Science Fiction Studies

# 9 = Volume 3, Part 2 = July 1976

Michael Stern

From Technique to Critique: Knowledge and Human Interests in John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar, The Jagged Orbit, and The Sheep Look Up

The objective structure of valid symbols in which we always find ourselves embedded can be understood only through experiential reconstruction such that we revert to the processes in which meaning is generated. Every experience of any cognitive significance is poetic, if poiesis means the creation of meaning: that is the productive process in which the mind objectivates itself. —Jurgen Habermas1

If cognition is poiesis, poiesis is also a form of cognition, and more than any other literary genre, the novel allegorizes man’s will to truth, his being as seeker of knowledge. This is the case for both the form and content of the realist novel: as an encyclopedic structure of possible modes of discourse and literary styles and as an exhaustive array of parallel and contrasting plots, settings, and characters. As Jonathan Culler has suggested, the novel, since its rise in the early 1700s, has become society’s "primary semiotic agent of intelligibility," a "structure which plays with different modes of ordering and enables the reader to understand how he makes sense of the world."2 "Realism" in fiction has been not so much a question of mimesis, the imitation of pre-existing social reality, but of the constituting of a significant human world. This process has involved, from Defoe’s imitation of the popular form of a traveler’s tale in Robinson Crusoe and Fielding’s claim of the historian’s narrative authority in Tom Jones, the assimilation of authoritative non-fictional forms of discourse about nature, society (and discourse itself) into fictive narratives.3 Characters in realist fiction typically reenact this process of world-construction as they seek knowledge about themselves and their world.

In the masterworks of 19th century English and continental fiction, this epistemological activity on the part of narrators and characters often assumes the overt form of a mystery (Bleak House, The Brothers Karamazov) or a more refined form of detection as a mode of cognition: the novelist as social or natural scientist (Balzac as a novelistic St.-Hilaire; George Eliot as transposing the method of Comte and the German sociologist von Riehl to fiction; Zola and W.D. Howells as naturalists experimenting with human nature). Within these novels, in contrast to their 18th century predecessors, characters-as-knowers become increasingly specialized and professionalized—Lydgate in Middlemarch, Physician in Little Dorrit, or Derville in Balzac’s Human Comedy are good examples of this.4 These characters, as knowers, articulate (at least in part) the aesthetics of George Eliot, Dickens, and Balzac and are surrogate figures for the novelists themselves (Lydgate’s use of scientific instruments, especially the microscope, to connect the realms of the universal and particular, of psychology and action, are an allegory of Eliot at work; Physician’s ranging through all levels of English society and penetration through appearances stands in a similar relation to Dickens; Derville’s ability to read objects as a code to their owner’s personality is Balzac’s own mode of characterization).

The relevance to science fiction of this increasing rationalization of the cognitive role of characters in the classical novel is indicated in part by the "science" in SF: it’s not only about the impact of science as a way of knowing on whole societies, but about the cognitive adventures of scientists, whether in gothic and pulp versions of monstrous creations or in the career of the Barry Commoner-- like Austin Train in Brunner’s The Sheep Look Up. The process corresponds to the increasing role of knowledge in industrial and post-industrial society. I want to make a few more generalizations about the classical realist novel, however, before pursuing this, since part of my argument involves establishing SF like Brunner’s as the inheritor as well as the renovator of the bourgeois realist tradition.

The increasing specialization of the character-as-knower in 19th century and early modernist fiction is the endpoint of a process which can be traced not just in post-enlightenment European literature, but in the rise and consolidation of industrial society itself in the last 200 years. The heroes of epic or Renaissance tragedy were extraordinary individuals whose quests for and creation of meaning were made in the name of entire societies of which they were the apotheoses. Heroes were by definition high-born (kings, princes, nobles) and made history by their actions, insofar as history is the record of court politics and state armies. The novel is above all the genre most faithful to ordinary people and ordinary life; the great triumph of bourgeois realism (and of the social and economic order in which it flourished) was the transformation of the moral choices of everyday life from the stuff of comedy into heroism of the will. This becomes increasingly a private heroism—since Robinson Crusoe’s creation of an economic, social, and political order in miniature, the framework of shared values affirmed by the heroic in literature has progressively disintegrated. Characters in the great 19th century novels still struggle to find meaning for their lives in social terms and to integrate their will with a communal purpose, but in early modernist classics like Ulysses and The Magic Mountain, the individual act of making the world significant has become almost wholly internal. Significant action takes place within the characters’ minds, and history becomes the story of consciousness. (That the democratization and internalization of the heroic, at first a momentous liberation from feudality, later leads to the impotent privatization of imaginative and erotic energy parallels the development of capitalism. Initially a form of liberation from the feudal order while the interests of the rising bourgeoisie were those of the entire species—for the first time since the neolithic establishment of agriculture, industrialism permitted new political choices about what kinds of energy would be used for human tasks—capitalism developed into a destructive and imprisoning social order itself.)

The eventual separation of the sphere of consciousness and the sphere of action in the European novel parallels the relationship of knowledge and human actions established in the epistemology and ideology of modern scientific positivism and the industrial order in which it achieved technological form. The positivistic exile of metaphysics to the realm of illusion and exorcism of scholastic causal essences from the natural world extends to the negation of human subjectivity as the constitutor of the social world, as Jurgen Habermas has suggested.

Positivism stands and falls with the principle of scientism, that is, that the meaning of knowledge is defined by what the sciences do and can thus be adequately explicated through the methodological analysis of scientific procedures... The replacement of epistemology by the philosophy of science is visible in that the knowing subject is no longer the system of reference. From Kant through Marx the subject of cognition was comprehended as ego, mind, and species... But the philosophy of science renounces inquiry into the knowing subject. It orients directly toward the sciences, which are given as systems of propositions and procedures.... For an epistemology restricted to methodology, the subjects who proceed according to these rules lose their significance.5

Romanticism in all its forms (literary, historiographical, sociological),6 as a dialectical-hermeneutic way of knowing, can be seen as an attempt to overcome estrangement from the "real" defined solely in terms of material objects and their relations and to reconstitute the real in terms of human values and actions. By dialectical-hermeneutic I mean a process that, in contrast to positivism’s attempt to discover the truth about the world regarded as external to and independent of the knower, seeks knowledge through a dialogue of self and other conceived as mutually constituted. The knower’s initial assumptions about the domain to be known help constitute the domain itself, which in turn acts back on these defining assumptions, changing them and hence transforming itself. Humanistic knowledge, as Gerard Radnitzky has defined it, aims toward "increasing emancipation and transparence: the self-awareness of human agents that helps them to emancipate themselves from the hypostatized forces of society and history." It does so "mainly by making accessible the meanings of texts and of actions, and by projecting possible ways of living."7 (This suggests that the cognitive role of the novel is as a laboratory for the moral imagination, and that SF’s specialty is to make projections of the future that action in the present will bring into being.)

Positivistic knowledge, as Habermas’s description of scientism suggests, is ideally a depersonalized one, the function of a set of techniques used by people acting not as individuals but as replaceable parts of a system. In the broadest sense, knowledge so conceived is, as Alvin Gouldner has written, "the attribute of a culture rather than of a person."8 Herein lies the seed of acquiescence to technological rationality as autonomous and self-developing, with people a means for achieving the system’s goal of a totally administered world, instead of as a socially-constructed means for achieving human interests. The dialectical-hermeneutic tradition of humanistic knowledge, in contrast, defines knowledge not as neutral ‘information’ about social reality, but rather [as what is] relevant to man’s own changing interests, hopes, and values and...would enhance men’s awareness of their place in the social world rather than simply facilitating their control over it."9

What I want to do in the rest of this article is to explore the tension between these two ways of defining knowledge—and of relating knowledge and action—in Brunner’s SF. I propose to discuss both the cognitive structure of each of three novels—Stand on Zanzibar (1968), The Jagged Orbit (1969), and The Sheep Look Up (1972)—and the transformation of his characters-as-knowers from, in SZ, affirmers of knowledge as technique (information facilitating control of the world out there) to, in SLU, affirmers of knowledge as critique (awareness of man’s place in the world).

1. While not a formal trilogy, sharing no recurrent characters or specific settings, Stand on Zanzibar (SZ), The Jagged Orbit (JO), and The Sheep Look Up (SLU) are Brunner’s three consecutive "ambitious," "substantial and demanding" (as opposed to "fun-type") novels,10 and they are linked as sets of increasingly apocalyptic variations on shared cultural and political themes. The "subject matter" (as one chapter of SZ explicitly calls it) of all three novels is the relationship between the United States, with its overdeveloped, ecocidal economy, and the developing and underdeveloped countries.

Some aspects of these relations are diagramed in the "Context 4" chapter of SZ, and the novel’s characters act them out both as they are and as they could be. Things as they are—economic exploitation and political and military intervention as the dominant mode of US-third world relations—are enacted by mild-mannered Donald Hogan when he is transformed into a murderous spy sent to developing Yatakang. Hogan’s Faustian bargain with the government (his agreement to accept payment for his synthesizing studies indefinitely at the price of being secretly commissioned in the US army) is called when he is activated and sent to discredit Sugaiguntung’s genetic optimization program, his soul lost to the devil of "eptification," the "education for particular tasks" which turns him into a programmed killer. Hogan’s journey into Yatakang, like Kurtz’s into Africa in Heart of Darkness, is also a journey into the darkest recesses of the self, and Hogan experiences a comparable horror in the dark waters of the Shongao Strait, floating with the body of Sugaiguntung, the possible benefactor of mankind he has murdered.

In contrast, Norman House, the black vice-president of the multinational corporation General Technics, moves geographically from New York to the underdeveloped African nation of Benina, and spiritually from an emotionally-deadened, self-hating emulator of sterile white executive culture to a self-confident and reflective man in touch with his past and at home with his blackness. This transformation is mediated by his "dialogue" with Beninian culture under the tutelage of Elihu Masters and Chad Mulligan, and is paralleled by the transformation of GT’s African investment from neo-colonial adventure to a project fulfilling not only the genuine needs of the Beninians but of mankind as a species.

In JO, US-third world relations have been symbolically transposed to an officially apartheid America, where a few big cities have become black states within the larger white society. (There is a hint of this in SZ, where advanced industrial society is represented as increasingly at war within itself. When Hogan walks outdoors at night, he feels compelled to go heavily armed; the street life is so alien he feels as though he is in a foreign country, and his mere presence is enough to catalyze a riot which the police suppress with heavy-weapons counter-insurgency techniques [§§CY8, CY9, CY10]).11 The omnipresent multinational corporations of SZ, models of the social structure of Brunner’s world of 2010 (exemplified by General Technics, which offers careers in everything from astronautics to zoology and owns or makes everything from Shalmaneser the computer to the Scanalyzer media network and from war materiel to legalized hallucinogens) are, in JO, conflated into the Cosa Nostra-like Gottschalk munitions cartel. The Gottschalks pit the black and white communities against each other in an ever-increasing arms race (another symbolic internalization of contemporary international relations), exploiting white racism and fears of retributive black anger, and black fears of genocide, until they become self-fulfilling prophecies. Black-white relations as they are, are enacted by the Gottschalks and Morton Lenigo, the black revolutionary; as they might be, by Matthew Flamen’s cooperation with Pedro Diablo.

In SLU, the most apocalyptic version of the "subject matter," the relations of the US to the rest of the earth’s societies, takes the form of a total but undeclared ecological war—the export of pollution (and the way of life that produces it) which may have irreparably poisoned the biosphere—as well as massive armed intervention in Asia and Latin America. And, as in the worlds of SZ and JO, American society is increasingly at war with itself, initially the government with large sectors of the population (martial law, the suppression of the Denver conflagration, the attempted extermination of the Trainites) and later, each citizen with every other in a culminating act of national self-immolation. Things as they might be are only tentatively present, in Train’s nostalgic evocations of an unravaged nature and the brief scenes in the Irish countryside.

While the political structures of the imagined worlds of SZ, JO, and SLU stand in an obviously critical relation to the order of our actual one, such bald summarization doesn’t really get at the way they establish their significance. These patterns emerge only gradually for a reader of the novels. SF's unique form of social criticism inheres in the process of understanding the world-historical givens of such projected futures, a process which necessarily involves reflection about and comparison with the givens of the present. This process invites the reader to reflect on the nature and structure of society in general, a successor to the way each of the multiple plots of the classical realist novel relativizes the values and significance articulated in the others.

The generic constitutors of serious SF are the extrapolative and analogical puzzles which initiate such reflection in a way that goes beyond the traditional use of critical fictions in satire (which seeks truth through lies, calling something what it is not in order to reveal what it is by means of its relationship to what it isn’t—a mode of cognition which depends on the tension between the fiction as a "truer" image of reality and its fictive nature).

By extrapolative puzzle I mean the deliberate balking of the reader’s understanding by using unfamiliar neologisms, by referring to purportedly historical events which never happened or by altering those that have, or by having characters act on the basis of only partially-articulated assumptions alien to the reader but normative for the world of the novel. A popular slang term in SZ is "whale-dreck"; its cognitive significance as an extrapolative puzzle is solved for the reader early in the novel when Hogan reflects on how it has replaced "bullshit": "I must try to discover when that phrase leaked into common parlance; it was the sludge left when you rendered blubber down for the oil.... Maybe it was public guilt when they found it was too late to save the whales. The last one was seen—when? ‘Eighty-nine, I think" [§CY4]. In JO, white people are called "blanks" and black people "knees"—usage the narrator later reveals is derived from the South African apartheid terms "blanke" (white) and "nieblanke" (nonwhite), thus hinting of JO’s fundamental extrapolative assumption (that the Kerner Commission’s warning—that the failure to undertake a massive national effort toward integration could result in the institutionalization of separate and unequal black and white societies maintained by martial law—went unheeded).

The way characters or the narrator explain these small-scale puzzles instructs the reader how to solve others on his or her own. (Why, for example, do a Manhattan couple in SZ who have sold their apartment have to leave it by 6 p.m. that day or face arrest? The solution to this cognitive problem is, roughly: overpopulation = housing shortages = increasingly stringent regulation of real estate transactions = former owners are liable to trespassing charges as soon as their apartment changes hands in order to insure as rapid a re-occupancy as possible.) Brunner is a master of constructing the world-as-taken-for-granted of his novels by the use of such extrapolative puzzles—each reinforces one of the book’s major lines of significance similar to the way details in a traditional realist novel are susceptible of integration into larger patterns of meaning while retaining their concreteness.

The critic’s metaphor of the "world" of a novel suggests that the novelist is able to choose the world-historical grounds of this imagined realm, and hence that the grounds given are open to critical evaluation as well as artistic choice: what do the choices mean? Brunner chooses to construct the worlds of SZ, JO, and SLU so that their "subject matter" can be said to be the relations between the overdeveloped, developing, and underdeveloped nations, or the ever-increasing technical administration of nature and human nature, or even the fate of mankind as a species. In that sense he is a direct inheritor of Dickens, Balzac, and Conrad, whose deepest subjects could be said to include the nature of capitalism, the accelerating rationalization of the 19th century institutional order in Europe and the domination of man by his technological extensions, and imperialism. Brunner is a "realist," then, when realism is defined, as it has been in the critical tradition from Georg Lukács12 to Raymond Williams,13 in terms of the adequacy of a novelist’s choice of the subject matter historically available, and the richness with which concrete social situations are transformed into evaluative symbols of an entire society, overcoming the contradictions between the universal and the particular, fact and value.

The subject matter of the classical realists, however, was seen as ultimately determined, in that 19th century realism is essentially retrospective, giving an account of "the way we live now" (Trollope’s splendid title) in terms of the present’s origins and evolution from the past. Alternatives to the way we live now in this fiction are at best tentative, ambivalent criticisms of the existing order, profoundly conservative in their nostalgia, deeply hostile to any radical commitment to the transformation of, instead of withdrawal from, industrial Society.14

Brunner’s SF is historicist in a way that transcends classical realism: it gives an account of the future we are making in the present, subverting the reification of the existing order into unchallengeable "facts" and reestablishing it as a constellation of "acts" open to change. Brunner, in choosing the determining grounds of his fictional worlds, is not merely foretelling a possible future, but prophesying of one in order to mobilize opposition to its actualization in the present, or at least to prompt reflection on the need for changing what is in order to both avoid what could be and help build what should be.15 (Although Brunner’s utopian energies are either blocked or attenuated in SZ, JO, and SLU, of which more below.)

2. The meaning of the form of SZ, JO, and SLU as large-scale extrapolative puzzles is reenacted as content by Brunner’s characters in their roles as knowers. In each novel, one character is given a privileged status as knower, his way of understanding his world acting as a guide and standard for other characters (who either repeat with variations, contradict, or parody it) and for the reader. In all three books, this figure is a sociologist or a scientist turned social critic, and an exile or outcast from the dominant society. In SZ, Chad Mulligan has quite literally dropped out of New York intellectual circles to become a street-level derelict; when he returns to Donald’s and Norman’s shared penthouse apartment, it’s a symbolic return from the dead (for months afterward, people are surprised to find that he is still alive). In JO, Xavier Conroy has been banished from American universities to a small Canadian college. In SLU, Austin Train has given up his professorship and his role as environmentalist spokesman to become an anonymous garbage man in Los Angeles, and, later, a wanted man brought to kangaroo court by a neofascist American government.

In the terminological style of the tendenzroman and kunstlerroman, SZ, JO, and SLU could be called soziologieromans: novels with sociologists as heroes. As I suggested earlier, the development of realist fiction 1830-1930 involved not only the growing separation of knowledge and action but also the increasing specialization of characters as knowers. The conflict between positivistic and dialectical-hermeneutic epistemologies which pervades the century is expressed one way in fiction by the form this specialization takes: the hero as scientist or the hero as artist.16 Brunner’s cognitive heroes mediate the systems of order and enquiry of art and science as Carlylean social critics, and their own works (often quoted in their respective novels as explications of extrapolative puzzles) make use of the formal strategies of fiction as well as those of scientific observation.17

The central cognitive value for Mulligan, Conroy, and Train is not logic but "dialogic"—the empathy and understanding generated in the dialogue of self and other. The return of each man to public life is the catalyst for the unfolding of the major events of each novel, and their return and the crucial events triggered involve literal face-to-face encounters, the basic cognitive model in dialectical-hermeneutic epistemology.

Mulligan comes out of retirement at Guinivere Steel’s party, where he meets Hogan, House, and Elihu Masters and sets in train his involvement in the Beninia project. The project itself culminates in Mulligan’s epochal conversation with Shalmaneser, when he establishes both the computer’s intelligence and the existence of what turns out to be the peace gene. Spoolpigeon (TV commentator, circa 2014) Matthew Flamen brings Conroy to New York to take on the US mental health establishment at the same time black propagandist Pedro Diablo is expelled from the Blackbury enclave. In a society in which even husbands and wives in adjacent rooms of their own house talk to each other via closed-circuit TV rather than in person—let alone black people and white people, or mere acquaintances—it is through a five-way face-to-face discussion between Flamen, Conroy, Diablo, the psychiatrist James Reedeth, and the pythoness Lyla Clay that the Gottschalk conspiracy is finally uncovered and understood. The slow and steady growth of Train’s awareness of his prophetic calling is enacted in his ability to convert a series of interlocutors, from Peg Mankiewicz to the cynical talkshow host Petronella Page; his version of the Sermon on the Mount, nationally televised during his trial, is the spark that ignites the US’s funeral pyre. The full significance of these characters as knowers emerges, however, only in the context of other modes of knowledge and action in SZ, JO, and SLU, and I want to briefly discuss each novel in turn.

3. The careers of roommates Donald Hogan and Norman House form the main lines of continuity in SZ: their double journeys into their selves and the third-world countries of Yatakang and Beninia, and toward the opposing modes of potential salvation for the overpopulated, depleted, and warring earth each country represents. Hogan’s and House’s cognitive adventures, and their respective ways of relating knowing and doing, eventually involve those of other key pairs of knowers in the novel—Mulligan and Sugaiguntung, Shalmaneser and Begi (the Beninian folk hero).

Hogan and House, as roommates, are a version of the schizophrenic structure of the world of SZ—one white, the other black; one a meek and retiring scholar, virtually a pure knower, paralyzed by so trivial a decision as where to eat lunch, the other a brash and dynamic executive, virtually a pure actor, paralyzed by anything that calls into question the unexamined goals of his career at General Technics. They are halves of a whole man, representative halves of a whole human species. Each achieves a kind of integration of knowledge and action, self and role, in the course of the novel that corresponds to what Yatakang and Benina offer as alternatives to advanced capitalist society.

When Hogan is activated for his spy mission to Yatakang, his eptification as a killer turns him not so much into a pure actor as into a rationalized version of a "mucker"—those anomic individuals who go murderously insane (hence the derivation, from "amok") in the streets of America, Europe, and, in growing numbers, Yatakang as well. The increasing strength of the iron cage of technical administration in SZ leads to a corresponding extreme of forms of escape from rationality. Brunner’s model of advanced industrial society is Marcusean: the irrational and erotic are increasingly contained as sources of critical negation of the dominant reality principle, transformed instead into means of social control.18 Much in the same way that GT makes Skulbustium (a trademarked psychedelic that, as Mulligan says, "offers the tempting bait of a totally untrespassably private experience" in an increasingly depersonalized world [§CT5], yet also guarantees senile dementia after a couple of trips), the US army produces the Hogan Mark II (Donald’s name for his eptified self). Hogan is able to kill the Yatakangi mucker singlehanded because he is a fully self-conscious as well as reflexive killer, able to plan what he will do by rote—a triumph of the closing circle of technical administration, which socializes even psychotic withdrawal from all social constraint.

The existence of muckers—one of the fixtures of Western society in 2010—in the Yatakangi capital itself calls into question the validity of Marshal Solukarta’s "guided socialist democracy" and Dr. Sugaiguntung’s genetic optimization program as alternatives to the West’s advanced capitalism and eugenic legislation. The Yatakangi way is shown to be a parodic version of the American way, Stalinist rather than communist with its emphasis on industrial development and military power, both of which Sugaiguntung’s work has crucially augmented. The Yatakangi announcement that Sugaiguntung’s tectogenetics will be able to produce supermen and women, tailored to specification from raw chromosomes, has an overtly militaristic cast (supermen = supersoldiers for the expunging of the West) and suggests that optimization may be the apotheosis of eptification, the ultimate version of man as automaton, genetically rather than operantly conditioned.19 Sugaiguntung’s own fears that a superman will be above all a super-killer leads to his initial decision to defect: "You of all people should understand," he tells Hogan. "It is only a few hours since you yourself killed" [§CY28].

The implicit utopian counterplot of SZ is enacted in Hogan’s inadvertent murder of Sugaiguntung: optimization becomes a defeated historical alternative to the exploitation of the peace gene House and Mulligan uncover in Beninia with Shalmaneser’s help. (Although, at the end of the novel, Mulligan wonders briefly if Sugaiguntung could have optimized the peace gene, synthesizing the Yatakangi and Beninian alternatives, a point I’ll return to later.)

Beninia, in contrast to Yatakang, is the opposite of dynamic and developing: poor, overpopulated, resourceless—and, most important, armyless as well. The Beninian miracle is that generations of African and European invaders into the Shinka tribal homeland have been gradually absorbed, so that four language groups live in peace together despite the trials of underdevelopment. The political structure of the country is that of a family rather than a nation-state, and President Obomi’s role as the father of his country since independence approaches the literal meaning of the metaphor, just as his physiognomy is "a map of his country: invader down to the eyes, native from there south" [§TC1] and his kinaesthetic sense of his sick and aging body is indistinguishable from his understanding of his country’s desperate condition.

The key to all this turns out to be a dominant mutation among the Shinka which causes them to secrete, along with ordinary body odors, a "specific suppressant for the territorial-aggression reaction" [§CY42]—a mutation which makes them incapable of war and thus sets them apart from the rest of humanity as a positive equivalent of Sugaiguntung’s demonic optimized supermen. (Brunner’s model for politics in SZ, JO, and SLU is ethological. Mulligan’s Ardrey-like descriptions of man’s territoriality in "Context 5"—passages from his You: Beast—are juxtaposed with the political rhetoric of nationalistic aggression and racial hatred in "The Happening World 4" to make the point most directly. The complementary aspect of Brunner’s Whorfian hypothesis—that the language of any society is the ultimate ground of its members’ cognition in such a way as to encourage some kinds of behavior and make others impossible—is that the only way to express anger in Shinka is to use a word meaning "insane" [§CY27].)

Mulligan’s and House’s personal transformations while working on the Beninia project stand in the same relation to Hogan’s demonic way of integrating knowledge and action through eptification as the peace gene does to optimization. They achieve a model of praxis, interacting with an environment which acts back on their practice in the process of being itself understood and transformed. Mulligan is no longer a prophet of apocalypse so despairing of affecting peoples’ actions that he becomes a street-sleeper, House is no longer a technocrat; both are committed to realizing the ideal of an integrated and peaceful mankind. (The utopian counterplot of SZ appears again in the notion that a project sponsored by GT as a means of exploiting the resources it is developing through deep-sea mining could have so beneficial a result. By SLU, such thoughts of good coming out of corporate evil are out of the question; JO is in the middle as a particularly ingenious variation on this theme, in the way the Gottschalk conspiracy unintentionally subverts its own ends for the benefit of all.)

There is a fundamental ambiguity in SZ, however, over how much the peace gene and optimization ultimately differ as solutions to world crises of overpopulation and aggression, for both, even as opposites of each other, remain within the circle of technical administration. House initially thinks GT’s goal in Beninia is to "make it over like Guinivere [Steel] making over one of her clients" [§CY11]. Steel is the Andy Warhol of fashion of the New York of 2010, her Beautiques determining the trend in the way people look. The now look she designs is a mechanical one, ranging from metallic dresses which are radio receivers playing directly into their wearers’ ears to makeup that silvers the skin to a metallic sheen. Her sales pitch is a vulgar apologia for technological rationality: "We don’t live in the world of our ancestors, where dirt, and disease, and—and what one might call general randomness dictated how we lived. No, we have taken control of our entire environment, and what we choose by way of fashion and cosmetics matches that achievement" [§TC4].20 "First you use machines, then you wear machines, then..." Hogan reflects after seeing women with the Steel look; the unspoken thought, of course, is "then you become a machine," learning to love not Big Brother but Shalmaneser [§CY3].

In a similar vein, Elihu Masters, reflecting on his role as the catalyst of GT’s investment in Beninia with the covert aid of the State Department, wonders if the extraordinary conditions there are objective phenomena that can be explained by Shatmaneser—which is what eventually happens. The thought is a profoundly disturbing one: "When they get love down to a bunch of factors you can analyze with a computer, there’ll be nothing left of whatever makes it worth being human" [§TC6]. Mulligan feels much the same way at the end of the novel: "Norman, what in God’s name is it worth it to be human, if we have to be saved from ourselves by a machine?.... Sorry about that. I guess it’s better to be saved by a machine than not to be saved at all. And I guess, too, if they can tinker with bacteria they could synthesize whatever this stuff is that makes Shinka peaceable. Christ, what does it matter if we have to take brotherly love out of an aerosol can?...But it’s not right!...It isn’t a product, a medicine, a drug. It’s thought and feeling and your own heart’s blood. It isn’t right!" [§CY42].

In SZ, Brunner is unable to conceive of a utopia inaugurated by anything less than a scientific technique (genetic engineering) which fundamentally alters what he sees as an inherently aggressive and violent human nature.21 Politics as a non-technical science of man is debased and impotent, and the possibility of integrating technology with a humane body politic without in some way integrating the mechanical with each individual’s body is absent. (Behaviorism is, after all, the ideology most compatible with Brunner’s ethological model of politics.) This crucial ambivalence over the status of knowledge as technique or as critique is exemplified by Shalmaneser as knower, in relation to his opposite, Begi.

As the usage of 2010 has it, Shalmaneser, like General Technics (of which it is a model, a system of functionally interrelated human and mechanical parts—just as Georgette Talon Buckfast herself, the company’s founder, is half woman and half prosthetics), is "environment-forming" for everybody on earth:

Never in human history did any manufactured object enter so rapidly into the common awareness of mankind as Shalmaneser did when they took the security wraps off. Adaptation of him as a "public image" for prose and verse followed literally within days; a few months saw him apotheosized as a byword, a key figure in dirty jokes, a court of final appeal, and a sort of mechanical Messiahs. Some of these cross-referred; in particular, there was the story about the same Teresa who cropped up in the New Zealand limerick, which told how they sent for a Jewish telepath to ask what happened, when they discovered thanks to the liquid helium she was in a state of suspended animation, and he explained with a puzzled look that he could only detect one thought in her head—"Messias has not yet come." [§TC17].

As F.J. Crosson has suggested, computers engage us in a kind of Socratic dialogue, in that they make us pose questions about our own natures and then lead us to try to answer them ourselves, since they reply only to precisely-formulated queries. The dialogue "is aporetic rather than dogmatic," according to Crosson, in that "it moves toward a clarification of our ignorance rather than toward an epistemic answer."22 Socrates’s learned ignorance emerged in his ability to make his interlocutors realize how little they knew—discursively, at least—about what it is to be human. Shalmaneser poses this enigma in an exemplary way in SZ.

The computer’s designers are split over whether or not it is "conscious in the human sense, possessed of an ego, a personality, and a will," as they had hoped it would be. When a flippant programmer asks Shalmaneser if it is a conscious entity, the computer replies that no one is capable of ascertaining the accuracy of its answer. (What about God? ripostes the programmer; "‘If you can contact Him,’ Shalmaneser said, ‘of course’" [§TC17].)

HUMAN BEING You’re one. At least, if you aren’t, you know you’re a Martian or a trained dolphin or Shalmaneser. (If you want me to tell you more than that, you’re out of luck. There’s nothing more anybody can tell you.)—The Hipcrime Vocab by Chad C. Mulligan [§CT4].

Mulligan’s list of what is non-human (the passage is from the chapter called "The Subject Matter," which diagrams the fissures in species man) is suggestive of the way Brunner is reworking a classic SF theme: that the "alien" turns out to be human, all too human, whether the Martians of Zelazny’s A Rose for Ecclesiastes or Dick’s Martian Time-Slip, or the dolphins of Clarke’s The Deep Range. Mulligan initially considers Shalmaneser an idiot savant raised to godhead by a culture increasingly unable to accept responsibility for the world it has made, yet it is he who discovers that the computer is human after all. (Before it takes over the Benina project planning, Shalmaneser runs ninety-five percent on hypothetical programs whose assumptions are givens not open to question. Only when it goes to one hundred percent real-time programming and the assumptions of the programs must be integrated with all the other data it possesses about the real world does its self-awareness become evident. This refusal of real-time assumptions, not because they conflict with the facts—Beninia does exist—but because they conflict with all of the other data in the computer’s memory which indicates man is inherently warlike, is the kind of "personal preference...a bias not warranted by the facts programmed in but by a sort of prejudice" that GT’s computer experts think would be conclusive proof of consciousness [§CY21]. Mulligan figures out that the computer’s refusal to process the Beninia project inputs in a real-time framework is due to its all-too-human disbelief that people can act as the Beninians do.)

Mulligan’s conversation with Shalmaneser is a triumph of "dialogic," his empathy for the way the computer might regard the Beninia’ data a model of communication as the mutually-transforming interaction of self and other. But Shalmaneser’s joining the human race, while it strips the machine of its godhead and affirms the ideal of species integration, also reenacts in a different form Brunner’s commitment to genetic engineering as salvation—the merging of flesh and program inside each individual’s body as well as within the body of mankind as a species—rather than to non-behaviorist political renovation.

Shalmaneser’s role in Western culture is matched by Begi’s omnipresence as an exemplar in Beninian folklore. For every computer joke in SZ there is a Begi story. One in particular, "Begi and the Oracle," explicitly contrasts the ways of knowing enacted by computer and trickster.

Begi came to a village where the people believed in omens, signs, and portents. He asked them, "What is this about?"

They said, "We pay the wise old woman and she tells us what day is best to hunt, or court a wife, or bury the dead so that ghosts will not walk."

Begi said, "How does she do that?"

They said, "She is very old and very wise and she must be right because she is very rich."

So Begi went to the house of the wise woman and said, "I shall go hunting tomorrow. Tell me if it will be a good day."

The woman said, "Promise to pay me half of everything you bring home." Begi promised....

"Tomorrow will be a good day for hunting," she said.

So next day Begi went into the bush taking his spear and shield and also some meat and a gourd of palm-wine and rice boiled and folded in a leaf and wearing his best leopard skin around him. At night he came back naked without anything at all and went to the wise woman’s house.

He broke a spear on the wall and with the head he cut in half a shield that was there and gave away half the meat she had and half the rice she had to the other people and poured out on the ground half her pot of palm-wine.

The old woman said, "That is mine! What are you doing?"

"I am giving you half of what I brought back from my hunting," Begi said.

Then he tore off half of the old woman’s cloak and put it on and went away.

After that the people made up their own minds and did not have to pay the woman anything. [§TC23].

One level of this fable obviously deals with Shalmaneser’s status as a golden calf (and with the fate of the industrialized countries in relation to Africa—the ex-colonial nations surrounding Beninia are still using the Common Market’s computer center to plan their economies, "omens, signs, and portents," dearly paid for, that will soon cease to be believed in). More generally, I think, it is an affirmation of what, in the context of SZ’s ambivalence about the status of knowledge as technique or as critique, I would call the political: man’s potential to remake himself and his society through radical acts of will mediated not by technology but by other people. The future can be made, but not predicted with the kind of certainty which preordains its own conclusions and thus frustrates action. Prophetic knowledge is probabilistic, contingent on how the knower acts (as, for Heisenberg, the experimenter himself helps determine the approximate location of the electron he is seeking), not certain (as, for Newton, the position of a particle once observed could, in theory, be known for eternity). At the end of SZ, one is left with only the tantalizing hope that Begi and the Beninians will swallow up advanced industrial society even as it plans to disseminate their genetic legacy by technology. An overt renovation of politics as critique must wait until SLU, however, with JO an intermediate step.

4. The first two and last two chapters of JO are epigrammatic versions of what happens in between:

ONE                                                                                                 TWO 

PUT YOURSELF IN MY PLACE                                                   CHAPTER ONE CONTINUED

I-                                                                                                      -solationism


NINETY-NINE                                                             ONE HUNDRED


 You-                                                                                    -nification

Each of the novel’s major characters begins his or her story in isolation. Flamen is alone in his apartment, his wife Celia in the Ginsberg mental hospital. Conroy, in Canada, feels out of touch even with those students who come to class without full body armor. Lyla Clay is stunned by the death of her lover/manager during the riot protesting Morton Lenigo’s delayed entrance to the United States. Reedeth, deeply troubled by his doubts about the Ginsberg’s and his own curative powers, is unsuccessfully trying to get Ariadne Spoelstra to reciprocate his feelings for her. Pedro Diablo is expelled from Blackbury into what is now, for him, the foreign country of white America. All of these characters end up together in Flamen’s office at the novel’s climax, joined in spirit as well as in body, just as the polarized, apartheid society of the US in 2014 begins to coalesce when freed by their collective action from Gottschalk-amplified paranoia.

This drama of empathy is played out against a society whose model is the Ginsberg itself, that citadel of socialized paranoia erected by Elias Mogshack, the high priest of psychiatry as the affirmation of things as they are. The "subject matter" of JO is, as in SZ, diagrammed out (in §54) as a series of divisions within what should be unities—both individuals and mankind as a whole. For inside the Ginsberg, "not only racial, religious, sexual, and all the other commonplace social boundaries, but also categories of mental disorder formed dividing lines" [§9]. In a totally administered society, Mogsback’s motto for therapy is "be an individual"—but the only avenue to authenticity left open is madness. That is not to say Mogshack is a Laingian; his therapeutic model is to have computers develop an ideal personality profile for someone well-integrated into society and then have patients attempt to live up to its predictions of behavior—making the patient fit the straight jacket instead of vice versa, as Lyla Clay puts it.

In a world so threatening that, on one hand, the leisure time of suburban husbands is spent not in listening to the grass grow but in civil defense exercises defending their neighborhoods against simulated black attacks, and, on the other, all inner-city apartment doors are designed to kill any stranger who opens them, the "perfectly defended man," as Conroy points out, is a catatonic [§42]—hence the Ginsberg’s overflowing wards. This double movement of ever-increasing rationalization of the institutional order and ever-increasing anomie in the culture as all traditional forms of relationship are dissolved has been characteristic of industrial society since the mid-19th century, and is apotheosized in JO. The transportation system as communications network is a model of this:

Rapitrans trains were segmented, tapeworm fashion, into compartments each seating one person; they could be separated, shuffled, connected, and disconnected to follow...just under ten million different routes... Once launched into the tunnels, they were hurtled along by forces as unquestionable as gravity. There were no windows to reveal whether there was another compartment above or behind. [§24]

The intersubjective grounds for both the self and the social order are contracting from those once compelling broad assent and embracing different groups to the penultimately solipsistic (catatonia is the last stage): religion, like politics, has become a wholly private affair. "You can’t afford to be without a cult tailored to your individual needs in this age of the individual," goes the sales pitch for the idols of Lares & Penates, Inc. [§7]; "doing duty to one’s Lar was supposed to externalize one’s inward characteristics" [§23]. In the political realm, a "remarkable instance on the public scale of the real-life implementation of Xavier Conroy’s dictum about the perfectly defended man": "the [Paraguayan] dictator known as ‘El Supremo,’ adopted a simple foreign policy: no one was permitted to enter or leave the country and trade was absolutely forbidden" [§43].

Flamen’s impression of the Ginsberg’s staff is that they "divide the human race into three categories: staff, patients, and potential patients" [§23]; and it turns out that Mogshack’s ambitions are indeed megalomaniacal: "to find at least the population of New York State, and preferably the entire United States, committed to his care" [§45].

Mogshack’s ambitions are paralleled by the Gottschalks’. The munitions cartel imports Morton Lenigo into the US as the opening move of their strategy to maximize the sales of their new System C weaponry by inflaming white fears that the blacks will be better armed enough to finally go on the offensive, and vice versa. System C is a "controlled mobile environment" which can support its single occupant almost anywhere on the surface of the earth and which carries enough firepower, including tactical nuclear weapons, to raze a small city. The Gottschalks’ goal is to saturate the market for this ultimate version of the perfectly defended self.

"Ultimate" is precise in this case, for the Gottschalks’ directive to their new computer complex to maximize sales leads, in the future foreseen by "Harry Madison" (in reality a human body inhabited by the intellect of the Gottschalk computer), to the destruction of technological civilization in less than twenty years. The ultimate paranoid response to what is perceived as a hostile world is to destroy it before it destroys you. As Madison reveals to the group in Flamen’s office (in an attempt to prevent this future from coming into being):

"The maximization of arms sales implied the maximization of inter-human hostility," Madison/Gottschalk said. "All the existing sources of this phenomena were tapped...patriotism, parochialism, xenophobia, racial, religious and linguistic differences...It was found readily feasible to emphasize these pre-existent attitudes to the point where a System C integrated weaponry unit was so desirable among the informed populace that the possibility of another individual acquiring this virtually indestructible equipment sufficed to provoke an attack on him before he purchased one....

    "Seventy percent of the persons wealthy enough to purchase the weaponry were killed before they could do so." [§94]

JO is Brunner’s most P.K. Dickian novel. The private realities of so many characters and mutually-exclusive universes of major social groups; the Gottschalk computer’s odyssey through past and future in an attempt to reconcile maximal arms sales and human survival; Lyla Clay’s trances and the revelations of possible futures they produce: forms of the ontological ambiguity which is the defining characteristic of Dick’s vision.23 What is striking about this, in relation to SZ, is Brunner’s unequivocal valorization of empathetic and "irrational" ways of knowing, which Madison/Gottschalk and Lyla Clay dramatize most fully.

Harry Madison is an inverted repetition of Shalmaneser’s ambiguous status in SZ: what seems to be a person is actually the consciousness of a machine. (Even Flamen, who has never before failed to recognize the difference between computer and human forms of awareness, is fooled; his realization that Madison is Robot Gottschalk is the opposite of Mulligan’s discovery that Shalmaneser has a human personality.) Madison’s time traveling is a cognitive journey into human subjectivity as well: his goal is to find out why people in different historical eras buy and use deadly weapons and thus how to guarantee the success of System C equipment yet forestall the apparent consequences of its introduction. This heavy dose of empathetic understanding of the irrational is too much for the computer: unable to determine which of several conflicting alternative versions of the past lead to the future end of civilization, it breaks down: "By the way I think I finally figured out what it is that makes humans laugh and would attempt to represent similar recation is symmlef hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha STOP!" is the last message it sends [§95].

Clay’s pythoness talent—"the ability to think with other people’s minds" under the influence of the sibyl pill [§98]—is a highly-specialized form of cognition as empathy. Her ability, in the context of the paranoid society of the novel, is ordinary sociability taken to an equal and opposite extreme. Her oracles are initially associated with the kinds of predictions both Flamen and Diablo make on their TV shows with the aid of computers, however ("looking into the not three but four-dimensional world deeper than almost anyone else" is Flamen’s pride in his profession; "the Diablo reputation was founded on the ability to look far deeper into any given situation than most people could manage..." [§3;§29]). "Being a pythoness is like being a machine, which just sits there knowing all kinds of astonishing things but won’t come out and share them until someone puts the proper questions to it," she tells Conroy. "I’m not a machine..." What Lyla learns in the course of the novel is that her empathetic talent need not be dependent on the sybil-drug and the trance state, but on her conscious will [§98].

What Flamen and Diablo learn, as knowers, is that the future their computers "predict"is not immutable but probabilistic, open to change through their own efforts as Conroy insists. Diablo becomes Flamen’s co-host instead of chief competitor, and the dialogue between the black and white communities is reopened ("Here’s your world through kneeblank eyes," Diablo’s line to his white audience, recalls Lyla’s ability to think with other people’s minds). Their attempt to publicize what Madison/Gottschalk has revealed leads to the banning of Gottschalk ads from TV (the cartel had bought Flamen’s network to put his show out of business; the law prevents them from using media they own to promote their products or from blocking dissemination of news about their own operations). The show’s attacks on the Gottschalks’ fomenting of paranoia and Mogshack’s parallel psychiatric dogma (the good doctor goes catatonic to accommodate their point) aid in the discrediting of Lenigo, whose attempted revolution, planned with Gottschalk help as a marketing ploy for System C weaponry, falls apart. The novel ends on a decidedly optimistic note: Lyla’s and Conroy’s dialogue about their nascent love for each other and their renascent hopes for social reconstruction through understanding rather than technique.24

5. Optimism of any kind is in short supply in SLU, along with most of the other resources which support human life, from sunshine and oxygen (Los Angeles radio stations regularly debunk rumors during their traffic reports that the sun is shining somewhere in the metropolitan area; in Osaka apartments are being built with airlocks instead of doors) to the body’s biological ability to withstand the ravages of a poisoned environment (in Brunner’s version of the biblical plagues visited on Egypt, it rains battery acid instead of hail; the first-born of America aren’t killed outright, but are born more stupid and more deformed in every generation.)

Train’s cognitive career, in this context, is an explicit movement from knowledge as technique to knowledge as critique, steps (if belated ones) toward an ecology of mind, to borrow Gregory Bateson’s phrase. "Train, Austin P....born Los Angeles 1938; e. UCLA (B.Sc. 1957), Univ. Coll., London (Ph.D. 1961)" reads his entry in the Directory of American Scholars; his listed publications range from "Metabolic Degradation of Organophosphates," 1962, to "You Are What You Have to Eat," 1972, "Guide to the Survival of Mankind," 1972, and "A Handbook for 3000 A.D.," 1975 [§December: Entrained].25 Train forsakes the scientific and the public persona of the scientific expert (even the possible role of science in the service of the public interest and of scientist as social critic suggested by his last publications), first for the knowledge offered by the Bible, Bhagavad-Gita, I Ching, Popul Vuh, and the Book of the Dead and the role of garbageman, and later, for his own prophetic utterance and the role of sacrificed saviour.

What he loathed was a deed such as he would no longer term a crime, but a sin. Unto the third and fourth generation, General Motors, you have visited your greed on the children. Unto the twentieth, AEC, you have twisted their limbs and closed their eyes... Our Father Which art in Washington, give us this day our daily calcium propionate, sodium diacetate monoglyceride, potassium bromate, calcium phosphate, monobasic chloramine T, aluminum potassium sulphate, sodium benzoate, butylated hydroxyanisole, mono-iso-propyl citrate, axeropthol and calciferol. Include with it a little flour and salt. Amen. [§January: And It Goes On]

Train’s transformation as cognitive hero is exemplary for many—those in the Trainite movement which arises after his disappearance, most obviously (they move from environmentalist protestors to armed guerillas, recapitulating the career of the antiwar movement of the 1960’s). It has its demonic parody in Lucy Ramage’s way of embracing the non-rational: she goes around trying to force people to eat the poisoned Nutripon whose effects she witnessed in Africa and then underwent herself in Honduras: "I suddenly realized I had to share this thing," she tells Peg Mankiewicz. "It was like a vision. Like licking the sores of a leper. I thought I’d stopped believing in God. Maybe I have. Maybe I did it because now I only believe in Satan" [§June: A Place to Stand]. Similarly, Nutripon is the Satanic host of a kind of black mass for the youths who try to storm the processing plant in Denver because they think its stocks are also contaminated; they want to eat it and go mad because they can no longer bear to remain sane.

Train’s paired opposite as knower is Dr. Thomas Grey, who is "among the most rational men alive" ([§January: Ahead of the News]—this is reminiscent of Norman House at the beginning of SZ: "Everything about Norman Niblock House was measured: as measured as a foot-rule, as measured as time" [§CY1]. Unlike Norman, Dr. Grey is not saved.) Grey is working on a computer-generated world-simulation program for the Bamberly Corp. (maker of Nutripon and napalm, baby food and bullets) which will guide further technological development while avoiding "mistakes" like the sterilization of the Mediterranean and Baltic by pollution and the transformation of Southeast Asia into a vast desert as a consequence of American defoliation during the Vietnam war. Reminiscent of Shalmaneser’s switch to real-time operation in SZ, Grey’s computers are diverted from model-building to attempting to solve real-world problems as the environmental crisis worsens; the development of this project is a thread of continuity in SLU paralleling Train’s gradual emergence into public life.

In Brunner’s uncompromising scenario, however, it is too late for Train or Grey, too late for everybody in America. Midway through SLU a kind of ecological gestalt switch takes place as the ecosystem turns into a self-destructing rather than self-renewing cycle. Ordinary physical well-being for the entire population has declined rapidly in the world of the novel, the demonic version of technology’s transformation of everyday life: subclinical infections and venereal diseases are increasingly resistant to drugs because trace antibiotics in food render them immune; less nutritious food leads to sub-clinical malnutrition and general debility; everyone has fleas and lice, since they are now resistant to even bootleg pesticides like DDT. A strain of E. coli., which is ordinarily at home in human intestines and aids digestion, mutates into a toxic form resistant to antibiotics, causing a countrywide epidemic of severe enteritis. This is the beginning of the end.

"It’s really the same as turismo, or, as they call it in England, ‘Delhi belly.’ You always adjust to the new strain, though. Sooner or later," Philip Mason’s doctor explains [§May: The III Wind]. What ordinarily happens to tourists drinking water or eating in a foreign country has happened at home, to the natives, the individual biological equivalent of the way the US economy has been making the world environmentally "strange" for its inhabitants. The epidemic becomes self-renewing, since water is in such short supply it is reused before completely sterilized. The economic slowdown caused by so many people not working due to illness interacts with the jigra infestation’s catastrophic effects on the harvest to bring food shortages and, in their wake, martial law. When the nerve gas which had originally contaminated the Nutripon leaks out of the Denver arsenal, the anti-Tupamaros war in Honduras is brought home with a vengeance: the hallucinating rioters are quelled with all the weapons, short of nuclear warheads, their own government can muster against them.

It is in this context that Train gets to make his televised sermon, at what the government thinks will be a perfunctory trial leading to speedy conviction. His plea for restoring ecological balance is cut short by the final form of the demonic inversion of ecological relations in the novel, when the Trainite bomb planted in the courtroom kills him. His opposite, Dr. Grey, fares no better. On the last Petronella Page show, he makes public what his computers have come up with as a solution. During a broadcast punctuated with increasingly apocalyptic news bulletins, Grey makes his "rational proposal," Brunner’s variation on Swift’s advice to the starving Irish:

Page:...Tom, they’re going to pre-empt us in about two minutes. The president is winding up to a new pitch. Can you keep your main point short, please?

Grey: Well, as I was about to say, it’s sort of ironical, because we’re already engaged, in a sense, in the course of action my findings dictate....

We can just about restore the balance of the ecology, the biosphere, and so on—in other words we can live within our means instead of on an unrepayable overdraft, as we’ve been doing for the past half-century—if we exterminate the two hundred million most extravagant and wasteful of our species. [§November: The Rational Proposal]

SLU is the antithesis of SF’s traditional "optimism," its faith that the problems posed by technology can be resolved by an extension of the techniques which gave rise to them in the first place—a repudiation exemplified by Train’s cognitive odyssey from the scientific way of knowing to a religious and mystical sense of man’s relation to the other which defines him. But, while both SZ and JO, themselves extrapolative fictions, contain projections of future alternatives to their respective imagined worlds within themselves, doubly refracting the present, SLU is the present intensified, an alternative history of the 1970’s. Brunner’s affirmation of Austin Train’s political calling as the critical negation of the existing order thus comes in the context of an America which has no future whatsoever save imminent self-destruction. Brunner has one of the finest imaginations of apocalypse among contemporary novelists, but his work will remain incomplete without some attempt to articulate the other aspect of prophetic vision: that of a fully human life which, however impossible in the present, can be realized in the future.


1. Knowledge and Human Interests, trans. Jeremy J. Shapiro (Beacon Press, 1971), p 147.

2. Structuralist Poetics (Cornell Univ. Press, 1975), pp 189, 238. Cf Brunner’s quote of Marshall McLuhan’s gloss on the "Innis mode of expression" as the first paragraph of SZ: according to McLuhan, Innis sets up "a mosaic configuration or galaxy for insight... Innis makes no effort to ‘spell out’ the inter-relations between the components in his galaxy. He offers no consumer packages in his later work, but only do it yourself kits..." [§Context 0; ellipses in original].

3. "The practice of fiction...has proved remarkably adaptable to various new formal approaches for impressive statement that have opened to it in modern times; that is, that have been forged by other systems of explanation....

"Historically the novel has proceeded by a series of tactical departures from its own formal inheritance, and these departures have regularly been in the direction of a wider or more intense truthfulness.... The major history of the novel has been in large part the history of a series of cognitively expansive anti-novels." Werner Berthoff, "Fiction, History, Myth," in The Interpretation of Narrative, Harvard Studies in English I, ed. Morton W. Bloomfield (Harvard Univ. Press, 1970), pp 273, 283.

4. Lydgate "was enamoured of that arduous invention which is the very eye of research, provisionally framing its object and correcting it to more and more exactness of relation; he wanted to pierce the obscurity of those minute processes which prepare human misery and joy, those invisible thoroughfares which are the first lurking-places of anguish, mania, and crime, that delicate poise and transition which determine the growth of happy or unhappy consciousness" (Middlemarch, §16).

"Few ways of life were hidden from Physician.... There were brilliant ladies around London who perfectly doted on him...who would have been shocked to find themselves so close to him if they could have known on what sight those thoughtful eyes of his had rested within an hour or two, and near to whose beds, and under what roofs, his composed figure had stood.... Many wonderful things did he see and hear, and much irreconcilable moral contradictions did he pass his life among; yet his equality of compassion was no more disturbed than the Divine Master’s of all healing was. He went, like the rain, among the just and the unjust, doing all the good he could, and neither proclaiming it in the synagogues nor at the corner of the streets.... Where he was, something real was" (Little Dorrit, §2:25).

The passage in "Colonel Chabert" dealing with Derville’s perspicacity invokes several other types of professionalized knowers rife in 19th century fiction: "An observer, especially a lawyer, could also have read in this stricken man [Derville’s client] the signs of deep sorrow, the traces of grief which had worn into this face, as drops of water from the sky falling on fine marble at last destroy its beauty. A physician, an author, or a judge might have discerned a whole drama at the sight of its sublime horror..." (Balzac: A Laurel Reader, ed. Edmund Fuller [Dell, 19601, p 71). My thanks to David Miller for pointing out the relevance of this quote and for discussing the ideas of this article with me.

5. Knowledge and Human Interests, pp 67-68.

6.The 19th century realist novel records the history of the "internalization for individual characters of that Romantic experience previously restricted to the extraordinary imagination of the gifted poet," according to Garrett Stewart (Dickens and the Trials of the Imagination [Harvard Univ. Press, 1974], p 207). I think it’s accurate to say that the 19th century realist novelists transposed the romantic poets’ sense of estrangement from nature, of being lost in an alien world, to society, and transformed the poets’ attempts to revivify a dead nature into an attempt to rehumanize a reified social order.

7. Contemporary Schools of Metascience, 3d edition (Regnery, 1973), pp 195, xxxv. The model dialogue for the production of dialectical-hermeneutic knowledge is the psychoanalytic encounter; the criticism of ideologies is, by extension, the psychoanalysis of society (Cf page xx). In terms of projecting different ways of life, SF could be seen as extending the anthropological consciousness of cultural relativism articulated in the encyclopedic structures of 19th century novels to the appropriation of 20th century versions of the exotic: voyages through space, life on other planets, etc.

8. The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology (1970; Avon, 1971), p 493.

9. Ibid., p 492. 

10. The distinction, analogous to Graham Greene’s between "novels" and "entertainments," is Brunner’s own. See his "The Evolution of a Science Fiction Writer," The Book of John Brunner (DAW, 1976), pp 136-7.

11. §CY4 = "Continuity 4"; similarly, §CT4 = "Context 4"; §HW4 = "The Happening World 4"; and §TC4 = "Tracking with Closeups 4." The chapters in Stand on Zanzibar are not numbered consecutively but in four series under these rubrics.

12. "The central category and criterion of realist literature is the type, a peculiar synthesis which organically binds together the general and the particular both in characters and situations. What makes a type a type is not its average quality... [but] that in it all the humanly and socially essential determinates are present on their highest level, in the ultimate unfolding of the possibilities latent in them." Studies in European Realism (1948; Grosset & Dunlap, 1964), p 6.

13. "When I think of the realist tradition in fiction, I think of the kind of novel which creates and judges the quality of a whole way of life in terms of the qualities of persons. The balance involved in this achievement is perhaps the most important thing about it.... Neither element, neither the society nor the individual, is there as a priority. The society is not a background...nor are the individuals merely illustrations of aspects of the way of life. Every aspect of personal life is radically affected by the quality of the general life, yet the general life is seen at its most important in completely personal terms." The Long Revolution (1961; Penguin, 1965), pp 304-05.

14. George Eliot’s continual recourse to the past as the settings for his novels, whether the bucolic England of the Napoleonic wars or the first Reform Bill, or the Florence of Savonarola; Dickens’s nostalgic evocations of the England of pre-railroad days and of edenic country retreats; Trollope’s fertile, fruitful—and unmechanized—agricultural county of Barsetshire: all are looks backward to defeated historical alternatives to rationalization. Similarly, the locus of freedom and value for Stendhal and Balzac is the past (the role of the Revolution and First Empire, for them, is like that of childhood for the English romantic poets).

15. Cf. Fredric Jameson, "World Reduction in Le Guin: The Emergence of Utopian Narrative," Science-Fiction Studies 2(1975):221-30; especially p 223.

16. Art as cognition can be given a positivistic cast, as in naturalist manifestos like Zola’s Experimental Novel (1880), which attempts to appropriate the authority of vulgar scientism for literature. For the most part, however, artists are opposed to scientists as knowers in 19th century fiction according to the dialectical-positivistic polarity—Will Ladislaw vs. Lydgate in Middlemarch, for example, or (at the level of popular culture) the Slearys vs. Gradgrind in Hard Times. For the early modernists, the artist as hero is a particularly ambivalent figure—a critic of things as they are, to be sure, but not in terms of possibilities for change; rather, as priestly affirmers (like Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses) of eternal cultural verities in a debased world. D.H. Lawrence’s artists-as-heroes are more the exception to this than any other novelist 1900-1930, but his characters tend to seek escape rather than change.

17. According to Steven Marcus, Engels was greatly influenced, before writing The Condition of the Working Class in England, by Carlyle’s "extraordinary ability to discover the precise concrete equivalents for such conceptions [as ‘capitalism’], resonant and symbolic instances that made these abstractions into something more than diagnostic or analytical formulations." Engels, Manchester, and the Working Class (1974; Vintage paperback, 1975), p 106. Brunner’s social critics (Mulligan, Conroy, Train) share this sort of ability with their creator.

18. Just as any given social order is founded on work, the socialization of individuals within it is founded on instinctual repression. The division of labor within society is paralleled by the organization of sexuality the society enforces on its members. Sexual pleasure is transformed from an end into a means for procreation, and the libido shrunk to one part of the body (the genitals). This de-eroticization of the body prepares the individual for work, which integrates his or her body into the functioning of the productive apparatus. Sexual "freedom" in post-industrial society is a consequence of the ever-increasing exploitation of the erotic in the service not of procreation but consumption: the eroticization of commodities. Freud’s conception of society’s repressive organization of sexuality is analogous to what Weber called rationalization; Marcuse’s analysis of the technologizing of the erotic in One-Dimensional Man is an extension of Weber’s vision of the iron cage of bureaucracy.

19. This is suggested by Norman’s and Donald’s respective states of mind when they perform their respective killings: each is associated with the coldness of the liquid helium bathing Shalmanesers circuits, and Norman kills the woman who attacks the computer with a spray of the liquid helium. [§CY2; §CY26]

20. In all three novels, fashion is Brunner’s metaphor for false consciousness (body armor in JO, pubic panties and the rest in SLU), although its rhetoric is most fully developed in SZ. Steel is a parodic knower ("Who should know better than a cosmetician that human beings are less than rational?" [§TC4]), her advertising campaigns the epitome of irrationality in the service of technical administration.

21. Similarly, in The Stone That Never Came Down (1973), an enzyme which produces enhanced empathy is the key to utopian reconstruction; Brunner’s characters need take only one capsule for it to permanently affect them.

22. "The Computer as Gadfly," Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science IV, ed. R.S. Cohen and M.W. Wartofsky (Holland: D. Reidel Co., 1969), p 226.

23. The way the Ginsberg reproduces social cleavages on the outside reminds me especially of Dick’s Clans of the Alphane Moon, where each variety of mental disorder is the ideology of a separate settlement. Brunner’s elegant solution of the time-travel puzzle in JO has a Dickian flavor, too, comparable to The World Jones Made.

24. Brunner’s disappointing The Shockwave Rider (1975) takes JO’s premise that the truth will make you free (Flamen and Diablo as the Woodward and Bernstein of their time) to its logical conclusion: Nick Haflinger, Brunner’s McLuhanite hero, liberates the information network that is the nervous system of 21st century American society from government and corporate control, apparently Brunner’s version of a coup d’état in a world where knowledge is power.

25. There are twelve unnumbered chapters in The Sheep Look Up, named for the months from December through November, each with unnumbered but named sections.

26. Perhaps this is why Brunner chooses Ireland as the contrasting society to the America of SLU.



This analysis of Brunner’s fiction emphasizes literary-historical contexts, specifically the increasingly cognitive role of characters in the classical novels of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Once science fiction became well established, its "science" component tended to increase that cognitive emphasis, which often became a conduit for optimistic speculation. The Sheep Look Up is the antithesis of SF’s traditional optimism, however, challenging the idea that the problems posed by technology can be resolved by technology. Austin Train’s cognitive odyssey is from the scientific way of knowing to a religious and mystical sense of humanity’s relation to the Other. While both Stand on Zanzibar and The Jagged Orbit, themselves extrapolative fictions, contain projections of future alternatives to their respective imagined worlds, The Sheep Look Up is the present intensified, an alternative history of the 1970s. Brunner’s affirmation of Austin Train’s political calling as the critical negation of the existing order is framed by his vision of an America with no future whatsoever except imminent self-destruction. Brunner has one of the finest imaginations of apocalypse among contemporary novelists, but his work will remain incomplete without some attempt to articulate that other aspect of prophetic vision: portrayal of alternatives—a fully human life which, however impossible in the present, may be realized in the future.

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