Finola Prendergast, "Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Moral Discourse in Contemporary U.S. Fiction"

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Finola Prendergast

Finola Prendergast, a Ph.D. candidate in English at the University of Notre Dame, presents on her research project, "Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Moral Discourse in Contemporary U.S. Fiction," to an interdisciplinary group of scholars, artists, and scientists comprised of fellows, guest faculty and students.

Her dissertation, "Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Moral Discourse in Contemporary U.S. Literature," explores the relationship between the science-fiction/fantasy tradition and moral argumentation in recent U.S. novels. She argues that contemporary literature borrows from this tradition, in many cases, to imagine what a moral life or a moral society could be. In a literary culture where earnest moral commitments can consign a novel to middlebrow perdition, the inclusion of science fiction/fantasy within a novel’s larger discourse allows ambitious writers to engage morality without suffering the negative aesthetic judgments that moral position-taking incurs. Science fiction/fantasy was never elevated to a purely aesthetic sphere, as the modernists attempted to elevate highbrow literature; as such, it never had to distance itself from moral commitment. Moreover, thought experiments are internal to science-fiction/fantasy forms – if aliens invaded earth, then…? – and thought experiments are highly conducive to philosophical and moral cogitation. Therefore, when ‘high-brow’ literature includes science-fiction/fantasy discourse as part of its formal experimentation, moral discourse becomes aesthetically licit for it again. Ms. Prendergast’s dissertation analyzes iterations of this dynamic between science fiction/fantasy and high-literary novels to argue that the genre tradition enables moral discourse in contemporary U.S. fiction.

Ms. Prendergast has taught freshman composition for the University of Notre Dame’s Writing and Rhetoric program. In February 2017, she presented the paper "Run, Lola, Run? Apocalypse, Environmentalism, and Feminist Care Ethics in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900, and in March 2017, she presented the paper "Dystopia and Deregulation: The 21st Century’s Minor Genre" at the Spring Academy on American History, Culture, and Politics in Heidelberg, Germany. She received a Presidential Fellowship from the University of Notre Dame for academic years 2012–2017.