Science Fiction Studies

#43 = Volume 14, Part 3 = November 1987


Knowledge is Ignorance

Andrew Martin, The Knowledge of Ignorance: From Genesis to Jules Verne. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 1985. x + 259pp. $39.50

As Andrew Martin notes in his introductory chapter, the title he has selected for his volume poses significant problems. It implies a subject as vast in time and space as the universe or as profound and enigmatic as the intellect. Indeed, such an essay must begin with Genesis or before and can end anywhere and nowhere. That he chose to culminate his essay with Jules Verne, though startling, is understandable once one has grasped the book's structure; yet Verne is not really the end of the book, because he merely represents a writer whose work embodies man's desire for omniscience while demonstrating that the more man knows the more he recognizes his ignorance:

The Voyages, anticipating the closure of the circle of knowledge, the attainment of omniscience, aim to supplant mimesis by mathesis, deploying science to abolish fiction. But the Vernian savant is always threatened, in the course of his journeys of intellectual discovery, by the catastrophic reduction of science to nescience. (pp. 6-7)

But it is not just man's recognition of his ignorance; it is an understanding that nescience and omniscience are not opposites but reversible processes: "the fragmentation of scientific discourse suggests that knowledge and ignorance, science and literature, epistemophilia and anepistemophilia, are not mutually exclusive but inseparable" (p. 7). Thus Martin's book can have no real ending in any writer or period. Indeed, the book itself cannot end as discourse, because discourse and time are inseparably linked within the transition between nescience and omniscience. Both discourse and time are imperfect fragmentations of man's attempted understanding of a universe which, because it is beyond his understanding, he describes as infinite and eternal, static states in which time and transition have no meaning and can never become means of comprehension. After all, in the sense of Godhead omniscience and nescience become meaningless terms. They are linguistic formulations by which man attempts to describe and define something beyond his comprehension. For even in employing such expression as "all" and "whole," "omniscient" and "infinite," man is clearly thinking in finite terms. The whole implies something that can be encompassed and omniscience suggests that there is an all to be known. Man can only perceive in terms of transition; he thinks in terms of time and he measures space, as if one moved from nothing to something. He conceives of the universe as a place and thinks that it is an ark or archive, a definable entity which one can explore and hence move from ignorance to full knowledge. Thus, as long as man is man, Martin's book can have no ending, for an ending would represent a natural conclusion to a creature of transition who can only think that all things in transition must have a beginning and an end.

Although to include the name of Verne as the conclusive term in such a high sounding title causes one to draw back for a moment and to wonder about the author's seriousness, there is no doubt that Martin is serious and has written a very provocative and interesting volume which, though by no means attempting to discuss all of Western literature and civilization in terms of his theme, does so in a philosophical way by choosing a perspective which reflects broadly these opposite but not opposing paths to knowledge or understanding: nescience and omniscience.

In an abstract sense one might say that there are three modes which describe man's understanding of essential forms: at one end of the spectrum are vacuum, absence, and ignorance, in themselves forms of perfection because unique and whole; on the other end are plenitude and omniscience, which, by their completeness, are also images of perfection. What lies between, of course, is a transition from one state to the other, a temporal mode which represents the imperfect state of man.

In his chapter entitled "Nescience and Omniscience," Martin focuses on three historical moments in Western civilization: Genesis, the Renaissance, and the French Revolution and its aftermath. For Martin, genesis is both a moment in philosophical time and an event which has specific significance in intellectual history. As an event, it represents the perfect moment of ignorance for humankind, a period prior to the use of language when man, in his total ignorance, formed a perfect unity with his Creator. In fact, the omniscient Creator's need for creation is presented as deriving from his need to know all, even ignorance. Once man had acquired knowledge, of course, the perfection of complete ignorance was lost. Indeed, once ignorance was lost the way to perfection or to rejoining the Creator could only lie in complete knowledge. Thus the Scriptures represent man's hesitant attempt at reconciliation with the Godhead and yet are themselves emblematic of the cleavage which exists between man and his Creator.

The Renaissance is presented as a period in which man believed in knowledge, a period which sought to recover the lost knowledge of the ancients. Yet, for Martin, figures like Erasmus and Montaigne realized the futility of attempting to learn all and manifested a skepticism regarding the ability of man's intellect to know. And in Rousseau he sees the dilemma of humankind caught between a nostalgic desire for complete ignorance or innocence and the desire for omniscience expressed perfectly in Julie:

Thus La Nouvelle Héloise operates as a sexual parable of the dilemma of epistemic man. The anepistemological ideal examined in Rousseau's writing, of attaining the state of knowing without the impediment of knowledge, of being simultaneously ignorant and knowledgeable, is mirrored in Julie's exactly analogous fantasy of loving without ever having loved, of possessing without being possessed, of being an amorous virgin. (p. 54)

For Martin, Julie is a "post-lapsarian being clinging to the illusion of prelapsarian innocence" (p. 54).

But if the 18th-century revolution was anti-intellectual in its political ideology the aftermath of bourgeois dominance reinstated the goal of omniscience and science. Ignorance, which Renaissance and post-Renaissance man relegated to a period of time called the Middle Ages, came to be located in the 19th century in the Orient, the spatial equivalent of the Middle Ages. In sections dealing with Hugo, Napoleon, and Chateaubriand, Martin explores l9th-century Positivism and the idea of Western intellectual and cultural superiority--this in a chapter entitled "The Occidental Orient." Here the volume becomes less philosophical and more literary and historical in orientation as Martin traces the 19th-century belief in science and knowledge in the poetic imagery of Hugo, the ideas of Beaudelaire and Chateaubriand, and the political plans of Napoleon.

Finally, in the longest section of the book, Martin discusses various formal patterns and subjects in the oeuvre of Jules Verne which reflect his works' concern with the question of science and the universe, fiction and reality. He explores Verne's use of emblematic images (such as the shark in Les Enfants du capitaine Grant), "reflexive images duplicating in miniature the configuration of a text or texts, emblematic résumés of plot or theme" (p. 123). He relates Verne's use of themes such as nutrition and cognition to his own central thesis and he demonstrates the key role that Vingt mille lieues sous les mers plays in the work as a whole. Not only does that work itself epitomize the novels in the entire collection in Martin's view, but the Nautilus is a microfigure of the Vernian opus. It is both ark and museum, a seaborne encyclopedia, a well-ordered closed space both temporal and aesthetic: "it is the physical counterpart to the closure of history that is the prerequisite of epistemic totalization..." (p. 155). For Martin, Verne's fiction is itself modeled on the Nautilus: "it is a library of quotations, allusions, references: a bibliography of nineteenth-century science" (p. 156).

Perhaps one of Martin's more telling observations regards Verne's relation to SF as a genre. As Martin notes, Verne was very skeptical of fiction and the wholesale use of imagination, especially in regard to the material world. If what man perceives was subjective in Verne's view (a traditional 19th-century neo-platonic perspective), the universe was, contrarily, an objective reality which science attempted to apprehend in its absolute quality. Thus Verne admitted readily the use of fiction in creating plots and characters but absolutely refused to venture beyond current scientific knowledge or speculation when dealing with the "objective reality" of the universe. As Martin puts it, the descriptible is bounded by what has already been described, while the scriptible is identical with the déjà-écrit. Thus Verne's SF maintains a strict distinction which prevents futuristic fantasizing from becoming part of his narrative: "Verne's scientific romances are less futuristic fantasies than nostalgic permutations of inherited categories and contraptions" (p. 6). Verne's De la terre à la Lune and Autour de la Lune prove amply the accuracy of Martin's observation. Nothing Verne says about the Moon or the means of getting there exceeds current scientific speculation on the known. Moreover, when such speculation was lacking, he tended toward hasty generalizations rather than elaborate fantasies.

But if Martin's book provides much material that is insightful, there are also problems one should not overlook. One may readily question van Rad's reticence at seeking a divine purpose in God's prohibition that man not eat of the tree, but to assert that the prohibition involves acquisition of knowledge itself is questionable. After all, for man to live as a conscious human being would involve learning and thought. In the chapter on Genesis, Martin struggles to maintain the binary structure he posits. He turns away from useful historical interpretations of Genesis that had enormous influence on the minds and art of subsequent periods. At times one finds sophistic questions which depend on an anthropomorphic image of God. To show that God's omnipotence and omniscience are in fact defective (to be omniscient one could not know ignorance), he makes up several things that God could not do: he could not, e.g., build a wall over which he could not jump. It is one thing to say that no wall could be built which God, taking the shape of a man, could not jump, but to make image of the infinite creating something outside of itself is to think of the infinite in human terms. To say that omniscience cannot know ignorance is to give substance to ignorance or to imagine that omniscience cannot know ignorance without becoming ignorant or in some way taking on ignorance, thereby destroying omniscience.

In Martin's treatment of Montaigne there is a similar problem. Interesting as Martin's binary use of omniscience and nescience is, it does not seem that Montaigne's critique of raison in the Apologie de Raimond Sebond involves the question of nescience. To be sure, Montaigne's alleged apologia undercuts the argument it seemingly sets out to support. But his skepticism of man's raison only involves the challenge of raison in questions of theology or faith. There is no denial of learning in the Renaissance concept of physical science. It may be surprising to find, but Montaigne's essay is in the great tradition of theological discourses, in the tradition of Abelard's Sic et Non and consistent with his loud proclamation that he never intended to question faith with man's reason.

In the discussion of the 19th-century idea of the "mission civilisatrice" of Western Europe (here France in particular), Martin readily condemns this train of thought as a sham. To see the idea as a hoax by means of which Western capitalism could justify itself in taking from other societies what rightfully belonged to them is to misconstrue history. (A similar gross error in the interpretation of crusading motivation in earlier medieval scholarship is being rectified by the scholarship of the past three decades.) The "mission civilisatrice" has a long history which extends at least to Chrétien de Troyes' preface to Cligés and the sense that both clergie and chevalerie now belong to France and must be maintained and transmitted. By the end of the 17th century, the belief in France in its own moral, intellectual, and artistic superiority over the rest of Western Europe should not be underestimated. It is this great sense of classic art in aesthetic matters which allows Eugene Fromentin, basically an anti-colonialist by the standards of his day, to watch a native festival with great interest, even fascination, but to proclaim that it is really not art, only spectacle. (It is curious to me that modern critics, often consumed by the idea that there can be no absolute history, nonetheless refuse to acknowledge the legitimate historical biases brought about by relativism and proceed to criticize earlier generations for not sharing the relative bias of the modern age!) Our age is currently experiencing an anti-scientific reaction, an abhorrence of the 19th century's faith in progress and belief that science can solve all human problems. The idea that acquisition of knowledge could be a prototype for the very notion of possession is interesting. This mode of thought may well be at work in an abstract intellectual sense. But the historical consciousness of the period should be taken into account in assessing such motives.

To conclude, one may return to the appropriateness of using an author of Verne's stature as the culminating essay in a book involving questions so philosophically oriented. Until the 1970s, Verne was perceived almost exclusively as an author of adventure books, largely thought of as an author who appealed mostly to children. Since the early 1970s, however, many critics have begun to focus on his works seriously. Is it the case of a novelist long misunderstood whose time has finally come? Probably not. It has rather to do with the change in values of modern literary criticism. Post-1960s' criticism has eschewed the traditional 19th-century novel and its preoccupation with psychology and history. The idea that history is nothing but a record left by people hopelessly prisoners of their own biases has turned history into a form of fiction and prevents one from considering history in the absolute terms in which it was conceived in the 19th century. Thus documents are seen not so much as historical bearers of fact as they are the observations of people living in another age. In a completely relative perspective, even science becomes only a mathematical reflection of man's own necessarily biased and limited perspective on the universe. As C.S. Lewis noted in his The Discarded Image, the Copernican model is not the permanent, absolute reality of the universe; it is an image which answers for our time. Martin notes that Verne's work comes at a turning point in Western thought: "The Voyages register the transition from the subordination of fiction to a scientific view of literature (as mimesis) to the subordination of physics to an aesthetic view of science (as imaginative construct)" (p. 174). With this end of the last bastion of an absolute reality (the physical sciences), modern criticism has, in a sense, turned to itself as a kind of science:

Science, then, does not so much resemble literature as both resemble literary criticism. Thus in philosophy the dominion of epistemology has tended to be usurped by hermeneutics. The ambition of literary criticism to be a science, to reconvert hermeneutics into epistemology, betrays a nostalgia for a lost paradise. (p. 186)

In a sense literary criticism is left unto itself to analyze texts in whose authors and historical subject matter it has no faith or real interest. Verne is not read as an author whose preoccupations were caught up in the idea of 19th-century notions of progress and science. The 19th century is not looked at to see how it differs from or lays the foundation for our own historical and intellectual perspectives.

Nor is Verne the figure, the man, the author really of interest. Rather Verne's oeuvre becomes a vast document which has its own absolute raison d'être that transcends or is apart from history. This is why Simone Vierne's study of mythic, initiatory archetypes, Moré's psychoanalytic study, and Macherey's Marxist analysis of Verne all more or less work in terms of the structured guidelines these authors set forth as the basis for their works. What is fascinating in the second half of the 20th century is the way in which literary criticism is becoming a genre, practically the only genre in which it is itself interested. As literary criticism seeks to become a science, it creates absolute forms which it denies to other areas of intellectual endeavor. The critic seeks to move to a plane beyond history (which she or he sees as inevitably relative and hopelessly enmeshed in man's psyche) to a beyond which, as Martin so aptly writes, "betrays a nostalgia for a lost paradise." But to move beyond in this way really places man's intellect in the supreme and isolated place which the Positivists claimed as one of the principal errors of the age prior to what they called the "modern period." Our paradoxical refusal to take into account the observations of the mind and senses of others and yet give credence to the workings of our own intellect is narcissistic in the extreme. Our exclusive interest in ourselves and our own views is an ironic form of absolutism in an age which pretends to itself that open-mindedness is an admirable and desirable quality.

Martin's book is stimulating, interesting, and entertaining. It is richly suggestive and casts much light on Verne's work as a whole. At times it suffers from the self-conscious and self-indulgent narrowness of our own age. This derives, in large part, from the belief in our own superiority, a superiority which rests upon the firm and smug conviction that we know that man's striving for knowledge can only lead him to the conclusion that he knew as much before he started as he will know when he has finished: that in man's hopelessly relative view, nescience and omniscience really amount to the same thing; that the Knowledge of Ignorance and the Ignorance of Knowledge are phrases which are not only compatible but nearly mean the same thing.

--Emanuel J. Mickel, Jr. Indiana University

Feminist Worlds Within Postmodernism

Thelma J. Shinn. Worlds Within Women: Myth and Mythmaking in Fantastic Literature by Women. ["Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy," No. 22.] Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1986. xiv + 214pp. $29.95

The purpose of Shinn's study is to show "that both the truths uncovered and the surfaces suggested in SF myths by women attempt to offer a future rooted in ancient myth, rejecting the cultural myths of patriarchy" (p. 7). She accomplishes her objective in chapters which discuss redefining patriarchal myth, SF mythmaking in process, female archetypes, and transforming mythic patterns. She directs long overdue attention to such writers as Octavia Butler, C.J. Cherryh, Suzette Hayden Elgin, Sally Miller Gearhart, Sydney J. Van Scyoc, and Joan Vinge by reading their work in terms of Celtic, Arthurian, Golden Age, and African myths. Worlds Within Women is a ground-breaking volume, the first book-length thematic study (excluding dissertations) of contemporary female creators of fantastic literature. I have waited a very long time to read a book on these writers and I applaud Shinn's pioneering effort.

Her study is simultaneously broadening and restricting, however. Although Shinn states that she wishes to place "fantastic literature by women in the context of the rediscovery and/or reassertion of 'feminist consciousness' in twentieth-century women's art" (p. 9), she fails to direct a strong feminist consciousness to the imaginative literature she explores. Shinn's distant and timid attitude towards feminism is exemplified by her decision to exclude the word "feminism" from her consideration of Joanna Russ's The Female Man. Such rhetorical reticence is also apparent when, rather than immediately presenting her own ideas, Shinn begins her preface by conforming to the tired practice of citing various critical works.

Shinn is at her best when she makes new connections between fantastic literature and well-known imaginative and theoretical texts. For example, she reads Andre Norton and Marion Zimmer Bradley in terms of Hawthorne (pp. 70, 162-63), and she brings the ideas of Mary Daly, Geoffrey Hartman, Ellen Moers, and Annis Pratt to bear upon fantastic literature (by women). Textual linkages of this sort facilitate the ability of women's SF to transcend its generic ghetto.

Even though Shinn includes some feminist theoretical voices, she is (as her title announces) concerned with "women," not with feminism. This decision discourages the liberating possibilities which Shinn rightly attributes to SF: "The possibilities inherent in this genre of shifting surfaces--the possibilities of social and cultural as well as individual change--free women from the limits that define them in patriarchal society" (p. 10). But Shinn's rather conservative approach--as well as her title--cancels these possibilities by placing women right back within patriarchally defined limits. Since Worlds Within Women is most certainly about women, the subtitle's reiteration of this point becomes a debasing redundancy. Shinn's excellent study is diminished by her failure to realize that "fantastic literature by women" itself exemplifies patriarchal mythmaking. The term implies that "literature by men" is synonymous with "literature" while "literature by women" is an exception to the male norm. Although this point about language is not new, Shinn's title shows that it needs to be reiterated. While she states that "language can alter the way in which we conceive the world" (p. 102), the language of her subtitle reinforces the marginalization of women in the literary world.

Shinn's opening question addresses the position of women in SF's particular literary world. "What have women writers done to SF?" (p. 1) soon changes to "the real question of this introduction...what has SF done for women writers?" (p. 10). Her answers to these questions, though convincing, do not address another important question: What should women SF critics do for women SF writers? Our agenda should be to refuse to collude with the myth and mythmaking directed towards fantastic literature (by women), to give these works their rightful place in the postmodern canon--to assert once and for all that the writers whom Shinn discusses are not inferior to male postmodernists. More specifically, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Joanna Russ should not receive less attention than John Barth and Kurt Vonnegut, for example. Shinn's study of myth and mythmaking is important because it indicates, albeit indirectly, that like their male postmodern counterparts, female authors of fantastic literature retell tales, create metafiction.

Shinn informs us that "we make a monster out of what is alien to us, as women writers have shown us doing from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein through Butler's Survivor. From this perspective, however, it is our narrowness and exploitation which seems monstrous" (p. 79). Such women writers' works as those just named metafictionally comment upon themselves. Narrow critical approaches have cast "fantastic literature by women" in the role of a misunderstood Frankenstein's monster. Now, with the help of feminist critics, this formerly complacent monster threatens to break free of patriarchal restrictions, to uncontrollably stomp through the terrain of fantastic literature (by men) and wreak havoc over the postmodern literary map.

In the manner of Hélène Cixous's image of the laughing Medusa, the monstrous "fantastic literature by women" should also be newly seen as beautiful and powerful. In the words of Shinn: "When fantastic literature by women is examined as a subgenre of women's fiction, this child is no misbegotten Frankenstein's monster. Rather, it is the butterfly releasing the beauty and power only dreamed of in the caterpillar (which, however, was still only itself trapped in the cocoon of patriarchal expressions and limitations)" (p. 10). Shinn's study does not reveal a butterfly. Rather, she successfully breaks the binding threads of a patriarchal generic cocoon and thus facilitates the emergence of "fantastic literature by women" as an unnamed caterpillar. Her study is an achievement precisely because it finally directs attention to this caterpillar. Shinn celebrates the intrinsic female essence of fantastic literature (by women), celebrates its monstrousness. It is up to other critics to build upon her work, to add feminist insights to the achievement of her initiatory critical exploration.

The metamorphosis of women's SF from cocoon to butterfly will not occur until critics assert that, rather than being a subgenre of women's fiction, feminist Fabulation (my name for contemporary "fantastic literature by women") is at the heart of postmodern fiction. Shinn's book--and the studies of feminist SF that follow it--should be understood as part of the feminist literary theory addressing women's place in 20th-century literature. More directly, critical attention to feminist SF should be viewed as a next step in the progression charted by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar. Worlds Within Women, a study of postmodern women writers, can be read as a volume appropriately following Gilbert's and Gubar's discussions of women in the 19th century (The Madwoman in the Attic) and in the modern period (No Man's Land).

A beautiful and powerful laughing Medusa must stand alongside John Barth's Chimera in the postmodern canon. As Jane Gallop reminded us during the recent Illinois State University Conference on Feminism and Psychoanalysis, feminism is a celebration of monsters. Feminist SF critics should establish feminist fabulation's monstrous difference as positive and directly engage feminist theory to announce that our "lost" female postmodernists have been found. Shinn herself advocates a direct approach: "Uncovering the face of the Goddess and looking directly at it will not turn us to stone, as the cultural myth of Medusa threatens" (p. 192). We can look at Medusa directly and in safety. Cixous has claimed that Medusa is on our side. And Shinn has, after all, shown that the Goddess is a feminist.

--Marleen Barr  Virginia Polytechnic Institute

One Out of Three

Marleen S. Barr, Ruth Salvaggio, Richard Law. Suzy McKee Charnas/Octavia Butler/Joan D. Vinge.Mercer Island, WA: Starmont House, 1986. $9.95 (paper)

This volume, No. 23 in Starmont's ongoing series of guides to SF and fantasy authors, does some things right. Grouping Charnas, Butler, and Vinge together in a single volume makes both editorial and economic sense. While arguably none of the three writers has produced a sufficient body of work to warrant a full-length guide, each deserves critical attention; and because Charnas, Butler, and Vinge are all, to varying degrees, feminist, readers interested in the works of any of these authors are likely to be interested in the others. I have no quarrel, then, with the idea of a multiple study. I do, however, have numerous complaints with this volume, in particular with two of its three sections and with its editorial policy--or lack thereof.

To begin with the positive: Ruth Salvaggio's discussion of Octavia Butler, one of only three Black SF writers to date and the only Black woman, is particularly effective. The biography, without being either intrusive to the living author or extrusive in the study, allows us to situate Butler culturally, historically, and (in general terms) psychologically. Salvaggio treats the five novels in the Patterner series (Patternmaster [1976], Mind of My Mind [1977], Survivor [1978], Wild Seed [1980], and Clay's Ark [1984]), in order of their composition, rather than of internal chronology, and this allows her to elucidate Butler's artistic growth from novel to novel. She then examines Kindred (1979), the story of a contemporary young Black woman drawn back in time to the antebellum South, and finally discusses Butler's four short stories. Salvaggio's analysis focuses on Butler's recurring theme, the politics of power: "enslavement and freedom, control and corruption, survival and adjustment" (p. 6), and on the strong Black women who are her typical protagonists. Identifying Butler's place not only among writers of feminist SF but among contemporary Black American writers as well, Salvaggio makes an effective case for Butler's "accomplishment and promise" as a writer. The very effectiveness of her argument makes it doubly disheartening that all of Butler's works except Dawn, her newest novel, are out of print. In thus simultaneously making Butler's fiction known and giving us the ammunition to argue for keeping it in print, Salvaggio has performed a useful service both to the author and to her readers, past and potential.

Alas, the same praise cannot be given to the other two studies in this volume. The biographical sketch in Barr's essay on Suzy McKee Charnas is helpful, but otherwise I find the study seriously flawed. The major problem concerns the issue of feminism, not only Charnas's but Barr's as well.

Charnas's fiction is probably the most radically feminist of the three authors, particularly her first two novels, Walk to the End of the World (1974) and Motherlines (1978), which examine in turn the insanely misogynistic Holdfast (where women are treated literally like animals) and the neighboring all-female culture of the Riding Women. The first novel, about the flight of a slave woman named Alldera from Holdfast to the desert home of the Riding Women, is painful reading, particularly for a woman; the second I find an exciting, thought-provoking study of an alternate culture which fulfills Joanna Russ's definition of a feminist utopia--not a perfect place, but a place that is better for women for explicitly feminist reasons. In the Riding Women, Charnas creates a culture grounded in traditional feminist values, one which is cooperative rather than competitive, communal, ecologically sensitive, tolerant, non-hierarchical, geared to the rhythms of women's reproductive cycles and profoundly celebratory of women's capabilities. And since there are no men in this society (the women reproduce by cloning), there is, of course, no rape, no violence against women by men, none of the inequities and iniquities of patriarchy. On the other hand, these women are not idealized characters: despite their "utopian" culture, they have tempers, get angry, get jealous, disagree with and sometimes dislike each other. Interpersonal rivalries are not unheard of, and Alldera is not always comfortable with the idea of joining them.

However, because the male characters in Walk are all more or less horrible (though Charnas makes clear that women, if the most abused, are not the only victims of patriarchy in Holdfast; young men also suffer from the reign of the fathers), and because there are no male characters at all in Motherlines, the novels have been accused of being "too feminist." The kind of reader who would make such a charge is not hard to guess; but Barr, for reasons of her own, chooses to take that charge so seriously that she devotes her entire essay to defending Charnas's feminism.

There are two problems with this approach. The first is that, in order to argue that Holdfast, far from being an extreme vision, is only a slight exaggeration of reality (and thus to demonstrate that the novels are not "too feminist"), Barr spends most of her essay detailing women's real-world experiences of oppression. But the result is that this polemic largely supplants a more general analysis of the novels. In a journal article on Charnas's novels, such a restricted thesis might be acceptable; in a reader's guide, the treatment is inappropriately narrow, and does the fiction itself a disservice.

Putting Barr's own polemic center stage rather than Charnas's fiction becomes even more problematic when, as in this case, the tone of the discussion grows overheated. Indeed, Barr goes so far as to draw an explicit analogy between real-world sexism and Nazism, supported by quotations from Bruno Bettelheim about concentration-camp victims--an analogy which makes me very uncomfortable. Even if the polemic were appropriate, then, I think Barr's approach mistaken: she not only dignifies the charge of "too feminist" by taking it seriously instead of giving it the attention it deserves (i.e., none), but adopts a tone, both defensive and self-righteous, that would not persuade any reader who could make the charge to begin with. Obviously, a discussion of Charnas's feminism must be central in any analysis of these two novels; but the feminist vision needs to be explained and analyzed, rather than defended.

The opposite problem holds with Barr's approach to Charnas's most recent novel, The Vampire Tapestry (1980). Since the central character of this novel is a male vampire, Vampire Tapestry has been criticized--by an entirely different group of readers--as "not feminist enough." Once again, Barr devotes much of her discussion refuting this charge, in ways that not only give it more weight than it deserves, but seriously skew her analysis of the novel as well. A paragraph on the subject might be appropriate, but to use it as the thesis of the discussion is to fail to address the book Charnas actually wrote. My other major complaint about this study: it is badly written. Throughout the text I found irrelevant or at best tangential references which seem intended primarily to validate the essay as a scholarly undertaking, unconvincing analogies (in addition to the sexism = Nazism), and even some simple errors of fact. No one of these blemishes is very significant in itself, but the cumulative effect does matter: it undermines our trust in the critic's judgment, accuracy, and sense of proportion. Finally, on the basic level of composition, this essay is very hard to follow. Barr too often simply juxtaposes her sentences or paragraphs and leaps blithely from one to the next as if the logical connections were self-evident. In many cases, neither immediate connection nor larger sequence is clear. I am still not sure even what events take place in several of the texts Barr discusses. The study, in short, reads like a first draft, like a manuscript produced in a hurry. This fuzziness combined with the ideological squint results in a reader's guide which will do little to help the understanding of those who have already read Charnas or to persuade those who haven't read her to do so.

The primary problem with Richard Law's discussion of Joan Vinge is likewise compositional in nature: he has not decided who his audience is. On the one hand, he presents us with a sentence like: "In the reciprocal-reading game, opposite reception and corresponding pleasures derive largely from mood" (a collection of words whose meaning I still cannot determine)--and then feels the need to define "mood": "i.e., the disposition which a piece by Vinge induces in the reader. Mood refers to the organization of feelings that internal elements--such as content, themes, style, and tone--evoke together" (pp. 9-10). If he is addressing an audience of literary critics to whom the first part of this sentence is (theoretically) intelligible, then the second part is so unnecessary as to be insulting. If Law is addressing his study to high school or college students who need explanations for such terms as "mood," "displacement," the Wheel of Fortune (complete with quoted lyrics from Carmina Burana), "Bildungsroman," "collective unconscious," Campbell's myth of the hero, "American Dream," and "plot"(!), a sentence like the first sequence quoted above (only one example of many) will be utterly impenetrable. Either choice (or something in between) would be defensible; refusing to make a choice IS not.

Though this is a less important point, I also do not share Law's unrestrained enthusiasm for Vinge as a stylist. Her works, especially the Hugo-winning The Snow Queen (1981), have been enthusiastically received by many readers, and personally I find her anthropological perspective a congenial one; but a great stylist she is not--though I would agree that The Snow Queen represents a substantial improvement in style over her earlier works. Vinge strikes me as a solid journeyman writer, and nothing in Law's argument persuades me to accept the lofty place in the SF pantheon he assigns her.

Finally, I have several complaints about the format of the volume as a whole. First, why is each study numbered separately, rather than using a single numbering sequence for the entire volume? With typesetting done by computer, renumbering would be so easy that I can see no excuse for putting readers to such inconvenience. At the very least, a master table of contents for the volume as a whole should have been provided, not just the three separate tables for each study. Second, why is there no consistent citational format from study to study? Each critic has adopted the citational and bibliographical forms which most suit her/him, with no effort make to reconcile these with each other. This is a small point, perhaps offensive only to those of us who suffer from compulsive tidiness, but it suggests a kind of editorial laxness and inattention to detail that does not speak well for the series. In short, then, Salvaggio's essay on Octavia Butler stands out in this volume as useful and effectively written. The same cannot be said for the other two.

--Kathleen L. Spencer University of Nebraska

A Model Bibliography

Harvey J. Satty & Curtis C. Smith. Olaf Stapledon: A Bibliography. ["Bibliographies and Indexes in World Literature," No. 2.] Westport, CT & London: Greenwood Press, 1984. xxxviii + 167pp. $35.00

So far as I know, the only bibliography of an SF writer that is comparable to this "act of devotion" (p. [xiii]) is Geoffrey H. Wells's of H.G. Wells, and even that will not bear the comparison. Following the guidelines of Fredson Bowers and others, Messrs Satty and Smith have given us the kind of meticulously detailed catalogue of Stapledon's writings that few other authors (in any genre) have been accorded.

Some preliminary idea of what I mean by "meticulously detailed" can be gathered from the introductory statement: "In some cases, we have only been able to determine the date [of book publication] to within two to five days" (p. xxiv). That confession of "inadequacy" may be jocose in its backhanded boastfulness, but it is not facetious. The first main section (designated A) of the bibliography, in particular, offers just about everything in the way of data about Stapledon's booklength works as material entities (including print-runs for each incarnation) short of reproducing dustjackets, say, or specifying textual differences among editions; and it also indicates which among 100 some-odd North American (and principally US) libraries hold copies of any given edition.

The other main divisions of Satty and Smith's bibliography they reserve for listings of: (B) his "Contributions to Books and Pamphlets" and (C) to "Newspapers and Periodicals"; (D) collaborative efforts published in similar organs and comprising chiefly open letters that Stapledon lent his name to; MSS. of (E) published and (EE) unpublished writings "in Public Archives"; (F) translations; and (G) bibliographies. (Presumably "The Peak and the Town," a 10-page "allegorical autobiography"-cum-short story [p. xiii] which supplements Satty and Smith's Preface, hitherto belonged among the material [un]scheduled in EE.) There are also appendices to (A) and (B) covering reprints, and a "Selected [sic] Secondary Bibliography" (arranged chronologically). This last does not include annotations, descriptive or otherwise; but other sections, and most importantly (B) and (C), do.

It is no doubt uncharitable at best to find fault with a work of this calibre, especially when its deficiencies are nugatory. Nevertheless, potential users of the volume should know that its index is not nearly as comprehensive as its record of Stapledon's writings is; so that discovering the entries pertinent to H.G. Wells, say, might require perusal of sections B and C in their entirety: for instance, Stapledon's review of Star Begotten (erroneously referred to in Satty-Smith's descriptive summary as "The Star-Begotten" [p. 106]) appears in the index under its title ("Mr. Wells Calls in the Martians") but not under "Wells, H.G." This, however, amounts to a mere quibble in regard to a work which we might hope others would try to emulate were it reasonable to suppose that there be other bibliographers around who have Satty's and Smith's competence and dedication and who would take on a writer of SF.

I should take this occasion to note that Starmont has finally brought out John Kinnaird's monograph on Stapledon. In some not particularly Stapledonian cosmic balance of things, there may be something appropriate about the chronological symmetry: that my review of the Kinnaird should have appeared three years before its actual publication and this notice of Satty's and Smith's efforts three years after the appearance of theirs. But from a human point of view, my delay in the one case is as regrettable as Starmont's in the other.


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