Science Fiction Studies

# 17 = Volume 6, Part 1 = March 1979


NOTES AND CORRESPONDENCE

The International Science-Fiction Conference in Palermo: A Report

The variegated interests in and approaches to SF share at least one common presupposition: that SF is a spectacular cultural phenomenon exhibiting itself in books, fanzines, magazines, movies, television programs, music (electronic), visual illustration (think of Frazetta or Druillet), and phantasmatically drawing upon various forms of scientific formalizations -astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, psychiatry, genetics, you name it. And now, on both sides of the Atlantic and in some parts of the Pacific, SF is making its way into the university and is becoming the object of clinical scrutiny from the academic histologist. That in itself is a recent phenomenon; above all it means that you can now consume SF in two ways: the easy way and the hard way!                

This type of variable ubiquity of SF lends itself to a kaleidoscope of socio-aesthetic concerns ranging from the most traditionally academic (how would you like to answer the following exciting questions: what is it that makes an SF text literature and not any other animal; what does Aristotle have to tell us about it; what is the first book of SF?), to the critical (the point here is to try to construct a system of analysis determined by the very object under scrutiny, and not through some congealed concepts canonically established by theoretical historiography), to the strictly empirico-anecdotic (be careful here, for if you are not extremely entertaining people will be angry at you for not making them laugh), and at last to the most "heretic" (the latter belongs to those who simply enjoy SF for the hell of it and who may not always be aware that since SF percolated through the mainstream, they have also become a subject of discussion).                

The SF Conference La Fantascienza e la Critica held in Palermo, Italy, from 18-21 October 1978 attracted the first two tendencies - the traditionally academic and the critical -, and proved a number of points:

1) that the Italians have a miraculous way of calling a spade "a magical wand": how else would Science-Fiction become that dream word "Fantascienza"?

2) that wine, palm-trees, galactic fantasies, semi-erudite chatter on Einsteinian physics, Behaviorism, Darwinism, and the enthronization of the Pope (a foreign one!) belong to the same empirical world.

3) that both the cultural ubiquity and disparity of SF have altered the stiff lines of traditional critical approaches.

4) that the multi-cultural character of SF naturally requires a trans-disciplinary perspective.

5) that a community of interests and goals is evolving among writers and thinkers in America and in western and eastern European countries.               

It was Luigi Russo, professor of aesthetics at the University of Palermo, who was the fine hand behind this intelligently conceived, skillfully organized Conference. He established a definite orientation for it by avoiding the trap of eclecticism, while allowing it the widest scope in terms of subject matter. In this context, lectures fell under two general categories and a number of sub-themes: a) SF as genre and genres of SF, dealing with methodological problems, with the forerunners and historical/cultural matrices of SF, and with the analysis of various forms of the genre: literature, figurative art, graphics, comic strips, mass media, music. b) SF and modern society, bearing upon the questions of science, myth and religion, and the future.                

In his opening address Darko Suvin who presided over the Conference, attempted to provide a global speculative configuration to some of these tendencies, by using the concept of the "Novum" adapted from Ernst Bloch, in order to effect an integration of ideological and formal criticism.                

Only one SF writer was present (Arkady Strugatsky and Gérard Klein being unfortunately unable to attend): Brian Aldiss who, aside from living up to his reputation as a very witty and charming man, represents, with Gérard Klein, this rare alliance of writer and high-calibre scholar of SF - think of Billion Year Spree. Participants included a number of people familiar to readers of SF criticism: Jörg Hienger, Ugo Volli, Luigi de Nardis, Ion Hobana, Manfred Nagl, Carlo Pagetti, Julius Kagarlitsky, Jacques Goimard, Franco Ferrini, Riccardo Valla. Philosophers such as Jean Baudrillard (also considered a sociologist and a semiotician), literary theoreticians such as Fredric Jameson and Andrzej Zgorzelski, and epistemologists as Vincenzo Cappelletti also contributed. Other SFS contributors present were Marc Angenot, Charles Elkins, John Fekete, Peter Fitting, and Rafail Nudelman.
The proceedings of the Conference will soon be published by Luigi Russo in Italian. -Nadia Khouri

 

Was SF Alive and Well Under Nazism?: An Exchange

Please excuse the tardiness of this letter as I have only recently begun reading your journal, but I feel I must, as apparently no one else has, challenge William B. Fischer's statements concerning SF in Nazi Germany in the November 1976 issue of Science-Fiction Studies ("German Theories of Science Fiction. P. 263).                

First, I would like to ask what evidence the author can cite to support his claims that "After 1933 the forced adaptation of literary criticism to Nazi party goals and the suppression of most German SF ... brought about an almost complete cessation of SF and SF criticism in Germany - - . ." Did the author bother to look at Heinz Bingenheimer's Transgalaxis bibliography (Friedrichsdorf, 1959) of SF published in the German language? This lists over 100 titles published between 1934 and 1945. While Bingenheimer is admittedly not always the most reliable of authorities, this large figure certainly casts grave doubts on Fischer's contention that SF writing virtually ceased during the Third Reich.                

My own very preliminary examination of Bingenheimer's material has yielded the following suggestions about SF in Nazi Germany: Publication of SF in the Third Reich did decline to less than half that during the preceding Weimar period. Translations of foreign authors did virtually cease. Some authors did cease publishing after 1933 and others only continued their careers after 1945. However, some authors of the Weimar period did continue writing after the Nazi seizure of power and others whose careers began after 1934 continued publishing into the, post-war period. Thus, while, the Nazis might have included science fiction writing in their Gleichschaltung of German culture as Fischer suggests, Bingenheimer's evidence cannot support this.                

Finally, by implying that Hans Dominik was a fascist, Fischer sinks to the level of the late Senator Joe McCarthy. (Even Donald Wollheim, hardly a Germanophile, feels Dominik was no Nazi, but only an old-line German nationalist.) This unsubstantiated slur does a great disservice to one of Germany's foremost and most popular SF writers, whose works continue to be widely published in West Germany after the War. -Edward J. Tabler

I might point out first that Mr. Tabler's remarks, whatever their validity, have no bearing on the main subject of my article. Please note also that "internationality" in SFS no. 10, page 263 (line 9) should read "intentionality."                

The difference of opinion between Mr. Tabler and myself shows that the study of German SF is subject to the same practical, methodological, and ideological difficulties which are encountered in other, more advanced areas of SF criticism. I am somewhat suspicious of Mr. Tabler's statistics, and I mistrust even more his statistical method of determining the vitality of a literature. I have been familiar with Bingenheimer's useful bibliography since beginning my dissertation on German SF seven years ago. As its subtitle indicates, not all the items in this "Katalog der deutschsprachigen utopisch-phantastischen Literatur" are SF. But never mind. 100 titles. Few of the hundred, I suspect, possess more than minimal literary value or have maintained whatever popularity they once had. Understandably, Bingenheimer does not deal with such matters. But a mere enumeration of titles is clearly an insufficient foundation for an assessment of the state of German SF. One must consider not only quantity of titles, but also both the quality of individual texts and the ability of the genre to survive on the market.                

Neither Bingenheimer's bibliography nor common logic justify Mr. Tabler's suggestion that German SF was not subjected to enforced cultural integration during the Hitler years. The pursuit of a literary career before 1933 or after 1945 does not automatically prove that a writer has no fascist sympathies. The novels of Hans Dominik, as I will argue shortly, and junk SF like Perry Rhodan -show that the publication of literature with strong fascist tendencies is not limited to periods of fascist rule.                

Two years of further research have not greatly altered my own opinions about German SF. My estimation of the state of German SF criticism between 1933 and 1945 needs little defence. Literary criticism in Germany during the Nazi Era was indeed stifled or subverted, as Mr. Tabler must know. Very little German SF criticism appeared before 1933 - not surprising, since SF criticism was then rare anywhere; even less of value is to be found after 1933.                

As for German SF itself, I am not so naive as to believe that the production of SF ceased, suddenly and completely, in a populous nation which had been a major force in both science and literature. I would contend, however, that the development of German SF as an intellectually and artistically creative literature was so severely stunted during the Nazi Era that "cessation," as a capsule description, is not too strong a word. During this time German SF lost even more of the tenuous contact it once had with its past. The works of Kurd Lasswitz, for example, were suppressed in 1933; thus any impact which Lasswitz, probably the greatest writer of German SF until recent times, might and should have had on younger readers and writers was vitiated. After 1933 there was also apparently a significant decrease in the production of German SF, as Mr. Tabler points out, and probably an even greater diminution in quality. As far as I can tell, the Nazi Era did not produce SF of such merit or variety as that written by Bernhard Kellerman, Friedrich Freksa, and Otto Willi Gail during the first third of this century. Finally, important opportunities for greater achievement were lost. After 1933 German writers were not in a position to explore in fiction either the recent work of German rocket experimenters or the implications of modem physics - both so important to the "Golden Age" Anglo-American SF which emerged in the late 1930's.                

I would even venture to suggest that German SF, had not National Socialism intervened, might well have produced its own "Golden Age" of SF. Such a literature would have enlisted the talents of many writers and thinkers. One thinks of - to name but a single example - Willy Ley, a leading German rocket experimenter and science popularizer who emigrated after the Nazi takeover and contributed much to American SF and to the popularization of space science in America. Others never had the opportunity even to begin their careers. Instead of a hypothetical but not inconceivable Golden Age of German SF beginning in the mid- or late 1930's, we have Bingenheimer's 100 titles in 12 years - scarcely an impressive quantity, compared to Anglo-American SF in the same years. I do not think that further research, however detailed, will reveal a vital and cohesive tradition of German SF during the Nazi Era. While multitudes of books were published during the Hitler years, students of German literature consider the period a dead time and term 1945 the "Year Zero." Even though dissident writers of the inner or outer emigration did produce works of value, writers and critics both felt that they had to begin anew after a catastrophic hiatus. Much the same is true of German SF between 1933 and 1945; post-war German SF I consider to be less a continuation of a native tradition than a new beginning heavily influenced by foreign SF.               

The pot shot that I "sink to the level of the late Senator Joe McCarthy ... by implying that Hans Dominik was a fascist" inaccurately describes both my own politics or ideology and, more important, Dominik's crude and strident ideology. Admittedly, Dominik was not a Nazi Party member, which is not surprising, for he was never active politically, and by 1933 he was 61 years old and a semi-invalid. Dominik's political views closely resembled those of his main publisher, Alfred Hugenberg, a leading German conservative and nationalist. In the late 1920's and early 1930's Hugenberg, head of the German National People's Party (DNVP) and owner of a multimedia communications empire, made some attempt to use Hitler for his own purposes. Hugenberg and Hitler shared many of the same ideas, and their main immediate goal was the same: the destruction of the democratic Weimar Republic and the resurgence of a greater Germany. Nearly half a century of hindsight permits us some latitude in putting birds of the same feather together. Dominik's SF shares many ideas with German fascism: militant nationalism, racism, authoritarianism, and a fascination for a distinctively "German" type of science with strong tendencies toward occultism, irrationalism, fatalism. and a vague concept of organicism.                

Moreover, Dominik's novels appeared in immense editions during the war years, even when paper and printing facilities were in short supply. While Nazi censorship was not infallibly efficient, the policy of the Hitler government, as Dietrich Strothmann makes clear in his National-Sozialistische Literatur politik (WG1960), was to permit publication of only those works which directly served the purposes of "National Socialism." Dominik's novels, with their Aryan heroes, visions of a resurgent and morally blameless Germany, and miracles of future German technology, made good escape-reading in a country whose citizens were spending more and more of their time in bomb shelters being fed promises of super weapons which would yet save the day. As for its literary quality, Dominik's SF is a crude but effective form of "paraliterature" which evidences only modest powers of imagination and even less understanding of the stylistic techniques which better writers of SF have used to make their imaginary worlds subjectively real and intellectually plausible. Quite likely Dominik was the most popular writer of German SF, as Mr. Tabler states, but "foremost" is too complimentary a term.                

I have been quite frank in responding to Mr. Tabler's letter, as he has been in criticizing my views. But the field of German SF has scarcely been overtilled; most conclusions must be expressed with caution, and almost all contributions are useful. Many of the issues discussed briefly here I have explored at some length in my forthcoming dissertation, and I hope to present some of the results of my study in SFS. I also look forward to the publication of Mr. Tabler's research, for he has chosen an important period for his study, whatever I may think of his own tentative conclusions.  -William B. Fischer

 

I have been very much interested by the note 5, page 155, of SFS No.15 in the stimulating paper written by Pamela J. Annas. It seems to me she is pointing in the same general direction I did with "Discontent in American SF" in SFS No.11 and its sequel in No.13. My full argument wished to explain why Ursula Le Guin seemed to disagree with most of the best SF writers in not being inclined to predict the worst for mankind. My last suggestion was precisely that she was a woman. The two previous ones were that she was educated in a family trained in the social sciences and as such initiated to the relativity of human affairs; and that she was perhaps stemming from a different social group, higher than that of most SF writers. As such, she does not feel the dissolution of the middle-class group as the end of all humanity.                

It might interest the SFS reader and especially Ms. Annas to know that I have published in French The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, and The Word for World is Forest by Le Guin, The Female Man by Russ, and will do Dreamsnake by McIntyre. -Gérard Klein

Frankenstein's Monster: In SFS No. 15: 172 David Ketterer drew attention to R. Glynn Grylls' speculation that the common confusion between Frankenstein and his creature was originated by John Trelawny, in a letter of 27 November 1869. In fact, the confusion is much older than this. The OED traces it back to 1838, and to no less an authority than Gladstone. I wonder if any reader can improve, on this? A remarkable instance occurs in Chapter 15 of Mary Barton by Mrs. Gaskell (1848), where 'Frankenstein', 'that monster of many human qualities, ungifted with a soul', is said to typify the proletariat. -Patrick Parrinder

 

Gentlemen, Does the otherwise intelligent Gérard Klein have any idea of the intrusive indecency of his public pronouncements on Ursula Le Guin's genitality? Or that his two essays on "Discontent in American SF" apply this psychosexual calculus only to the one woman in the group and to none of the men?                

Denying a woman writer full active agency as creator of her own work is a very old technique in literary criticism, as is the view of women as primarily constituted by their sexuality. I am sorry to see in Klein's essay the subtle resurrection of these old chestnuts: although in his previous article on discontent in American SF (of which this one in SFS No. 13: 1977 - is part two) Klein mentions many authors, he analyzes only their work and their class; it is of Le Guin that we learn that her success is due to her "family environment," "the histoical culture of her husband," "her happily resolved childhood," and her "active feminine genitality."                

If Klein wishes to resurrect Freudian criticism (he didn't practice it twenty years ago, as we did, and so doesn't know to what tendentiousness it leads) let him at least do so across the board and not give us a double standard of criticism: social and impersonal for men, sexual and familial for women. Let us by all means hear about Dick's active masculine genitality and Brunner's father's profession, mother's profession, and wife's profession (the conditions for his success).                

Nor is Klein free of thoughtless racism. In the first part of his article he states that the one black writer in American SF "might as well be a white one." Surely the simplest form of raised consciousness would tell him how extraordinarily presumptuous it is for a white man (across the width of the Atlantic, no less) to set himself up as the arbiter of how black a black man ought to be or what such blackness ought to consist of. If Klein means Delany (he probably does, since Delany is the most visible black writer in American SF though by no means the only one) Delany's work is very much concerned with all forms of social marginality, including race - as one might expect from a child of the wealthy black bourgeoisie (educated with the white haut bourgeois, by the way), a form of anomalous American status with which Klein is apparently unfamiliar.

Klein is unaware of his racism and his sexism. He undoubtedly does not mean to do harm. Yet he does. And it is ironic that he does so in an essay which deplores the very "male cultural pattern" he so unfortunately reinforces in his two essays.  -Joanna Russ

 

Gleaned From Other Sources

- The SFWA Bulletin No. 67 (Summer 1978): "Viewpoints [for Jerry Pournelle's projected anthology The Survival of Freedom]. Totalitarians need not apply . . . . I would like to achieve a balance between the libertarian (classical liberal), conservative, and modem (welfare) liberal views . . . ." Comment: now we know exactly where totalitarianism begins in Pournelle-type SF - just about where the Democratic and Republican parties of USA end.

- The Skeptical Inquirer 2, No. 2 (Spring/Summer 1978)' "L. Ron Hubbard, [the former US SF writer] who founded the Church of Scientology, was sentenced by a court in Paris on Feb. 14, 1978, to four years' imprisonment and fined 35,000 francs for fraudulently obtaining funds. The judge said that Hubbard's organization obtained money under false pretenses. Hubbard . . . was tried in his absence, as were the former heads of the French section of the church. The judge issued a warrant for the arrest of Hubbard, who was said to be living on his yacht somewhere in the Atlantic." - This journal is strongly recommended for all SFS readers interested in UFOs, ESP, Velikovsky, ancient astronauts, and similar; it is the quarterly publication of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the. Paranormal, and among its editors or consultants are such names familiar to SF and SF criticism readers as Isaac Asimov, John Boardman, L. Sprague de Camp, Christopher Evans, Martin Gardner, Carl Sagan, and B.F. Skinner. Yearly subscription rate US $15, to Box 29, Kensington Station, Buffalo, NY 14215, USA.  -DS


moonbut.gif (4466 bytes)Back to Home