from two broad areas of study: nonhuman phenomonology and anthropology, or texts that deal with representing the inner lives of plants, animals, and other nonhumans, and accounts from cultural anthropology, philosophy, and literature and media studies texts dealing with non-Anglo-Eurocentric phenomenologies, knowledge systems, and futures (sinofuturism, afrofuturism, indofuturism etc.), representations of the lives of humans from other cultures and cosmologies very different from Anglo-European civilisations. We will engage with popular and fringe cultural texts and artifacts, so students should be prepared to spend time watching movies, playing games, reading books etc. in an analytic, reflexive manner in order to better understand the different strategies that authors have developed in order to evoke specific responses in their audiences. Students will thus be exposed to thought from a panoply of disciplines like anthropology, philosophy, science and technology studies, media studies, material culture, and genre, literary and critical cultural theory in order to create rich, interactive worlds as part of a series of studio projects.

In this class, you will bring the technical skills required — the object will be to collaborate with others with complementary skill-sets in order to create one lavish, intricate transmedial project that will draw people into the depth of its world. The object will be to make “other” ways of designing in the world visible and experimenting with the boundaries of design as a practice of cultural production.

Learning Objectives

At a graduate level, students will

  • develop conceptual thinking skills to generate ideas and content in order to solve problems or create opportunities.
  • develop technical skills to realize their ideas.
  • develop critical thinking skills that will allow them to analyze and position their work within cultural, historic, aesthetic, economic, and technological contexts.
  • gain knowledge of professional practices and organizations by developing their verbal, visual, and written communication for documentation and presentation, exhibition and promotion, networking, and career preparation.
  • develop collaboration skills to actively and effectively work in a team or group.

Course Objectives

Over this course, students will be expected to

  • develop a rich, critical understanding of both scholarly literature and creative practice done on the problem of other minds and bodies, specifically on non-humans and non-Anglo-European cultures.
  • understand the relevance of these bodies of work to larger political and social concerns around sustainability and decolonisation.
  • develop an understanding of how the genres of speculative fiction, art and design employ various methods and practices in order to create worlds and narratives that foster intersubjective understanding and empathy.
  • employ this knowledge in the service of creating rich media experiences that seek to build a sense of other minds and their worlds to educate and inspire audiences.

Course Structure
The course will combine lectures and discussion sessions, where we will use the readings and examples given beforehand in class to facilitate our conversations, with in-class exercises and workshops where we practice different methods and techniques in world-building and narratology. Students will be expected to maintain a consistent reading practice throughout the course and assemble case studies to inform their major projects.

Syllabus

This has been planned as a 15 week course. The links to all readings and references are here — specific required readings and exemplars will be given to you beforehand from the list below each module; the rest, while not mandatory, are highly recommended for you to peruse.

Module I: Non-Humans
09.09.2019. Introductions & The Problem of Empathy
Introducing the premise of this course; the artificial and the pluriverse; why understand ‘Other’ bodies and minds?

16.09.2019. Nonhuman Phenomenology
Humans, animals, plants, fungi; Heidegger on worlding; Von Uexkull on umwelt; Nonhuman phenomenologies: Tsing, Kohn, Haraway

23.09.2019. ‘Other’ Natures
Pre-modern and non-Anglo-Eurocentric conceptions of nature; Cosmogenies and cosmologies of nature in the Amazon & Japan; Tetsuro on Climate; Case Studies: Swach Bharat & Public Toilets in South Asia

30.09.2019. Alien Phenomenologies & Xenofictions
Heidegger on Things & Thinghood; Post-Phenomenology & Mediation; Object Oriented Ontology; Ontography, Carpentry, Metaphor; Novelty, Wonder, Dissonance, Humor; Xenofictions; Project I Given

07.10.2019. Workshop; Work Session
Class Exercises: Phenomenal Mapping; The Cosmological Web I

14.10.2019. Work Session

21.10.2019. Work Session

28.10.2019. Final Presentations
Presentation Day!

Things to Read\Watch
Papers & Articles:
Anne-Marie Willis, “Ontological Designing”
Anna Tsing, “Unruly Edges”
Donna Haraway, “Companion Species Manifesto”
John Dupre, “Metaphysics of Metamorphosis”
Peter Godfrey-Smith, “The Mind of an Octopus”
Chez Martinez, “The Octopus in Love”
Donna Haraway, “Tentacular Thinking”
Han Kang, “The Fruit of my Woman”
Dharma Pal Agrawal, “Surapala’s Vrikshayurveda”
Wenhui Hou, “Reflections on Chinese Traditional Ideas of Nature”
Tetsuro Watsuji, “Fudo”
Keller Easterling, “An Internet of Things”
Jennifer Gabrys, “Ocean Sensing and Navigating the End of this World”
Mackenzie Wark on Hiroki Azuma, “Otaku Philosophy”
Oxana Timofeeva, “Ultra Black”
IVC, “What is it like to be a Kinect?”
Exemplars
Pierre Huyghe, Zoodrama
Joyce Hwang & Co., Ants of the Prairie
Eduardo Navarro, Role Reversal
Chris Woebken & Kenji Okada, Animal Superpowers
Theodore and Stephen Spyropoulos, Becoming Animal
Boston Dynamics, Spot
Benjamin Faga, Becoming Critter
Agathe Jacquillat & Tomi Vollauschek, Bzzzpeek
Marguerite Humeau, Lucy from Back, Herebelow, Formidable
Nicolas Myers, Transgenic Bestiary
Veronica Ranner, Polyphonic Futures

Module II: ‘Other’ Humans
04.11.2019. Cosmological Perspectivism
First contact: Amerindian & Settler cosmologies in conflict; de Castros, Sahlins, and Strathern on cosmological perspectivism

11.11.2019. Decolonisation, Transition, & Pluriversality
Escobar on pluriversality; Other modernities; Tetsuro and Hui on cosmotechnics; Decolonising design; Designing other artificials

18.10.2019. Cosmofuturisms & Cosmotechnics
Exemplars of work done in the arts, humanities, and artificial sciences on non-Anglo-Eurocentric perspectives; Project brief given

25.10.2018. Workshop; Work Session
Class Exercises: The Cosmological Web II; Sacred Design

02.11.2018. Work Session

09.12.2018. Work Session

16.12.2018. Final Presentations
Presentation Day!

Things to Read\Watch
Papers & Articles:
Arturo Escobar, “Worlds and Knowledges Otherwise”
Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, “Exchanging Perspectives”
Noel Waite, “Learning Design Histories for Design Futures”
Philippe Descola, “Beyond Nature & Culture”
Interview w/ Marilyn Strathern, “On the Partible Person…”
Veronique Greenwood, “Consciousness Began When the Gods Stopped Speaking”
Ada Agada, “A Truly African Philosophy”
Akhandadhi Das, “Modern technology is akin to the metaphysics of Vedanta”
Sebastian Purcell, “Life on the Slippery Earth”
Graham Priest, “Beyond True and False”
Dorsa Amir, “Love, Death, and Other Forgotten Traditions”
Darko Suvin, “ On the Poetics of the Science Fiction Genre”
Ursula le Guin, “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction”
Philip Butler, “The Black Posthuman Transformer”
The Decolonising Design Platform, “What is at Stake with Decolonising Design?”
Ahmed Ansari, “What a Decolonisation of Design Involves”

Exemplars
Vox, “Afrofuturism mixes sci-fi and social justice”
Dust, “Exploring Sun Ra’s Afrofuturism”
Salman Rushdie, “On Magical Realism”
Xin Wang, “Asian Futurism and the Non-Other”
John Calvert, “Janelle Monae: A Pioneer of Afrofuturism”
Sam Metz, “Fiction of Dystopian Times: Ahmed Saadawi’s “Frankenstein in Baghdad”
Holland Cotter, “At the Rubin Museum, the Future Has Arrived. And It’s Fluid.”
Matt Mullican, “More Details From an Imaginary Universe”
Dunne and Raby, “United Microkingdoms”
Superflux, “Mangala for All”
Morehshin Allahyari, “Portfolio”
Mohammad Soleimani, “Deep Dive Trailer”
Allen Zihan Zhang, “To Be Great”
Kordae Jatafa Henry, “Earth Mother Sky Father”
A Parede, “Portfolio”
The Citizens Archive, “Oral History Project”
Jay Owens, “Exploring the Future Beyond Cyberpunk’s Neon and Noir”
BBC 4, “Magical Realism”
Sun Ra, “Space is the Place”
John Akomfrah, “The Last Angel of History”
The Digs, “You and I and You”
Lawrence Lek, “Sinofuturism (1839–2046 AD)”

Additional Resources

To Read (Academic):
Giorgio Agamben, “The Open”
Anna Tsing, “The Mushroom at the End of the World”
Eduardo Kohn, “How Forests Think”
Luce Irigiray, “Towards Vegetal Being”
Emanuel Coccia, “The Life of Plants”
Thomas Nagel, “What Is It Like To Be a Bat?”
Vilem Flusser, “ Vampyroteuthis Infernalis”
Peter Godfrey-Smith, “Other Minds”
Dave Abram, “Spell of the Sensuous”
Donna Haraway, “Staying with the Trouble”
Sarah Ahmed, “Queer Phenomenology”
Alphonse Lingis, “The Imperative”
Ian Bogost, “Alien Phenomenology”
Jussi Parikka, “A Geology of Media”
Jane Bennett, “Vibrant Matter”
Peter Paul Verbeek, “What Things Do”
Bruno Latour, “Where are the Missing Masses?”
Elaine Scarry, “The Body in Pain”
Arturo Escobar, “Designs for the Pluriverse”
Walter Mignolo, “On Decoloniality”
Pankaj Mishra, “From the Ruins of Empire”
Janet Abu-Lugodh, “Before European Hegemony”
Martin Holbraad et al, “The Ontological Turn”
Marshall Sahlins, “On Kings”
Linda Tuhiwai Smith, “Decolonizing Methodologies”
Vivieros de Castros, “Cannibal Metaphysics”
Michael Taussig, “The devil and commodity fetishism in South America”
Edwards Evans-Pritchard, “The Nuer”
Marilyn Strathern, “The Gender of the Gift”
Yuk Hui, The Question Concerning Technology in China
Watsuji Tetsuro, “Climate: A Study”
Junichiro Tanazaki, “In Praise of Shadows”
Arnold, David, “Everyday Technology”
Francois Jullien, “The Efficacy of Things”
Vijay Nath, “Dana: The Gift System in Ancient India”

To Read (Fiction):
Anna Sewell, Black Beauty
Richard Adams, Watership Down, The Plague Dogs
Cris Freddi, Pork
Isaac Asimov, The Gods Themselves
Stephen Baxter, Evolution
Robert Bakker, Raptor Red
David Brin, The Uplift Trilogy
Greg Egan, Incandescence
Octavia Butler, Xenogenesis
Brian Catling, The Vorrh
Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light
Ursula Le Guin, The Hainish Cycle
William Golding, The Inheritors
Kim Stanley Robinson, The Years of Rice and Salt
Cixin Liu, The Three Body Trilogy, The Wandering Earth
Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl
Pitchaya Sudbanthad, Bangkok Wakes to Rain
Ellen Oh, Elsie Chapman, A Thousand Beginnings & Endings
Ian McDonald, River of Gods, The Dervish House
Octavia Butler, Kindred, The Xenogenesis Trilogy
Kim Stanley Robinson, The Years of Rice and Salt
Samuel Delaney, Babel 17
Kodwo Eshun, More Brilliant than the Sun
Augusto Emílio Zaluar, Doctor Benignus
Blanca Martínez, Diferentes
Eve Gil, Virtus
Jorge Vázquez Ángeles, El jardín de las delicias
Tibor Moricz, Fome
Chan Koonchung, The Fat Years
Lao She, Cat Country
Ken Liu, The Dandelion Dynasty Duology
Nihad Sharif, The Conqueror of Time
Mustafa Mahmud, Man Below Zero
Taibah Al-Ibrahim, The Extinction of Men
Saladin Ahmed, Throne of the Crescent Moon
Muhammad Husain Jah, The Land & The Talisman
Manil Suri, Age of Shiva
Begum Rokaya, Sultana’s Dream
Satyajit Ray, Trilokeshwar Shanku, Bankubabur Bandhu
Rasipuram K. Narayan, The Malgudi books
Attipat K. Ramanujan, Folktales from India
Amitav Ghosh, The Calcutta Chromosome
Jy Yang, The Black Tides of Heaven
Indra Das, The Devourers

To Watch (Movies):
Ryan Coogler, Black Panther (2018)
Stephen Norrington, Blade (1998)
John Coney & Sun Ra, Space is the Place (1974)
John Akomfrah, The Last Angel of History (1996)
Cristina de Middel & Pep Bonet, Afronauts (2014)
Wanuri Kahiu, Pumzi (2009)
Sharon Lewis, Brown Girl Begins (2017)
C. J. Obasi, Hello Rain (2018)
Lawrence Lek, Sinofuturism (2016)
Alfonso Arau, Like Water for Chocolate (1992)
Guillermo del Toro, Cronos (1994)
Werner Herzog, Fitzcarraldo (1982)
Alex Rivera, Sleep Dealer (2008)
Alejandro Damiani, M.A.M.O.N: Latinos vs Donald Trump (2016)
Martin Butler, Bentley Dean, Tanna (2015)
Shekhar Kapur, Mr. India (2017)
Shankar Shanmugam, Enthiran (2010)
K. S. Ravikumar, Dasavatharaam (2008)
S. S. Rajamouli, Baahubali I and II, (2015, 2016)
Taweewat Wantha, Asujaak (2007)
Hideaki Anno, Shin Gojira (2016)
Katsuhiro Otomo, Akira (1988)
Mamoru Oshii, Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Martin Scorsese, Silence (2016)
Shinya Tsukamoto, Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1992)
Jang Joon-hwan, Save the Green Planet! (2005)
Stephen Chow, CJ7 (2008)
Zhou Sun, Impossible ( 不可思异) (2015)

To Play (Videogames):
Bullfrog Productions, Genewars
Might & Delight, Shelter I and II
Moon Studios, Ori and the Blind Forest, Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Coffee Stain Studios, Goat Simulator
Panache Digital Games, Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey
Upper One Games, Never Alone: Kisimi Innutchuna
Microsoft, Age of Empires II & III, Age of Mythology
Firaxis, Sid Meier’s Civilization VI
Paolo Pedercini, Molle Industria Games
Ian Bogost, Critical Games

Grading Criteria

There are three graded components for the class: weekly reflections on a Medium blog, contributions to a course Tumblr thread, and major studio projects.

Weekly Reflections (15%):

In a written reflection each week, you will develop your own questions, observations and points of discussion based on your experiences with the exercises, lectures and readings, or in the project focused work sessions, on your progress over the week. These will offer you a chance to document your own thinking and demonstrate to us that you have been engaging with the material taught in the previous week. You will write these reflections on your own over the week after class and upload 500–750 words before Monday, midnight, onto your Medium blog, before the next class. You can do these reflections in your native language (i.e. Mandarin, Hindi, Japanese etc.). We do not expect straight descriptions of what was done in class — the idea is for you to give us your own thoughts, observations and reflections on content as it relates to what we did that week, how it relates to specific issues of your choice, and how you feel you might use it in your creative practice, rather than reiterating what the instructor taught. For project weeks, you are expected to give updates, insights, and visual documentation. For 15 weeks of class, each blog post is a straight 1% of your grade.

Tumblr Posts (15%):

Part of the group project will involve your posting to the site’s Tumblr blog (https://www.tumblr.com/blog/nyuidmworlds19) either commented examples of works that you’ve encountered that explore different phenomenologies or cosmologies through speculative fictions , or one of the works provided above in the ‘additional resources’ section. If you need any assistance procuring a text or movie or any other exemplar, please let the instructor know so that arrangements can be made. Examples you come up with on your own can be literary\print or media texts, or audio\visual experiences, or interesting articles that provoke questions.

For your response to your chosen text, you can choose to post your response as a short essay (not more than 750–1000 words), or you could use any other medium — it could be a short comic, a photo-essay, images from your scrapbook — be creative! Your responses to other people’s posts should also be short and incisive: raise questions, point them to other similar works, give constructive feedback! By the end of the course, you should have at least 1 contribution to the Tumblr blog, and 2 responses to content other people have posted. Each post is worth 5% of your grade.

Studio Projects (35% each):

This class revolves around two major studio projects, the briefs of which will be given to you on the dates as specified in the syllabus. The first project is individual, while for the second, you may be divided into groups. The end deliverables of this project will be in the form of comprehensive designed experiences that will be shown at the end of semester design week show. Grading will be done according to provided rubrics — instructor given grades are non-negotiable. Additional details will be given in class.

Grading Percentiles:

A ( 97% and above)
A- (90 to 96%)
B+ (87%-89%)
B (83%-86%)
B- (80 to 82%)
C+ (77%-79%)
C (73%-76%)
C- (70%-72%)
D+ (67 to 69%)
D (60 to 66%)
F (60% and below)

Policies

Academic Accommodations
If you are student with a disability who is requesting accommodations, please contact New York University’s Moses Center for Students with Disabilities at 212–998–4980 or mosescsd@nyu.edu. You must be registered with CSD to receive accommodations. Information about the Moses Center can be found at http://www.nyu.edu/csd. The Moses Center is located at 726 Broadway on the 2nd floor.

Participation and attendance — Class participation is an essential part of class and includes: keeping up with reading, assignments, projects, contributing meaningfully to class discussions, active participation in group work, and coming to class regularly and on time. Class attendance is mandatory. You are allowed only one unexcused absence for the semester. Missing class for any reason afterwards counts as an absence. If an absence is unavoidable, always provide evidence of the reason, such as a doctor’s note, and notify the instructor directly prior to the class, if possible, or soon after. 3 absences brings you down a full letter grade, i.e. an A into a B. More than 3 absences over the semester constitutes immediate grounds for failure. The following may also be counted as an absence: sleeping in class, doing other work in class, and using a phone, checking email or browsing during class if not related to class work.

Assignment Submissions — Students are responsible for all assignments, even if they are absent from class. Late assignments, failure to complete the assignments for class discussion and/or critique, and lack of preparedness for in-class discussions, presentations and/or critiques will jeopardize your successful completion of this course. Students must have prior permission from the instructor to submit work late and/or adequate evidence of unforeseeable circumstance, such as a sudden illness. Work is considered late if it is not received before the beginning of class on the date due, or as otherwise detailed by the instructor. Even with permission, late work is subject to a grade penalty of a letter grade deduction per day, i.e from an B to an B-, after the original due date. Work submitted more than 3 days after the due date will automatically be graded an F.

Academic Integrity — It is the responsibility of students to know and follow the university’s policies for academic integrity and to learn the procedures specific to their discipline for correctly and appropriately differentiating their own work from that of others. Compromising your academic integrity may lead to serious consequences, including failure of the assignment, failure of the course, or more significant disciplinary action with the university. See https://www.nyu.edu/about/policies-guidelines-compliance/policies-and-guidelines/academic-integrity-for-students-at-nyu.html

Delays — In rare instances, the instructor may be delayed arriving to class. If s/he has not arrived by the time class is scheduled to start, you must wait a minimum of thirty minutes before leaving. Please use the time effectively on any current group or individual work. In the event that the instructor will miss class entirely, a notice will be posted in the classroom and/or by email indicating activities for making use of class time and for the next week’s assignment.

Ahmed Ansari

Written by

PhD Candidate, Design Studies || Carnegie Mellon University || Design from the Global South || Modernity\Coloniality, South Asian Technics, Power

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade