Science Fiction Studies

#27 = Volume 9, Part 2 = July 1982


Eugene D. Hill

The Place of the Future: Louis Marin and his Utopiques

Abstract.-- In his book Utopiques: Jeux d'espaces (1973), Louis Marin gives a new and powerful analysis of the functioning of the utopian imagination. Using ideas from Ernst Bloch, Maurice Blanchot, and Claude Lévi-Strauss, Marin explains how utopian representations indicate the blank space where a scientific theory of society can appear long before such a theory can exist in reality. Far from being a political plan of action, a utopia disorients the elements of the universe of discourse in order to prepare the way for the appearance of something inconceivable or inexpressible within this discourse. After a detailed study of More's Utopia , Marin examines a few modern utopias--among which the "La Ville cosmique" (The Cosmic City) of Iannis Xenakis is considered to be the most successful.

John Huntington

Utopian and Anti-Utopian Logic: H.G. Wells and his Successors

Abstract.-- It is generally recognized that Wells's work before 1900 is less prophetic and utopian than his later work. The ironic, comic stories and the great "scientific romances" constitute a body of literature that, while intensely interested in the possibilities of civilization and issues of domination, is for the most part skeptical of resolutions and solutions. After 1900, beginning with Anticipations (1901), Wells embarks on a more resolved course, predicting things to come and building utopias. Nevertheless, in many of his later utopian/dystopian works--e.g., A Modern Utopia--one can still discern tangible traces of Wells' earlier anti-utopian logic.

Fredric Jameson

Progress Versus Utopia; or, Can We Imagine the Future?

Abstract.-- Contemporary theories about ideology allow us to view certain abstract ideas and concepts--e.g., ``Progress''--as (narrative) symptoms of a specific orientation to history and to the future (as well as to the past). The emerging genre of science fiction, can be seen as a substitute for what the historical novel was for the bourgeois class of the 19th century (according to Lukˇcs). Much like the historical novel, the sf narrative gives only the appearance of representing what the future will be (or the past); in reality, its narrative apparatus functions as series of strategies to define our historical moment, more and more inaccessible in our present societies. Such is the function of utopias, this literary form akin to science fiction: their essential nature has never been to represent or imagine a real future but rather to denounce our inability to conceive one, the poverty of our imaginations, the structural impossibility of our being able to generate a concrete vision of a reality that is radically different from our current society.

David Ketterer

Covering A Case of Conscience

Abstract .--In examining ''A Case of Conscience: Correspondence File'' (original documents amongst the Blish papers in the New Bodleian Library), one can clearly see how Blish inflated his 1953 short story to transform it into his 1958 novel. From these documents, and the two versions of the story included in them, one can conclude that Blish does not completely endorse the interpretation voiced by his hero Father Ruiz-Sanchez--i.e., that the Lithian aliens and their planet, although seemingly Edenic, represent a satanic trap. Blish originally intended that there remain a high degree of "ambiguity of opinion'' throughout the novel, and this intrinsic ambiguity is expressed not only in its religious themes but also in its polyvalent language.

Tom Moylan

The Locus of Hope: Utopia Versus Ideology

Abstract .--Ernst Bloch and Herbert Marcuse have identified the utopian imagination as being part of that human activity which consists of imagining (and then desiring) a way of life different from the one offered by the contemporary social system. The utopian desire is expressed via literary ``figures of hope'' which pre-articulate certain human relationships and activities that history has not yet materialized. However, utopian thought should not be understood as a mere speculation in contrast to historical reality. On the contrary, utopian thought should be seen as a rival to ideology, as Karl Mannheim was the first to define it. Utopia represents a challenge to the dominant ideology of a particular social system. Utopian texts are counter-hegemonic. As expressed in the works of Gramsci, Althusser, Foucault, and Harry Braverman, utopian writings tend to undermine the degrading and totalitarian mechanisms of modern capitalism and centralized bureaucracy.

The works of Jürgen Habermas, Oskar Negt, and Alexander Kluge speak of the degradation of the bourgeois public sphere and of the necessity to either "emancipate'' it from the clutches of the technocratic elite or to create a proletarian public sphere to oppose it.

The utopian writing produced within this oppositional public sphere--like that of Delany, Russ, Piercy, Le Guin, and others--can thus be read as expressions of unfulfilled desire resisting the limitations of the present system and breaking beyond with "figures of hope'' not yet realized in our everyday lives.

Alessandro Portelli

Jack London's Missing Revolution: Notes on The Iron Heel

Abstract.--Jack London's The Iron Heel has been read more often as a treatise on scientific socialism or as a historical prophecy than as a novel, which perhaps explains its being undervalued as a literary text. Its narrative form is nonetheless very interesting and is constructed around the stratification of its narrators--Ernest, Avis, Meredith--each of which corresponds to a different literary genre--essay, novel, historiography--and by its different modes of perception. This strategy accentuates the book's credibility and persuasiveness. Further, between the various levels of narration and within the main storyline, one encounters various interruptions and moments of silence which express the traumatic developments in the plot: the Socialist revolution, the death of a hero, the insurrection of the proletarian "ghetto" of Chicago, etc. These silences, where the most fundamental developments of the story occur, extend also to the book's portrayal of the working class and the factory: materially absent, they nevertheless function as the symbolic center of the novel. This absent working class is represented by the Revolutionary Party which replaces and controls it. Expressed metaphorically, the proletariat is described principally as body and instinct--the corporal and emotional symbols of human nature itself.

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