Science Fiction Studies

#45 = Volume 15, Part 2 = July 1988


Raymond Williams, 1921-88

Raymond Williams, one of SFS's Editorial Consultants and formerly Professor of Drama at Cambridge University, died on January 26, 1988, aged 66. Williams grew up in the Black Mountain country in Wales, which he portrayed in his first novel, Border Country (1960), and later in Loyalties (1985). The son of a railway signalman, he served in the army in World War II and took his degree in English at Cambridge in 1946. After working in adult education, he returned to Cambridge as a lecturer in 1961. Though none of his books can be called SF, The Fight for Manod (1979) and The Volunteers (1985) are Welsh political novels set in the near future.                

Raymond Williams is best known as a literary critic and socialist theorist, the author of Culture and Society (1958), The Long Revolution (1961), The Country and the City (1973), Marxism and Literature (1977), and many other books. He wrote influentially on modern drama and on cinema and television, and valuably—though sparingly—on SF. He viewed the genre as a form of expression of metro politan experience in a chapter of The Country and the City, and as future-tense fiction in an essay collected in Writing in Society (1984). An article on "Utopia and Science Fiction" was published in SFS No. 16 (1978), and a little-known essay on SF first published in 1956 will shortly be reprinted in this journal.                

There was a strongly utopian element in Williams's socialist thought, though he never wrote a formal utopia and was sometimes critical of the mode. His famous conclusion to Culture and Society looks to a common culture as a necessary precondition of social justice and equality. He spoke at length of the future construction of a socialist society in the interviews collected as Politics and Letters (1979). In the early 1980s, he published Towards 2000 (US title: The Year 2000), with a final section entitled "Resources for a Journey of Hope."

Without question, Williams's writings are one such resource. Though a critic comparable in stature and influence to F.R. Leavis and Lionel Trilling, he habitually looked, unlike them, to the future rather than to the past. He was a great teacher in addition to his other achievements, and those of us fortunate enough to have studied under him owe him a debt that can never be repaid. -- Patrick Parrinder, University of Reading

Anthony West, 1914-87

Anthony West, the son of H.G. Wells and Rebecca West (née Cicily Isabel Fairfield), died on December 27, 1987. Among his various writings (which include half a dozen novels), the two dealing expressly with his father's work are of especial interest to readers of SFS. One of these is the influential essay in Principles and Persuasions (1957) wherein West, arguing for a pessimistic Wells, also underscores the ambivalence, or double-sidedness, of the "scientific romances." The other is H.G. Wells: Aspects of a Life (1984), which contains much useful information about the novels of HG's middle period (1910-27) and about his relations with the Fabian Society, Dorothy Richardson, Moura Budberg, and so forth. As its title indicates (and contrary to the impression that most reviewers gave of it when it came out) West's memoir has much more to do with his father than with his mother—RMP

Between Faith and Melancholy: Irony and the Gnostic Meaning of Dick's "Divine Trilogy"

1. Some Gnostic aspects of Dick's "Divine Trilogy."
(a) The real life is elsewhere. All Gnosis, and perhaps all faith, arises from the sense that the visible world is not the whole of reality. This sense is very strong in Dick's work, not only because it is an extremely common theme in SF, but because it is linked to the author's personal melancholy. The melancholy person is one who, unable to believe completely in the reality of the absolute, has ceased believing in the reality of relative things. It is easier for the melancholy person to renounce the world than to live in it.                

Now throughout the entire Gnosis we hear the lament of humankind in exile, desirous of rejoining an invisible reality from which he has been separated either through his own fault or through that of some evil power. In order to give voice to his own melancholy, Dick had to embrace in a sense the spiritual vision of Gnosticism, constantly condemned by Christianity precisely because it sees material existence as being evil.                

Something is rotten in Denmark: that is what Dick's new Hamlet, Horselover Fat, feels over and over. Angel Archer, the narrator-heroine of The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, sympathizes with the metaphysical poets of the 17th century because their thoughts are turned towards the Other World. And Fat quotes Henry Vaughan:

He knows he hath a home, but scarce knows where,
He sayes it is so far
That he hath quite forgot how to go there.1

                The prison metaphor comes spontaneously to the Gnostic: "What a tragic realm this is, he reflected. Those down here are prisoners, and the ultimate tragedy is that they don't know it....This is a prison, and few men have guessed" (9:121). This is The Divine Invasion's Emmanuel speaking, God among us, the savior sent to Earth. He continues: "But I know...that is why I am here. To burst the walls, to tear down the metal gates, to break each chain."                

To take the real for the unreal is ignorance and, consequently, the source of all evil. That is why "gnosis," knowledge, is salvation.

(b) Concerning evil. All the gnoses offer themselves as explanations of the catastrophe that has cast us into this world, where we continue to wander erringly. In Dick as in the Gnostics, the demiurge is an evil god, the adversary of spirit, which he seeks to imprison in matter, where it loses its splendor and forgets its origin. Spirit and matter, light and darkness—the Gnosis speaks of a battle taking place between these forces, but far from us, who are mere counters, playthings in this struggle. Pistis Sophia, whom Dick mentions so often, figures in the manuscripts discovered at Nag Hammadi and belongs to the Coptic mystical tradition. Wanting to elevate herself through her search for the Father, Pistis Sophia is deceived by an evil power that dazzles her with a false light. Falling into this trap, Pistis Sophia plummets into Chaos, from which she will emerge only after a long series of trials. The divine element has fallen into matter. How can we save it? As Fat reasons in VALIS (5:58): "That the blind creator sincerely imagines that he is the true God only reveals the extent of his occlusion. This is Gnosticism. In Gnosticism, man belongs with God against the world and the creator of the world (both of which are crazy, whether they realize it or not)."

(c) Forgetfulness and anamnesis. Because evil is ignorance, whatever allows us to struggle against forgetfulness moves (us) in the direction of Salvation. In The Divine Invasion, Emmanuel is powerless against the "realm of evil" until he is cured of the amnesia that has caused him to forget his divine origin. Here and now human beings are blind, "Literally unable to see more than a short distance; faraway objects are invisible to them now. Once in a while one of them guesses that formerly they had faculties now gone; once in a while one of them discerns the truth, that they are not now what they were and not now where they were. But they forget again...."2               

What is called anamnesis is such a commemoration, a preservation of the eternal origin. Anamnesis—and this is its significance in Christian liturgy—is the presence of eternity in the stream of time. Both liturgy and knowledge then have the same goal: to restore the lost origin. In VALIS we witness both a baptism and a Eucharist performed with a sandwich and hot chocolate. "Time has been overcome," declares Horselover Fat following this strange ceremony.

(d) Everything is sign. Knowledge and liturgy both draw our attention to signs. In this world subject to forgetfulness and to matter, the spirit can recognize signs; it receives messages, is visited by angels: "The hieroglyphs of God lie all about you....As the world and in the world," says Bishop Timothy Archer (5:82). Both ritual and knowledge have the role of allowing us to pass beyond the sign to the bearer of the sign. Fragment 37 of Horselover Fat's exegesis, which we know comprises notes that Dick himself wrote following his "revelation," affirms: "All creation is a language and nothing but a language, which for some inexplicable reason we can't read outside and can't hear inside" (2:15).                

God himself is defined in VALIS as "information" (2:14). And the universe, to Bishop Timothy Archer, "is one great set of reference books from which he picks and chooses as his restless mind veers on."3 This makes Dick a Renaissance Man, in search of what Michel Foucault calls the "signatures" of the world and summoning to his aid a vast and teeming erudition. The most striking thing about the Trilogy is its erudition. This is the erudition of Western Man without roots, ready to use any bit of information he comes across, and gathering together all the fragments of meaning he can.                

Here we can no longer distinguish between what comes from the spiritual attitude of the Gnostic and what comes from the disorderly acquisitiveness of the Western intellectual who, in the end, no longer perceives the world directly but through a welter of learned references. The "Berkeley intellectual" who narrates Timothy Archer thinks that books are real and living things. But this conviction is fraught with a painful sense of loss of reality, loss of tangible presence: "That is the trouble with education, I realized; you have been everywhere before, seen everything, vicariously; it has all already happened to you" (9:152). In fact education is itself like a form of reincarnation, a memory that mocks and basically robs one of a sense of reality.

2. Irony. We have said that the melancholy person is one who, without being able to believe in the absolute, experiences disgust with the relative. That is what makes melancholy different from faith, for the man of faith believes that the absolute is present in the relative. It is for this reason that, far from believing Creation to be a fall, far from believing matter evil or death a deliverance, Christianity has always rejected Gnosis for being its caricature.                

What about Dick in all this? What exactly is the meaning of the incredible Gnostic erudition that runs through his entire opus? What is the spiritual depth of those visions and proclamations he made, for example, in his famous speech at a 1977 convention in Metz?                

I propose to seek an answer for all this in irony, which is strongly characteristic of Dick's Trilogy. With Kierkegaard, one recognizes in irony a basic form of melancholy, one in which faith has been turned inside out, made into something demonic.               

At the heart of Dick's work I find a desperate coldness that accepts questions but refuses to answer them. Erudition then becomes the means of pushing off answers, of transforming thought into a game of parchesi, hopping from sign to sign. Indeed, is not SF itself ironic in nature? We need only think of what happens to myth when it is taken up in the modern age. What is ironic here is the irruption of rationality in the midst of the imaginary, just as the burlesque is what makes the absurd implacably logical. To see Nixon as an incarnation of evil, to celebrate the Eucharist with hot chocolate, to make a mental patient the emissary of God—all such surrealistic effects have the same goal: to make an avowal without looking as if one believes in that avowal. In the same way someone in love might resort to irony out of bashfulness: and thereby run the risk of not making oneself understood.               

What makes Dick's works so poignant is the equal impossibility of resigning oneself to the absurd, or of believing in a meaning. Thus irony is the final, irreducible core of that work, the final stronghold that refuses to give up its secret.                

We have seen that Gnosis is fraught with the problem of evil. In Dick's work this problem takes the form, at once radical and derisive, of a meditation on the death of a cat run over by a car. This meditation runs through the entire text of VALIS. What answer, then, is given? After listening to Pistis Sophia give a rather moralizing and sententious speech on the necessity of becoming a convert, the hero turns to her and asks her the question about the death of the cat. The answer is: "Your cat was stupid." The irony is so blatant, the change of tone so brutal, that they reduce the entire speech that went before to nothing, leaving us with this as the final word. Behind the double wall of erudition and irony, there is no doubt the icy chamber of despair, the despair that transforms what it dare not believe in into a joke. -- Jean-Noël Dumont,   Université de Grenoble (Translated by Danièle Chatelain & George Slusser).
1. Philip K. Dick, VALIS (NY: Bantam, 1981), p. 25.
2. Philip K. Dick, Divine Invasion (NY: Timescape, 1981), p. 121. See also p. 136: "`The power of evil,' Emmanuel said, `is the ceasing of existence itself. It is the slow slipping away of everything that is, until it becomes, like Linda Fox, a phantasm.'"
3. Philip K. Dick, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (NY: Bantam, 1981), p. 145. See also p. 148: "So books are real to me, too; they link me not just with other minds but with the vision of other minds, what those minds understand and see."


In Dispute               

I would like to make some frank comments as well as a few corrections regarding the article by Jean-Marc Gouanvic which appeared in SFS no. 44.                

Beginning with the first paragraph, Mr Gouanvic makes a number of erroneous affirmations. He states: "It has been possible to talk about SF in Québec only for as long as a virtually complete system of `literary communication' has existed here in regard to SF....Such a system began to come into being in 1979, when...the fanzine Requiem changed its name to Solaris and took on a literary direction" (p. 71). I must remind Mr Gouanvic that as well as being director/ founder of Requiem (which later became Solaris), I have published no fewer than 154 S-F stories between September 1974 and 1979....Amongst those authors published are Daniel Sernine, Elisabeth Vonarburg, Jean-Pierre April, René Beaulieu, and Michel Bélil...and Jean-Marc Héol (a.k.a. Jean-Marc Gouanvic). Many of these texts have received literary prizes and have been reprinted in anthologies. Over the years, I have also refused to publish a large number of texts because they were poorly written, uninteresting, or did not conform to my criteria for publication. Others rewritten at my request and according to my recommendations were published as a result. Is this or is this not "literary direction"?

After having been editor for five years, I gave that particular task to Vonarburg in 1979. All that happened is that the editorship changed hands. There is a nuance there, it seems to me. I would also remind Jean-Marc Gouanvic of a fact that from article to article he obstinately refuses to acknowledge: that beginning with no. 21 (1978), Requiem changed from a "fanzine" to a "magazine." It was not, then, the "fanzine" Requiem that changed its name, but the "magazine," a member of the Association des éditeurs de périodiques culturels québécoises (Québec association of publishers of cultural periodicals)!                

I feel I must also correct another assertion made by Gouanvic in his note 1. He claims that the expression "Science-fiction québécoise" (translated as "Québec SF") only appears clearly in Imagine.... This is simply false! The expression "SF québécoise" is used systematically in the pages of Requiem and that from the earliest issues. Furthermore, the term frequently appears in a section I had inaugurated devoted exclusively to Québec SF and the fantastic. Nor am I the only one to have used it at the time: among others, Michel Truchon, in the daily newspaper Le Soleil, and Alain Dubuc, in a few reviews published in La Presse, also used the expression. I would add to this that the notion of Québec SF had been so well anchored in the habits and culture of pre-Imagine...-Québec that Darko Suvin had asked me, in July 1979, to write an article for him on this very subject for SFS. (The article only appeared in 1980 as a collaborative effort of myself and Elisabeth Vonarburg.) Prior to this, I had published an article on Québec SF in the Canadian magazine Boréalis (Summer 1978).                

In order to let the readers of SFS know the stakes in this dispute, I should point out that Jean-Marc Gouanvic is the founder, director, and literary editor of Imagine..., the third magazine of Québec SF, after Requiem/Solaris and Pour ta belle gueule d'ahuri. When he occupies himself with Québec SF, Mr Gouanvic is a trustworthy analyst only insofar as he confines himself to the past, in the period from the origins of Québec SF to 1974. He is very competent concerning the Middle Ages, but as soon as his analysis encroaches upon modern Québec SF (which begins in 1974, as all objective and neutral observers such as Claude Janelle, Michel Lord, André Carpentier, or Rita Painchaud—to name a few—will confirm), he loses all objectivity....He does not hesitate, by means of omissions, half-truths, and disputable opinions, to divert—even to distort—history so that it is rewritten to give a hypothetical and illusory predominant rôle to Imagine....

Finally, I would submit the following points for consideration: In the appendix entitled "Some Bibliographical Milestones," Gouanvic has completely ignored the magazine Pour ta belle gueule d'ahuri. In the French version of his article published in Cahiers pour la littérature populaire (December 1987), he had the audacity to also forget Requiem/Solaris in the same appendix. This fact alone seems to me to be both significant and eloquent. -- Norbert Spehner, Montréal

 I am only half surprised at the reaction Norbert Spehner had towards my article, which covered four major currents of French-Canadian literature of the imagination between 1839 and 1974. In fact, Norbert Spehner has for almost 15 years now tried to get across the idea that nothing—or nearly nothing—has been done in Québec SF without him.                

On the one hand, I did not attempt to deal with the emergence of Québec SF after 1974 (the date Requiem was founded). In both the introduction and the note in question, I merely believed it would be opportune to place Québec SF avant la lettre in relation to the present development of the genre to indicate the discontinuities. On the other hand, it was far from my intention to deny Norbert Spehner and Requiem their catalyzing role in the emergence of the subculture of SF in Québec. I have made this clear on many occasions, notably in the pages of Solaris. But if we must render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, I cannot accord him more than his due.    

Spehner claims to have been a literary director in due and proper form, offering as proof nothing more than the number of texts he published: 154 (between 1974 and 1979). Either he is under some misapprehension as to what "literary direction" really is, or else he is seeking to falsify reality. An author for Solaris like Daniel Sernine makes no mystery of this: Spehner never had him rework his texts before publication. In my view, a literary director does more than simply refuse or accept texts (or type them up for publication). In fact, Spehner mentions me as a published author so I am in a position to know whereof I speak. I did actually submit a half-dozen short texts and even ultra-short (of the 154 which Spehner cites, the large majority are only a few lines long) some of which appeared in Requiem. As for the others, God only knows what has become of them.

With regard to Spehner's claim that I refuse to recognize modern Québec SF as beginning in 1974, let us first of all make this clear: the constitution of Québec SF fandom effectively originates from that date (see my appendix, where I mention Requiem as the "first successful fanzine of SF&F published in Québec"). No one would dream of denying this historical fact. That is why my survey of SF avant la lettre (such is the reasoning behind my title "Rational Speculations") ends precisely in 1974: because that is the birth of Québec SF fandom. But to repeat one more time, we are dealing with fandom and its subculture, and not Québec SF literature. In any true account of the socio-cultural and literary reality of the time, without mythifying it or mixing it up, one must necessarily acknowledge that the establishment of fandom and the emergence of Québec SF as literature (and not as subculture) are two phenomena which must be historically dissociated so that reality is not deformed. The proof of this may be found in one article by Elisabeth Vonarburg published in 1977 in Requiem, an article whose interrogative and dubitative title is sufficiently explicit: "La Science-fiction au Québec?" ("Science Fiction in Québec?"). Reading this article is highly instructive.               

What Spehner attempts to do is quite clear: by a flagrant telescoping of history, he attributes to the past the virtues of the present and "rewrites" that past to give to Requiem (and consequently himself) the whole paternity of Québec SF. The truth lies elsewhere, as anyone who has spoken with the major writers of Québec SF has surely discovered. Before the end of the '70s, the only Québec SF writers that existed were outside Requiem; such is the lesson taken from Elisabeth Vonarburg's 1977 article. Maurice Gagnon, Jacques Benoit, Esther Rochon, Louis-Philippe Hébert (to mention only authors prominent in the '70s) never published in Requiem. And for good reason: one has only to open the fanzine to become aware that this publication has never been informed or directed by a literary vision. In choosing the news-magazine formula, with an almost total absence of task-sharing, the director could not pretend to be in a position to help new young authors either. It was only in 1979, with the arrival of Vonarburg, that Requiem (which then changed its name to Solaris) instituted a literary direction.  

I mentioned the significance of the subtitle of Imagine... ("magazine of Québec SF") because it serves as an indicator of the inception of a new phase of development. This subtitle was seen at that time as reprehensibly audacious. In the same year, when Jean-Pierre April saw fit to speak of Québec SF at the Boréal conference, he suffered the same reproach: "Québec SF doesn't exist!" To deny this historical fact is to deny a point of fundamental change in the young history of the genre in Québec. -- Jean-Marc Gouanvic, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières

In Print

Kent State UP has just learned that some of the orders for Paul Brians' Atomic War in Fiction, 1895-1984 were never filled, due to a change in order-fulfillment houses at the time of the book's publication last summer. The book is not—we repeat, NOT—out of print. It is available from: Kent State UP/CUP Services/Box 6525/Ithaca, NY 14851. Our toll free order number (for calls from the US) is 1-800-666-2211. -- Carol Horner, Marketing Manager

Call for Papers

In recognition of the centenaries of Looking Backward (1888) and Connecticut Yankee (1889), the March 1989 issue of The American Transcendental Quarterly will be devoted to studies of 19th-century American utopianism—utopian (or dystopian) literature, theory, or experiments. This special issue will be edited by Professor Jean Pfaelzer. Address inquiries, proposals, and manuscripts to her at: Department of English/University of Delaware/Newark, DE 19711. Deadline for submission: October 15, 1988.

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