Science Fiction Studies

#21 = Volume 7, Part 2 = July 1980


 

NOTES AND CORRESPONDENCE

Mark Twain's Generation Iceberg

In working on a collection entitled The Science Fiction of Mark Twain, to he published by Kennikat Press, I made one very surprising discovery. It takes the form of an 1884 entry in Mark Twain's notebook which reads as follows:

Life in the interior of an iceberg. Luxuriously furnished from the ship (how produce heat). Children born. Plate glass ice windows. All found dead and frozen after 130 years. Iceberg drifts around in a vast circle, year after year, and every two or three years they come in distant sight of the remains of the ship. The berg consists of mountains, levels and valleys, and is twelve miles long by eight broad. They invent amusements. The children born reach marrying age and marry. Others try to make them comprehend life on land in the world but wholly fail. They understand life on the iceberg only. They tame great flocks of birds and animals, to eat. Perhaps they have no fire — eat raw. Children don't know what fire or coal are.
This must he a woman's diary, beginning abruptly and does not explain how they got there.
They don't know which is Sunday.
Believing they should never escape. and not wishing to curse the children with longings unsatisfiable, both families teach the young that the elders were born on the berg and know no other world.
Whence these knives and other metal things? Well, they are found in the egg of wawhawp — so the children often hunt for nests of this imaginary bird.
She must speak of one young girl who is an idiot and who is now 80 years old. She visits her hushand's clear-ice grave after 30 years and finds him fresh and young, while she is old and gray. (Mark Twain's Notebook. ed. Albert Bigelow Paine \1935: rpt NY:Cooper Square Pub..1972\,pp. 169-70).

Unfortunately Mark Twain never wrote this story. He left that to 20th-century authors of SF.               

In fact the above outline is of extraordinary importance to the history of SF. It is the first recorded instance of a concept frequently alluded to in SF circles as involving a "generation starship." As Tom Shippey convincingly argues, this concept is central to, in  the sense of providing a structural or generic paradigm of, the nature of SF itself.*  Basically what happens depends upon a group of people surviving for generations within an enclosed space (such as a starship). All manner of myths arise to account for the nature of this enclosed world, myths which are dramatically exploded when one of the more adventurous members of the community breaks through to the much larger encompassing reality. The best known examples of this plot are Heinlein`s  Orphans of the Sky (1963), originally serialized in 1941 as  "Universe" and "Common Sense," and Aldiss's Starship, originally published in Britain as, Non-Stop(1958).                

The enclosed world situation is also to he found in an unpublished Mark Twain story (belonging to the tradition of Johnson's Rasselas, Poe's "The Devil in the Belfry," and Wells's "The Country of the Blind") written in 1876 and entitled "A Murder, a Mystery, and a Marriage." It is also implicit in the microscopic world stories: "The Great Dark" and "Three Thousand Years Among the Microbes," written in 1898 and 1905 respectively. Indeed, the idea for the latter story appears to go back to a notebook entry written in August, 1884, that is to say, relatively soon after the entry quoted above: "I think we are only the microscopic trichina concealed in the blood of some vast  creature's veins, and it is that vast creature whom God concerns himself about and not us, (Mark Twain's Notebook. p. 170).

But only in the outline for a story set in the enclosed world constituted by the interior of a drifting iceberg does the concept (to which the lost world theme popularized by Conan Doyle, Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs is related) reveal its true S-F character. As in the "generation starship" stories, the descendants  of the original shipwrecked crew and passengers, knowing nothing of reality outside the iceberg, are provided with myths to account for the features of their environment. It seems appropirate, therefore, to entitle Mark Twain's story outline "The Generation Iceberg." -- David Ketterer

*Tom Shippey, “A Modern View of Science Fiction” in Beyond this Horizon: An Anthology of Science Fiction and Science Fact  (Sunderland: Ceolfrith Press, 1973, pp. 8-9. Shippey sees the “generation starship” as providing the most familiar setting fo what he calls the “deculturation” story. In my terms, this kind of story provides the model for one aspect of the “philosophical apocalypse”type of SF: works which, directly or indirectly, present the world we know in other terms, specifically in terms of a radically new defintition of reality (as opposed to a radically new definition of man or the identification of a previously unsuspected outside manipulator). See David Ketterer, New Worlds for Old: The Apocalyptic Imagination, Science Fiction, and American Literature (NY: Doubleday, Anchor Press, and Bloomington: IN: Indiana UP, 1974), pp. 157-333. The basic sense of Shippey’s “deculturation” and my “philosophical apocalypse” is conveyed by the term “conceptual breakthrough” in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, ed. Peter Nicholls (London, 1979), pp. 134-36.
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In Defense of Ketterer

David Ketterer in his article, "Frankenstein in Wolf's Clothing," pp. 216-220 in SFS (July 1979) does not go nearly far enough on the textual question.  His article sent me to Rieger's edition of the 1818 text of Frankenstein; and I have minutely collated the 1818 and 1831 editions -- and I concluded that both Rieger and Wolf are absurd or prejudiced in preferring 1818!  Mary Shelley's changes in the latter edition are almost invaribly improvements, and there is probably nowhere any instance of self-censorship or "toning down."

Mary was clearly  with the 1818 version on grounds of style and liveliness, as her note at the end of Chapter 2 in the Thomas copy of 1818 reveals: "If there were ever to be another edition of  this book, l should rewrite these two chapters. The incidents are tame and ill-arranged — the language sometimes childish. — They are unworthy of the rest of the narration." And this intention she carried out: there are more changes in the early part of the novel than anywhere else. And the major  changes are all made to render the incidents less "tame."

The change in Elizabeth's parentage, in my opinion, was not  made to disguise the "incest theme" — it is just as incestuous, if not more so, in the 1831 version, where (as Ketterer remarks) Elizabeth is still frequently called Victor's "cousin." The real point of the change is that in 1831 Elizabeth becomes the daughter of an illustrious fighter for freedom, not a mere characterless  "Italian gentleman." Thus Elizabeth is given the same sort of impeccably Republican background as Victor. This is no "striving for respectability" as Wolf would have it. In fact, there is only one altered passage which may seem to "tone down" anything — near the end of Chapter 8 (1831), the paragraph beginning "Justine shook her head mournfully." Here in the 1818 version Elizabeth has a diatribe on retributive punishment. This suppression may seem "conservative," but in fact it is an improvement, since the diatribe leads away from the story.                

There are many minor changes which improve the style, and also several definite improvements in the plot. Thus, in Chapter 3 (1831) Victor's mother dies through visiting Elizabeth's sickbed. In the 1818 version she intervenes at the crisis, and so saves Elizabeth's life at the cost of her own — which is far more dramatic. Most notably of all, in the ISIS version Victor is lumbered with his whole family when he makes the important journey to the valley of Chamonix, and he has to leave them cooling their heels in an inn while he goes up the mountain alone, meets the Monster and listens to the great central narration: in the 1831 version he makes this whole journey from Geneva alone — symbolically far better. Again, in 18l8 the journey home from Ireland with his father is leisurely: Dublin-Holyhead-Portsmouth-Le Havre, with some dialogue between Victor and his father unlocalized (presumably somewhere in England-and-Wales): in 1831 they sail direct Dublin-Le Havre, and press on to Paris, and the conversation takes place there — which gives a stronger sense of movement forward to the final catastrophe.                 

So Wolf and Rieger are quite wrong. Rieger seems to be prejudiced by his desire to debunk Mary's abilities in favor of Percy`s. It is notable how some men can't accept that women have literary talents — as Mary Shelley most certainly did, and long after Percy Shelley's death. The 1831 version of Frankenstein  shows her to be an excellent critic and reviser of her own work.
 -David Lake

David Ketterer does go further in his Appendix .."The Preferred Text?" to his just-published Frankenstein's Creation: The Book, the Monster, and Human Reality (University of Victoria ELS Series, 1979) pp. 107-10.- The Editors

 

Women and SF: Three Letters

Susan Gubar's essay was so good that I'd like to add a few details which would enrich Gubar's case. (1) Rockets are seen by fans not as "womblike" (p. 17) but phallic. Vonnegut thinks so, too, in his bitter satire "The Great Space Fuck." (2) In Juniper Time Wilhelm is more explicit and political than Moore: the heroine pretends to decipher an "alien" code which is, in truth, a human (male) fake. Her real "alien" allies are those complete outsiders in the white, male, technological world: native Americans. (3) The ultimate, conscious use of woman-as-alien is of course Tiptree's "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?" in which the "alien" women, asked "What do you call yourselves?" by the male narrator, answer matter-of-factly, "mankind." It's a pity the focus and length of Gubar's article precluded exploring these examples.                

But Gubar is thoughtless in using the word "tradition," which implies that the writers in question have read and been influenced by each other. One would have to prove such connections, which in some cases (e.g., Lessing) might be difficult. I suspect that until the late 1960s we had not a tradition, but scattered cases of parallel evolution. One must not assume a purely literary ancestry for phenomena.                

Especially not in SF, where the traditions are derived primarily from science itself and only secondarily from literature, especially literature before Verne and Wells. Gubar's feminism alerts her to the use of "alien" = woman in women's SF, but there is another reason why women are not as innocently gleeful about technology as so many men in the field. Samuel Delany's "gravitic" metaphor (which he calls the central metaphor of SF in his  The American Shore [Elizabethtown, NY:  Dragon Press, 1978] p. 184) may be unusable by women — or other outsiders. In this "gravitic" metaphor a story typically progresses via machinery or other means (in The Star Maker a form of astral travel) from the Earth's gravitic field (metaphorically: realities, values, possibilities) into space (weightlessness, hence an absence of a system of values or expectations about reality) and from there to a different gravitic field and a different world ( reality, value, possibility). We have here Darko Suvin's "cognitive estrangement" made concrete. We have also, by the by, the origin of SF`s horror at life underground (remember the fuss about fallout shelters in the 1950s?). To live under the surface of the Earth is to capitulate completely to gravity. In Forster`s "The Machine Stops" the metaphor is a direct descendant of Plato`s Fable of the Cave, given Forster's classical education and fascination with ancient Greece; the emergence onto the surface of the Earth is an emergence into static, timeless truth. But in SF emergence from underground leads typically not to a timeless union with nature and truth but to a leap upward into the night sky filled with stars. Plato's tale represents truth as static; the S-F metaphor reminds us that the Sun is only one star among many. Truth is plural.                

But what if the original gravitic field is not "ours" at all, just as the status of "human" is not "ours"? Tiptree's use of technology is always ironic, and her use of the gravitic metaphor sometimes hideously so (as in "A Momentary Taste of Being") Why go looking for cognitive estragement when we live it out every day on what is supposedly our home planet?                

Uncomplicated, unironic use of either the alien or the gravitic metaphor may be the mark of the Insider author: Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke (it does not matter that the aliens are "good," as in Clarke: they are still Other) Perhaps a similar use of the End of the World story may also betray the Insider: when the post-Holocaust society of Walk to the End of the World starts to crumble, the heroine (unlike Aldiss) does not grieve, but flees in relief. The world is ending. Ah, but whose?                 

About Robert Galbreath: Marge Piercy (in an unpublished essay) maintains that fantasies about telepathy and psionic powers are extremely seductive to women. They represent our skills in communication, trained into us and out of men, and our furnishing — in patriarchy — the emotional support that men need. They also (fictionally) provide power that such activities do not give women in the real world. Examples: the Witch World series of Andre Norton Sally Gearhart`s Wanderground, my own And Chaos Died, the Darkovan witches, Piercy's time-travelling in Woman on the Edge of Time.  and Le Guin's mindspeech and magic. Galbreath seems to consider the occult the reality and the communication the metaphor; I would turn the equation around, as it is not only more interesting that way but considerably more rational.               

Bravo, Nadia Khouri!                             - Joanna Russ

I find a shared and yet very dissimilar concern with polarities  in the articles by Joanna Russ, Susan Gubar, Jean Pfaeizer, and Nadia Khouri (as well as in my own article) in the SFS issue "SF on Women — SF by Women"(No 20).                

Joanna Russ gets the issue off to a flying — if not flashing — start with her lively and at times hilarious account of the battles of the sexes in SF The central polarity here is that of man vs woman, or men vs. women. Susan Gubar, in her discussion of C.L. Moore, is talking about the male/female opposition too, but she also makes explicit what is at times implicit in Russ`s article: the further opposition between that which is "our own" and that which is "alien" As Gubar says:

The planetary worlds of SF repeatedly allow Moore to dramatize the gulf between men and women. Her image for the two sexes is that they come from different worlds, with different cultures and languages and different physical forms.... If ... SF provides a narrative world ... at least somewhat different from our own for female SF writers at least up to Moore's time the world that is our own is inexorably patriarchal and the different term is the female, seen now in all her alienation. (pp. 20-21)

She then goes on to say that "contemporary SF by women still exploits the identification of the female with the alien"(p. 25) Gubar's main interest is not only in correcting, but quite specifically in reversing the "degradation of female secondariness" and she notes approvingly in her concluding sentence that ..contemporary feminist SF provides a window to view imaginary worlds where women are primary" (p.25: italics added).                

This female chauvinism, as it seems to me, is also found in Russ in a different form. What both Gubar and Russ are doing in these articles is to wallow in role reversal, attempting to create the female dominant myth, the exact opposite of what we see in most male SF Gubar and Russ are,of course, working out of a context in which one side - the male — has been dominant. their way of righting that wrong is to reverse the balance.                

Russ criticizes men writers (such as Booth Tarkington) who assume that women will not be content with equality but will desire superiority. This, however, seems to be her own assumption also, and there is a gloating, especially at the end of her article that I find disturbing. She argues that the "Flasher" stories, in which men subjugate women sexually, inculcate in men an intense fear of expendability and suggests that this may be the reason why these stories simply and flatly equate an all-female world with female domination of new. Her article concludes with a brief discussion of "an extraordinary phenomenon of the last few years — a number of feminist utopias all but one written bv women and all in every way  the opposite of the Flasher books" (p 13; italics added) These utopias she says,"to the extent that they are concerned with the Battle of the sexes" (and most are), see it as a long, one-sided massacre whose cause (not cure) is male supremacy" (p 13)                

First of all, this analysis is inaccurate One of the works she is discussing here is Marion Zimmer Bradley`s The Shattered Chain,  and it is not the case that this novel is "opposite" in every way to the Flasher books: the hope here is for reconciliation of  opposites rather than to assert one over the other. So too, to take another example from the list Russ gives, The Dispossessed by Le Guin is surely a case  against walls, barriers. divisions.                

Secondly, Russ's analysis here concludes by saying ". . . no Flasher book I was able to find envisioned a womanless world (or dared to say so): about half the feminist utopias matter-of-factly excluded men." The men in the Flasher books, she has said earlier, are "abjectly dependent" on the female reaction, and seem to be making "a desperate appeal for collusion" with women. What a sign of weakness! The gist of what Russ is saying to men is, "You poor pathetic creatures, you need us: but we, ha ha, don't really need you."                

Marion Zimmer Bradley is perhaps off on a wrong tack, as I tried to show in my article: she's not as sophisticated as some of the younger, feminist writers, and she's obviously carrying a lot of baggage from even more sexist times than the present, but she is interesting in her attempt to unite what she at least pretends (and wishes) were equals, and she does suggest that in unity there is growth, maturity.                

What we are seeing now in some feminist criticism (and in some feminist SF) is the pendulum approach to righting wrongs: we're gonna do to you what you did to us — only worse, if possible: we can have babies: you can't. You are expendable: we aren't. This retaliatory urge is disappointing and finally self-defeating, not least because it is the product of a counter- establishment rather than of any radically new or interesting way of seeing. If feminism means no more than that women in Western societies will be able to usurp the power, money, and influence that men have had for so long — i.e., if the only change is going to be from a patriarchy to a matriarchy — then it is not at all clear that utopia is the word to describe the society thus produced. First of all, the whole structure of a fundamentally exploitative society might be quite unchanged: only the bosses would be of a different sex. It isn't  obvious what difference women would make if they were bosses — and, I would stress, some of the feminist writers are coming up with interesting responses to this question. But, if Gubar's and Russ's disdain for men is any indication, women just might enjoy being the oppressors, and they just might have far less need for men and even less respect for men than men have traditionally had for women (as before, women can at least bear children). If one begins by attempting to belittle the other half, of the human race, then the prospects for a cheery future are dim.               

It is for reasons associated with such considerations that I find Nadia Khouri's "The Dialectics of Power: Utopia in the SF of Le Guin, Jeury, and Piercy" the most interesting article in this issue of SFS. Her concern with the dialectics of the fictions she discusses is focussed on the need to transcend binary oppositions. This having been said, I should add that my reading of The Dispossessed differs from Khouri's. In particular I disagree when she argues that Le Guin converts a political crisis into a personal crisis of consciousness: to the extent that Bedap has — as is suggested at the end of the novel — succeeded in winning support for the much needed changes on Anarres, a significant social change is also anticipated. I would argue that The Dispossessed has prepared the way for the transcendence of the binary oppositions  on Anarres, where it is to be hoped that Shevek and other gifted individuals, the possessors of mental riches, will no longer be distrusted and alienated by a puritanically conformist society.                

On another occasion I might also be tempted to polemicize with Robert Galbreath's article on "Le Guin's Use of the Occult," which seems to me quite wrong-headed, based as it is on the wholly unjustified assumption that anything integrative is occult. But here I would like to conclude by pointing out that some important questions directly connected with "women and SF" (and with the future of humanity), raised in this special issue, will need much further discussion. One of these is the question of technology. In an earlier essay ("SF and Technology as Mystification," SFS No. 16), Joanna Russ suggested interestingly that men's technophobia may be associated with their hatred of women. Yet asignificant number of women writers are non-oranti-technological (Gubar mentions the connection between women and sword-and-sorcery fiction): the relationship between technology and capitalism, and the connection between both of these and women is a subject on which more needs to be said. Another crucial question is that of biology: to what extent does biological determinism matter? What is the least extent to which it could be envisaged as mattering? -- Linda Leith

Adrienne Rich writes that when women turn their faces to each other, they are often perceived as turning their backs on men. It is a commonplace of feminism that women must make women their first priority; Linda Leith instantly makes the leap (common to anti-feminist polemic, also) to a role-reversal. Why should Susan Gubar's reversing "the degradation of women's secondariness" mean the degradation of men? It is Leith who insists on this.                

She also seems to equate the men in my Flasher books with all men, which I do not. If I had, would I have quoted Philip Slater and Michael Korda or discussed pro-feminists like Frederik Pohl. Theodore Sturgeon, and Mack Reynolds or included in my list of feminist utopias Samuel Delany's Triton? My contempt is for the Flasher books themselves. (One may measure the damage done by the Flasher myth by noting that some of the authors cited in my paper have done good work elsewhere.) The weakness that underlies the myth is not something I wish to gloat over, but rather the only aspect of those vile fictions that in the least redeems them. If "vile" sounds strong, read them. Or read the April 1980 issue of  Mother Jones, devoted to articles on pornography, whose pervasive theme is male conquest of powerless women: there is even a sequence that corresponds exactly to the Flasher stories: men in Star Trek uniforms meet naked "women's libbers," overawe them with the size of their organs, and then set them to performing docile services like ironing clothes and fellatio. Consumers of such fantasies obviously don't believe in the power of the penis; if they did, they would not pay to be reassured.                

If none of the Flasher books envisions a womanless world, that may be because much great literature has done so, for example Moby Dick. It may also be that such a vision would be seen as homosexual by authors and readers alike, a phenomenon taboo in the sexist terms of the myth itself. The feminist utopias, having broken the cultural imperative of male dominance, have no qualms about breaking others: thus the Lesbianism of the separatist stories and the sexual permissiveness of the rest. I am not a separatist in the sense that I envision the perfect future for our planet as a manless one — such an eventuality seems to me undesirable, immoral, and totally impossible — but I do believe that crucial to the process of women becoming primary to themselves is the possibility of becoming able to imagine such a state. (The two most intransigent stories in the feminist group, Motherlines and Houston, Houston, Do You Read" are written by happily married women, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland fits right into this group.) Far from reveling in a role-reversal, none of the feminist Utopias show women as dominant over men (such situations are confined to the Flasher books, all written by men). And the all-female, feminist Utopias provide explicit and clearly stated reasons for keeping men out: rape, battery, the threats thereof that restrict women's freedom and safety, and the male monopoly of activity in the public world. (The resemblance to our world is not coincidental.) It is, of course, up to particular men in the real world whether they will continue to permit or practice such atrocities or whether they will fight them.                

Leith's comment strikes me as apolitical and hence confused. In what way can the members of a big-brained, weakly dimorphic, and highly plastic species be considered "opposites"? If men and women constitute a polarity, like day and night, how can such utterly different creatures be "reconciled" and to what? To being so different? But they already are different!               

Unlike Leith, I assume — and I think Gubar does — that the sexes constitute classes whose relation is political. This means that before "integration" can occur, there must be conflict — a prospect Leith is, I suspect, trying to short-circuit. Talk about polarities and integration when the issues are exploitation and abuse, physical, economic, and psychological, is a way of avoiding conflict. Unfortunately such tactics also avoid change, which can occur (and has occurred) only through conflict. I am impatient with Leith's talk of biological determinism for the same reason. It resembles the old questions (which are being revived, by the way) as to whether blacks are stupid or the poor shiftless, and if so, is it right to give school-children hot lunches and prevent the survival of the fittest? Such talk can prevent change for years — centuries, if we're persistent enough.               

The relation between women and Capitalism is the subject of a good book, For Her Own Good by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English (Anchor. 1979). As for the relation between women's SF and technology, I was attempting in my earlier essay to distinguish between the attitudes of those who imagine they own the world (in some sense) and those who don't, but there may be more to the matter; Marc Feigen Fasteau's The Male Machine (Dell, 1976) is a good book with some insights on this point.                

I do apologize for inadvertently implying that Darkover is a feminist utopia in The Shattered Chain; I meant, of course, the Guild of Free Amazons, which shares the characteristics of the other feminist utopias (classlessness, concern with children, sexual permissiveness, etc.). - Joanna Russ

 

On Galbreath's Rhetorics of the Occult

Robert Galbreath's article, "Holism, Openness, and the Other: Le Guin's Use of the Occult" in SFS No. 20 is interesting but troublesome. It is interesting because it says something new about Le Guin; the author is not afraid to take chances, and his boldness opens up new areas in Le Guin scholarship. However, when taking such a risk, it is particularly important that the logic and the argument be rigorous and convincing. My reservations about the article are centered around two major points: (1) at times, the author seems to be using a sort of logical sleight-of-hand to make his argument; (2) the term occult, as it is used by the author, appears to lose any precision and, ultimately, seems to mean just about anything the author wants it to mean. Let me make a few specific observations:

In explaining Le Guin's rejection of occultism, Galbreath argues that "she \ Le  Guin\ probably has in mind no more than a casual distinction between 'the psychic' as anomalous but perhaps ultimately scientifically verifiable phenomena (ESP, PK, etc. ) and 'occultism' as the organizational equivalent of a church that mystifies its adherents" (p. 37; my emphasis). Perhaps this is all she had in mind, but Galbreath does not really demonstrate that this is the "casual" contrast Le Guin is making.               

Galbreath discusses the "holistic tendency" in Le Guin's fiction; he also discusses the relationship between holism and the occult (p. 38). The implicit equation seems to be: Le Guin's SF is holistic; the occult is holistic; therefore Le Guin's SF is occult. The conclusion does not follow from the premises. Should Le Guin's fiction and the occult share a propensity toward holistic thinking (if indeed they do), it does not follow that Le Guin's SF partakes of the occult. Nor does that follow from any historical syncretism, in which no distinction was current between "experimental science" and "occult practices," that might (or might not) have existed in the past — as Galbreath seems to be suggesting on the same page. Indeed, it strikes me that all of his valid points could have been made in reference to what he calls Le Guin's holistic tendency, without bringing in occultism at all. For the economy of his discourse and the stringency of his argumentation, that would have been a distinct advantage. This question is, then, why did such an able rhetorician, as he clearly is, choose to forego that advantage?                

On page 43 and following, as on page 38, Galbreath seems to suggest that since Plato and the occultists believed that Atlantis' destruction was the result of moral degeneracy, and since Le Guin (he believes) suggests something similar in her story "The New Atlantis," she is therefore an occultist. Again, the conclusion does not follow from the premises — the premises can only be deployed to suggest it. Nonetheless, he writes as if the conclusion had been demonstrated, and by page 45 he has taken to calling "The New Atlantis" and some other novels "her [Le Guin's] occult fictions."                

Galbreath also argues that "in The Dispossessed Le Guin adapts concepts from chronosophy, relativity theory, and quantum physics which, it has been claimed, all show significant parallels to mystical experience or occult teachings" (p. 37). He then footnotes this sentence — presumably referring to his authorities for the "it has been claimed" — to Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics and to three other books; by Koestler, Le Shan, and Priestley. This seems to me an inadmissible procedure in scholarship, since all of these books are rather disputable and in fact strongly disputed. Therefore, the scientific objections to them must be at least summarily argued and reasonably shored up before they could in turn serve as a solid basis for supporting other claims. This holds especially for claims which, for all their outward modesty, are in reality huge — e.g., that the (not more precisely identified) philosophy of time, Einstein's theory of relativity, and Planck's or the post-Planckian quantum physics all partake of "occult teachings." (What is the place of subjective "mystical experience" in this allusion to Einstein and Planck remains quite unclear, and I can only conclude its function is the purely rhetorical one of a lightning-rod useful for dissipating disbelief in the rest of the sentence.) Galbreath may object that he did not write that these scientific disciplines  partake of but that they show significant parallels to occult teachings. But he cannot have it both ways: either the parallels are misleading, in which case they should not be drawn at all: or they are at least up to a point correct, in which case these scientific disciplines indeed do partake of occult sciences.                

A similar dilemma holds for Galbreath's calling Shevek`s time theory "paraverbal" (p. 46). Either he is employing "paraverbal" in the sense used by Le Guin (and quoted by Galbreath four pages earlier) when speaking of the Handdara foretellers in The Left Hand of Darkness — in which case he should tell us which textual elements in The Dispossessed support such a prima facie  outlandish reading; or "paraverbal" simply means that, like many a scientific theory, Shevok`s cannot be expressed only (or primarily) in words but also (or primarily) requires mathematical notatiom symbolic-logic notation, et sim. — in which case it cannot be used to suggest that the "paraverbal" nature of Shevok's theory makes it occult. The worst aspect of this is that Galbreath never comes out and clearly states that he believes Shevek's time theory to be occult or to partake of the occult: but his rhetorical gliding between supposedly precise distinctions and fuzzy metaphors clearly does insinuate this point. Such glidings are unnecessarily frequent in his article — beyond my brief exemplification of them.                

On pages 45 and 46 Galbreath describes the occult as  occultum, manifestum, and "metaphorically [as] openness to (communication with) the other" in all its manifestations. By now this term has simply lost its traditional connotations and become a universal, faintly liberal formal and ethical principle which can be applied to just about any SF narrative. To say that the essence of the occult is that it "calls forth a 'larger' response from the individual, awakening an enlarged understanding which in turn implies a far more complex reality that cannot be exhaustively known by a single faculty," or that it means an "openness to the other and to the whole, a condition which necessarily entails abandoning the familiar," is to say that the occult is merely another term for the imagination, the "willing suspension of disbelief," or indeed significant art and science.               

Many of these problems could have been avoided if Galbreath would have made his definition of the "occult" explicit and clear right from the beginning, instead of letting the term build its meaning by accretion and suggestion. If he would have said,"In addition to the traditional definitions of the occult, I am including the following...," then the reader would have been able to evaluate both whether the additional stipulations make for a defined, homogeneous, and believable field and whether or not this definitional framework encompasses Le Guin's fiction.                

Such a clear definition would have made possible a more fruitful discussion with Galbreath of some of the interesting points that he boldly raised. But, ultimately, I think we should take Le Guin at her word. When she says that she is using ESP (and, by implication, other such processes) as a metaphor — we should take her seriously. The question  then becomes: what is the tenor and what the vehicle of the metaphor? Granting for the moment (but not conceding) that mind-speech, supernormal empathy, foretelling,  etc., partake of holism or even of the occult, clearly the occult is here only the vehicle of the metaphor. But it is  the situation  which the occult may illuminate that Le Guin focusses on as the tenor  of her metaphoric or analogical system. That is, these "supernormal" processes point not to the occult but to practical human relationships and to their quite mundane alienations: the supernormal detour points readers towards a better understanding of pressing concerns in their everyday lives. And if Le Guin is, as Galbreath remarks, using the occult processes in an ironic manner, I believe the irony coinvolves the occult (a good example, by his own account on pp. 41-43, is the usetessness of foretelling). In fiction, if the occult or magic is not a metaphoric or analogical vehicle but a tenor to be judged as we would judge everyday reality, it would indicate that one is dealing with forces  over which one has no practical control: if one had the power to control them in practice, one would not need the occult (e.g., in "Vaster Than Empires"). In other words, were we to take Le Guin's use of the occult seriously — as final tenor and not transitive vehicle — it would also he part of her irony. - Charles Elkins

I must of course acknowledge the depth of Charles Elkins'concern that has prompted him to offer his remarks. I also appreciate his judgment that my essay "opens up new areas of Le Guin scholarship," although this may be an instance of damning with faint praise if I am indeed guilty of the "logical sleight-of-hand" and imprecision that he professes to find. Not surprisingly, I do not find these faults in my essay. While Elkins criticizes the article for not containing a clear definition of the occult at the very beginning, I find that on pp. 37-38 of my essay I provide a concise but detailed discussion which includes an analysis of the difficulty õf defining the term, an enumeration of three special senses of the term and a fourth more recent connotation, a list of the term's present range of applications and referents, and an indication of some of the reasons for believing that holistic tendencies are significantly present in many varieties of the occult. I do not devitate from these formulations in my subsequent discussions. On pp. 45-46 the manifestum occultum polarity is introduced not as a new definition of the occult but explicitly as a heuristic device to clarify Le Guin's paradoxical and often ironic uses of the occult. Elkins loses sight of the fact that the article concerns the creative ways in which Le Guin inverts and transforms the occult.               

It also seems both reasonable and legitimate to argue that if we define A, B, and C as varieties of the occult (following the special senses indicated) if we find A, B, and C or the occult in general functioning as a novum in some of Le Guin's fiction, and if we find Le Guin expressing sharply divided attitudes toward the occult in various personal statements, then we should properly seek to understand just how Le Guin uses the occult. This argument is a far cry from the "implicit equation" (actually a syllogism) Elkins imputes to me. I do not attempt to prove the general proposition that "Le Guin's SF is occult," and since Elkins does not define his terms, I do not know what he may mean by this formulation. It is also necessary to state the obvious: an analysis of Le Guin's use of the occult does not imply, contrary to Elkins' fear, that she is "an occultist" (or that I am, for that matter) or a true believer. In this connection, SFS readers might like to know of Le Guin's jacket blurb for Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today  (NY: Viking. 1979). Jacket blurbs are notoriousiv untrustworthy, but this one sounds so much like Le Guin (who is also listed in the author's acknowledgments for helpful discussions) that we should not ignore it: l am impressed, respectful, and enthusiastic. What a tremendously difficult job Margot Adler undertook, and how well and fairly and fascinatingly she has done it. I keep miles from occultist sects, but she hooked me right away."                  

I cannot take seriously Elkins' view that my valid points could all have been made in reference to Le Guin's holistic tendencies "without bringing in occultism at all." I do not see how a discussion of Le Guin's use of the occult — which is, after all, the subject of my article — would benefit from omitting the occult. If Elkins simply means that I should not have taken the limited space afforded me by the editors of SFS to discuss definitions and historical background, he is then inconsistent when he charges me with not defining my terms.  Elkins is certainly free to reject, accept, or modify my definitions and interpretations, but he can scarcely argue in good faith both that they are not there and that they are, but they shouldn't be.                

I am puzzled by Elkins' puzzlement over my two sentences concerning The Dispossessed (pp. 37,46) since this was not one of the texts chosen for analysis and he raises no objections to my readings of the texts I do analyze. Elkins will find page  references in my Note 7 to passages in TD which will have to be explained away if he objects to parallels between Shevok's chronosophy and mysticism. That such parallels have been claimed in the case of relativity theory and quantum physics is in my judgment of more than passing interest in this connection. Niels Bohr, one of the originators of the principle of complementarily, adopted the yin/yang device and the motto  Conlraria sunt complementa (opposites are complementary) for his coat-of-arms. See Gerald Holton, "The Roots of Complementarity."  Daedalus. 99 (Fall 1970). 1021-22, for discussion and illustration (a reference in the original much longer version of my article, subsequently sacrificed — perhaps unwisely — in the interests of economy). Surely Elkins does not mean to suggest that "disputable" books should never he cited in scholarship. If that were the case, a good many SFS contributions would have to be shorn of their Marxist, Freudian and Jungian references. "Disputable" is not equivalent. in any case, to "disreputable" or "disproven."                

I do not object to Elkins' plea that we take seriously Le Guin`s claim to be using ESP (and by extension other occultisms) as metaphor.That was my point of departure. I would object, however to the view that the occult is only a metaphor in her fictions. The occult is literally present in her fictional universes as a novum: it must not be explained away as though it were just a metaphor or  only a metaphor. Were that the case. we might conclude that the texts are not SF at all.  —Robert Galbreath

 

An Exchange on "the Absent Paradigm"

Marc Angenot's extremely well-informed observations in "The  Absent Paradigm: An Introduction to the Semiotics of Science Fiction" (SFS No. 171 are a serious contribution to the semiotic explanation of processes that determine our reading and understanding of literature. The degree to which Angenot`s essay provokes  discussion is at the same time the mark of its theoretical value for research on these processes: it seems to me that the author — in his modesty — has unnecessarily narrowed his theses to the phenomena in SF, while the things he says are evidently true about any other kind of literature as well. And, hence, there are some instances of terminological and conceptual inexactitude there that call for reinterpretation.               

It should be first emphasized, perhaps, that the notion of a paradigm is inseparably connected with the phenomenon of notation. A paradigm can exist only in reference to a code — to a system of signs which is used in a given utterance.  This amounts to saying that without a given utterance or a set of them we cannot speak  about the existing paradigm, and vice versa, the paradigm exists only because we are given some utterances whose syntagmatic relations define the systemic paradigm.                  

The basic notion here, of course, is that of a sign, as we define the utterance as a delimited and ordered sequence of signs. While a flag on  the beach can be rightfully treated as a sign (and  accordingly can be said to belong to a certain code = sign system), the dark clouds on the horizon may be only understood as a symptom: a natural phenomenon that we are accustomed to connect with other phenomena (a storm) by way of a cause-effect relationship, but which is not meant by anybody as a meaningful unit of the communication process. The sound of thunder can be understood as a sign — communicating the wrath of God, for instance — only when we accept the existence of an intelligent being, a sender of the communiqué, an encoder: the God himself.                

There are some extremely important conclusions that follow from all this. First, the pan-semiotic belief that the reality surrounding us is a kind of a "book of Nature", which we can "read" — because its particular elements are of a semantic nature — is evidently false. The process of communication implies the existence of both the sender and the receiver of the encoded information; unless all the constituents of the process are present, the nature of the process itself is different.* Secondly as the empirical world is neither a communique nor a series of utterances encoded by a sender into a system of signs, we can hardly use the notion of the paradigm of the empirical world. When using the term (pp. 16-17), Angenot has perhaps in mind the paradigm of an ethnic language or its functional varieties,** as it is the natural language that serves to pass information about the phenomenal world, about all its physical, anthropological, and logical structures.                

Moreover, the notion of the "absent" or the "missing" paradigm, when used in a description of an existing text, seems to be a kind of a contradiction in terms. As I have tried to suggest, the usage of notation, the appearance of an utterance, is of necessity and at the same time the construction of a paradigm, however sketchy it might be. Angenot himself states that "a sign.. . forms a class in a semantic field" (p. 10), and as an utterance is a sequence of signs, the semantic value of each of them depends on the presence or the absence of a contiguous element" ( p.11). If so, then the more signs appear in an utterance, the more semantic classes are suggested. To paraphrase another of Angenot`s suggestive statements: any code which is by definition paradigmatic, exists only through syntagmatic conjunctions; hence the more numerous those conjuctions are, the surer is the receiver's recognition of the paradigm. In other words, if there are any syntagmatic relationships between the signs (and there are  many in a literary work, SF included!), the paradigm cannot be "missing" or "absent."                

All this brings me to the most important part of my argument. When one reads a newspaper column or a dissertation on physics, biology, or anthropology, one starts with an assumption that a linguistic paradigm of these types of writing is — as Angenot states — "coextensive" with our understanding of the various relationships within the phenomenal world. Moreover, the reader's understanding of the paradigm in such kinds of writing depends primarily on his previous linguistic competence, and perhaps only secondarily on the syntagmatic relationships he meets in a given text and which — at best — enable us only sometimes to broaden the paradigm by adding a few complementary "semes" to it. The basic procedure in this type of reading is that of a recognition of the previously known paradigm of the ethnic language. It happens so, because — practically speaking — we are all the time using one  code or its functional varieties.                

This is, of course, a simplification. On one hand, the code of the natural language operates with a number of sub-codes (the graphical notation, the "language" of mathematics or statistics, etc.); and on the other hand, it often incorporates the elements of various cultural codes (conventions of journalistic genres or scientific prose, the signs of cults and religions). But what seems most important here is the dominant semantic tendency of the natural language: while trying to pass information about the phenomenal world, where the information — practically unlimited — exists in chaos and disorder, it selects the information ascribing it to particular signs, orders it by means of systemic rules, and — in individual utterances — attains virtually the univocality of a sign (U. Eco, La Struttura assente, 1968).                

The procedure is diametrically different in the case of a literary work. The dominant semantic tendency here is not that of a natural language, although the language itself constitutes a sub-code of a literary utterance. Being a unique work of art, each literary text subordinates the linguistic material to its individual superimposed organization, and this changes drastically the way in which a particular sign functions. Speaking metaphorically, each literary text "builds" its own unique super-code out of the linguistic material; it builds a number of new, "unexpected" acmes, creating non-linguistic equivalences between the linguistic signs (J. Lotman, The Structure of the Artistic Text, 1977). Entering into new contrasts, a number of signs tends towards multivocality, as each of them enriches its meaning owing to the change of its relation to other signs. In other words, each text builds the individual paradigm which is not known previously to its readers. Hence, reading literature is not basically a recognition of the paradigm, but its reconstruction  directly from the syntagmatic relationships of the given utterance.                

In practice, readers often feel instinctively the necessity to reconstruct the paradigm when they are reading poetry. In a number of ways poetry signals openly, for instance, that it should be read not only linearly (as any other "strictly" linguistic text) but also (through the use of rhymes, anaphoras, etc.) vertically,  which is a decisive breach of linguistic system rules. Of course, such a necessity is rarely recognized by the reading public during the reception of fiction. As Robert Scholes has pointed out (R. Scholes, Structural Fabulation, 1975) 19th-century criticism so much popularized the "mimetic" style of reading with its concept of "realism" that the feeling and recognition of "poiesis" in fiction have been virtually either wiped out or pushed deeply into the readers subconscious. The 20th-century reader is used to ignoring "the semantic irradiation conveyed by the syntagm" (Angenot, p. 13) in reading either "realistic" literature or SF. Only with the greatest difficulty can he reconstruct the paradigmatic structure either suggested by the syntagmatic insertion of a fictive word (SF) or, for instance, by the syntagmatic correlation of the protagonist's characteristics with the elements of setting (a "realistic" novel). In both cases the reader projects the paradigmatic patterns of the known ethnic code onto the textual syntagm while being unaware that this strictly linguistic competence is not sufficient in either case to understand fully the semantic potential of the text. What Angenot sees as a textual difference between "this-wordly" paradigms and "the paradigmatic mirage" of SF appears rather to be the difference of the reader's reaction towards the known paradigm of a natural language and to the unknown paradigm of the literary super-code of the given text.                

Hence, it seems important to stress that all literature, be it "realistic" literature or SF, is conjectural in Angenot's sense of the word. The only difference between "realistic" fiction and SF is that the latter does not pretend to operate with the linguistic code only, which is almost the exact opposite of what the former really does. Paradoxically enough, it is often easier to reconstruct the paradigms of SF (suggested more openly in the syntagm by neologisms, fictive words, exolinguistics, etc.), than the paradigms of "realistic" novels (which are hidden away behind the unobtrusiveness of the dominating rules of the super-code).- Andrzej Zgorzelski

 *Detecting the relationships of various nature between the phenomena of the empirical world and ordering them into systems is  cognition: endowing the symptoms with meaning — that is: treating them as if they were signs — is semiosis. Neither cognition nor semiosis is communication.

**The term and the concept of functional languages have been popularized by the Czech Structural School.

I do agree with the general clarifications of the concepts of paradigm, sign system, etc. provided by A.Z. in his opening paragraphs. When I used the term "paradigms of the empirical world" I obviously did not have in mind any structuring of the world that would be given by nature to the observer, but — as opposed to the conjectural paradigms suggested in the text of fiction — those paradigms that the reader applies to his or her understanding of "real life," which include not only semantic structures but also all sorts of cognitive operations by which the "objects of the world" are known, differentiated, and classified — paradigms that can therefore be identified as ideologies in a wider sense.

Clearly, the very expression "missing paradigm" was meant to be paradoxical prima facie since — as A.Z. reasserts it — any (syntagmatic) utterance presupposes a paradigmatic structuration. What I had in mind (and I tried to make this clear) was not the semiotic essence of any text but a kind of rhetorical strategy,  proper to SF, by which SF tests are constructed "as if" their decoding demanded the knowledge of alien semantic structures, and also cultural models, rules, categories of the SF world, structures that are — for good reasons! — never integrally unfolded in the text.                

I believe that such a rhetorical axiom, which is clearly an effect of illusion, is determined by the fact that any meaningless  word parachuted into a syntagmatically consistent sentence will take on a certain significance through the presence of contextual interpretants, thus giving the impression that that word existed in paradigmatic oppositions previously.                

I am interested in A.Z.'s linking of my hypotheses with those basic axioms of textual aesthetics whereby literary polysemy and polyphony should be related to the reconstruction of a specific "super-code." In that sense, it is true that any piece of literature requires a "conjectural" reading. I simply believe that SF, sometimes in a rather simplistic and naive way, re-signals through its rhetorical conventions this fundamental character of literature. I also believe that such a procedure can be seen as axiomatic for a definition of the genre as opposed to utopias stricto sensu  (where the structures of the utopian world are more or less systematically reconstructed), to the various forms of the fantastic, the gothic, and other non-mimetic genres, but also to realistic fiction (where the obverse rhetorical illusion seeks to relate the plot and characterization to direct reflection of empirical paradigms and structures). - MA

 

Erratum

In A. Zgorzelski`s essay "Is SF a Genre of Fantastic Literature?"  (SFS No. 19), three words were accidentally left out of one sentence, thereby changing its meaning. The sentence in question (p. 297,11. 17-21 ) should read: "In fact a genre cannot appear functional without being recognized as such roughly at the time of its appearance."- MA

 

SF Criticism in Languages Other than English: A Proposed Bibliography

A significant body of critical material on SF and fantasy exists which is essentially inaccessible to the English-speaking scholar: the articles and books on SF and fantasy in languages other than English. Two reasons exist for the inaccessibility of this critical material. One is the relative lack of linguistic competence by English speakers; only time and study will correct this lack. The second is the lack of knowledge of the existence of the material, and the difficulty in obtaining bibliographic and physical access to the materials. It is this second point the present project seeks to partially correct, by providing a readily available bibliography of writings about SF and fantasy in languages other than English. As currently planned, the project will be in two phases.

Phase 1. A preliminary quantitative bibliography of non-English language writings about SF and fantasy is currently under development, utilizing standard bibliographic techniques, and with the aid of several individuals. While the development of the basic quantitative bibliography will be an on-going project, a cut-off date of 1980 has been established for the first publication of the bibliography. All languages other than English will be included; in the case of Russian material, a highly selective listing will be included, but Darko Suvin's Russian Science Fiction Bibliography  will remain the authoritative source for the immediate future.

Phase 2 will be the qualitative treatment of the data gathered in Phase 1. For each item, an abstract or annotation will be prepared and appropriate indexing terms assigned to each article or book which can be obtained. During this phase, material which is inappropriate for inclusion will be dropped. All new material identified will be treated fully as it becomes available. A series of indices by subject, author, title and title key-words will be developed, also.

The nature of both Phase I and Phase 2 requires that this be a cooperative effort of many people. While I have developed a basic bibliography of over 700 items, the available corpus of articles and books probably exceeds 1000. I would look forward to corresponding with anyone who is interested in the project and who would be willing to contribute to either Phase I or Phase 2. In particular, colleagues who are fluent in languages other than English would be welcomed.
Correspondence regarding this project should be addressed to: Hal W. Hall/3608 Meadow Oaks  Lane/Bryan, TX 77801.


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