Science Fiction Studies

#83 = Volume 28, Part 1 = March 2001

John Fekete

Doing the Time Warp Again: Science Fiction as Adversarial Culture

I’m stepping through the door

And I’m floating in a most peculiar way

And the stars look very different today

—David Bowie, "Space Oddity"

Carl Freedman. Critical Theory and Science Fiction. Wesleyan UP, 2000. xx + 206 pp. $50 hc; $19.95 pbk.

For two hundred years, much of Western (high) culture has been adversarial. Humanists may regard this adversarial culture as a genuinely counterhegemonic endowment; antihumanists may regard its adversarial role as regulative of the society’s adaptation to change. Schools of cultural thought likely disagree as to the details and functions of the adversarial stance of cultural practices, which may in fact range from transcendental spiritualism to political materialism, and may even be described perspectivally as affirmative at deeper ideological levels. Nevertheless, culture has persistently been seen as a producer or repository of values and significations that have held out for more and better than the extra-cultural actuality has provided or reasonably distributed. In other words, in the culture-society opposition that Raymond Williams has famously described at length, culture has been a self-styled "alternative" to society. At the core of such culture resides the modern system of Art, including modern Literature, made up of selective traditions of putatively high-quality imaginative works that serve as a "criticism of life" (to use Matthew Arnold’s paradigmatic formulation).

By the time that Literature is specialized to the canon of high-quality imaginative works, literary studies cannot do without the operation of an equally specialized Criticism, whose function it is to provide the judgments that establish and police the boundaries of Literature. The interaction of these literary-critical practices with other selective contingencies—nationalist, centralizing, stratifying, and exclusionary, including class politics—is not itself in doubt, but the overall assessment of the legacy of canonization remains an open and deeply ambivalent question. The fact remains that what has been institutionalized through this canonic operation is not only a set of texts, nor just the rules and conventions of canon-maintenance, but first and foremost the commitment to the critical-utopian enterprise that links Literature and Criticism in the literary system.

Science fiction commentary today largely presupposes the democratization and decentralization of the modern system of Art, and the revaluation made possible by the loosening of the value hierarchy that had authorized the exalted status of a centralized high Art canon and the correspondingly low status of the popular or commercial literatures and paraliteratures (to which sf has tended to belong). The nuts and bolts discourse on sf nowadays shows little anxiety about the genre’s non-canonical status. The agendas of Science Fiction Studies, the pre-eminent regular home of academic sf scholarship, for example, have shifted during the 1990s, as indeed the journal anticipated at the beginning of that decade (Csicsery-Ronay Jr., "Editorial"). As a result, a variety of deconstructive and counter-canonical readings have increased the theoretical density of the journal and given it a new-left intellectual face that is double-coded, Janus-like, turning both to cultural critique and to a critique of the traditional presuppositions of critique. It is interesting to note a continuing consensus in sf scholarship on advancing the adversarial culture and producing an alternative discourse around creative writing of an alternativist character. At the same time, critiques frequently "post" their own grounding, as happens with other double-codings of postmodern culture, where the basic intellectual categories (certainties) of modernity are called into question and recoded. Feminist and post-feminist, Marxist and post-marxist, modernist and post-modernist, humanist and post-humanist, historicist and post-historicist, gendered and post-gendered analytic and theoretic modes of discourse step by step refashion a dialogic space that begins to appear post-critical. It is probably fair to say that the "posting" of the adversarial culture foreseen in Baudrillard’s hypothesis of the hyperreal reduction of distance between the fictive and the real, in Lyotard’s libidinal aesthetic, and in the assumptions of a number of postmodern antifoundationalists, has not yet been robustly theorized or persuasively disseminated. Nevertheless, the post-critical horizons of science fiction discourse have been announced, even if related agendas are only slowly and cautiously emerging.

Into this context arrives Carl Freedman’s Critical Theory and Science Fiction. In a science fiction milieu where dedicated works of theory reflecting on the nature of science fiction itself are relatively rare, such a book is to be welcomed, especially as it makes a real contribution by drawing attention to relationships between critical theory and sf. At the same time, the book has a strong adversarial parti pris that seems emblematic of an earlier time, or perhaps of the more traditional pole of an emerging debate. The book’s twin purposes—to show that science fiction is an intrinsically critical-theoretical generic mode, and to establish canonizing, critical-theoretical readings of five best-of-type sf texts by Stanislaw Lem, Ursula K. Le Guin, Joanna Russ, Samuel R. Delany, and Philip K. Dick—draw a line in the sand. The proposed generic definition and related critical canon will select out much of known science fiction and select in a limited array of texts grounded on historiosophical or philosophical premises that have much in common with the foundations of the selective traditions of elite Literature. The bottom line is that a highly selective generic definition of the kind that Freedman proposes would substantially narrow the legitimate membership of the sf genre and dovetail at least in part with impulses toward the kind of legitimation that is neither in the interests of the wide audiences that appreciate sf for its variety, nor any longer necessary as a strategy for drawing academic attention to sf. On closer scrutiny, indeed, the exclusionary legitimating argument turns out to be working the other side of the street, using the known and demonstrable appeals of sf to legitimate a narrowly critical reading strategy.

The fair-minded reader is likely to find assessment of Freedman’s text difficult. Freedman is an experienced sf scholar, a consultant at SFS, a frequent reviewer, and the author of a book on Orwell and of a number of articles on sf texts, perhaps best known among which is a study of paranoia and Dick’s sf (SFS 11.1 [March 1984]:15-24) and a piece on Kubrick’s film 2001 (SFS 25.2 [July 1998]: 300-18); the latter won the SFRA’s 1999 Pioneer Award. He acknowledges that he is a writer of "immodest" ambition, wishing to "do for science fiction what Georg Lukács does for the historical novel" (xv). According to the sf critic Marleen Barr (quoted on the book jacket), "he accomplishes his objective"; according to the sf theorist Darko Suvin (also on the book jacket), the "bold claim" of theoretical achievement is "buttressed by sympathetic analyses of the masterpieces." Notwithstanding such promotion, the reader will find that, in spite of a theoretically dense textual surface, and a frequently perceptive and stimulating handling of materials, the argument can be described as surprisingly undertheorized, perhaps exactly because it is overdetermined by its controlling objectives. The presentation of the argument, moreover, is rather casual in a scholarly sense, proceeding at many points by simple attribution, without much textual citation of its sources and authorities, even where entire sections of argument hang on assertions about "Lukács" or "Bakhtin" or "Bloch." This is somewhat troubling, not because the reader would prefer an encyclopedic treatment of Freedman’s project instead of the essayistic treatment he himself prefers, but simply because it gets in the way of the reader’s engagement with the problematic that he sets out to establish (xx).

More arresting still in the reading experience may be an unease that Freedman may not really like much science fiction at all, or at least that his argument will not validate much science fiction. The construction of a selective tradition of critical-theoretical works of sf as intrinsically sf—primarily the radicals of the 1960s and 1970s, and their assigned precursors in elite nineteenth-century British fiction—is supplemented by derogatory remarks about "ideologically regressive" works (e.g., Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein) and "cognitively weak" works (e.g., pulp science fiction of the 1930s to 1950s). These latter have allegedly exercised a "semantic stranglehold" over sf to the detriment of the genre and its chances for the kind of valuation that would permit canonization and the proper attention of critical theorists. Such remarks about sf, moreover, are supplemented by a number of unnecessarily belittling pronouncements about non-sf writing: detective fiction is a "deeply conservative form oriented to the past," where "reactionary" plots solve crime to restore the status quo ante (68); fantasy and Gothic are "irrationalist," and moreover "secretly ratify the mundane" (xvi-xvii); Cockaigne recasts "utopia into irrationalist form" (69); Swift’s work offers "very little genuine criticism" and is not sufficiently utopian (77); and Dostoevsky portrays static and universal affects, suited only to be relished by a "precritical reader" (32).1

"I have been working on this essay, in one way or another, for a long time," Freedman writes (xi). Indeed, looked at as an extended essay, the book is very close to the article called "Science Fiction and Critical Theory" that Freedman published in SFS in 1987 (14.2 [July 1987]: 180-200), and rests on many of the same formulations. The book and the essay are both organized into the same three main sections ("Definitions," "Articulations," and "Excursuses"), plus a conclusion. The book-length essay fleshes out the argument, however, especially in relation to claims of sf’s comparability to the historical novel (via Lukács), the utopian character of all sf (via Ernst Bloch), and multiaccentual sf stylistics (via M.M. Bakhtin). The most persuasive contributions of the book, the readings of texts under "Excursuses," are considerably expanded from the shorter piece; most notably, a fifth author, Delany, is added to the other four (and could potentially subvert the mix in the light of a different reading).

Freedman’s argument, simplified, is that real sf is Marxist, and that therefore Marxists should pay more attention to it. He claims an affinity between critical theory and science fiction, summarized in the equivalence relationship: "each is a version of the other" (xv). While he makes no effort to show that critical theory is fictional (see also endnote 2 below), he is prepared to substitute strategically the more euphemistic "critical-theoretical" for "Marxist," since the work that the book does in many of its pages is literary criticism and the slippages around "critical theory" provide a lot of wiggle room for the argument. While he does not ultimately show much Marxism in sf, he does successfully build a case to show that a number of first-rate sf works can be organized together into a critical intellectual tradition. Building that case, partly by argument and partly by extended readings that display elements resonant with the concerns argued, is the main achievement of Freedman’s book. Nevertheless, he overstates the importance of this selective tradition as equivalent to the essence of science fiction—its intrinsic generic characteristic—to the neglect, marginalization, or exclusion of other virtues or achievements. This inflated system of definitions and descriptions is then turned prescriptive, and slipping back up to the societal level of critical theory, the literary tradition thus constructed is assigned a gatekeeping task that will impact on future membership: the redemptive task, in the absence of other historical-revolutionary agencies, of keeping critical theory alive and making it effective (in order to break the total reification of the world). Through the system of slippages around "critical theory," it is hoped that literature can be pressed into social service.

Where Freedman’s argument will rightly have considerable appeal is where he places in the foreground the intersection of theoretical discourse and sf texts. Although he imagines that this site will be occupied primarily by a selective tradition of theoretical discourse (primarily Marxist) and a selective tradition of creative sf texts (primarily critical-utopian), the gesture itself is important as a recognition of a dialogue between "creative" and "theoretical" languages, which can be deployed quite widely, particularly because the dialogue, in a way that Freedman’s argument about sf’s critically estranging function never quite addresses, involves a relatively sophisticated reader who always already has discursive access to the emergent cultural symbols and the repertory of other sf texts that a particular sf text is given to exploring in its own fashion.

In nearly half of the book, Freedman’s focus is on providing readings of the challenges faced by the familiar and almost entirely human or human-like scientists, anarchists, field agents, multicultural communities, and post-war American internationals in Lem’s Solaris (1961), Le Guin’s The Dispossessed (1975), Russ’s The Two of Them (1978), Delany’s Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984), and Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1962). While these readings are of a high intellectual quality, they show, in context, untimely exclusions: specifically, a neglect of the sf literary production of the later 1980s and the 1990s, including cyberpunk sf, and also, at least by implication, a specific retraction of the body of theoretical work of the 1990s. In effect, the book shares the universe of the earlier essay. But, in the light of Borges’s meditations on Pierre Menard’s word-for-word reproduction of Cervantes’s Don Quixote, we know that conjunctural factors make a difference to the meaning and reception of a text. In Freedman’s case, time will tell how the actual reception settles these issues. Yet, while the 1987 text and its generic and canonizing arguments may have been received at the time as a consolidation of foregoing work relatively central to the preoccupations of the academic sf community, the same argument in 2000 may be received with some sense of déjà vu, some sense that the text is dated not only because of its contents but also because of its exclusions, its parti pris.

Put differently, 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 multiple-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.2

Freedman’s argument can be rehearsed in the following fashion. First, he meditates on definitions of critical theory and of science fiction, guided by a wish "to make large literary and theoretical claims" for sf (14). In regard to critical theory, he constructs a post-Kantian opposition between precritical thought and critical thought (5-7). Specifying further, he makes the claim that "critical theory is dialectical thought: that is, thought which (in principle) can take nothing less than the totality of the human world or social field for its object," while, regarding these as historical, and its own method as active and reflexive, it continually dissolves reified categories and "maintains a cutting edge of social subversion" (8). He construes Marxism as the "central instance" of modern critical theory, understanding it as "the combination of a science (historical materialism), a philosophy (dialectical materialism), and a politics (scientific socialism)" (9), and concedes that Marxism has a bit of a problem today in so far as its third element is blocked, since globalization renders the revolutionary seizure of the means of production in one country ineffective.

Here, as elsewhere, in a formula that recurs like a mantra, Freedman wipes away the crisis of Marxism by stating that the more Marxism lies in ruins, the more it is needed: "however—and any paradox here is apparent rather than real—the fact that capitalism has proved much stronger and more resilient than Marx envisaged also renders the method of critical analysis that bears his name more rather than less pertinent" (9). Some readers will find this set of allegiances instantly appealing, and may then overlook weaknesses in the book in the spirit of a phatic communion among a beleaguered, marginalized Marxist cadre. Others, unless they give up on the book on the grounds that they are not its addressees, will be able to move forward with a grain of salt to the rest of the argument, which mercifully does not frequently mobilize this apparatus, since the "critical theory" that Freedman deploys in practice throughout much of the book is, by and large, literary criticism, applied to a handful of passages and five major sf texts.

Under the heading of critical theory, Freedman names psychoanalysis as a secondary version of critical theory, its task being to develop the concept of subjectivity missing in Marx; and he also adds the "less important" body of "postdialectical" poststructuralism. He treats them as distinct interpretive technologies, and sometimes turns to these secondary tools to supplement his primary one. If one were to reflect on the emergent formation of "theory" in cultural studies, one might meditate on the intriguing peculiarity of yoking together into a single configuration a number of disparate theorists—most typically Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche—whose theoretical legacies are widely variant if not incommensurable, and whose followers have often been at each other’s throats. To be sure, these are all ideologies of suspicion, with specific additional features, but both the additional features and the consequences of turning suspicion on one another are productive of conflictual interanimations that are as important as the critical disposition they share. Freedman fails to take much advantage of the intellectual strengths of this configuration. In fact, he intends to avoid practical deviance from the Marxist master discourse in the work that the book actually does, even when he comes to supplement the discourse of critique with a discourse of utopianism.

The definition of the genre of science fiction is next. In approaching this task, Freedman sets out to cleanse sf of its pulp heritage and associations, including the film/TV equivalents of pulp, Star Wars and Star Trek, by looking for a "vital lineage" (15) that includes not only the grand originary figures such as Shelley and Wells, but also all arealistic travel narratives back to Rabelais and Lucian, the utopian line from More onward, and modern and postmodern works like those of Kafka, Joyce, Beckett, and Pynchon, specifically including such mainstream canonical figures as Dante and Milton for their alternatives to the "mundane" environment. Indeed, he suggests that "all fiction is, in a sense, science fiction" (16) in as much as all fiction provides elements of an alternative world. This is an interesting line of argument that requires further conceptual specification—and testing against the view that not only does not all fiction provide the logical relation captured in the term "alternative," but that, further, "alternative" is not a sufficient (and perhaps not a necessary) element of science fiction or even of a science-fictional tendency. In any event, pursuit of Freedman’s expansive intuition would likely produce a different book. Instead, Freedman looks for a definitional principle to limit the category of sf. To this reader’s disappointment, he does not undertake any explicit review of the state of art in sf theory. Simply, he adopts Suvin’s famous definition—the interaction of estrangement and cognition in an alternative imaginative framework—which Freedman deems "not only fundamentally sound but indispensable" (17).3

Freedman interprets Suvin’s definition as an indication that the novelties of estrangement perform an interrogation of the "mundane" environment, whose critical character is "guaranteed by the operation of cognition" (17) that allows the sf text to account rationally for its imagined world and for the relationship of that world to the empirical extratextual world. That a cognitive validation of a non-actual novelty in a fiction would be critical of the actual is assumed but not explained by Freedman, any more than that a non-actual novelty in a fiction would necessarily produce an estranging interrogation of the actual in the first place. A fuller discussion would have to detail the philosophical and historiosophical (Marxist) underpinnings upon which such assumptions need to rest, and the extent to which, in practice, the notion of critical cognition operative in all these definitions, Suvin’s and Freedman’s, is related more to the claims of a Marxist knowledge alleging insight into the dynamic forces of historical latencies and potentials for change than, for example, the claims of the philosophies of science based on quantum physics.

When Suvin developed his influential definition, it was within a narratological framework of formal norms and, at least by implication, a formal-pragmatic cognitive continuum; the formal norms on their own could not be expected to underwrite the kind of critical-pragmatic function that Suvin and Freedman would like to derive. After all, unless one assumes that form controls function, there is no necessary connection between a set of formal criteria that may serve to distinguish narrative forms in sf from other forms like realism or myth and the set of pragmatic criteria necessary, not to mention sufficient, to produce a particular effect on a reader. In any event, neither Suvin nor Freedman takes much account of the active reader envisaged in contemporary reception theory who likely brings an increasingly sophisticated and intertextual approach to the sf text. In those contingencies, are not the novelties of sf as likely to cause confirmation, or recognition, or curiosity, or boredom, or pleasure as to cause defamiliarization, much less critical defamiliarization in the sense of a shock and a revaluation?

Suvin, who had argued that "all the estranging devices in sf are related to the cognition espoused" (Metamorphoses 10), showed little ambivalence about the nature of cognition except perhaps about whether the sf novum was validated by the modern scientific method, or by the method of the modern philosophy of science (64). Freedman, however, attempts to "enrich" Suvin’s definition by suggesting that the cognitive validation of the sf estrangement does not depend on any kind of scientific method, nor, indeed, on an extratextual epistemological judgment at all, but rather on the "attitude of the text itself" to the estrangement; that is, he argues that the quality that defines sf is not cognition proper but rather a "cognitive effect" (18), which effect may be produced through cognition itself (19) or through some other means.

Freedman considers his definitional amendment not very significant. Yet arguably, the amendment actually creates a rather significant problem, not only for Suvinian genre theory but also for the pragmatic performance that Freedman would like to tease out of the amended genre definition. Once the door is open to a generic scheme in which sf depends on a merely rhetorical authentication of some estrangement, i.e., on a "cognitive effect" that is not necessarily achieved by the operation of cognitive rationality, and which may take any variety of contingent shapes, the cognitive claim for sf is compromised. Although sf may still be distinguished from texts that advance no rhetorical claim of any kind to the cognitive status of their elements, sf texts can no longer on this basis be distinguished from other forms of the fantastic that may also simulate (or stimulate) a cognitive effect, including not just theology, myth, and magic, but also any rhetorical indication of any form of hitherto unknown consequential cognition. The rhetoric of science is neither science nor philosophy of science, and the rhetoric of cognitive effect is even less the equivalent of either science or rational cognition.

On the model of Freedman’s revision, Suvin’s narratology is seriously displaced, as are Suvin’s interests in introducing sf into the literary canonization process as "a genuinely cognitive literature" (19), or indeed, a genuinely critical literature on account of its cognitive character. I do not think that Freedman is wrong to have attempted the revision, but it seems to me (though not to him) that the revision gets in the way of establishing the claim that sf is by definition a form of cognitive critique. In addition, and more specifically, when the words "science" and "fiction" are set in transaction with the words "cognition" and "estrangement," then altered from the substantive force of "science" to the level of adjectival attribution in "cognitive estrangement," and then finally, as Freedman will argue, identified with "critical theory," the grammatical and semantic slippages among the three sets of dual coding initiate a variety of conceptual slippages that would finally be more susceptible to evaluation according to the degree of interest sustained by the readings they produce than according to any standard of theoretical validity.

Freedman goes on to revise Suvin in another way (though he continues to argue as though neither this nor the previous amendment of definition take him outside the Suvinian problematic): he wishes to treat genre not as a classification to which texts are assigned, but rather as a tendency active within texts in structured combination with other generic tendencies, one of which may be dominant. In this way, he argues, all fiction may contain an sf tendency (some cognitive estrangement, some positing of an alternative world), while the term "science fiction" can be used for texts in which the sf tendency is dominant. Accordingly, where Suvin distinguished the formal properties of cognitive estrangement in sf from Brecht’s epic theater in which conventions are so stylized as to produce an "estrangement effect" on the audience, Freedman now discusses Brecht’s work as one in which the science fiction tendency is often not only strong but dominant, resting on his arealistic alternative loci which enforce, not technological estrangements, but rather "critical Marxian estrangements of Western capitalist society with regard to such fundamental issues as war, love, family, commerce, and morality" (22) .

It should be said, by contrast to Freedman’s argument, that a fictional world is not necessarily an "alternative" world: it is a fictitious world. Moreover, a novum in a fictional world that is validated by a "cognitive effect" is not thereby rendered really possible in the nonfictional world. The non-actuality of the fictional world is ontologically different from the non-actuality of a nonfictional possible world (hypothesis, counterfactuality, thought experiment—all of which share the logical space of the actual world). Logically, a fictional world does not ramify into the nonfictional world. In particular, an sf text does not reproduce, represent, mirror, duplicate, or extrapolate the nonfictional world, whether that world is regarded objectivistically or rhetorically. The estrangement (the posited novum) produced in a fictional world is not the same as the estrangement effect (defamiliarization) desired in the nonfictional world. The semiotic mediations that will connect the imaginative fictional world and the nonfictional world have to be worked out with some attention to the ontology of fiction, from which fictional structures are derived, and which is exactly what makes it possible for fiction as fiction to become pragmatically engaged with the nonfictional world under contingent conditions. The net effect of the Suvin-revision performed by Freedman in order "to emphasize the dialectical character of genre and the centrality of the cognition effect" (23) is finally to confound all the distinctions between possible/alternative and fictional worlds, and to authorize Freedman as critic to cherry-pick elements from fictional worlds with which to confront allegedly corresponding elements from the nonfictional world to produce an allegedly critically and cognitively estranging effect.

Having organized his definitions of critical theory and science fiction, Freedman is ready in the second chapter to "articulate certain structural affinities between the two terms" (23). His claim to originality is that he will examine critical theory and science fiction together with a new level of detail sufficient to understand the relationship (xix). The complex second chapter, "Articulations," is broadly about canonization, and is devoted to the argument that every kind of reading privileges its own canon. Freedman says that "the central claim of the entire current essay" is that "critical theory itself, especially in its most central, Marxian version, does implicitly privilege a certain genre; and the genre is science fiction…. I now maintain that the most conceptually advanced forms of criticism unconsciously privilege a genre that has been widely despised and ghettoized" (30). Again, there is a disabling slippage of levels here. What are the "most conceptually advanced forms of criticism"? And what literary objects occupy them currently? Why would or should they change to sf? Were Lukács and Bakhtin wrong to concern themselves with fiction? Would their equivalents be wrong to concern themselves with realist fiction today? or postcolonial fiction? or feminist fiction? or experimental fiction? Is it wrong for Adorno or his contemporary equivalents to be concerned with music or poetry as the means of critical protest best suited to a critical Marxism? And what does it mean, anyway, that criticism "unconsciously" privileges a genre, in contradistinction to the evidence of conscious object-choice in the critical enterprise of selection and promotion?

Freedman, I think, never does prove this case. He asks "why do most critical theorists seem to have been unaware" (30) of the fact that sf is privileged for critical theory, and concludes that sf was marginalized in the canon by conservative prejudice and the hegemony of precritical thought, and that even critical theorists have neglected this sector of the literary market in favor of Balzac, Goethe, Dostoevsky, Shakespeare, or other canonical works because they too were "swayed by socially normative conservatism" (92). This argument is probably not likely to sway critical theorists to transfer their literary interests to sf. What Freedman nevertheless sets out to do to effect a remedy is to make an argument from homology, i.e., that structurally, critical theory and science fiction are the same:

I maintain that science fiction, like critical theory, insists upon historical mutability, material reducibility, and utopian possibility. Of all genres, science fiction is thus the one most devoted to the historical concreteness and rigorous self-reflectiveness of critical theory. The science-fictional world is not only one different in time and place from our own, but one whose chief interest is precisely the difference that such difference makes. It is also a world whose difference is concretized within a cognitive continuum with the actual—thus sharply distinguishing science fiction from the irrationalist estrangements of fantasy or Gothic literature (which may secretly work to ratify the mundane status quo by presenting no alternative to the latter other than inexplicable discontinuities). (xvi-xvii)

This is the core of Freedman’s argument, developed in a chapter that takes up more than a third of the overall text. There is something static and essentialist in Freedman’s enterprise, starting with the homological procedure, which is itself fatally flawed. It is not clear—and, though his deployment of these terms in his critical practice has interest and value, he does not demonstrate—that these three defining values (historicity, materialism, and utopianism) provide adequate or sufficient means for defining the structures of either critical theory or science fiction; nor does he show that critical theory and science fiction are uniquely intelligible as expressions of independent structures so defined. These two entities, critical theory and science fiction, may in fact have "utterly distinct magnitude and properties," as Jameson warns in writing about the dangers of homological identification (Postmodernism 187).

Some attention to narratology, to logic, and to the semantics of fictional and possible worlds would help to clarify some of the slippages in the argument. In particular, and as noted, possible states share a logical continuum with actual states; fictional worlds do not. Moreover, textual cognitive effects, as rhetorically produced effects, may have little to do with extratextual cognition or the continuum it dominates. It is not clear that Freedman—having modified the stronger Suvinian reliance on the extratextual method of scientific cognition as the validating factor of the intratextual novelties to his own formula of an intratextual "cognitive effect"—remains entitled to claim a "cognitive continuum" between sf and the extratextual actuality. The slippage here is that there is nothing finally in Freedman’s treatment of the sf text, either in the argument or the readings, that theorizes sf’s fictional character. In any event, any argument to the effect that it would be the texts themselves, by their nature, which could command a critical-theoretical response, or any other predetermined response, amounts to preempting the active role of the reader, who approaches texts not so much by way of responding to formal properties with prescribed pragmatic effects, but rather through a contingent process where the texts engage a reader’s subjective economy and drives, even while the reader is accessing the intertextual and semiotic resources and the theoretical languages available in the receptive process.

What Freedman does do is to implicate Bakhtin, Lukács, and Bloch in his attempt to demonstrate the affinity between critical theory and science fiction. The arguments are lengthy, though citations from the three authorities are rare. It is recommended that the reader wade into the argument with an open mind and a dialogic skepticism. There is too much detail to summarize, so I will offer only a few observations. At the level of stylistics, Bakhtin’s work on the heteroglossic composition of the dialogic novel is claimed as a justification for sf’s multiaccented and polyvalent linguistic style, in noncompliance with the normative aesthetics patrolling the boundaries of canonization. Indeed, says Freedman, "the entire dialogic in Bakhtin’s sense is in the end nothing other than the (primarily Marxian) dialectic as manifest in literary (and linguistic) form" (40). The whole discussion proceeds as though the canon of fiction in which sf has marginal status were still controlled by or struggling against a stylistic poetics based on nineteenth-century lyric poetry; as though all sf language were multiaccentual like the Dick passages examined; as though sf had a better claim on heteroglossic style than the polyphonic non-sf novel for which Bakhtin developed the concept; and, indeed, as though it were the form itself, in the end, rather than the heteroglot and dialogic interaction between reader and form, that operated as the effective site of an unfinalizable discourse. As to his assertion of identity between dialogue and dialectic, Freedman seems unaware of or indifferent to the fact that Bakhtin, who considered the dialectic to be a monologic reduction of living language practices to a singular abstraction, explicitly contrasted the dialogue to the dialectic (Speech Genres 147).

Borrowing a suggestion from Suvin and Jameson that there may be an interesting connection between the historical novel and sf, Freedman overlooks Jameson’s caution about overstretching the connection and turns to Lukács’s work on the historical novel to focus on narrative structure with regard to sf’s affinity with critical theory. In general, the argument is that the historical novel’s past and sf’s future both historicize the present. That is, the historical novel denaturalizes the present "by showing it to be neither arbitrary nor inevitable but the conjunctural result of complex, knowable material processes" (56). Meanwhile, the future, though factually less set than the past, exists for the sake of the present as "a locus of radical alterity to the mundane status quo, which is thus estranged and historicized as the concrete past of potential future" (55). Freedman takes this idea from Jameson, for whom it serves in fact as a melancholy reminder of a contemporary waning of historicity and an inability to imagine the future and, by extension, the inability to imagine utopia ("Progress" 152). Jameson also argues that even the ability to imagine the present as history through the imaginary future is no longer available because, he contends, everyday habits of futurology and speculation about future scenarios prefigure the experience of the future and forestall "any global vision of the latter as a radically transformed and different system" (Political 285).

Freedman, more given to abstract schematism than Jameson, and in a departure from the unacknowledged full argument of his source, treats the whole subject triumphally, confident of the "historical and … utopian force that the future possesses in major science fiction" (55). Accordingly, Freedman also revisits the literary history of sf, incorporating Jameson’s argument that sf gets established, with Verne and Wells, at the end of the nineteenth century, just when the historical novel decays as a genre, and that it inscribes a sense of the future where a sense of the past had been before. Freedman adapts this argument to embrace Brian Aldiss’s sf historiography that has Mary Shelley stand as the first sf writer; he then accounts for the gap between Shelley at the beginning and Verne/Wells at the end of the century by arguing that sf takes longer to establish itself than realism because it needs a longer gestation period, "in part because of the greater difficulty of creatively managing the freedom that science fiction demands" (54).

Finally, Freedman turns to Bloch to argue that utopia is not the opposite of critique but rather an aspect of it, though Freedman means not the literary utopia proper (which he considers inferior to critical-utopian sf) but rather the prefiguration of the positive fulfilment of utopian longing in a future of collectivity, solidarity, and plenitude. Utopia is thus a category both social and psychological and, for Freedman, it is a form of cognition and, indeed, "a version of critical theory itself" (66), which now rests on a dialectic of positive and negative. The standpoint of the hope principle, the standpoint of utopian homecoming, is the standpoint of "the transparency that only a postrevolutionary classless society could enable" (67). Freedman is particularly attracted to Bloch’s interpretation of the communal longings of Nazi Germany and the Ku Klux Klan. Though mendaciously pseudo-utopian, nevertheless "the regressive pseudo-utopian wish contains some measure of utopia itself" (66). Freedman admires the "dialectical poise" that finds positivity even in fascist distortion, that can construe plenitude out of privation: "a very partial prefiguration of true collectivity" (67).

It may strike the reader as exceedingly odd that Freedman does not find the group egotism of the Nazi dystopia critically estranging of his own taken-for-granted communal longings, i.e., that his gestures via Bloch toward the communal longings of the Nazis and the KKK do not raise in him some element of self-doubt about the projects of communal plenitude. Indeed, it seems odd generally that Freedman does not assign sufficient value to individuality to recognize that a humane future is poorly conceptualized as a replacement of the contradictory character of the present with eternal communal harmony. Freedman’s own uncritical wish for transparency, however, places the substantive problems of the Blochian transcendence beyond interrogation, and keeps Freedman’s own attention narrowly focused on a kind of methodological incantation. Thus, he goes on to say, the negative dimension of the utopian dialectic, astringent demystification, in every concrete instance "points to a corresponding positivity and plenitude, that is, to authentic utopian fulfillment" (67). Of all critical theories, says Freedman, this utopian hermeneutic has the deepest affinity with sf, because sf foregrounds and demystifies the deprivations of "mundane" reality and thereby points toward some authentic plenitude by contrast.

At the higher levels of theory, it is not possible to square such idealizations with any thoroughgoing critique of rationalism, metaphysics, or concepts like plenitude, transparency, collectivity. In fact, one of the disappointing features of Freedman’s book is that it is not his practice to test his assumptions, arguments, readings, or authorities against the critical perspectives on them that other critical-theoretical discourses have offered, not even when the members of his own very short list of "critical theories" might be in tension with one another, as in this case of a theologically inflected, transcendentalist Blochian-Marxist utopianism that could and should be usefully interrogated by both psychoanalytic thought and poststructuralist thought. Meanwhile, at the level of literary criticism, Freedman has given himself by this move unrestricted power to construct any text any way he likes. If negative can be flipped over into positive and positive can be flipped into negative, the matrix of characterizations open to the critic can make any text stand for whatever the critic wants.

If the example is the "hatefully militaristic" Farnham’s Freehold (1964) of Heinlein, which is considered sexist and racist and becomes a "cult book of the neofascist survival movement," it can still be interpreted in terms of its utopian potential, says Freedman, since the postnuclear freehold "supplies images of real human solidarity, however patriarchal and authoritarian," which in fact account for the "demented love" that the book has inspired among readers (71). If Asimov’s I, Robot (1950) or Clarke’s Childhood’s End (1953) do not fit what Freedman describes as the critical essence of sf—i.e., "make major retreats from the conceptual radicalism intrinsic to the generic tendency of science fiction" (70)—nevertheless these texts have hidden reserves of utopian energy that account for their appeal. Then, on the flip side, in the case of Wells’s devolutionary Time Machine (1895): since every negativity conceals its own implicit positivity, argues Freedman, "the various privations of Wells’s imagined future suggest corresponding (but antithetical) possibilities of collective fulfillment" (82). On the other hand, if Freedman does not feel like deploying the redemptive utopian hermeneutic at all, then whole genres can be consigned to the ideological dustbin as we have seen: apparently detective fiction is too reactionary, and poetry too monological, to be redeemed.

What is remarkable here with this transmutation of demystifying critical theory into a critical utopia is that the historical metaphysics of socialism and the cultural mysticism of a utopian fulfillment join with a methodological voluntarism such that the entire package is completely unmoored from any hard-headed historicity. When Freedman says that "the telos of critical theory in general can only be the transformation (in thought, language, and action) of reality into utopia" (67), we are face to face with an unreconstructed throwback to a version of teleological Marxism, which has simply not had the intellectual honesty to face up to its tragic and disappointing journey through the twentieth century. When Freedman says that "the elaborate demystifying apparatuses of Marxist (and, though to a lesser degree, Freudian and even some poststructuralist) thought exist, ultimately, in order to clear space upon which positive alternatives to the existent can be constructed" (67-68), we are witnessing a critical apparatus that has veered back to the same rationalism that was to be demystified.

I will leave it to the reader to discover the stimulations of Freedman’s excursuses, where he reads major texts in which he finds concerns proper to critical theory and extends his general argument about the affinity between sf and critical theory. These readings are intelligent and thorough in their own terms, even though they could be performed differently. In general, Freedman turns to each book for something else. He finds a cognitive-epistemological cluster of issues in Lem’s Solaris, where he considers the category of the Other and the provisionality of knowledge. He does not take that insight into discussion of the next book, which portrays an overarching rationalist ambition as simply the overcoming of walls. Instead, the ethical-political cluster is brought to the foreground of Le Guin’s Dispossessed, which Freedman treats as the reinvention of the positive utopia. This text, he argues, is closer to Trotsky than to anarchism, and Anarres, which Freedman accepts as a positive utopian site, somewhat degenerated by the pressures of achieving "anarchism in one country," is accorded critical support, as Trotskyists used to give critical support to the old Soviet Union. Freedman does not consider that this book may represent a new kind of "ambiguous" utopia, as described in its title.

Freedman wants to use Russ’s The Two of Them to show the special compatibility of feminist critical thought with science fiction. He does not, however, project the very hard feminism examined here back into the discussion of Le Guin’s book, for example, although Le Guin’s extensive incorporation of feminist concerns into her text could be usefully interrogated and confronted with the different version. Nor does he hesitate for long before accepting, via "the ethical logic of the preemptive strike" (142), the murder of the male protagonist by the female. Feminist theory already has a name for this gendercidal move in feminist fiction: androcide. Freedman reports the problem, but ducks imposing political and aesthetic questions about this practice, meditating instead on the Blochian transfiguration of the totally negative into the totally positive by flipping despair into utopia. With Delany’s Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, Freedman explores the extensive staging of multicultural difference, but, finally, his interest is to recuperate Delany’s poststructural construction into totality. With Dick’s Man in the High Castle, Freedman revisits the issue of the historicity of sf and treats the text as metageneric, i.e., a textualization of the critical interrogation of the generic form of sf itself. I think it would be particularly interesting in this context for critics to consider the literary-theoretical differences between the non-actualized alternative worlds of possible history and the fictitious histories actualized in fictional worlds.

Freedman has high praise for these books and authors. For example, The Dispossessed is "the most enduring and unavoidable landmark in modern American science fiction" (129); Stars in My Pocket is "the most intellectually ambitious work in the entire range of modern science fiction" (147); Joanna Russ and Le Guin are "the two preeminent female writers in the genre since Mary Shelley" (129; emphasis in original); Philip K. Dick is "the finest and most interesting writer in the entirety of science fiction" (164). Such comments are canonizing comments, hagiography. Freedman’s fine readings of the five texts draw on a range of motifs from the first decade or so of SFS, with the result that the readings, though certainly his own, are likely to feel familiar to experienced sf readers. In other words, there are no great surprises here. These readings consolidate. They go, moreover, with the grain of the authors’ concerns. They might have been written by the authors themselves. In one way, this is high praise for Freedman’s literary commentary. On the other hand, as I suggested in the capsule summaries above, these readings and the texts they construe or construct do not confront each other; in fact, they confront each other less than the authors are known to have confronted each other through their texts and in cultural debate. It is possible that the reader will be champing at the bit in a desire to find these texts problematized rather than appreciated mimetically.

In a sense, the new critical-theoretical treatment of critical-theoretical sf texts is not very different from any other criticism in the critical tradition. It is assumed that the texts themselves perform the desirable social mission, that they are critical-theoretical, and that they fulfill with imaginative quality the Arnoldian criticism of life that entitles them to their place in a literary canon; therefore the critical reading of these texts can be quite deferential, performing the text’s script for performing itself. The critic can construe what the text criticizes according to the conventions of the critical enterprise, so that surprises will be few and satisfactions will be assured all around.

In his conclusion, Freedman returns to the larger narratives of critical theory, in a relatively brief reflection on postmodernism and late modernity. The general construction here is that the modernist project was adversarial, while the conditions of postmodern cultural production provide the basis for complacency. On this account, the postmodern era is really a kind of late modernity, where we live in a wholly modernized environment, a kind of achieved pure modernity. In this context, art, and the aesthetic as a specialized department in life, survive, against society, as "one of the few oases available in the general affective aridity" (190). This is the adversarial culture still, supplementing an anaesthetic social life, in exactly the construction that has persisted since Romanticism. Meanwhile, claims Freedman, critique is considered useless to the economy and stigmatized as dangerous because it insists on a dialectical interrogation of the given. "Indeed," writes Freedman, with disappointment, "it is not clear that the dominant middle-class order really requires any thinking at all above the level of mere technique" (191); what is worse, he continues, the totality is increasingly hard to conceptualize, even as postmodern capitalism becomes an increasingly seamless totality. There are no models to concretize the Marxist concept of revolution. In the absence of collective praxis, precritical empiricism is again on the rise (192).

Freedman quotes from Adorno’s Minima Moralia (Suhrkamf, 1951) that in the age of the liquidation of the individual, the question of individuality must be re-raised. The dialectical spirit and the critical attitude must be kept alive (194). The reader who knows that North American universities are more full of Marxists than ever before and that the year 2000 is no longer the liquidationist moment of Western history must wonder what on earth Freedman is talking about, and why he thinks he is living in the hyperventilating mental universe of an Adorno traumatized under fascism. Nor is this posture consistent with the many pages of collectivist utopianizing in the earlier sections of the book. There has been no theoretical preparation for this position in Freedman’s argument. He insists, nevertheless, that now the critical project is necessarily cast "in those individual terms traditionally more familiar to the project of the aesthetic" (193). This would not in itself be bad except that, as was said in the 1920s (and since frequently satirized), Freedman concludes that art must save us.

Now Freedman does not like cyberpunk, the actually existing aesthetic sf movement of the late 1980s, because he thinks cyberpunk texts imitate key features of capitalism and then accept everything, resolving into "an uncritical conservatism" (198). They display an indicative understanding but offer up, in the "imperative mode," "little but a banal, cringing surrender" (198). No wonder, says Freedman, that those who don’t understand the "counter-hegemonic conceptual resources of science fiction" (198) are the people who tend to praise cyberpunk (pace Bukatman, McCaffery, McHale). So, what is to be done remains therefore a task facing the sf to come, since sf is the form most allied with critical theory, and is also in our time the "privileged generic tendency for utopia, that is, for those anticipatory figurations of an unalienated future that constitute the deepest critical truth of which art is capable…. [U]topia has never been so desperately needed as it is now, in our postmodern environment that ruthlessly tends toward total reification" (199). What exactly then "must now be the principal vocation of science fiction"? "To imagine a social organization beyond alienation and exploitation, or to imagine sociopolitical forces more decisive than the regime of exchange-value (of ‘the market,’ in currently fashionable jargon)" (199).

Freedman has of course hit rock bottom here. If we follow his argument, we arrive at virtually total reification, with no rupture in sight, no agencies to pin hopes on, no collective praxis. Indeed, to go on with his evacuation of the Marxism he is so attached to, we are left with no universal subject-object, no class struggle, no concept of revolution, no road-map to utopia. There is nothing left but hope, and the dreams of hope, that a few more books like the ones from the 1960s and 1970s might conjure up the right image of progressive forces that will then somehow materialize. We arrive at the end of Marxism’s tether. The only card Freedman has left to play is the Blochian flip from the utterly negative to the positive, for which he has argued throughout, and particularly with respect to the ending of The Two of Them. This is a classic 1970s trope, famously embraced by the Weather Underground in their last worst days, and immortalized in a number of the kinds of books Freedman particularly values: the trope is creatio ex nihilo; a more naturalized version is "the dark before the dawn." The idea is that where there is nothing left but hope, hope is magically transmuted into the most powerful preillumination of and prelude to a utopian turn-around. As Janis Joplin sang: "Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose," so in Russ "for the first time, something will be created out of nothing" (cited 145); in Le Guin, dispossession, the philosophy and condition of being empty-handed, is the key to becoming the revolution; in Marge Piercy, the worst moment of dispossession for an already lacerated and brutalized minority woman in New York, the moment of body invasion, brain surgery, and mind control, becomes also the moment of the revolutionary strike back that begins to tip the future toward utopia in Mattapoisett rather than dystopia in Gildina’s world. Breakdown becomes breakthrough.

Historically, Critical Theory proper, i.e., the Frankfurt School, also found itself at an impasse in contemplating the failure of Marxism in the face of what appeared as virtually total reification. After all, the process of modernization, if all objectivation is understood as alienation in the Hegelian manner, will produce the Lukácsian construction of total reification. In any event, the problematic of reification goes back beyond Lukács to Weber. Frankfurters could not pin their hopes on the proletariat and the party, and without these they were left with the Iron Cage and a totalizing, self-reinforcing logic of decline. As with Freedman, the impasse produced its share of redemptionist fantasies. On Joel Whitebook’s account:

Horkheimer and Adorno, like Lukács before them and Foucault in his neostructuralist phase after them, adopt a position that might be characterized as Weberian monism. Such a monism, despite the differences among its various adherents, identifies a tendency toward the totalization of one underlying process—for example, rationalization, commodification, technification, reification, instrumentalization, or power—as the essential dynamic of modernity and views all other developments, including the normative and democratizing innovations of modernity, as epiphenomenal to it. (78)

This is Freedman’s problem as well. Since he apparently cannot find, in the year 2000, one uncorrupted element within the totality that could serve as the basis of an immanent critique, and since he does not want to adopt a position of resignation, his monistic analysis of commodification in postmodernity calls for a holistic transfiguration of the totality. All he can do is to instigate the search for the radical Other of commodification. Conveniently, on his own argument, this Other turns out to be the critical-theoretical science fiction tradition that his own essay has constructed. Freedman is looking in his own mirror.

Nobody else needs to go through this looking glass with Freedman. His larger theoretical gestures and narratives can be set aside. Those stories have been better told; and better stories are already being exchanged throughout the culture. Meanwhile, his argument for the interest and value of a critical tradition inside sf is useful, and would be commendable if it were constructed without claims of superiority or privilege with respect to the defining qualities of sf. In the end, what is probably more desirable for sf at this moment is less of a selective moralism, less of a didactic sorting between real novum and fake novum (on Suvin’s model)4 or between critical estrangement and some other, allegedly lesser, kind of fictional interest (on Freedman’s direction), and more attention to what sf actually does and to what readers do to and with sf, including the professional readers, and also including the political readers, but not only the political readers. By sf I mean here the entire multimedia intertext of sf works, including the dialogized heteroglossia of sf reception by elite and mass audiences, and by readers I mean all the readers, in all their contingencies, who access sf for some measure of human gratification. Whenever we reach for an identity relationship (sf = critical theory), we may gain something from the comparison but we risk losing more from the limits of the equivalence. We risk losing the wonderful novelties of what sf has been and will come to be to all those who love it or at least take an interest in it. There is not enough aesthetics in Freedman and even less miracle and wonder. Let’s keep our eyes on those things too.


1. Needless to say, perhaps, neither sf theorists nor Marxists are required to sign on to such judgments. Just to take two examples: Dostoevsky is Bakhtin’s model for the polyphonic narrative that is the best dialogical use of the heteroglossia that Freedman validates elsewhere and claims on behalf of sf; Fredric Jameson, speaking of the subversive strategies of nonhegemonic cultural voices, makes better use in my view of Bloch’s critical-utopian reading by citing him in relation to the pays de Cocagne: Bloch "restores the dialogical and antagonistic content of this ‘form’ by exhibiting it as a systematic deconstruction and undermining of the hegemonic aristocratic form of the epic" (Political 86). As to detective fiction, it is surely unhelpful to dismiss an entire genre on the basis that it is "oriented to the past," especially in a text that takes the historical romance as a standard. In any event, if the restoration of order (which, in fact, not all detective fiction achieves or aims for) were intrinsically reactionary, then all comedy and much of formula sf (where some threatening novum is absorbed) would have to be so characterized and dismissed, rather than, for example, treated as a prefiguration of a utopian possibility, as Freedman does elsewhere.

2. The outlines of Freedman’s parti pris were already in evidence in 1988, shortly after the publication of his "Science Fiction and Critical Theory" piece, in the course of a disagreement between him and myself. In my essay "The Stimulations of Simulations: Five Theses on Science Fiction and Marxism," I argued (in a slightly mischievous Baudrillardian fashion), for a postmodernist reading of sf, including a reading of Marxism as a specific subset of sf that happens to mistake itself for the "real" and which is not suitable to be used as a canonizing benchmark for the approval/disapproval of sf and sf theory (312). Not only did two of the contributing editors respond critically to the piece, but Freedman also responded with a defense of Marxist objectivism against rhetorical inscription and with an expression of shock (if not surprise) at the "extent to which the Marxist tradition remains an undiscovered continent" ("Another" 117). I would argue now, as then, that moral and political commitment cannot be simply correlated with methodological dispositions; moreover, that an antifoundational theoretical dissent from Marxist objectivism and metaphysics, and from the selective critical and value traditions, frequently elitist, that its practitioners are prepared to acknowledge, may well be placed in the service of at least comparable and perhaps, in some circumstances, more open and more democratic practices of aesthetics, ethics, and politics. In short, the Marxist tradition, undiscovered or not, holds no necessary privilege.

3. In a strong dissent, Samuel Delany not only opposes the pseudoscientific argumentation that proceeds from definitions to origins—as Freedman will here move from a dominant of cognitive estrangement to Mary Shelley (rather than pulp fiction) as the origin of sf—but specifically lampoons the Suvin definition of cognition and estrangement as incapable of definitional rigor, and likely to produce surrealism about science, or fantasy about science, or any number of such variant applications ("Politics" 270, 260). While I agree that definitional rigor has been elusive (whether or not it is desirable), it also remains true that Suvin’s definition has been influential to the point of near-hegemonic force in academic sf circles at least. In my view, it was brilliant and useful in its day, but is ripe for review in our intellectual situation two or three decades down the road. Freedman’s vote for further institutionalization of the Suvin definition notwithstanding, sf genre theory will remain underdeveloped until there is a lot more work done in this area. It is also worth recalling that Suvin’s definition was bound to literature, from which Freedman in effect sets it free, even though in the current book he applies the definition only to a literary tradition. Freedman’s variant on "cognitive estrangement" is "critical theory," which is of course susceptible to further permutations: political theory, science of judgment, moral certainty, true analysis, epistemological critique, demystifying knowledge, etc. "Critical theory" and "science fiction" are both further articulated by Freedman in the terms of "historical mutability," "material reducibility," and "utopian possibility," thereby adding further terms that would ensure an even greater range of permutations in variant applications.

4. All moralists from Plato and More to Morris and Suvin, in arguing for selective traditions and restricted economies of gratification, find themselves in some fashion distinguishing between "true" needs and "false" needs. Suvin, in his famous book, writes: "a novum is fake unless it in some way participates in and partakes of what Bloch called the ‘front-line of historical process’—which for him (and for me) as a Marxist means a process intimately concerned with strivings for a dealienation of men and their social life" (Metamorphoses 81-82). The Marxist striving for human self-identity through the instrument of a critical knowledge that claims to understand what is a true need, a true novum, a true historical contingency, a true tendency latent in reality, and the true front-line of historical process, has produced a troubling legacy in the socialist century that we have just left behind, prompting defection from, or at least a "posting" of, elitist Marxism. Need it be said that looking for another way intellectually is far from giving up on the thousand-year search for social justice, solidarity, freedom, autonomous personality, and the good and beautiful life? And need it be added, as a postmarxist and postcritical consideration, that those who have no guarantee of a redemptive future must be wary of degrading the present into mere convention or total sinfulness?


Bakhtin, M.M. Speech Genres and Other Late Essays, ed. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist; trans. Vern W. McGee. Austin: U of Texas P, 1986.

Csicsery-Ronay Jr., Istvan. "Editorial Introduction: Postmodernism’s SF/SF’s Postmodernism." SFS 18.3 (November 1991): 305-08.

Delany, Samuel R. "The Politics of Paraliterary Criticism." In Shorter Views: Queer Thoughts & The Politics of the Paraliterary. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan UP, 1999. 218-70.

Fekete, John. "The Stimulations of Simulations: Five Theses on Science Fiction and Marxism." SFS 15.3 (November 1988): 312-23.

Freedman, Carl. "Another Response to John Fekete." SFS 16.1 (March 1989): 116-17.

Jameson, Fredric. "Progress Versus Utopia; or, Can We Imagine the Future?" SFS 9.2 (1982): 147-58.

-----. The Political Unconscious: Narrative As a Socially Symbolic Act. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1981.

-----. Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1991.

Suvin, Darko. Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre. New Haven: Yale UP, 1979.

Whitebook, Joel. Perversion and Utopia: A Study in Psychoanalysis and Critical Theory. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1995.

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