Science Fiction Studies

#84 = Volume 28, Part 2 = July 2001


NOTES AND CORRESPONDENCE
 
Bradbury, Heinlein, and Hobo Heaven—and a New Feature in NOTES: SF Intertextuality. In the concluding pages of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953), Guy Montag is served a hot cup of coffee (more nourishment or comfort than he ever received in his fully automated house) by hoboes camped alongside abandoned railway tracks. Though not politically active, the hoboes are constructive, preserving forbidden books for use in what they hope will be a better future. Bradbury’s tramps are heroes—“bums on the outside, libraries on the inside” (153). The hands they hold over a communal fire offer Montag an image of warmth and community that contrasts strongly with the cold and hostile city from which he has fled. The hoboes not only welcome the fugitive fireman but promise him a more meaningful life as a preserver rather than burner of books.     

Bradbury’s conclusion, it occurs to me, may revise or reflect on a subplot of Robert A. Heinlein’s Sixth Column (1941; republished in 1949 as The Day After Tomorrow) in which, following an invasion of the US by “Pan-Asians” and decimation of the US military (six soldiers remain alive), the subculture of hoboes survives. Hoboes are so used to living underground and so loosely organized that most of them are able to elude the invaders’ official attention. A major character, Jefferson Thomas, is an ex-hobo who offers no apology for his former way of life: “A hobo is an itinerant laborer who prefers casual freedom to security. He works for his living, but he won’t be tied down to one environment” (18). Though too individualistic to be good candidates for military conscription, Heinlein’s hoboes help the small group of surviving army officers by passing along information (36).      

Both novels’ affirmative view of hoboes may be linked to the songs of the IWW, the Industrial Workers of the World or so-called “Wobblies,” a labor union founded in 1905. Heinlein, raised in Missouri, and Bradbury, born in Illinois, may be planting in sf tradition their own memories of the midwestern folksongs of Harry (“Haywire Mac”) McClintock, a hobo, anarchist, and “Wobblie” song-writer. In Sixth Column, there is a character reminiscent of McClintock—an “old anarchist comrade” and hobo counterfeiter named Finny (24). Jeff Thomas finds “inspirational but unconvincing” (26) Finny’s tolerance for the invaders, which stems from his view that all governments are equally oppressive; but Thomas learns much from “Finny’s detachment and freedom from animus” (25).      

ffey); it was published in 1908 by the IWW and quoted by RAH—cf. The Door into Summer (138). That song’s lyrics (“Oh, I like my boss, he’s a good friend of mine,/That’s why I am starving out on the breadline./When springtime it comes, oh, won’t we have fun;/ We’ll throw off our jobs, and go on the bum” [Coffey]) rather closely parallel the plot of Fahrenheit 451, particularly its unpleasant management/worker relationships: the novel’s most evil and manipulative character, Captain Beatty, is Montag’s boss. And while Montag doesn’t choose to “go on the bum”—he is harried out of the city by the police and the Mechanical Hound—his first act of open defiance early in the novel is staying home from work.      

 “The Big Rock Candy Mountains,” another song associated with “Haywire Mac” and the Wobblies (McClintock’s recording of the 1920s is included in the soundtrack of the recent film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”), describes a cheerfully hedonistic hobo utopia complete with “cigarette trees,” a “lake of stew,” and “little streams of alkyhol.” One stanza imagines scenes right out of Bradbury’s novel:
 
      In the Big Rock Candy Mountains, all the cops have wooden legs,
      And the bulldogs all have rubber teeth and the hens lay soft-boiled eggs.
      The farmer’s trees are full of fruit and the barns are full of hay;
      Oh, I’m bound to go where there ain’t no snow,
      Where the rain don’t fall, the wind don’t blow
      In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.
  
In Fahrenheit 451, the Mechanical Hound may not have rubber teeth, but he loses the scent when Montag reaches the river that borders the hoboes’ territory. And the countryside where the hoboes are camped is magically exempt from the force of a nuclear strike: the hoboes are only briefly shaken, not injured, by an attack that decimates a city within walking distance. Bradbury’s description of the verdant land outside the city-limits, with its sweet-smelling hay that inspires a vivid fantasy in Montag (of resting in a barn and receiving a handout for breakfast from his dead friend, Clarisse McClellan, resurrected as a young farm-wife [142-43]), repeats the pastoral imagery (fruit trees, hay, charitable farm-wives, relief from persecution, temperate weather) in McClintock’s popular song.      

There is a major difference between McClintock’s anarchist lyrics and the sf novelists who recall his images of a freer life on the rails. For both sf writers imagine hoboes who are “better than” (not simply “outside”) the workaday norm. Many of Bradbury’s hoboes are former ivy-league English professors (“There are a lot of old Harvard degrees on the tracks between here and Los Angeles” [132]), and Heinlein’s Jeff Thomas reveals that he became a hobo only “because I did not like being a lawyer” (19). This view of hoboes as elite outcasts—Jeff Thomas, too, is a Harvard alumnus—has little to do with McClintock’s rowdy critique of working and middle-class American life. Indeed, that the two sf texts share such a peculiar idea—homeless hoboes as cultural custodians—is evidence that the correspondence between the two novels is not just a coincidence. The shared view of hoboes may even convey for both writers (different as their novels are in other respects) the contradictory status of genre authors themselves during the 1940s and early 1950s: celebrated in an inner circle of fans and readers, they were, like tramps, otherwise culturally invisible.      

The rough edges of Harry McClintock’s hobo songs, to some degree preserved by Heinlein in Sixth Column (“Cops are cops,” says Jeff Thomas of an invader he has just successfully bribed [77]), are softened by nostalgia in Bradbury’s novel. Montag arrives in the hoboes’ territory yearning for purification (“a cool glass of fresh milk” [143]), not pleasure (McClintock’s  “lake of whiskey,” complete with “canoos” and paddles). And the better world that Montag learns to hope for—people sitting on their front porches talking, hoboes following the railway lines from town to town, the leisure that comes with under- or unemployment—is a rose-colored version of the past. Hoboes were cultural heroes of the Great Depression, not the postwar period. Montag’s discovery of the community of hoboes in the final pages of Fahrenheit 451 is actually a kind of metaphoric time-travel, by which he retreats from modern catastrophe (nuclear holocaust, time-clock punching, conformity, cultural paranoia) to an earlier model of a US culture that never was. Ironically enough, nuclear holocaust makes the world brighter, clearing away a decadent city that existed (Bradbury has shown) only to corrupt the humanity of its inhabitants. And idealized hoboes, freed from the tyranny of daily labor, inherit not the earth (which would have to be cultivated with sweat and toil) but an ideal of footloose freedom drawn from American mythology and song: “Oh, I’m gonna stay where you sleep all day/Where they hung the jerk that invented work/In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.”      

I invite for publication in the NOTES AND CORRESPONDENCE section of future issues other analyses of sf intertextuality—recurrences of images, characters, or motifs. The idea is not necessarily to document influence or prove any genetic relationship, but to explore the rich intertextual spaces of the sf genre. Suggested length: about a thousand words. The strong preference is for print sf (not films), but analyses of classic, recent, or current sf are all equally welcome. Submissions will be subject, like all Notes, to editorial and consultants’ review.—CM

WORKS CITED
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. 1953. New York: Ballantine, 1982.
Coffey, Roy. Online posting (Harry McClintock’s “The Bum Song,” with lyrics). January 27, 2001. Discussion of Kansas History. <http://www.ukans.edu/~medieval /kansas-l/2001/01/msg00017.html>.
Heinlein, Robert A. The Door Into Summer. 1956. New York: Ballantine, 1986.
─────.   As Anson McDonald. The Day After Tomorrow. Original Title: Sixth Column. 1941. New York: Signet-NAL, 1949.
Rovics, David. Online posting. “Songs of Social Significance.” (Lyrics of Harry McClintock’s “The Big Rock Candy Mountains”). December 1998. <http:// members.aol.com/drovics/bigl.htm>.

And Yet It Moves: Still Another Response to John Fekete. A Wesleyan copy-writer searching for quotations that might properly adorn the cover of a future printing of my book Critical Theory and Science Fiction (Wesleyan 2000) would not, in fact, come away empty-handed from Professor Fekete’s long and often thoughtful review-essay (SFS 28.1: 77-96). As one of the rare “dedicated works of theory reflecting on the nature of science fiction itself,” the book “is to be welcomed, especially as it makes a real contribution by drawing attention to relationships between critical theory and sf”; the “handling of materials” is “frequently perceptive and stimulating”; the book “does successfully build a case to show that a number of first-rate sf works can be organized together into a critical intellectual tradition”; and the readings of individual sf novels “are of a high intellectual quality.” One need not question the sincerity of such compliments, however, in order to see that they function, rhetorically, as feints, whose ultimate aim is an ideologically driven attempt at demolition—and the demolition not only, and perhaps not even chiefly, of Critical Theory and Science Fiction. Fekete has much bigger game than me in his cross-hairs.      

It should be mentioned that, in his extensive paraphrases of my arguments, Fekete does make a few mistakes. He confuses my characterization of a certain simplistic reading of Dostoevsky (and of Flaubert) with a facile condemnation of Dostoevsky’s own work (see CT&SF 32). He suggests that I believe critical theorists to have been wrong in concerning themselves with texts more traditionally canonical than sf, whereas I actually maintain that “the radical rereading of the established cultural monuments of the past is, in itself, not only legitimate but indispensable” (92). He several times reports me as believing detective fiction to be irredeemably reactionary; but I argue that, despite Bloch’s own dim view of the genre, “a comprehensively Blochian reading would be capable of constructing anticipatory pre-illuminations of utopian collectivity” (68) even in Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers. He similarly reports me as holding poetry to be hopelessly monological, even though I explicitly, and at some length (40-41), argue against this view, taking issue with the simple exaltation of prose over poetry that Bakhtin’s critical language too often expresses.      

Further examples could be given (and there are also a few—though rather minor—misquotations). But I do not want to overstate the importance of such slips. It is difficult to produce completely accurate paraphrases of arguments made from a standpoint one finds fundamentally uncongenial, and Fekete’s batting average in this regard is fairly high. His “mistakes”—if that is the appropriate word for them—that matter most are of a somewhat different order, and seem to owe little or nothing to careless or uninformed reading. I will offer just a few instances. He insists that I strategically use critical-theoretical as a “euphemistic” synonym for Marxist, despite my own very different account of the term. He accurately notes how I modify the Suvinian definition of sf with the concept of the cognition effect, but then wildly inflates the importance of this modification, ignoring my argument that sf “is, overwhelmingly though not necessarily, a genuinely cognitive literature” (19). He attributes to me a belief in something he calls “eternal communal harmony,” a concept that appears nowhere in my work nor, I think, in that of Bloch or any other Marxist-utopian thinker (a materialist vision of solidarity and collectivity has nothing to do with eternality and not necessarily much to do with harmony). He characterizes Shevek’s project in The Dispossessed as “an overarching rationalist ambition” whereas both Shevek and the text itself—as well as my own reading of it—are pretty clearly opposed to rationalism (though not, of course, to rationality). He flatly pronounces cyberpunk to be “the actually existing aesthetic sf movement of the late 1980s,” ignoring that certainly much, and arguably most, of the aesthetically significant sf of the period bears no meaningful relation to the (genuinely interesting) tradition that flows from Neuromancer. He bizarrely calls the twentieth century a “socialist century,” and seems to feel, even more bizarrely, that the current presence of some Marxists in North American universities invalidates Adorno’s diagnosis of the intellectual stultification produced by late capitalism in its bourgeois-parliamentary as well as in its fascist forms. Perhaps most perplexing of all, he exhibits so little appreciation for dialectical thinking that he cannot see the Adornian stress on individuality and the Blochian stress on collectivity as mutually complementary (as Bloch and Adorno themselves seem to have felt, by the way), but merely as inconsistent with one another.      

All these judgments seem to me to betray serious misunderstandings—of Critical Theory and Science Fiction and of other matters—but they are clearly not misunderstandings into which Fekete has inadvertently fallen through failure of attention or intelligence. One might say, indeed, that Fekete has understood me (and Le Guin, and Bloch, and Adorno, and much else, including modern history itself) precisely as well as he wishes to, or as his own ideological agenda will allow him to. And that agenda is as plain today as it was more than a decade ago, when he took a mild dig at me in what he now calls “a postmodernist reading of sf” done in “slightly mischievous Baudrillardian fashion” (SFS 15.3 [1988]: 312-23), and I replied with “Another Response to John Fekete” (SFS 16.1[1989]: 116). Now as then, he aims—as most of the mistakes and “mistakes” cited above tend to suggest—at nothing less than the demolition of Marxism and, to a considerable degree, of the category of the political itself.      

There is no space here for an apologia for Marxism and for the continuing need for political thinking. I have indeed done something of the sort in Critical Theory and Science Fiction itself, and have done it again, in more detail, in a recently completed work entitled The Incomplete Projects: Marxism, Modernity, and the Politics of Culture. For now, I will simply note several of the more prominent features of Fekete’s brand of anti-Marxist ideology.      

First, I suggest that Fekete might be a more effective polemicist if he were more forthright about his own standpoint, especially in its political (or antipolitical) dimension. Admittedly, the general outlines of his allegiances do seem tolerably clear. Despite the fact that, at the very end of his piece, he suddenly (and ironically?) adopts the pose of the naively humanist fan, yearning for “miracle and wonder,” his stance up to that point is rather different. I take his normal position to be a version of old-fashioned Yale formalism (note his ex cathedra pronouncement, “Logically, a fictional world does not ramify into the nonfictional world”) somewhat recomplicated by French post-structuralism, though a post-structuralism, I believe, that prefers the minor figures of the movement (Lyotard, Baudrillard) to its real intellectual innovators (Deleuze, Foucault, above all Derrida). But Fekete displays little interest in suggesting what his viewpoint might entail beyond merely stigmatizing Marxism—and, by implication, other political projects, such as feminism, that also involve the application of thought to the practical transformation of the world—with such largely unargued epithets as objectivist and metaphysical. Once indeed—in a footnote—he seems to advocate what he calls “at least comparable [to Marxism, that is] and perhaps, in some circumstances, more open and more democratic practices of aesthetics, ethics, and politics.” And that’s all, folks. Now, one cannot expect a full-scale manifesto in a book review, not even in one so very long as Fekete’s. Even so, since the dispute between us is essentially political, it seems disappointing that such a disablingly vague and perfunctory gesture is the most we ever hear of his own politics; it is partly for this reason that I take his real quarrel to be not only with Marxism but with political thought and action generally.

Even on its purely destructive side, however, his anti-Marxism is remark­ably shy of real argumentation. There are rigorous and coherent ways to argue against Marxism—all of which depend on showing, in one way or another, that the laws of motion of capital described by Marx in the three volumes of Capital and developed in such later works as Mandel’s Late Capitalism no longer apply in the globalizing capitalism of today. But Fekete never argues any such thing, not even in the most gestural way. Instead, he merely takes for granted that Marxist thought is out of date, and repeatedly adopts a tone that suggests political thinking to be rather like wearing white after Labor Day. This is the stance established by the main title of his piece—“Doing the Time Warp Again”—and it is reiterated, without really being developed, again and again. My viewpoint “seems emblematic of an earlier time, or perhaps of the more traditional pole of an emerging debate.” My “text is dated not only because of its contents but also because of its exclusions, its parti pris.” I work within “all the received categories of criticism, critical theory, and Marxism.” And so on and so forth. I am irresistibly reminded of Adorno’s warning that the accusation of being out of date is nearly always reactionary: the superficially progressivist rhetoric that reduces history to the history of fashion is usually employed in the unacknowledged service of some status quo ante. Whether or not that is true with regard to Fekete’s own deliberate intentions—something I find impossible to judge, at least on the basis of his piece under consideration here—there is not much that can or need be said in reply to the charge of unfashionability, other than the obvious: namely, that glancing at the calendar is not the most useful way of evaluating intellectual and political arguments.

 The final irony, however, is that, if superior trendiness were to be accepted as the main criterion of theoretical rigor and sophistication, then Fekete would be in a much more embarrassing position than I would be myself. For such a dedicated follower of fashion, he is really rather behind the times. Baudrillardian “mischievousness” and facile assumptions of Marxism’s obsolescence were indeed the hottest items on the market a decade and more ago, around the time that Fekete and I first crossed swords in the pages of this journal. But the situation has changed. Many of those who, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, were orgiastically celebrating the supposed glories of the free movement of capital are today beginning to suspect that the latter really is as destructive as the Marxists have always warned. Many cultural theorists who once vicariously waged sub-Lyotardian “wars on totality” are now finding new virtue in what they (though not I, nor, so far as I know, any other Marxist) call “grand [i.e., totalizing] theory.” Though Marxism is not exactly in fashion right now, it is much less out of fashion than the anti-Marxism of Fekete’s particular sort. Of course, this situation says precisely nothing about the genuine theoretical merits of either position; but it does seem to me, in the current context, a piquant irony.      

I will end by expressing my overall gratitude to Professor Fekete. He took the time and trouble to read Critical Theory and Science Fiction with obvious care, and he has certainly responded in a serious and substantial way. His hostility, moreover, seems to have nothing to do with petty matters of pedantry or jealousy; instead, it is based on issues as consequential as any issues can be. They are, most certainly, issues that will not be definitively resolved soon; but there are those of us who believe that an almost unimaginable degree of human suffering hangs, ultimately, in the balance.—Carl Freedman, Louisiana State University

Cherry Picking: A Reply to a Hatchet Job. Two Pilgrim Award winners provided book jacket blurbs for Carl Freedman’s Critical Theory and Science Fiction. Although, unlike Academy Awards, Pilgrim Awards are not granted according to category, John Fekete positions the Pilgrims who are blurb writers, Darko Suvin and Marleen S. Barr, differently. According to Fekete, Suvin is “the sf theorist” and Barr is “the sf critic.” When commenting on “Freedman’s own uncritical wish for transparency,” Fekete makes crystal clear his opinion regarding which of the two categories he values more highly: he mentions “the higher levels of theory” before saying “[m]eanwhile at the level of literary criticism.” I mean to begin my response to Fekete’s mean review of Critical Theory and Science Fiction by leveling Fekete’s separate and unequal categori-zations. Ain’t I a theorist? Why is the word “theorist” not a truth regarding both Suvin’s international sojourns as a scholar, critic, reviewer, editor, and author of imaginative texts and my international sojourns in these identical areas?      

I do not suffer suppressing women’s writing gladly. The bibliography accompanying Fekete’s review excludes women’s names. I am, in the words of Fekete’s review’s title, “doing the time warp again” when I find it necessary to imbue his discussion with some female essence. Since Fekete explicitly states that Freedman should not be authorized to “cherry-pick” elements from fictional worlds and apply them to nonfictional worlds, I suggest some further reading—some women’s fictional worlds—that might broaden Fekete’s critique: Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle (1973), Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues (1998), and Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry (1987). Even though Fekete states that Freedman overlooks “Jameson’s caution about overstretching” connections, I wish to overstretch Fekete’s term “cherry-pick” to, in the spirit of Rubyfruit Jungle, literally sex Fekete’s “cherry-pick,” and offer my comments as a new vagina monologue. Fekete is very fond of the word “slippage.” In one of his many uses of this word, he mentions “disabling slippage.” When Fekete raises his phallic knife to stab Freedman in the back, his slippage, in terms of my sexing of “cherry-picking,” is disabling indeed. If “cherry” is defined as a part of vaginal anatomy, then “cherry-picking” precisely describes what Fekete performs upon Critical Theory and SF. He picks a fight with Freedman’s text and, by doing so, alters its original anatomy. My attention to the anatomy of Fekete’s criticism is literal. The operation Fekete performs upon Critical Theory and SF: textualclitorectomy. Fekete excises the pleasure of Freedman’s text. He at once chastises Freedman for a lack of “miracle and wonder” and faults Freedman’s exuberant “high praise” for the sf books and authors Critical Theory and SF addresses. Fekete “has of course hit rock bottom here.”      

Making no effort to hold my cherry metaphor in abeyance, I want to define “rock bottom” in relation to Fekete as a rather bottomless pit. In other words, I take issue with many of Fekete’s assertions. He calls Freedman’s readings “intelligent and thorough in their own terms, even though they could be performed differently.” All readings can be performed differently. The fact that readers produce different readings does not give Fekete license to rewrite Freedman’s book. Yet he appears to want to do so when he accuses Freedman of “untimely exclusions” and failing to “undertake any explicit review of the state of art in sf theory.” These supposed “exclusions” were never part of Freedman’s stated purview. When mentioning Freedman’s attention to Le Guin, Russ, and feminism, Fekete states that Freedman fails to “project the very hard feminism [of Russ] examined here [in regard to The Two of Them] back into the discussion of Le Guin’s The Dispossessed.” There is no reason for Freedman to undertake this projection. To my reminder to Fekete that women are theorists, let me add that since all feminist sf texts do not look alike, there is no reason to equate The Two of Them and The Dispossessed. Further: of course “Freedman is looking in his own mirror.” Reader response theory tells us that this is where all theorists look. “Nobody else need go through this looking glass with Freedman. His larger theoretical gestures and narratives can be set aside.” I set aside both Fekete’s knife wielding (which here reaches a new low rock-bottom aptly described as the pits) and its further stabs because it is clear that Fekete acts as a cherry red queen relentlessly screaming off with Freedman’s head.      

Fekete does not take into account the point that Critical Theory and SF is the perfect vehicle to bridge the abyss between the sf critical community and critical theorists who do not read sf. When Fekete complains that Freedman “sidesteps” such sf discourses as vampires, cyborgs, biotechnologies, and slipstream experimentation, he fails to notice the fact that sf readers and critical theorists who work outside sf constitute the entire potential audience of Critical Theory and SF. If one is trying to motivate these sf outsiders to peruse the genre, it is absolutely appropriate initially to sidestep such sf critical oddities as “nanotechnologies of the post-liberal body invasion.”     

Freedman’s book is a tree of knowledge (which I just happen to visualize as a cherry tree), whose seeds have the potential to blossom into fruitful interchanges between critical theorists who are both experienced and inexperienced science fiction readers. I fault Fekete for trying to chop down Critical Theory and SF with his hatchet-job review. His review is destructive in that it retards the ability of two at once distinct and related discourses to form a vibrant hybrid dialogue. I do not suffer the stifling of genre fission gladly.      

In summary, instead of cultivating cross-fertilization between differing fields, Fekete, positioned high atop his high-horse cherry picker, harvests the fruits of Freedman’s rhetorical labors, pulverizes them, and aims the aforementioned pits at Freedman in the manner of multitudinous bullets. Like George Washington, I cannot tell a lie about the hatchet and the cherry tree. The truth is that I am not in favor of Fekete’s review. I respond to Fekete with the portion of my blurb he quoted—and which I stand behind: “Freedman accomplishes his objective.” I have, here, accomplished mine.—Marleen S. Barr, Montclair State University

On Identity Politics and Credentialing in SF Criticism—John Fekete replies: My review of Professor Freedman’s book is concerned with genre, canon formation, and critical theory. The gist of it is that, although Freedman does a good job reading a number of acknowledged sf classics of 1960s-70s vintage that display a critical and, in some cases, utopian disposition, he overstates his case when he attempts to construct an sf canon around these works as the core and standard of measure and these dispositions as the generic requirements. The review also notes how Freedman’s heavily foregrounded Marxist commitments overdetermine his promotion of a mimetic reading strategy and a narrowly selective “critical” tradition in sf, both of which happen to mask the ways in which the cognitive conditions of fiction may be at variance with the cognitive conditions that prevail in the non-fictional world. Throughout, I respectfully provide quotations and accurate paraphrases from his book so that his own text may be able to speak for itself. To the slim extent made possible by the constraints on reviewing, I also offer theoretical comments on the critical enterprise and on science fiction.      

Professor Freedman’s response to my review of his book begins by citing a list of my compliments which could help to sell his book, and then attacks the review for allegedly advancing some reactionary anti-political agenda. The reviewer is accused of deception, “wild” and “bizarre” comments, “mistakes,” “serious misunderstandings,” “little appreciation for dialectical thinking,” and a “destructive” anti-Marxism. Even more comprehensively, the review is said to be “ideologically driven”; indeed, the review is assumed to be governed by an almost incomprehensibly efficacious “ideological agenda” aiming “at nothing less than the demolition of Marxism and, to a considerable degree, of the category of the political itself.” All this at the same time that the response laments the fact that actually I do not set out to offer political commentary at all, that I am not forthcoming about my politics, and that only in a footnote do I offer a limited political gesture to the effect that Marxism does not have a monopoly on moral and political commitment and that dissent from certain problematical kinds of Marxism may do better service for democratic practices than assent to them.      

Since, apart from some macro-sociological or macro-economic affirmations, there are no material political matters raised in either Freedman’s book or his response to the review, I am left to wonder what moves Freedman to assert that “the dispute between us is essentially political”? I find myself drawn to the conclusion that Freedman is not in fact responding to such disagreements of an intellectual and professional nature as may have been raised in the review. Instead, he has made a discursive detour to a politics of identity for which the act of professing membership in the select community (of Marxism, or critical theory, as he defines it) is a necessary prelude to the very possibility of dialogue. In short, Freedman’s response to my review of his book is low on theory and high on attitude, overdetermined by what amounts to a liturgical impulse to celebrate Marxism and to cast out the Anti-Marxist.      

Within an articulated left tradition, a response of this kind is well understood as “vulgar Marxism,” comprised of prejudices sedimented in both literary and social critique, and manifest in the absorption of intellectual and professional registers native to a given discussion into polemical campaigns against imagined reaction, in the self-flattering mistaken belief that it is Marxism rather than vulgarity that has been criticized. Such vulgarity is finally not sufficiently mitigated for this reader by the aesthetic pleasures of the very considerable verbal skills which Freedman is able to deploy in his pursuits. One substantial aspect of such vulgarity, expressed for example in Freedman’s gleeful observance of the current rise in the fashionability of Marxism in academic circles, is the consistent lack of interest in the consequences of Communist totalitarianism, especially as they might impinge on whatever is promoted as though it were unproblematical or self-evident, e.g., “the application of thought to the transformation of the world.”     

It is not for lack of self-confidence that I do not want to get into a contest with Freedman concerning Marxist or political activist credentials. Suffice it to say that his caricature of his reviewer is something of a smokescreen. After all, the entire review is conducted within the broad orbit of a critical theory linked to a Marxist and post-Marxist discursive domain. The framing and the topics of discussion in the review, as well as its bibliographic context (Professor Barr, please take note!) are set by Freedman’s book itself, and pivot around his choice of reference points: Suvin, Jameson, Lukács, Bloch, Bakhtin, Adorno, etc. Even my most telling critical comments are supported with allusions to Marxists such as Fredric Jameson. In short, by characterizing himself as a Marxist beset by anti-Marxist, indeed, “formalist” enemies who aim at the total destruction of the possibilities for transforming the world, Freedman invokes vindication by misdirection, distracting attention from the questioning of his own text. Indeed, Freedman’s conclusion, that between his book and the “hostile” review, “an almost unimaginable degree of human suffering hangs, ultimately, in the balance,” is little more than egregious self-inflation.      

In a similar manner, Freedman’s digression on fashionability and his characterization of this reviewer as “a dedicated follower of fashion,” apart from its kinky allusiveness, sets up another smokescreen. What is at issue between the review and the book is not something abstract and fanciful regarding eternal verities versus the trendiness of the moment, but rather some specific judgments regarding canon, genre, and literary/cultural theory. The point is that, in publishing his book, Freedman has expanded and recycled a decade-old piece of his without any friendly attention to new materials that are arguably significant in sf and therefore significant in assessing his argument regarding the core values of the genre. These new materials, which have repopulated the sf landscape, cannot be dismissed as a trendy fashion, nor attention to them as a “reactionary” reduction of history to “the history of fashion.”     

That is, all the bluster in the world will not establish the sf of the 1960s and 1970s, good as it is, as sf’s golden age or the genre’s Archimedean point, as long as sf keeps changing and continues to be as good/golden as it has consistently been right up to the present moment. More than that, the differences that arise with the new sf do matter, precisely because of the importance of sf as a special kind of laboratory of fictional experimentation with the newly arising symbols and possibilities of human existence. In the absence of persuasive counter-argument (in which regard, let me say that Barr’s conclusion—that it is “absolutely appropriate” to keep “sf outsiders” from knowing what is currently going on in sf—is hardly persuasive), I have to stand with the concerns expressed in the review:

Freedman’s argument sidesteps a good portion of the literary and theoretical production that has shaped sf discourse since 1987: e.g., the vampires and other recovered entities of Gothic and fantasy; the cyborgs of the posthumanist, postindustrialist, and postfeminist cyberspaces; the biotechnologies, digital information technologies, and nanotechnologies of the post-liberal body invasion; the experimentations of the “slipstream”; and the sf oddities of non-print media. Moreover, Freedman’s readings, which privilege a selective tradition, signal their distance from the current thematizations, often jointly, of “futurism” and of the “post.” Under this rubric, which embraces the postmodern and the postcritical, one could include the entire range of insecurities, border violations, simulacra, hybrids, and virtualities entailed in the revisionary double-coding and multiply-coding cultural practices that stand in the foreground at the turn of the millennium. Such practices act to interrogate and set in motion, not only the ontological and epistemological categories of subject and object and the political categories of critique, idealization, and interest, including all the received categories of criticism, critical theory, and Marxism, but also the chronotopes of the modern imaginary and their textual figurations. (81)

A number of other matters that I raised in my review are not answered in the response. Certainly, Professor Freedman is not under any obligation to answer them personally, but they arise from a consideration of his argument and remain questions for future research projects. What are the implications of the democratization and decentralization of “Art” for science fiction? In particular, what is the difference that fictionality makes to the pragmatic contingencies of the discourse on possible worlds; that is, how are the fictional possible-worlds of science fiction different from non-fictional possible-worlds (counterfactuals, hypotheticals, futurology), and what difference does that difference make? I should specify, since the point evidently eludes Freedman, that if we want to remind ourselves that science fiction is fiction, and put a stress on fictionality as a functional property of fictional worlds, it is for the sake of the important transactions between fiction and non-fiction, not for their frustration. It is exactly the collapsing of the fiction/non-fiction distinction, in strongly mimetic or praxis-oriented models, that would deprive us of the pragmatically instituted property of fictionality and accordingly reduce and constrain the kinds of resources for human life that fiction can provide. I have alluded to this methodological issue in my review and, while there is no space in this reply any more than in the review itself for extensive elaboration of the theoretical premises of a pragmatics and semiotics of fictional possible worlds, good books do exist on the subject.      

In addition, because of the precariously ambiguous position of the critical enterprise in an administered culture, where it may turn out on closer inspection that the adversarial culture we take for granted may be neither adversarial nor cultured, I think we cannot defer theorizing the relationship between critique and the critique of the presuppositions of critique. It takes an engagement with the post-critical horizons of sf discourse, including the “posting” of Marxism and politics, to mobilize the post-critical, the post-Marxist, and the post-political in articulating the post-modern. Again, since misunderstanding is so easy, let me stress that, in my usage at least, the post-modern is not a retraction of the modern, and the “post,” in general, is not symmetrical with “anti.” Reading it as though it were would be to insist on a redundancy in the contemporary discourse of theory, and would testify either to an ignorance of two decades of postmodern theory or to an arrogant dismissal of it out of hand.      

To be sure, the “post” is a marker of a certain dangerous openness on the edge, a certain complexity of thought, as against the safety and consolations of the self-evidence of all that is not “posted.” But if we are to sustain an interest in freedom, justice, and the good/beautiful life, do we not need to rise to the challenge, given the intellectual disorder of our day, of working with our intellectual heritage (both Marxist and non-Marxist), and with the facts and possibilities of our world (both wonderful and troubling) in ways that may be risk-taking and complex? Have we not already exhausted any likely payoff from veering desperately back and forth between degrading images of allegedly total reification and misleading images of allegedly utopian transparency, and calling the error of this sorry double vision a “dialectic”?—John Fekete, Cultural Studies, Trent University
 
And a Postscript. With respect to Professor Barr’s “Reply,” I am unable to think that the text that she prepared ostensibly in response to mine commands a detailed response from me. Her fantasies of Freedman’s (textual) body—castrated, vaginal, virginal, stabbed, declitoricized, stoned, shot, bleeding, full of holes or, alternatively, a powerfully phallic and procreative tree—are neither about me nor really addressed to me. On the contrary, Barr explicitly says: “I wish ... to offer my comments as a new vagina monologue.” I do not feel called upon to dialogue with a monologue. All I want to do, therefore, is to make a minor contribution in the margins of her unusual George Washington appropriation in order to clear up the mystery of how she came to be described in the review as a science fiction “critic” (no insult intended). I know from having seen, for example, a call for papers for a 1999 graduate student conference at Louisiana State, Freedman’s university, that Barr, the prospective keynote speaker, was described as a “feminist science fiction critic” (italics mine). In short, neither the nomenclature nor its application originates with me and the designation could not have been altogether a surprise. But, at the moment of selecting this designation in the review, I was actually following Freedman himself, as it happens, because his writing was very much in front of me. Apparently, Freedman has the same weakness for public hyperbole that led Barr to describe his very first book as the equivalent of Georg Lukács’s, Fredric Jameson’s and Darko Suvin’s achievements. Around the same time, Freedman described Barr (SFS 27.2 [July 2000]) as “the founding mother of feminist SF criticism” (second italics mine), and in many ways “its central figure over the past two decades” (278). Whether any of this is professionally sound or aesthetically tasteful, I must leave to others at this point. I am merely documenting here a contributing factor to one single decision point in my choice of words, having distilled the word “critic” from encomiums of praise that evidently left a deep impression.—JF
 
The Road to Consensus on Silverberg. Having recently read Rob Latham’s review of my book The Road to Castle Mount: The Science Fiction of Robert Silverberg (SFS 27.2 [July 2000]: 341-43), I wish to offer a brief rebuttal, partly in the hope of stimulating more discussion. I am grateful for his kind and generous comments and also would like to commend the tenor of his review, which has the value of being candid and forthright.      

I concede that his complaints on lesser matters are in large part correct. I believe that knowledge of Latham’s essay on Silverberg and Downward to the Earth (1970) might have helped my discussion of that work, and I am sorry for misspelling Samuel Delany’s last name (although it is mentioned only twice). On larger issues, however, I wish to offer some objections. Latham ridicules the guild metaphor (apprentice, journeyman, master, etc.) that I use to describe the different stages of Silverberg’s career. These terms were intended merely to offer an overview of an energetic career—and some defense of Silverberg’s early “apprentice” work, most of which he was able to publish. I don’t think that the guild metaphor should be pushed too far, however, and did not intend to imply some of the meaning attributed to it in Latham’s review.      

I am also not entirely clear about what Latham means by my “evaluative animus.” I merely try to understand what a work is, what genre it belongs to, and what historical context might have helped to inspire it before I engage in evaluation. And I offer no apology for drawing parallels between Silverberg, Kafka, and Hawthorne. Silverberg resembles these canonical authors in his thematic concern with loneliness, the social isolation of individuals. I view Hawthorne as a living author whose concerns parallel those of the modernists and whose insights still have importance. He is, of course, an early author of fables about science, and his obsessions anticipate the interests of modern genre authors, including Silverberg. As for my references to Conrad and Yeats, Silverberg himself forces the reader to look in that direction. I was merely trying to show relationships between Silverberg’s work and the mainstream of American literature (and modernist writing).      

Finally, I cannot retract my positive view of several of the later Silverberg novels. Latham suggests that Silverberg’s later career may be seen as commer-cially driven and essentially a “retrenchment.” I do not deny Silverberg’s commercial interests, but I also don’t assume that a book written in part for monetary gain is necessarily worthless. Latham evidently believes a common academic myth about Silverberg that I heard first from Brian Stableford during the mid-1980s: “Silverberg’s New Wave works were quite strong and impressive, but his later stuff is money-driven and worthless.” (I believe that Stableford had in mind Lord Valentine’s Castle [1980] and Tom o’Bedlam [1985], although an equally reputable scholar, Colin Manlove, has shown some respect for the latter.) In my view, a fair reading of such novels as At Winter’s End (1989), The Face of the Waters (1991), Hot Sky at Midnight (1994), and The Alien Years (1998) would disprove this myth of Silverberg’s “decline,” and I regret that I was not able to persuade Latham to revise his opinion.      

Rob Latham’s work displays an impressive knowledge of science fiction. I believe, however, that what he calls a “vitiating weakness” of my book is really a contention based on strongly differing conceptions of Silverberg and his career—although it’s possible that Latham’s views are currently held by the majority. I suspect, however, that some sf writers currently in favor will lose some of their luster, and that many reconsiderations of undervalued writers and works in the sf genre will be taking place in the next decade or two.—Edgar L. Chapman, Bradley University

Rob Latham responds: Let me take this opportunity to affirm, once again, that I consider Edgar Chapman’s The Road to Castle Mount to be the finest critical book yet published on Robert Silverberg’s sf. I will not rehearse my reservations about the volume, but I do want to clear up a misconception Chapman has regarding the underlying basis for my judgments in the review. I do not believe that Silverberg’s commercial motivation, at any stage of his career, necessarily compromises his artistic achievement; rather, my review argued that this opposition between art and commerce is fundamentally misguided, and that the logical contradictions and historical distortions it tends to spawn have infected Chapman’s own treatment of the author’s work. I will leave it for others to judge whether Chapman’s likening of Silverberg to Yeats, Kafka, Hawthorne, etc., is apt or not; but I would say that it is certainly proof that he is eager to remove Silverberg from the generic context of his career production and align him with a different literary canon. If Chapman felt that being a major genre craftsman, a signal member of the sf “guild,” were sufficient proof of Silverberg’s accomplishment, then he would not, I submit, have felt the need to reach for these sorts of comparisons.—RL

Death of a Luminary. Pierre Versins, sf scholar and author of the world’s first (still untranslated) encyclopedia on the genre, died on April 18th in Avignon, France. Born in 1923 in Strasbourg, Versins was a survivor of the Nazi concen-tration camps of World War II and settled in Switzerland after the war. He began writing and collecting sf in 1948, founded the first francophone sf fanzine Ailleurs in 1956, directed a successful sf radio program on Radio-Génève from 1957 to 1967, and published his massive Encyclopédie de l'utopie, des voyages extraordinaires, et de la science-fiction in 1972 (rpt. 1984). With the donation of his personal sf collection—tens of thousands of books and materials—to the town of Yverdon, Switzerland in 1976, he founded Europe’s first sf museum, the Maison d’Ailleurs (http://www.ailleurs.ch/). Today, as the new millennium unfolds and the field of sf scholarship becomes progressively more global, it is fitting that we pause to recognize this giant upon whose shoulders we stand. His legacy will be forever remembered.—ABE

Heinlein Chair at Annapolis. According to Locus (March 2001), the US Naval Academy is currently screening applicants for the Robert A. Heinlein Chair in Aerospace Engineering. Applicants should have a strong background in spacecraft design and testing as well as a serious commitment to undergraduate teaching and, appropriately, “strong communications skills.”—CM
 
Brunner’s Awards Deposited with Library.
In February 2001, awards and trophies given to the late John Brunner, who willed them to the Science Fiction Foundation, were deposited with the University of Liverpool Library by his widow Li Yi Tan Brunner. They joined a large collection of manuscripts and editions of Brunner’s books.      

John Kilian Houston Brunner (1934-1995) was one of the most prolific and varied of the postwar generation of British sf writers. A great-grandson of the founder of the Brunner-Mond chemical company (later to become ICI), he was educated at Cheltenham college. From early in his life, he was determined to become a writer. Rejecting a scholarship to Oxford, he left school just after his seventeenth birthday, following the sale of his first novel. His major achievement was an ambitious series of dystopian novels that focused on social and environmental issues, including Stand on Zanzibar (1968) and The Sheep Look Up (1972). The Shockwave Rider (1975) extrapolated the effect on society of computers and information technology and is considered by many to be one of the precursors of the cyberpunk movement of the 1980s. Among the trophies deposited with the SF Foundation Collection (held in the Sydney Jones Library) are the Hugo Award for Best Novel, two British Science Fiction Association Awards, and a number of awards attesting to Brunner’s popularity in Europe, including the Cometa d’Argento (1976, 1978) and the European Science Fiction Award (1984). Also included in this collection are trophies awarded to Brunner as Guest of Honor at various sf conventions.      

This is one of the most important collections of sf awards and trophies ever donated to a library. Images will be uploaded to a special website on which will also be seen examples of Brunner’s manuscripts. As time goes by, we would like to develop this site into a tribute to one of the field’s most challenging writers.—Andy Sawyer, Science Fiction Librarian, University of Liverpool
 
PKD Cover Story in Lingua Franca. Though scarcely news to the sf community, Philip K. Dick’s complaint in 1974 to the FBI that Marxists associated with the SFS special issue on Dick (1975) were pressuring him to endorse “a Marxist interpretation of my writings” has furnished the nucleus for the lead story in Lingua Franca: The Review of Academic Life (May/June 2001). The author, Jeet Heer, is inaccurate about some details: R.D. Mullen, for instance, the journal’s founder, is “disappeared” as its co-editor.—CM
 
Percy Shelley in the Slipstream? The February 2001 issue of the online journal  Romanticism On the Net features a special section of essays, edited by Robert Corbett, on Romanticism and sf. Among the contents: Robert Mitchell (University of Washington): “‘Here is thy fitting Temple’: Science, Technology and Fiction in Shelley’s Queen Mab”; Marjean Purinton (Texas Tech University): “Science Fiction and Techno-Gothic Drama: Romantic Playwrights Joanna Baillie and Jane Scot”; Daniel Burgoyne (University of British Columbia): “Coleridge’s ‘Poetic Faith’ and Poe’s Scientific Hoax”; Penny Bradshaw (St Martin’s College, Lancaster): “Dystopian Futures: Time-Travel and Millenarian Visions in the Poetry of Anna Barbauld and Charlotte Smith”;  Timothy Morton (University of Colorado): “Imperial Measures: Dune, Ecology, and Romantic Consumerism”; Lauren Fitzgerald (Yeshiva University): “(In)alienable Rights: Property, Feminism, and the Female Body from Ann Radcliffe to the Alien Films”; and Andrea Austin (Queen’s University): “Frankie and Johnny: Shelley, Gibson, and Hollywood’s Love Affair with the Cyborg.” The URL is <http://users.ox.ac.uk/~scat0385>. US mirror site: http://www-sul.stanford. edu/mirrors/romnet/>.—Michael Eberle-Sinatra, Editor, Romanticism on the Net
 
Sites for Feminist SF. A doctoral student at the University of Minnesota, sidney eve matrix, has designed a website that includes a research and teaching bibliography, including links to resources on virtual gender, cyberculture, and new media. The URL is <http://www.tc.umn.edu/~matri001/>.
      Vida J. Maralani’s “Women On The Edge Of Time: Science Fiction And The Feminist Movement” surveys feminist sf and is especially interesting in its focus on the importance of Joanna Russ’s The Female Man (1975). The paper is posted at <http://www.sfsu.edu/~hsa/ex-post-facto/scifi.html>.
      Tonya Browning’s “Protohistories and Protofeminists: Women and SF” is posted at:<http://www.twd.net/ird/forecast/browning.html>. This historical survey covers the 1950s and 1960s, the “feminist 1970s,” and “cyberpunk and post-feminism.”—CM
 
MLA 2000: “Race in the Fantastic.”
As chair of the Science Fiction and Utopian and Fantastic Literature discussion group’s 2000 MLA meeting, I am pleased to report that our group has enjoyed another successful year. This year’s panel participants included Sujata Iyengar of the University of Georgia, Sheng-Mei Ma of Michigan State University, and Charles Martin of Florida State University. Dr. Iyengar, whose article on race in the utopian romance is forthcoming in ELH, discussed Jeff Noon’s timely articulations of the politics of post-colonial racial segregation in his presentation “What About the Bhangradoggirls? Racial Segregation in Jeff Noon’s Vurt.” Dr. Ma, author of two books on Asian Diaspora culture, contributed a critique of sf cinema’s representations of Asian-American characters and themes in “ Hollywood Koan: Zen Masters in Sci-Fi.” Finally,  Charles Martin, whose book on nineteenth and twentieth-century writings on race, science, and sf is forthcoming from Rutgers, contributed “Leopard Boys of Science,” a fascinating discussion of the fantasy of racial transformation articulated in African-American novelist George Schuyler’s 1931 sf novel Black No More. The panel participants spoke to a lively and engaged audience of about fifty people. At the business meeting following the panel, Dr. Marleen S. Barr was unanimously appointed chair of the 2001 discussion group meeting.—Alcena Madeline Davis Rogan, Louisiana State University

Mythopoeic Conference. Mythcon XXXII will be held from August 3-6, 2001; its theme is “Many Dimensions: Modern Supernatural Fiction.” The venue is the Clark Kerr Conference Center, Berkeley, California. The Scholar Guest of Honor is David Llewellyn Dodds, editor of books on Charles Williams and John Masefield. Peter S. Beagle, author of A Fine and Private Place (1960), The Last Unicorn (1968), and many other books, is the Writer Guest of Honor. Beagle has twice won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award: for The Folk of the Air (1977) and Tamsin (2000). Beagle was Guest of Honor at Mythcon IV in 1974 and we are honored to welcome him back. The Mythopoeic Society is an international organization devoted to the study, discussion, and enjoyment of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams. For further information, see <http://www.mythsoc.org/mythcon32.html>.—Edith L. Crowe, Clark Library, San Jose State University

Call For Papers: Uses of Popular Culture. The English Department, University of Rhode Island, is holding its third annual conference on “English Studies and the Uses of Popular Culture” from Oct. 26-27, 2001 at Kingston, RI. The conference is open to graduate students and professors. Please send a brief (250 word) abstract to Theresa DeFrancis <tdefrancis@excite.com>, <tdef6304@postoffice.uri.edu> or  Amy Judd: <8900@postoffice.uri.edu> by July 20, 2001.  Postal submissions should be addressed to Theresa DeFrancis or Amy Judd, Department of English, Independence Hall, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI 02881.—Theresa DeFrancis and Amy Judd, University of Rhode Island

Arts Council Funding for Interzone. According to the Times Literary Supplement (March 30, 2001), which seemed none too pleased with the news, the edgy British sf monthly Interzone has received ₤6,800—“around ₤500 per issue” (20)—from the British Arts Council to support its operation in the coming year.—CM

Correction. In the Books Received column in the March issue (SFS 28.1: 147),  S.T. Joshi’s edition of Lovecraft, The Annotated Supernatural Horror in Literature, was printed only by Morris Publishing. The source is Hippocampus Press, Box 641, New York, NY 10156.—Neil Barron

Nota Bene! New Address for the SFS Website. Please note that the SFS website moved this spring to DePauw University and now has a new address:
<http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/homepage.htm> Don’t forget to update your bookmarks!—ABE 


moonbut.gif (4466 bytes)Back to Home