Took a several-week pause from the poem to wrap up journal work & essays for classes; will return to it after some rest. Though I haven’t been writing, I’ve been slowly thinking about world-building and what that means for this piece, especially since I want to explore a post-apocalyptic atmosphere for the poem.

The issue is, traditional approaches to sf/fantasy settings are often based on narratives of control and domination. A lot of western approaches to world-building have been historically connected to empire: scholars and explorers in 15th century Europe, for example, were interested in mapping the contours of the world through literature and travels not only so they could “know” or comprehend the world in its entirety, but so they could materialize their colonialist imaginaries on a global scale. Many western fantasy worlds fall prey to this logic, no matter how well-intentioned their heroes are: world-building is usually about power, about paths and legacies of control.

A response to this, I think, might be “world-breaking.” The phrase comes from Justin Mann’s research and writing on how Black speculative fiction contends with securitization in post-cold war eras. World-breaking involves the desire to tear apart the worlds we know in favor of ones that might emerge in their aftermaths; N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy, for example, is a compelling fantasy setting built on rupture, yet oriented toward alternative modalities of power and pleasure. I’m also reading R.F. Kuang’s Babel, which strikes me as a book interested in world-breaking through an interrogation of the raw physical and philosophical materials that empires are often made out of.

I think this is why post-apocalyptic settings appeal to me: they aren’t about a “fresh start” or “clean slate,” because these worlds are littered with remnants of an old one, shaped & traumatized by the past, yet their inhabitants move forward to build something new, something better. A sf/fantasy setting isn't simply a showcase of imagination; these settings are indicative of the worlds we emerge from, the worlds we want to destroy, the worlds we want to live in.

There are still a lot of sf/fantasy settings I love and appreciate, including:

These thoughts on world-building were prompted by a conversation I had with someone about dnd and tolkien, in which they said that lotr can't simply be described as colonialist or promoting racist ideas: "it's just fantasy." I mean, yes, but also: race isn't only about understandings of "real" physiological difference. It's about a construct of power relations naturalized through fantasies of the body; are we sure that the moral encodings of "fantasy" can be read in ways that are unattached to real bodies or real people, especially when fantasy (re: allegory) is literally a vehicle of ideology? In any case, there's lots to talk about in terms of worldbuilding in ttrpg settings, too, especially how certain races and classes aren't as compatible; Justin Mann writes a bit about that here.