Science Fiction Studies

# 19 = Volume 6, Part 3 = November 1979


Witkiewicz in Translation

Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz. Insatiability. Translated by Louis Iribarne. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977. xiv + 447 p. $15

In early September, 1939, a few days after the Nazi invasion of Poland, Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, like thousands of other refugees, fled from Warsaw towards the east. On September 17, he learned that the Soviet Union had attacked from the east. Feeling that his darkest apprehensions about the triumph of totalitarianism were coming true and that there was no escape, the 54-year-old author committed suicide the next day by slitting his wrists with a razor.

Painter, playwright, novelist, aesthetician, and philosopher, Witkiewicz -- or Witkacy as he called himself -- belongs to the writers and thinkers known in Poland as catastrophists, who sprang up in the period framed by two world wars, the first of which brought the Polish state back into existence after nearly 150 years of dismemberment, and the second of which threatened the nation with total annihilation. Poised between cataclysms, Witkacy forecast an apocalyptic close to Western civilization and wrote with sardonic humor about the approaching end of the world.

The major theme in all of Witkacy's works is the growing mechanization of life, understood not as dehumanizing technology, but rather as social and psychic regimentation. In dozens of plays and two large novels, Witkacy portrays the threatened extinction of a decadent individualism. The degenerate remnants of a once creative mankind will be replaced by a new race of invading levelers who will establish the reign of mass conformity, modeled on the beehive and anthill -- by what Orwell calls "insect-men."

Thoroughly -- although ironically -- Euro-centric, the author of Insatiability most often presents the invading forces as coming from the outside, representing a different culture that will subvert moribund old world values. In his first literary work, the one-act comedy Cockroaches, which at the age of 7 Witkacy printed on his own hand-press, a menacing gray object in the sky drawing closer and closer is revealed to be a cloud of cockroaches from America. Undoubtedly the precocious child, hearing his father discuss the mechanization of work in the United States according to the assembly line principles of F. W. Taylor, associated modern mass production with notions of collectivity, alien and deeply inimical to the individuality so highly prized by the Witkiewicz family. Brought up in the picturesque mountain resort of Zakopane and educated entirely at home according to this father's elite system, young Witkacy was nurtured on contempt for the mob (whatever its class origins) and trained to revere art, although the boy had doubts about his own vocation and longed to be part of a school world forbidden to him.

Four years as a tsarist officer in Russia, where he witnessed the last days of St. Petersburg and lived through the February 1917 Revolution, even being elected political commissar by his regiment, gave Witkacy an entirely new perspective on the collectivist threat and caused him to revise drastically his ideas about the supreme importance of art and artists in the 20th century. In a long series of plays, which the painter-playwright began immediately after his return to Poland in 1918, Witkacy showed, in vivid but disintegrating images, the collapse of an ancien régime composed of obsolete individualists -- decadent artists, demonic women, Nietzschean supermen -- which is overrun by "the uniform, gray, sticky, stinking, monstrous mass."

Although seen largely from the point of view of the doomed social class of "pseudo-Hamlets" who have lost faith in their own reason for existence and been rendered grotesquely impotent, Witkacy's dramas also include in the dramatis personae the amoral adventurers who take over revolution and exploit it for their own advantage. In times of violent social upheaval, those who come out on top are not the ideologically pure but the ruthlessly opportunistic. In They (1920), a prophetic play dealing in thought control, confession to uncommitted crimes, the destruction of modern art, and government by informers and secret organizations, Witkacy explores the real, as opposed to the apparent, sources of power. THEY, ubiquitous and protean, have assumed control of the institutions of public life and, in the guise of the League of Absolute Automationism, enforce the tyranny of society over the individual.

Unlike Capek in R.U.R. and Kaiser in the Gas trilogy, the Polish playwright was little concerned with the enslavement of man to the machine or the dangers inherent in advanced industrialization. For Witkacy, modern science and modern art are allies in the struggle against the anthill; both are subversive of stability and uniformity and must be rigidly controlled by the new tyrants. Well versed in the theories of Einstein, Whitehead, Bohr, Mach, Cantor, and Heisenberg, Witkacy recognized that the conventions of realistic drama are based on mechanistic Newtonian physics. In his own plays he attempted to create a new dramatic model (which he called Pure Form) derived as much from the discoveries of the new mathematics as from Picasso's breakthrough in non-representational painting. In his most farsighted antiutopian play of the 1920's, Gyubal Wahazar, the automated political realm of the future is portrayed as "a sixth-dimensional continuum," in which human nature has become something infinitely malleable and subject to endless transmutation. Subtitled "Along the Cliffs of the Absurd, a Non-Euclidean Drama in Four Acts," Gyubal Wahazar abandons old-fashioned psychology and techniques of story-telling in order to portray future totalitarianism as a world of indeterminacy and relativity; this anticipates by a few years Evgeny Zamyatin's thesis in "On Literature, Revolution, Entropy, and Other Things," that modern art forms must abandon fixed plane co-ordinates and project reality onto fast-moving, curved surfaces. Known as "His Onlyness," the insane dictator Wahazar -- a super-individualist who wishes to liberate mankind from metaphysical longings and return the human community to the primal harmony of the beehive -- becomes a martyr to his own cult of the leader, but upon his death, the frightening Dr. Rypmann is able to fabricate new tyrants by "the fission of the psychic atom," and the nightmare continues.*

During his lifetime, Witkacy was better known as a novelist than as a playwright, since his two major works of fiction were brought out by established publishing houses whereas most of his dramas went unpublished and unperformed. Because of their politically sensitive character, Farewell to Autumn (1927) and Insatiability (Nienasycenie, 1930) cannot be reprinted in Poland at the present time, although there was a limited re-issue of the latter work in 1957, after the "thaw." Louis Iribarne has performed an important service for English-speaking readers with a dynamic translation of Insatiability that captures the vigor and grotesque humor of the original. Of all Witkacy's works the most complex linguistically and stylistically, Insatiability is a bizarre potpourri of erotic adventures, philosophical speculations, and predictions of coming disaster; to have rendered this idiosyncratic monster of a novel into vivid, juicy English is an outstanding accomplishment testifying to Iribarne's extraordinary skill as a translator. In addition, Iribarne provides an exemplary 40-page introduction to the life and work of the author as well as an incisive commentary on the novel.

There are those who argue that Insatiability is the author's masterpiece, and it is certainly the most Witkacian in the virtuoso narrative digressions and inexhaustible comic inventions. At the same time this wild, lunatic, and phantasmagoric book has proved to be one of the most prophetic works of 20th-century fiction, not so much in its particular predictions (although some of these are quite uncanny) as in its capturing of the age's sensibility through brief composite portraits of the "psychosocial" environment. The fractured picture that results is that of an incoherent ersatz world which resembles our own. In the Witkacian era of insatiability, everything from genius to revolution, from food to mystical experience, from art to patriotic heroics, is an inauthentic manifestation of pseudo-culture. Change has accelerated so strongly that "the distances between generations had diminished to the point of being ridiculous: people just a few years younger than others were apt to refer to the latter as their 'elders' " (II:288). Throughout all the media there is systematic falsification of the news, while the government is perceived by all as an organized mafia behind a mafia, causing such a loss of belief in politics that the state becomes regarded as a sport. Meanwhile, in the background, the superbly disciplined Chinese communists, after subduing counter-revolutionary Russia, are poised to take over the blandly bolshevized states of Western Europe.

In one way a traditional "education novel," Insatiability presents the initiation into life of the young hero, Genezip Kapen, who, faced with frightening impulses within his psyche and vast impersonal threats in the society around him, sinks slowly into mechanized mindlessness, unable to retain his human individuality; at the same time, Poland is likewise losing her battle to hold back the onrushing Chinese. As schizophrenic as the bewildered young hero is the divided temporal perspective, situating the novel at the point "where the opposing forces of past and future intersect" (II:246). Although the action of Insatiability is situated in the post-revolutionary world of the 21st century, the new age is seen refracted in an obsolete pre-revolutionary mirror, Poland -- a limbo and refuge for decadent aristocrats, deranged artists, posturing titans, and philosophical sensualists.

Set against this crumbling stronghold of individualists and ready to crush it is the "mobile Chinese Wall" (1:36), a collective human automaton, drawing closer and closer. This "flawless, fearless machine," with its countless invisible feet marching in unison like a huge organism, is Witkacy's ironic version of the old "yellow peril" cliché and the ultimate embodiment of social mechanization. It is this sinister drift of Orient to Occident that brings about the Spenglerian decline of the West in Insatiability. In the second half of the novel, a shadowy and enigmatic Malay appears in the West, spreading his mystical religion of universal contentment by means of the "Murti-Bing pill," sold by street vendors, which relieves the anguish of individual personality. Quickly lulled into ecstatic happiness, the pill-takers no longer fear the coming extermination of their egos through social regimentation. Witkacy seems strangely prescient in his identification of drugs and mysticism as the preferred escape mechanisms of our own age, and his Murti-Bing pill anticipates the comparable social use of chemistry in two later antiutopian novels: soma in Huxley's Brave New World and psychem in Lem's Futurological Congress.

Thus, European metaphysical quests -- the essential expression of insatiability -- are replaced by two instant ideologies, both from the East: mystic Murti-Bingism and materialistic Chinese communism. Opposed as these two at first may seem, in Witkacy's view both are designed to eliminate the conscious thinking mind and the inevitable suffering which it brings. The pill softens up the already demented and debilitated Europeans so that they can painlessly adjust to the political control which will definitively liberate them from their own madness and despair and turn them into smoothly functioning members of the state machinery.

[*Other plays by Witkiewicz which might be considered as at least borderline SF are Tumor Mozgowicz (Tumor Brainiowicz), about a mathematical genius who creates a revolutionary new scientific system that threatens the bases of civilization; and Szewcy (The Shoemakers), "A Scientific Play with Songs," which presents a series of revolutions culminating in an era beyond ideology presided over by technocrats.]

-- Daniel Gerould

 A Romantic Reassessment -- Unreassessed

Safaa El-Shater. The Novels of Mary Shelley. Salzburg Studies in English Literature Under the Direction of Professor A. Stürzl: Romantic Reassessment, ed. James Hogg. Institut für Englische Sprache und Literatur, Universität Salzburg, 1977. 172p. Distributed in the USA by Humanities Press. $19.75.

Mounting evidence attests that Mary Shelley's fortunes on the literary stockmarket are rising. Unlike previous editions, the fourth edition of the Norton Anthology of English Literature (1979) includes a selection from her works. And thus it is that a study probably written in the early 1960s (the most recent bibliographical item cited, dating from 1965, seems to have been a later interpolation) is published -- to judge from the typos, after inadequate proofreading -- in 1977. Though Safaa El-Shater's book is not totally worthless, its value, unlike the object of analysis, has diminished with the passage of time. It is a matter of concern that El-Shater was not required by her publisher to rewrite her study taking account of the last 15 years of Mary Shelley scholarship.

Mary Shelley published 6 novels: two of considerable importance to the development of SF, Frankenstein (1818) and The Last Man (1826); two historical romances, Valperga (1823) and Perkin Warbeck (1830); and two domestic romances, Lodore (1835) and Falkner (1837). El-Shater takes up the novels in chronological order devoting a chapter to each of the first five and treating Falkner in an Epilogue.

Inevitably, given the date of composition, most of what she has to say about Frankenstein is routine. But which edition of Frankenstein is she using? Her footnoting technique is often inadequate, even when it dawns on the reader (lacking any footnoted direction) that such information is to be complemented by the Bibliography. She characterizes the mixed nature of Frankenstein reasonably enough: "it is at once a horrific and a social novel with a serious philosophical aim.... It ... anticipates the science fiction of the present day. In addition, it has some interesting Oriental [Safie's Story] and travel [five different trips are described] elements" (p.8). However, without much in the way of demonstration, its corresponding "conglomerate patchwork of narrative techniques" is judged negatively, the prefatory Walton section is viewed as extraneous, and "the epistolary form" is declared "inadequate and almost pointless" (p.28). Some of El-Shater's contextual material is of interest, particularly the emphasis on the influence of Rousseau's Les Rêveries du Promeneur Solitaire. Other contextual statements are misleading. Whatever mysterious experiment by Erasmus Darwin Mary Shelley may be referring to in her 1831 Introduction, there is no evidence that he attempted "to turn a piece of vermicelli into a worm" (p.9). Elsewhere there seems to be some confusion between the concepts of "biological reproduction," "[H]omonculi" (sic), "robots and automatons," and the nature of the monster (p. 17).

El-Shater quotes on p.35 the letter to Maria Gisborne about Valperga, in which Mary Shelley observes that, "It has indeed been a child of mighty growth, since I first thought of it in our library at Marlow. I then wanted the body in which I might embody my spirit. The materials for this I found at Naples.... It has indeed been a work of some labour since I have read and consulted many books." This image of a book as a living being seems to be a carry-over from Frankenstein, "my hideous progeny" (1965 Signet edition, p.xii). Like Frankenstein, Valperga is very much a composite work, "racked out of fifty old books" in Percy Shelley's words (quoted p.63). El-Shater speculates that he contributed some of the wordage to Valperga and agrees with Claire Clairmont that one of the novel's characters is "Shelley in female attire" (p.50). Correspondingly, Shelley had a hand in the writing of Frankenstein and may be discerned in the characterization of the protagonist. Another common element, that of the doppelganger, may be deduced -- again the point is not made -- from El-Shater's summary of Valperga: one of the main characters experiences a disturbing dream concerning a shadowy double. (El-Shater does suggest a number of interesting parallels with another book, George Eliot's Romola, which she sees Valperga as anticipating.) The detailed summaries provided for each of the novels might well be considered the most valuable aspects of this study since, aside from Frankenstein, Mary's works remain pretty much unread. El-Shater follows each plot summary with a mechanical balancing of virtues and defects. Among its defects, Valperga is judged to be overlong. The same criticism might be leveled at many of the quotations which pad out this commentary.

The chapter on The Last Man is much the most successful. Although the Last Man theme was popular at the time and may be understood as "a variation in the legend of the Wandering Jew" (p.93), El-Shater rightly stresses that Mary's interest in the topic had much to do with the fact that, after the deaths of Shelley and others, she felt herself to be in the position of the last woman. The roman à clef nature of the novel is fully described and its various weaknesses convincingly identified. In spite of the novel's title, "it is hard to decide which is its central character" (p. 84). The character of Lionel (Mary's surrogate) is judged to be unsuccessful largely because of the diversity of the novel's three parts: the centre of interest shifts from the domestic sphere to the political to the catastrophic (and metaphoric) plague. Furthermore, the futuristic illusion is unconvincing. The central theme of the novel, "Mary's belief that whatever man's achievement on earth, he is bound to be destroyed by the gods," El-Shater sees as "another aspect of" the Frankenstein theme which is "concerned with the tragic results of man's scientific progress" (p.92). Mary's "notion of God," it is usefully emphasized, "was not that of Christianity. It was a belief in Necessity" (p.93). Equally, we are reminded, her notions about republicanism and human nature were not Percy's.

The last three novels are distinctly inferior to the first three. However, Lodore and Falkner contain interesting evidence of some of Mary's basic beliefs. Mary Shelley was not Mary Wollstonecraft: she "believed that woman's ultimate aim should be to provide solace and comfort for man" (p. 146). In an 1835 letter to Maria Gisborne, she even asserts "that the sex of our material mechanism makes us quite different creatures -- better though weaker but wanting in the higher grades of intellect" (quoted p. 146). Nevertheless, because the loneliness she experienced after Percy's death had much to do with her own dependent character, Mary did come to realize that "A degree of independence is ... necessary for woman" (p. 148).

Repeatedly in this series of often superficial if generally even-handed critiques, El-Shater fails to draw out the more significant implications of the material she presents. This is nowhere more apparent than in her failure to note the presence of submerged quasi-incest patterns in Lodore and Falkner. Yet their role in Frankenstein and especially in the 1819 novelette Mathilda (which El-Shater does not deal with) suggests that here we have a matter touching on the central wellspring of Mary Shelley's creative imagination. Unfortunately, a full exploration of this topic -- and others -- must await the publication of another and better study.

-- David Ketterer


Taylor Stoehr. Hawthorne's Mad Scientists: Pseudoscience and Social Science in Nineteenth Century Life and Letters. Hamden, CT Archon Books, 1978. 313 p. $19.50

This is a frustrating book for the Hawthorne scholar. The title is promising, but misleading; it is the subtitle that really characterizes this work. Stoehr seems far more familiar with and interested in 19th-century pseudo-sciences and social sciences than in Hawthorne's mad scientists. Devoting a chapter to each, he provides detailed examinations of mesmerism, physiognomy and phrenology, homoeopathy, associationism, spiritualism, feminism, and prison reform. He discusses the history of each of these "sciences," its basic tenets, its most famous practitioners, and finally its influence on Hawthorne.

It is not difficult to prove that Hawthorne was familiar with most of these ideas, and it is clear that he exploits some of them in his fiction. Stoehr, however, makes excessive claims. For example, in discussing physiognomy, Stoehr quotes a number of passages from The House of the Seven Gables -- passages in which Hawthorne assesses a character's spiritual qualities (or lack thereof) by examining his/her face and facial expressions. Stoehr uses these passages to support the assertion that Hawthorne was greatly influenced by the theories of the physiognomists. It is true, of course, that physiognomists put great stock in the reading of faces; it is also true, however, that fiction writers (especially writers of third person narratives) have always looked to the face as a kind of objective correlative for character. I doubt that Faulkner could be called a physiognomist just because he describes Flem Snopes as a man "with a broad face ... eyes the color of stagnant water, and projecting from among the other features ... a tiny predatory nose like the beak of a small hawk" (The Hamlet [New York, 1940], p. 52). It is clear from the biographical data that Hawthorne was quite familiar with the theories of the homeopathists, and Stoehr may be right when he argues that Roger Chillingsworth is a homoeopathic physician. But Stoehr does not really explain why this fact is important and how it might heighten our understanding of the character or the story.

Stoehr's linking of pseudo-science and social science is a bit disconcerting, and it is not fully justified until the book's final chapter, where Stoehr maintains that Hawthorne's mad scientists derive from both utopian and gothic literary traditions. However, Stoehr does seem to be on reasonably firm ground in discussing the influence of the social sciences on Hawthorne, since Hawthorne's involvement with Brook Farm forced him to confront many of the contemporary "isms" and Blithedale is clearly modeled on Brook Farm. Yet, even in this section Stoehr tends to force the question of literary influence, as when he insists that Zenobia is really a characterization of Margaret Fuller. Zenobia may very well be a characterization of Fuller, but Stoehr does not explain why this is important (or even interesting). A complete discussion of the history of penal reform in New England seems an excessive preamble to a discussion of Hollingsworth, the penal reformer at Blithedale.

In assessing the influence of 19th-century sciences and pseudosciences on Hawthorne's fiction, Stoehr tends to focus on plot and characterization and overlooks or trivializes thematic concerns. He does, however, link mesmerism to Hawthorne's "unpardonable sin" and in doing so generates an intriguing proposition. He suggests that for Hawthorne the writer is himself a sort of mesmerist: "the unpardonable sin is to be a kind of artist .... the temptation of the mesmerist is to behave like the story teller whose fancies immediately take shape as realities. [Hawthorne] used mesmerism as a metaphor for the writer's art, and explored the question of his own guilt or innocence in it." This is a marvelous notion and I wish that Stoehr had gone further with it. I wish, too, that Stoehr had provided his readers with more such provocative ideas.

Structurally this book presents no major problems. Its overall outline is clear. There are three major sections (pseudoscience, social science, and the mad scientists) and each chapter within the first two sections explores a particular science. (I must admit that I do not understand why spiritualism is in the social science section.) Despite the clarity of outline, this book is disorganized in small ways. Possibly because the author has difficulty abandoning an idea or jettisoning any of his research, the book is full of repetitions and digressions. The chapter on spiritualism is a partial rehash of the chapter on mesmerism. In the chapter on feminism, Stoehr provides a detailed plot summary of an anti-philanthropic novel entitled Spiritual Vampirism: The History of Etherial Softdown and Her Friends of the New Light. While the story is entertaining, it sheds no light whatsoever on the subject at hand -- Hawthorne's uses of feminism in Blithedale, and Stoehr himself points out that Spiritual Vampirism "appeared after Blithedale so there is no question of influence." In the chapter on spiritualism there is a detailed discussion of Melville which Stoehr lamely justifies by pointing out that Hawthorne and Melville are both interested in "problems of narrative illusion."

I fear that Hawthorne's Mad Scientists is really two books -- one on Hawthorne's mad scientists, the other on pseudo-science and social science in 19th-century life and letters. The second book dominates the first. Hawthorne's Mad Scientists will do little to heighten its readers' understanding of Hawthorne's mad scientists. It does, however, provide a great deal of information about the pseudo-sciences and social sciences named above. It is, in the final analysis, a far more valuable tool for the student of 19th-century American popular culture than for the student of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

-- Lynn Berk

Sheckley's Victim

Robert Sheckley, The Tenth Victim (reprint of the 1965 Ballantine Books paperback, with a new introduction by Richard Gid Powers). Boston: Gregg Press, 1978. 158p. + 8p. introduction + 8p. movie stills. $9.00.

Richard Gid Powers seems to understand as little as I do why this hasty novelization of a fifth-rate movie should have been reprinted in hard covers. Most of his short introduction discusses anything but the novel, concluding with the recommendation that the reader try something else of Sheckley's instead. One is tempted to say "anything else," but Sheckley has done worse, if not by much.

Powers' suggestion that Sheckley's "real subject is boredom" may be true not only of this novel but also of most of his fiction of the last few years; at least that is its effect. He no longer has any patience with characters, plot, premise or rationalization in his latest novel, Crompton Divided (NY: Holt, Rinehart, Winston, 1978), a self-indulgent farrago of bad puns and pointless jokes without even a semblance of reality to make fun of.

In his contribution to Peter Nicholls' symposium, Science Fiction at Large (London: Gollancz, 1976; NY: Harper and Row, 1977), Sheckley, in so far as he says anything at all, admits to being a fantasist and at most a wry commentator on a world whose science and technology have passed him by. Although much of his work, some of which Ace is now reprinting in paperback, consists of exercises in silliness, he did write a number of amusing take-offs on SF themes and "ideas" in the 'fifties, a few of which are worth a second glance.

One of those is "The Seventh Victim," first published in Galaxy (April, 1953) and included in his first collection, Untouched by Human Hands (Ballantine, 1954; Ace 1979). It postulates a "future" with an amoral equivalent of war, the licensing of people to alternate -- if they survive, -- as hunter and quarry in a free-form but highly commercialized kind of dueling. The reader is asked to identify with a man on the hunt, anxious for catharsis, who falls in love with his target, giving her perfect opportunity to kill him instead and chalk up her tenth victim, stopping him before he reaches seven.

The background and rationale are fed in a little obtrusively, the message is somewhat repetitive, and the satire on gender roles seems a bit obvious today, but the story is still coherent, effective, and entertaining. None of that can be said for the novel, based on the 1965 movie, a rambling vehicle for a languid Marcello Mastroianni and a characterless Ursula Andress. Lacking the visual stimulus of their presence and numerous location shots in Rome (not compensated for by the presence of twelve still photographs), the book offers a nonsensical and incoherent story which Sheckley apparently lacked the interest either to rationalize or to make fun of.

This time the "hero" is a bumbling incompetent, his opponent seemingly invincible, neither particularly interested, let alone seeking either catharsis or a star rating. Most of the action is irrelevant or incomprehensible, including his participation in a sun-worshipping cult and a conclusion which deprives the story of any point, their anticlimactic marriage. Sheckley's style is flat and insipid, which does justice to the actors and filmmakers by capturing the vapidity of their project, but does no credit at all to him or to SF.

Gregg Press must really be scraping the bottom of the barrel if they can't find anything better to reprint for collectors and libraries.

-- David N. Samuelson

Silverberg's Best

The Best of Robert Silverberg, Vol. 1, with an Introduction by Barry Malzberg. Boston: Gregg Press, 1978. xiv - 258p., $13; The Best of Robert Silverberg, Vol. 2, with an Introduction by Thomas D. Clareson. Boston: Gregg Press, 1978. xxi+ 323p., $15.

These volumes are useful and desirable not because the stories are otherwise unobtainable (all have appeared in hard-cover anthologies or collections -- though a few are a bit obscure), but for the opportunity to see what Silverberg considers the best of his shorter work and to read his introductory comments on the background and genesis of each story. Volume I is a reprint of the Pocket Books Best edition of 1976, while volume 2 is a new selection assembled by Silverberg especially for the Gregg series.

The books cover 19 years of Silverberg's career, from 1954's "Road to Nightfall" to 1973's "Trips," "Born with the Dead," and "Schwartz between the Galaxies." Coverage overlaps, with Volume 2 offering more detail on the latter five years of Silverberg's work. The principle of selection is, as the titles have it, to identify the best rather than, say, the statistically representative -- just as well, since that would make Volume 1, especially the 1954-62 section, not much more interesting than any other retrospective of interchangeable magazine SF; instead, Silverberg has picked out of those years of massive production just three stories that represent his ambitions rather than what he and undemanding magazine editors would settle for: "Road to Nightfall," "Warm Man," and "To See the Invisible Man." On the other hand, for the rest of Volume 1 and all of Volume 2, the best is representative of his later work, and 3 outstanding seventies collections -- Unfamiliar Territory (1973), The Feast of St. Dionysus (1975), and Capricorn Games (1976) -- contribute 9 stories out of 17.

Many of these stories are touchstones for understanding Silverberg in matters of theme and form -- "To See the Invisible Man," "Passengers," "Nightwings," "Sundance," "In Entropy's Jaws," "Breckenridge and the Continuum" -- and Thomas Clareson's introduction to Volume 2 shows the importance of irony and parody, alienation, and absurdism not only in these late stories but in earlier work as well. Here, as in his longer essay, "The Fictions of Robert Silverberg" (in Voices for the Future, vol. 2), Clareson insists on the continuity of Silverberg's career and denies the convenient old Silverberg/new Silverberg picture that Silverberg himself has contributed to in his autobiographical writing. This view does not ignore the mass of pulp work that Silverberg cranked out in the 'fifties, but does insist that the urge toward serious and innovative SF is present from the beginning and that those remarkable stories that started appearing in Frederik Pohl's Galaxy in the 'sixties are not the result of some miraculous conversion but only the full emergence of the writer who was always there.

--Russell Letson

Pedagogies of Imagination

Georges Jean. Pour une pédagogie de l'imaginaire. Paris: Casterman (coll. "Orientations/E3"), 1976 (second edn: 1978). 170 p. Price: Can. $16.25.

Jacqueline Held. L'Imaginaire au pouvoir, les enfants et la littérature fantastique. Paris: Les Editions Ouvrières, "Enfance Heureuse," 1977. 285 p. Price: Can. $18.20.

In western minds, non-mimetic literatures, from fairy tale to SF, are often associated with the so-called "spirit of childhood." Such a situation may be seen as a sequel to the disgrace in which imagination has been held since the Age of Rationalism. An effect of the 1968 events in Europe ("imagination to power" was one of the time's favorite catch phrases) has been a slow institutional recognition of modern non-realistic literatures. This may be seen, for instance, in Jules Verne's recent rediscovery or in the sudden invasion of SF and, subsequently, of comic strips into the French book market. As could be foreseen, the "spirit of 1968" has, in the end, invaded a number of fields, including pedagogy. The two books in review here (one of them obviously borrows its title from the above-mentioned slogan) pertain to this trend. SF holds but a minor place in the authors' discussions; their intentions are very wide in scope -- which causes a few minor difficulties.

Pour une pédagogie de l'imaginaire is presented as an appeal in favor of imagination; it rejects the concept of short term pedagogic programs which tend to promote "a creativity aimed at maintaining the society of profits and privileges" (p. 22). Asking what could be the legitimate ambitions of a pedagogy of imagination, the author points out that it should not be a pedagogy of unrealism, but "a dynamic practice towards a perception and a consciousness of reality through all the faculties of the subject, a practice which would allow one not to limit one's relation with the world to the immediate perception one gets from it" (p. 28). Such a quotation gives an idea of the general intentions of the author. Yet, beyond these, it is to be regretted that he does not go more deeply into the concepts of "imagination," "imaginary," "pedagogy," "reality," or "dream." The result is a strange syncretism in which Bachelard, Nietzsche, Marx, Eliade, Lévi-Strauss, or Montaigne, Descartes, Pascal, Freud, Lenin and even Mao cohabit without apparent conflict.

The book's weak point lies in a confusion: on the one hand, the author emphasizes the necessary political and social transformation "of the bases of western societies and of cultural myths on which they depend" (according to the author, such a transformation would be possible if only the imagination were taken seriously); on the other hand, his argument is based on literary examples that are often out of phase with these intentions -- examples incorrectly interpreted or merely belonging to cultural stereotypes. Thus imagination inevitably appears as an entity separated from history, whereas the author's main purpose is to defend possible historical futures against the status quo, through the powers of imagination.

Jacqueline Held's L'imaginaire au pouvoir, less socio-politically oriented, claims to re-establish the "experience of nights" against the totalitarian experience of days (according to the author's own terminology). Adults should be held responsible for forcing messages into fictions; for a child, fiction is nothing but a play, an amusement. Literature is "a great, albeit indirect, educator" (p. 10); "imagination forces one to progress" (p. 11). What literature? What imagination? What progress? The reader would like to hear more about all this. The author prefers to lose her way in her attempts at defining genres. The Fantastic is the catchall for several anti-mimetic genres. Occasionally, "dream" plays a similar role, for "reality is made up of dreams" (p. 23). The use of such idealistic categories dilutes reflection into indetermination. Questions are asked: Does fiction act as a restraint or as an adjutant in the construction of reality? Once again, no satisfactory answer is proposed. One chapter deals with SF and the Fantastic. For Ms. Held, the themes are necessarily the same since both genres have irrationalism in common and express "human desires, concerns and problems" (p. 160). Again, what desires? What concerns? What problems? And for what men? This book displays some of the obvious lacunae of the traditional humanistic approach. Examples of SF narratives are mainly taken from the SF anthology published by Le Livre de Poche (not a bad choice, in fact), but with repeated errors in names (Spirad, Goulaye); The Xipahuz (sic) seems to belong to La Mort de la Terre (Rosny Aîné), whereas the short story entitled "Les Xipéhuz" precedes La Mort de la Terre in the Denoël edition.

In the final analysis, only the pages on children's iconoclasm in relation to literature in general and on the demystifying potential effect of fiction could have saved the book. Fiction can counterbalance "the conditioning of children, defenselessly committed to rampant commercial publicity and to the repetitious mechanisms of an anesthetizing literature." After almost 200 pages, Ms. Held comes to plead in favor of a pedagogy of "impertinence," of estrangement (quoting Brecht), of humor as a means of protection against egocentricity and dogmatism. But the possible contradictions between fiction in its ludic function and fiction in its protective function are not considered.

These attempts are not devoid of value: at times they display an effort to give a real power to imagination. However they are spoiled by the constant use of non-critical concepts and by the lack of any theoretical approach. It is therefore to be feared that such endeavors finally have effects opposite to those intended by the authors: instead of clarifying the issues (for the benefit of imagination) they only succeed in masking the real problem. Such ambiguous books might be salves to conscience for a certain class of pedagogues. Georges Jean -- and this is no doubt the best part of his contribution -- tries to articulate the relationship of imagination and politics, by claiming the importance of "a pedagogy that would take imagination into account" and a pedagogy that would open up on "action at social and political levels." The mediations to be established between these two principles may well be conditions for a genuine pedagogy of imagination.

--Jean-Marc Gouanvic

Science Fiction cum Biology

Leonard Isaacs. Darwin to Double Helix: The Biological Theme in Science Fiction. London: Butterworths, 1977, 64p. £1,00.

This short work is the sixth title of the "Science in a Social Context" project: "an attempt," the inside back cover states, "to produce either alternatives or additions to the traditional first degree courses in science"; an attempt to introduce into science courses, "an emphasis on the social aspects: sociological, economic, technological and ecological effects of science on our environment and also, conversely, the effects and influences which society exerts on science."

Specifically, this work is an outline for a course which examines "the manner in which two of the most important developments in modern biology have been reflected in popular fiction": to wit, Darwin's theory of evolution and current possibilities for "remaking man" (p. 6). This outline includes brief analyses of nine pertinent SF texts along with reading lists, questions and "points for discussion or essays." While the lists of related science readings may be of interest to SFS readers, this book is not a critical work. It is the outline of a course, designed for someone unfamiliar with SF who was trying to make a general biology course more interesting and more "relevant."

--Peter Fitting

Book Review Indexes

Hall, H. W. SFBRI: Science Fiction Book Review Index, v. 7 (1976). Bryan, TX: The Compiler, 1977, 58p. $5.00; v. 8 (1977), v. 8 (1977),1978, 39p. $4.50; v.9 (1978), 1979. 37p. $4.50.

Three recent additions to a well established series enable researchers and readers of SF to keep up to date on the books reviewed each year in specialized SF and fantasy magazines as well as in some general library and literary journals. The wide scope allows for both comprehensive coverage of fiction and for partial inclusion of material of interest to SF fans such as juvenile, popular science, and technical books.

The format provides for two forms of bibliographic access: by author's name and by title of the books reviewed. Each citation includes only the basic information necessary for locating the original review in the source journal. Unlike the parent volume, SFBRI: Science Fiction Book Review Index 1923-1973, the annual updates do not provide complete bibliographic information. However, further cumulations are expected to include the additional bibliographic detail.

Whereas volume 7 covered 1,821 book titles and 3,836 reviews, the subsequent volumes had less to contend with: volume 8 contained 1,495 titles represented by 2,605 reviews, and volume 9 an even smaller number of books published and reviewed, 1,014 and 1,816 respectively. Such figures seem to indicate a definite decrease in the publishing of SF and fantasy literature. Parallel to this, the compiler has been seeking a broader base for users' benefit. With volume 9, the comprehensive coverage of English language reviews was expanded to include the first European source. Quarber Merkur, edited by Franz Rottensteiner -- whose bibliography "Literatur über Science Fiction" was an important contribution to Barmeyer's Science Fiction: Theorie und Geschichte -- is an Austrian critical magazine, chosen to inaugurate "a plan to systematically provide coverage of science fiction reviews around the world." Such inclusion of non-English titles and reviews would undoubtedly help to bridge the present lack of bibliographic and critical access to foreign SF titles in US publications. Another, less useful, feature introduced by Hall in volume 9, is a short section of actual book reviews of recent titles. With so many other publications in which SF book reviews make a regular appearance, such an addition seems to be more of a filler to prevent the index from further shrinking than an effort to fill a need. This, however, does not diminish the very useful role that SFBRI fulfills in bibliographic control of contemporary SF literature and criticism.

--Irena Zantovskà-Murray

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