Marc Angenot and Darko Suvin
A Response to Professor Fekete's "Five Theses"
Abstract.--The authors reply polemically to the theses just
put forward by Professor Fekete. In these theses they see the standard expression of
deconstructionist ideology, of a cognitive relativism which leads Fekete to reproach
Marxism--as dark fiction and eschatological utopia--for having made the error of
"presupposing the real" as the basis of its narrative settings. The authors
remind us that Fekete's radical relativism and his epistemological nihilism lead to
aporia. They attribute the current vogue of deconstructionist ideologies to a panic in
face of the inertia of the powers that be. They attempt to make out a real mandate for SF,
beyond the infinite diversions of simulacra and of the narcissism of impotence.
[A response by Carl Freedman appears in SFS
47 (March 1989).]
The Stimulations of Simulations: Five Theses on Science
Fiction and Marxism
Abstract.--My five theses are these: (1) SF in the 20th century has become a
narrative encyclopedia of technological culture, with Marxism a linguistic subset of that
encyclopedia. (2) SF linguistically constructs counterfactual worlds which undermine the
opposition of factual vs. counterfactual by resisting "referential redemption."
Modeling the "hyper-real" (to use J. Baudrillard's term), the SF text functions
as a "real simulacrum." (3) The novel's generic function is to enact a
representational correspondence between the literary model and what is given by convention
as being empirically the case. SF operates under no such constraint; and hence (at least
in principle) there is no limit to the existential elements, stylistic strategies, and
narrative forms that can be accessed and brought together within its generic frame except
as its possibilities are determined by the constitutive conditions of its reception. (4)
The reception of a text is to some extent indeterminable in advance, thanks to the
complexity of the social transactions which embed, and are embedded in, that text.
Nevertheless, it can be hypothesized that the mission of SF is to expand or adapt its
respondents' minds to the culture and practices of simulation, to reinforce the sense of
being a child of a modular culture, to stimulate the awareness of manipulable fields of
play in the relations between sentient beings and objectifications, and to program the
expectation of pleasure and significance from ever new differences. (5) As Marxism has
searched for substitutes for its original, and now vanished, referents, it has become less
plausible as Leninist-Stalinist ghost story than it is as methodological organon for
interpretation. Yet even a hermeneutic Marxism, with its continuing insistence on militant
rationalism and binary logic, is only a problematical variant within the institution of
SF, at best sharing in the latter's interesting if ambivalent destinies.
[A response by Carl Freedman appears in SFS
47 (March 1989).]
Carl D. Malmgren
Towards a Definition of Science Fantasy
Abstract.--SF and fantasy have a locus of intersection,
science fantasy, an unstable narrative form which combines features from each genre. A
science-fantasy world is one in which the characters or settings or events presuppose at
least one clear violation of natural law or scientific necessity, but which explicitly
provides an organized or scientific explanation for that violation and which grounds its
discourse in a scientific episteme. Science fantasy, like SF, assumes an orderly universe
with regular laws, but, like fantasy, contains at least one explicit reversal of current
natural law. An examination of two science-fantasy texts, Fritz Leiber's Conjure Wife (1953)
and Stanislaw Lem's The Investigation (1959), enables us to establish the
boundaries and thematic concerns of this narrative form. The types of science fantasy can
be identified by the nature of the violation of natural law. Four main types involve the
time-loop motif, the alternate-present world, the counter-scientific world, and the
hybridized world. As a subgenre, science fantasy tends to interrogate science by calling
into question basic scientific assumptions about the physical world. At the same time it
explores fantasy by questioning the unreality of the terrors and desires that haunt the
value-laden world of dreams. Like "magic realism," with which it shares some
features, science fantasy is experiencing a growing popularity, in part because in its
counter-natural worlds, the actual and the imaginary, the prosaic and the magical, the
scientific and the mythical, can meet and interanimate, in part because these worlds
provide us with "such beauty, awe, or terror as the actual world does not
supply" (C.S. Lewis).
The Changing of the Avant Garde: The Feminist Utopia
Abstract.--Both feminine discourse theorists and utopian
authors are concerned with the narrative function of space. Both disciplines deconstruct
material space in order to portray what has not happened yet. Feminist discourse theorists
deconstruct representational space to subvert traditional perceptual orders, while authors
of feminist utopias construct ideal spaces in order to subvert political inequality and
notions of historical inevitability. A consequence in both disciplines is the
literalization of women's marginality and the reinscription of women's
Science and Humanism in Gregory Benford's Timescape
Abstract.--Greg Benford's Timescape is hard SF with a difference.
Benford is a scientist with literary taste and talent, and Timescape addresses
the interplay between contemporary scientists' and humanists' concerns. The characters'
scientific and personal problems mirror each other in significant ways. The new and
unfamiliar map of reality that modern physics presents is conveyed partly in terms of
psychological truths that the reader is likely to find relatively familiar. And humanists'
experience with subjectivity has significance for scientists, who are finding that
scientific objectivity is an impossible ideal. Though Benford often seems to feel the
bipolarity of science and humanism strongly, the opposition dissolves in Timescape,
as does the distinction between hard SF and the type of mainstream "irrealism"
that Borges writes. The integration of humanistic values and scientific ones in Timescape
is illuminated by the aesthetic and mystical dimensions of theoretical physics experienced
by Greg Markham, a character who can be seen as the author's alter ego.
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